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Interview: Kenny Burns – Nottingham Forest & Scotland legend

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When Kenny Burns signed for Nottingham Forest, he could never have imagined the success he would have under the legend that is Brian Clough.

Trophies and Cloughie went hand in hand during the glory years at Nottingham Forest and Kenny was to be a big part of the success the club would have.

From winning the League to the European adventures in both 1979 and 1980, Kenny spoke exclusively to Scotzine about his time at Forest and why he would love a crack at management in Scotland.

SG: Kenny, when you arrived at Forest from Birmingham, you had been playing as a striker after Bob Latchford left the club but Brian Clough converted you back to your normal position and you went on from strength to strength but which position did you actually prefer playing?

I was yes, to be fair even at a young age I played up front, I made my debut at the back at Birmingham City, so that’s where I made it but then when they sold Bob Latchford the manager said to me, could you play up front? and I said aye but I could do it the way you do now running here there and everywhere, I could hold the ball up etc.

They sold Bob Latchford who could have been one of the best centre forwards to ever play for England, they sold him to Everton for £300,000 and I played up front after that.

SG: Did Brian Clough change you back to your normal position straight away when you signed for Forest?

He never said anything to me about that! I signed on the Sunday and went on the pitch to have our photographs taken on the Monday morning, individual pictures, team pictures and then we never saw Cloughie again after that as he went away on holiday with his family.

We had ten days of pre-season training, whereas nowadays they have something like six weeks but we had ten days that is all we had.

We had ten days pre-season training then we went on a tour, during those ten days we had two practice matches and he said to me, this team put the bibs on, Anderson, McGovern, Lloyd, and Burns and I thought, well I am playing at the back! The previous season I did score 20 goals in the First Division, which was the top Division in English football, so I thought I am playing at the back, so I played there, Jimmy Gordon obviously had his orders to play me there.

After those matches, we went on tour to Germany and Cloughie was behind the reception giving the room keys out with his family! From those matches I played at that back for Forest and that was it.

SG: You obviously relished your defensive duties as you were voted Footballer of the Year, did this personal award give you a great sense of pride?

I signed on the Sunday and pre-season started on the Monday and that season we went on to win the League Championship and the League Cup that year, personal honours for myself, I got the Sportswriters award, Player of the Year Award, I had a great season.

I have never looked for individual awards, I just loved to play the game of football!

If I was trying to stop someone scoring goals or trying to score goals if I went up for a corner, I used to just think that I was a team player rather than an individual.

SG: The club would go on to a European adventure that would take them near and far, how did you feel when you were drawn against Liverpool?

We all wanted Real Madrid, Benfica, AC Milan, Inter Milan Juventus, we wanted one of them, I went out and bought myself a passport and everything and who did we get – Liverpool! You don’t need a passport to go to Liverpool!

We didn’t mind drawing Liverpool, Liverpool didn’t want us cause we could beat Liverpool and they knew that, we knew that we could score goals, we had goals all over the team.

Players like Garry Birtles,Tony Woodcock, John Robertson, Ian Bowyer, Martin O’Neill, myself, Larry Lloyd, all players who could score goals and one thing we could do was to keep a clean sheet, that’s what we were good at.

We all just played our part as a team, we never spoke about it, once you have a job you just do it, every player knew just what he had to do!

SG: Do you think the Anfield club underestimated Forest in the first leg?

The first season they probably thought that the bubble was going to burst but it didn’t.

SG: Going into the second leg with a 2-0 lead most folk had still written you off and Liverpool would over turn the two goal deficit, how sweet was it to not only keep a clean sheet with a great defensive performance but to prove the critics wrong?

You know these are games where you are always doing something!

We went there after beating them 2-0 at the City Ground with Garry Birtles and Colin Barrett scoring the goals and we knew that they couldn’t score two goals against us.

We had Shilton in goals and we never had any worries about them, I think they were more worried about us!

SG: Do you think that those two games were the cornerstone of the success that was to come?

Oh yes definitely! Cloughie always said, if you keep a clean sheet then you will always have a chance of winning.

SG: This win was to see you embark on a fantastic run in Europe, did the players believe after beating Liverpool they could go all the way?

We never ever spoke about any future matches, we never ever spoke about money at all, anything like that, and we just went out and played.

