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Peter Shilton talks Clough, Forest, Madrid, Leicester and Maradona

Peter Shilton was one of Nottingham Forest’s ‘Miracle men’ who won back-to-back European Cups and went 42 league games without defeat.

Peter Shilton talks Clough, Forest, Madrid, Leicester and Maradona

Manchester United - Liverpool

Peter Shilton was one of Nottingham Forest’s ‘Miracle men’ who won back-to-back European Cups and from 26 November 1977 and 9 December 1978 was part of the team which went 42 league games without defeat. With 125 caps, he remains the most-capped player ever to have represented England’s national team. In the week when Real Madrid set a new unbeaten record run in Spain, Diario AS caught up with him to chat about that Forest side and their record which they held exclusively for 26 years until it was equalled by Arsenal as well as other moments in his career- such as working under legendary manager Brian Clough, his rivalry with Ray Clemence for the England goalkeeping position and the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal which Diego Maradona scored against him at the Mexico World Cup 86.

Leicester lad

It’s a great pleasure to talk you Peter, if we can start right back to the beginning, your first club was Leicester City, what did you make of them winning the Premier League last season?

Well I was born in Leicester, raised in Leicester and played for them when I was 16, in what is now the Premier League. Leicester is my club - although I support all the clubs I played for, like Nottingham Forest, etc - and obviously as a supporter [of Leicester] it was unbelievable. And they won it quite comfortably. They were definitely on a high, they played every game 100% and they deserved to win it.

It was quite incredible...

It was great for football; it was great for football worldwide. In football now, it's all about big money and big clubs, you know: Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool... And for someone like Leicester to go and win it, I think it was great for the game generally. It makes a lot of clubs think the 'impossible' is always there.

Peter Shilton, Gary Lineker, Michael Robinson - why do Leicester City create so many good players?

Well, Leicester as a town is a very sporty town. They have very good rugby and cricket. So I think a lot of youngsters [in the area] like to play sport, and it's very passionate about football. They've always been a club that have always done things the right way. The youngsters are brought up the right way and learn the right way, and that obviously helps them.

How old were you when you came into the Leicester team?

Gordon Banks and a 17-year-old Shilton.
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Gordon Banks and a 17-year-old Shilton.DIARIO AS

There were no football academies or special training in those days, so when I was a schoolboy I used to go from school after it had finished on my bike, and I used to go down to the club, because amateurs and semi-professionals used to come after work and train at the club, two nights a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So I used to go straight from school and train with a fellow who was my mentor, a fellow who was called George Dewis, and I used to train for about an hour and a half on the car park outside of the ground. And then when I was 15 I signed as an apprentice - you had a two-year apprenticeship in those days - and when I was 17 I signed professional [terms]. But I actually played for Leicester when I was an apprentice, because they didn't postpone the international matches and Gordon Banks went to play for England...

Learning from the masters

Do you remember the first time you had Gordon Banks in front of you, what did you think after seeing him in person?

When I was training, Gordon had just joined the club and became the England goalkeeper, so I kind of followed his career. And I was only 16, playing in what is now the Premier League, and there were 30,000 people at Leicester, and I played against Everton when Gordon was playing for England. So I played about three or four games before I signed as a professional when I was 17, and I did well. I was only 16, but I did well, and there were a few clubs who wanted to sign me. And of course then Leicester had to make a decision: either keep me as a youngster or let Gordon go - and Gordon moved to Stoke. So it was quite a unique situation, especially for a goalkeeper, being so young.

How was your relationship with Gordon Banks while you were together at Leicester?

Gordon Banks in action for Leicester in the 1961 FA Cup Final against Tottenham.
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Gordon Banks in action for Leicester in the 1961 FA Cup Final against Tottenham.Central PressGetty Images

Very good. He was my hero, really. When I was young I watched him. I trained with him for about a year really, once a week or something, because I was in the youth team or the reserve team and there were no goalkeeping coaches in those days, and Gordon used to train with the first team, so it wasn't as if we were training together every day. You know, he was my hero and that was great, and obviously when I took over there was a lot of pressure on me.

