BRIAN Clough always said that the most important silverware gained during his time as Nottingham Forest manager was not the two European Cups, four League Cups or even the First Division title.
Rather, Clough felt it was the Anglo-Scottish Cup – a minor, long defunct tournament – that was his most significant trophy at the City Ground.
The point, said Clough, was that Forest’s 4-1 aggregate victory over Leyton Orient in 1976 secured their first silverware under his leadership and triggered a thirst for success that transformed Forest from Second Division also-rans into European kings.
“Our lot tasted champagne and found that they liked it,” declared the finest manager England never had.
And it is why Gary Mills – who played in the second of Clough’s European Cup final victories over Hamburg in 1980 – believes, on an obviously much smaller scale, that the FA Trophy can serve as a catalyst for his upwardly-mobile York City team.
Although the FA Trophy, too, might not be the most glamorous competition ever invented, Mills – like Old Big ‘Ead before him – appreciates that no cup is of the tin-pot variety to those who have never previously won a medal.
On the contrary, victory over Luton Town in the Trophy semi-final, starting with today’s first leg at Bootham Crescent, followed by success against Newport County or Wealdstone in the final, would give York their own taste of motivational champagne.
All things are relative, and with the club riding high in the Blue Square Bet Premier Division and eyeing a return to the Football League, there is a sense they might be on the cusp of something special under the direction of a man who espouses the same footballing principles as his legendary mentor.
“Winning any cup breeds a winning mentality, a thirst for success,” said Mills, who became the youngest European Cup finalist at the age of 18 when he lined up against Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg in the Bernabeu Stadium.
“It inspires a winning culture which, in our case, will hopefully help in our quest to climb the leagues.
“Winning the FA Trophy would go a long way in terms of giving us confidence.
“We’re also in the play-off positions as we speak and have got the chance to get to Wembley not only in the Trophy but the play-offs as well.”
Although Mills’s feet are firmly on the ground and his objectives realistic, he points to Swansea City as an example of how a club – suddenly infused with the whiff of success – can totally transform their situation within a short space of time.
In 2002-03, the season before York dropped out of the League, Swansea themselves came within one point of cascading into the Conference and yet are now participating in the Premier League.
“People can laugh and joke about clubs like us being in Europe in 10 years’ time, or the Premiership in 10 years’ time, but the point is, you just don’t know,” he added.
“All we can say with certainty is that we’ve done well this season and, with a few weeks to go, have now got to finish the good job we’ve started.”
Inevitably, Mills credits Clough with having played an important part in his managerial make-up.
“If you asked anyone who played under Brian Clough who has then gone on to manage, they would all say he was an inspiration in how to man-manage and keep things simple,” said Mills.
“Brian Clough was a genius and, if I tried to copy him, I wouldn’t be in the game now, but of course you take certain things on board while at the same time having your own personality and views on football. But, for me, the man-management side he was so good at is massive. People talk about the coaching side of football, but I personally feel the man-management side is much more important.”
Mills has not been found wanting in that regard as York continue to prosper.
“I’m really enjoying it here,” he added. “I can feel and smell the desire around York to get back into the Football League, and I’m just glad to have been given this opportunity.
“A few managers have tried and got very close, but I want to be the one who gets us out.
“I feel we’ve got a chance – and it could be this season.”