When you were young was Gordon your only hero or were there any other goalkeepers you looked up to?

When he joined Leicester I was only 10, and I used to watch him play, because he had to fight for his place at Leicester and later on he got into the England team, so obviously that enabled to play in the first team, because I was the reserve goalkeeper. I played three or four games, and I did well in those games, although I was only 16, and a few clubs...because I actually played in those days for the England schoolboys team, and I played at Wembley in front of 90,000 when I was 15, and there one or two other clubs who wanted to sign me like Manchester United and Arsenal, but I signed for Leicester as an apprentice, and when I was 17 I signed professional [terms], and that's when I really took over from Gordon.

Has the position of goalkeeper changed a lot over time?

Yes, obviously I was in the 60s and 70s and 80s and 90s, and the equipment, the football has changed, the rules have changed, the pitches have got better, because the pitches were very poor in those days, very muddy and very heavy, so a lot of things have changed, and then the backpass rule came in. So a lot of things have changed in that time, but you just have to adapt to it.

We have right now David de Gea, Courtois, Oblak, Ter Stegen, Keylor Navas... What kind of goalkeeper do you like the most right now?

Shilton during his Forest days
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Shilton during his Forest daysDIARIO AS

[Gianluigi] Buffon... I've always liked Buffon very much. He's getting older now, but he's still... I didn't finish until I was 43 playing at the top level, I finished with England when I was nearly 41, and I think Buffon's been the best for a few years. Obviously [Manuel] Neuer has emerged and he's a different type of goalkeeper, I think De Gea has improved a lot from when he started at Manchester United, he seems to have got much stronger and more confident. I did like [Keylor] Navas very much in the World Cup, I thought he was the best goalkeeper. I liked his technique, he had a very good technique. I believe that a good technique is the key to consistency.

Shilton scores

Your statistics mention that you actually scored a goal once, when you were starting out at Leicester...

I was 18, nearly 18, and I was playing for Leicester. It was in the days when there were leather footballs with the laces on them, they were very heavy balls. It was a very wet, windy, cold day, and I was playing against one of my former clubs, which was Southampton - I had five years at Southampton later on - and it was a small ground at Southampton, it was compact, and I remember we were winning 4-1 with two minutes to go, and I just kicked this long ball down the middle, and it was very misty - I couldn't see the other end of the pitch, the sea mist had come over and it was cold and it was wet and windy - and saw our left-winger, Mike Stringfellow, chasing this ball, and I lost sight of it and I heard this big roar, and I thought that I'd kicked a long ball and Stringfellow had scored. But all the players came running out of the mist [towards me]... And the thing was, we travelled down on the train on the morning of the game, and we had to catch the five o'clock train back, and we couldn't even have a shower because we were so rushed, and it was so rushed that all the players were telling me on the way back that I'd scored and I thought they were taking the mickey. And when I got home I saw it on the black and white TV on the news that I'd actually scored - it had bounced over the goalkeeper, who had come out, and it skidded over him into the net. So it was quite unique. A lot of goalkeepers score these days, but they take penalties or come up for corners or take free-kicks, but there have been a few in recent years who have done that - kicked a long ball - but that was quite unique in those days.

International career

You made your England debut under Alf Ramsey in 1970. Two years later, Gordon Banks was involved in a car crash and had to retire from football. Do you remember where you were and how you learned of that terrible incident?

Ray Clemence, pictured in action for Liverpool
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Ray Clemence, pictured in action for LiverpoolGetty ImagesDIARIO AS

First of all, I actually went to the World Cup in 1970 [in Mexico], for a month, I was one of the [preliminary] squad that went over there. I didn't make the final 22, but there were like six players left out, there was an excess of players in case of injuries and you had to adapt to the altitude, and that was great. And then I made my debut the following season and became understudy to Gordon, and it was a massive shock. I felt really devastated for Gordon, because it was at a time when... Nobody would want that to happen to anybody. I was hoping I was putting some pressure on Gordon for the international team, but it came a bit sooner than I thought when I was in the side. I was devastated for Gordon, I knew Gordon and I wouldn't have liked that to happen to anybody, it was just terrible.

And tell me about your competition with Ray Clemence after that. Were you friends? What was the situation like?

Alf Ramsey more or less picked me, and obviously not to qualify for the World Cup in '74 when there was that famous game at Wembley when we drew with Poland and we needed to beat them, that was probably the worst moment of my career, because I wanted to play in the World Cup in West Germany in '74, and we should have been there. And when Sir Alf Ramsey got sacked, it was a shock. And when Don Revie, who had been Leeds United manager, took over, he preferred Ray Clemence to me, and then when Ron Greenwood, who was West Ham manager, took over, I got picked to play at the World Cup in Spain in '82, and that was obviously a big turning point for me. I got into the side, we were unbeaten in five games and only let one goal in, and then Bobby Robson took over and I was the regular [keeper] for eight years. But for three years, Ray was the goalkeeper. But we used to room together, and we were always big friends but deadly rivals, and we still are to this day; we're still friends. We used to room together for ten years. It was quite unique: we were deadly rivals, but we were big friends as well.

You were speaking about the World Cup in Spain in 1982, your first big experience with the international team. What are your memories of this competition in Spain?

Front cover of AS the day after Forest lifted the European Cup in Madrid, May 1980.
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Front cover of AS the day after Forest lifted the European Cup in Madrid, May 1980.DIARIO AS

It was great! We started off playing in Bilbao, and we had a great start and we beat France 3-1 and then we beat Czechoslovakia 2-0, and we were pretty good. We struggled, actually, to beat Kuwait 1-0. And then, obviously the rules had been changed: it was like a league basis for qualification for the semi-finals and we had Spain and West Germany. And of course we drew both games 0-0, we couldn't score, and we came home unbeaten, having let one goal in, and it was strange. And I think after that World Cup they changed the rules back [to a format] where it was more of a knockout basis, which I think was the correct decision. Because it was very tactical...against West Germany it was very tactical, they were very defensive, and it was very tactical when you've got a league table.

Invincible miracle men

Let's move on to talking about Nottingham Forest. Was your time at Forest the most successful time of your club career?

Yes, in terms of winning trophies it was. For three years we won everything: two European Cups, both of them 1-0, and in the second one when we beat Hamburg at the Bernabéu in Madrid, it was a terrific game for me personally. I played really well. To win it two years running was unbelievable... But we won two League Cups and, as you say, were 42 [league] games unbeaten, which was a record and was fantastic.

I think it was 42 league games, and 40 games in all competitions...

Forest Manager, Brian Clough
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Forest Manager, Brian CloughDIARIO AS

Oh right, I'm not sure about that; I just know that in league games it was 42. But that showed the consistency, and it showed the spirit of the team as well, because there were a lot of games when we were probably 1-0 down with not very long to go, and we managed to get a result. We always managed to pull something out. A lot of games you play really well, but there are some games where you just get a result; you don't actually play very well. And that's the sort of team we were. We always managed to pull something out of the bag even when we weren't playing very well.

What was special in that team, having only been promoted to the First Division the year before?

When I joined after seven games they had some young players who were unknown, but were very good players. And the team had experience and it had youth; it had pace and it had stamina, and it had a lot of character. It had all the ingredients you need for a top side. You had players who had been at other clubs and had done OK, but it was the balance of the team. We had good defenders in the back four, we had a lot of what I call stamina and good passing ability in the midfield, and we had a lot of skill as well, and obviously up front we had pace with Tony Woodcock, and tremendous individual ability with John Robertson. So we had a great balance. The team was a really well balanced team, because we were very good defensively and we could score goals as well. And that's a pretty good combination.

And you had a great coach in Brian Clough. What was he like?

Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, who was his assistant and had been a goalkeeper himself. He [Taylor] used to come and watch me play for the Leicester youth team, so he was a big fan of mine and he was the one that really got me to sign for Nottingham Forest. Brian Clough and Peter Taylor tried to sign me when they were at Derby County, Brian Clough [tried] when he was at Leeds United, but finally they signed me for Forest, and it was one of the best moves I ever made. I think Brian Clough was very special. He had this aura, he had this magic; when walked into a room, people knew he was there. He didn't complicate things too much, but he expected high standards from players. He had this way of motivating people in the right way; he didn't talk too much, but when he did talk, people listened. He had total respect from the players, and he was the boss; and that was very important.

What were Clough's pre-match team talks like?

Clough at the City Ground with the European Cup.
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Clough at the City Ground with the European Cup.

He just had a way...he didn't talk a lot of tactics; but he would just go and sit next to someone and make a comment about something which would...which the player would relate to. He knew how to treat the individual players. But for the first three years, we were winning nearly every game, so he was very, very happy. And one thing I do remember was that at a lot of clubs there would be players screaming and shouting before they were due to go on the pitch, but with us, with about two or three minutes to go, we would always sit down and really remain calm, and focus. Nobody could be walking around the dressing room and getting ready; everybody would have to be ready two or three minutes before we were due to go out. And Peter Taylor and Brian Clough would be just talking and saying one or two little bits. Nothing very much. And then as soon as the bell to go out onto the pitch went, it would suddenly be, 'Come on, let's go' and 'Come on, off you go', and it was just a got focused and then you got the little gee-up once you went out there, and everybody was really focused and in the right mental state. And that is what management's about. A lot of players go about screaming and bashing and getting all worked up, and then when they go out onto the pitch sometimes they fall a little bit flat. But we were always very well prepared mentally, we were always in a good mental state.

Forest, as a club

We know about Clough that he was a very strong personality...

Yeah, he was very strong. He was very good and he treated everybody the same. Even the ladies who made the tea, he would treat them the same as the players. Everyone at the club was the same. He was a very special person, and the players respected him. Some players didn't like him always - they respected him, but one or two players didn't like him for some reason. I mean, I liked him, I thought he was great. But I wouldn't say everybody liked him; but they respected him, and you had one or two strong characters who were just...that's the way they were. But they certainly respected him and played for him, which is all you want.

And do you specially remember any anecdote about Clough that people don't know?

Yeah, as soon as I joined the club I was playing really well every week, I wasn't making mistakes, the team in front of me was playing well, everything was going well... But Brian Clough always had a way of keeping your feet on the floor. And sometimes before a big game, at two o'clock he would come in and...he used to like playing squash and he used to go into the bathroom and have a shower and then he'd put his rugby top on and his shorts and his scruffy trainers, which he used to wear on matchdays, and I'd come in at two o'clock and where I used to get changed with all my kit out was right next to the bathroom, and he'd actually be towelling himself down with a big pool of water and he'd pushed all my kit out of the way. And I'd have to wait a few minutes while he finished getting his stuff on, and then he'd just walk past me and say, 'You don't mind clearing that mess up, do you Peter?' And of course all the players used to be laughing because he'd pushed all my kit out and there's a big pool of water on the floor, and I'd have to put my kit back. But it was his way of saying, 'Look, you're not too big for me to do that to you,' and all the players knew what he was doing and they used to be laughing and I used to be obviously not very pleased about it, but it was just his little way... Only now and again, not very often. But occasionally he'd do that and I think it was to keep my feet on the floor.

Speaking about Brian Clough, how important was Peter Taylor for him?

I thought they worked so well together. Peter Taylor was the one that went and watched players in secret; he was a very good judge of players. Brian Clough was more the motivator and the manager: he ran the club. Peter Taylor was like, you know... Peter Taylor had a really good sense of humour, they worked really well, they were a really good double act and they complemented each other.

And do you know why their relationship came to such a bad end? Do you know what happened between them?

Forest defend from a corner at the Bernabéu, May 1980
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Forest defend from a corner at the Bernabéu, May 1980

Like all relationships, things happen, disagreements... But for those three years it couldn't have been any better. They worked so well together. It was probably the best time of my career in terms of management; I think they were brilliant together. Obviously there were a few fall-outs along the way, but I couldn't really say much about that.

I know this is a very difficult question for you, but who was more important in your career: Brian Clough or Bobby Robson?

Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were the best management team. I had a great spell under Bobby Robson; I had eight years, I had a lot of respect for Bobby Robson, he picked me in the [England] side and I like to think I repaid him. Bobby was more like a coach-style manager, he liked to join in the training and the coaching. With England, for example, Alf Ramsey was a very strong character, he was a bit like Brian Clough, he was more of a manager than a coach. Bobby Robson was someone I had a lot of respect for, but he was more of a coach. He was a great manager in his own way; but different.

On Nottingham Forest's unbeaten run, was there a lot of media coverage about the streak at the time? Was there a lot of talk about it?

I think the good thing about Brian Clough was that you never felt under any sort of pressure in any game. They were very good at keeping everything very calm, and everybody just... A little bit like Leicester City last season, they seemed to not be under any pressure at any time, and it was great to see. Everything was very relaxed and there were no big statements made about any game, and I think [Claudio] Ranieri did a terrific job. And that was the magic of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor: you never felt under any pressure in any game, and even if it was a European Cup final everything was just the same, it was just another game and get out there and do your job properly, and that was a big thing, not to feel any pressure from anywhere.

Did you ever play against Real Madrid?

No, I never played against Real Madrid. I'd have loved to. I went on a boy's club trip to Madrid when I was very young, when I was about 10 years old, 11 years old, in the summer. And we visited Real Madrid's ground and Atlético Madrid's ground.

What was the experience like?

We looked through all the trophy rooms and saw the European Cup, and this was in the summer; we were on a tour to go and see the stadiums, and I just remember seeing all Real Madrid's trophies. They were just a magical team when I was growing up. And I never thought that I'd lift the European Cup twice when I saw it at the Bernabéu - and doing it at the Bernabéu as well, in what was probably one of my best games. So that was quite unique for me.

You were close to playing against Real Madrid in the European Cups you won (Grasshoppers beat Real Madrid in the round before facing Forest in 1978/79, and Hamburg knocked out Los Blancos in the semi-finals the following year)...

England vs Argentina, Mexico 86
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England vs Argentina, Mexico 86REPRODUCCIONDiario AS

That would have been ambition come true for me, to play against Real Madrid.

Mexico 86

How many times have people asked you about Maradona?

Well, quite a few. It's not something I really like to be associated with, because you've got the world's greatest player cheating and getting away with it. I knew I was going to get the ball: even though I was only going to knock it a little bit away from him, I was getting to get half a fist to it. He was kind of favourite for the ball, because he was running into the box. Of course, you rely on the referee and linesman and it was unbelievable that not one of them saw it and everybody else did. So it was something that I don't like to be associated with, because people remember it for all the wrong reasons. I think the big thing was more for me that Maradona never actually apologised or admitted to it for many, many years, and a great player is usually a great sportsman as well, and I thought that he should have done that, he should have admitted to it and said sorry after the game. Because the goal stood and they were through. It wouldn't have cost him anything to have just admitted it and said: 'Look, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done it.' But that's the way it was. I think that's why there's always a little bit of a sour taste with him, because he never actually apologised or admitted to it.

Have you met him in anywhere after that?

No, I've never met him. I've had opportunities, but I didn't really want to, because I wouldn't shake hands with him. There are one or two other England players who feel the same. So there's not much point really. He's a character and a great player; the greatest player I've played against. But I think that there's that sportmanship side of it that's always going to be there.

How did you see Maradona's second goal - people talk about it as one of the greatest goals in history: how did you see it on the pitch?

I think he scored probably an even better goal in the next World Cup, but it was long run, he didn't actually beat too many players, I think he beat a player who'd been booked already on the edge of the box - Terry Fenwick - but it was a great run: pace, skill and his quick-thinking to switch his feet at the end was why he was the best player in the world and Argentina wouldn't have won the World Cup without him. But I think he did score a goal in the next World Cup where he beat more people. But no, it was one of the great goals of all time, definitely. How could I put it? I think all our players were a bit down, we'd had a goal scored against us, an important goal, and it was very quickly after that, but take nothing away him. But it was great for me to get to the semi-final at Italia '90, unfortunately we lost on penalties [to West Germany]. If we'd had a little but more luck we'd have been in the final against Argentina. But that was a great way to finish my World Cups, in Italy, and to do the best that England had done since '66.


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