We never looked at it saying we are going to get X amount of pounds today if we get a result here, we never ever spoke that way at all.

You look at nowadays where teams like Man City are getting £3000 a point, I am sure they don’t check their wage slips, we checked our wage slips to make sure we got our bonuses from the previous week.

Every Friday we used to go round to a cafe, maybe 12 or 13 of us. We went to have a chip butty and we would maybe have 6 pints of milk, 5 cups of tea and 3 coffees, teams wouldn’t do things like that nowadays, but that’s the way we done it.

SG: When you looked around the dressing room on those European nights and saw just what talent you had at Forest in those days, you must have felt you had a chance of beating anyone?

We feared nobody! We feared nobody!

SG: After beating AEK Athens, Grasshoppers Zurich, the club faced Cologne in the semi-finals but things did not go to plan in the first leg at the City Ground as Forest had to come from 2 goals down to finally draw the match 3-3, did you feel you had blown your chance of appearing in the final?

On that game, I had done my cartilage at Goodison Park and I missed the Cologne game, it came probably a week or ten days too early for me, so I was on the bench, we got it back to 3-3 and knowing we could always score goals, that was the beauty of that Nottingham Forest side, we could always score goals.

At 3-3 many folk thought we had blown it but Peter Taylor was adamant that we were going to win!

Pete had always gone to Germany to see his Daughter over there and he had seen Cologne play several times and he was adamant that we would win the game.

We all knew that we could keep a clean sheet, we all knew that we had players who could score and that’s exactly what we did, we kept a clean sheet and Ian Bowyer scored and we won 1-0.

SG: Did the fact that Cologne were over-confident, booking their hotel and printing their tickets for the final, give you an extra will to win that second leg?

We read in the programme how the Cologne fans could get tickets etc, they were really cocksure about themselves, thinking that’s it we have cracked it now we are through….but we just made sure they didn’t get there.

Sometimes teams have to surpass themselves in big matches and they probably done just that the night they played us at the City Ground.

We were like a Rolls Royce of a team! It was very, very easy for us as we did the right things.

Cloughie always used to say, football is an easy game, its players who make it difficult!

When you think about it, its players who make it easy, you pass the ball ten yards to your own player and that’s it!

SG: Trevor started in place of Martin O’Neill that night, while many may have been wondering if this was a gamble, the final result proved that it was another masterstroke by the manager as Trevor scored the winning goal in a 1-0 win for Forest, what did that feel like to win the European Cup for the first time in the clubs history?

He brought Trevor Francis in and he couldn’t play in the European Cup at the start but the first time he could play was the final.

Brian Clough said at the time it was probably one of his hardest and toughest decisions that he had ever made, dropping Martin O’Neill.

Martin had played in every game leading up to the final but then Cloughie dropped him for the final.

I know Trevor scored the goal and Cloughie being a proud and loyal man to his players, I would say that this was the first time that he wasn’t loyal to his players.

He asked both Martin and Archie how they were feeling before the final as both of them had been carrying knocks in the lead up to the game.

Both of them told the boss that they had been receiving treatment but now they had both recovered.

I am delighted for you both…you are on the bench!

Both players where furious with that reply and I think that was the first time that the gaffer was not loyal to his players, after all these had been the guys that had got the club to the final in the first place!

Trevor played and scored the winner, that’s a fact but for these two guys that, was the biggest game of their lives and they had to settle for a place on the bench!

Ok Martin played in one the following year against Hamburg and we won it, but Archie never got the chance again as he had moved on by then.

But that was Cloughie, he stood by his decision on that night and it paid off, he may not have been popular with Martin and Archie at the time but he won the European Cup for the club for the first time in their history and that was all that mattered!

SG: What was the atmosphere like afterwards in the dressing room?

We came into the dressing room and Cloughie said, right, put all your medals on the table … I put mine away and thought nobody is getting that!

I don’t think Colin Barrett got a medal and he scored one of the goals that knocked Liverpool out and put us on our way to eventually winning the trophy!

Every medal that I have, even five a side ones, all mean something to me, from cups that people call Mickey Mouse cups to the biggest cup in the world, I still have my medals because I won them and they all mean something to me.

I was just looking at a medal that I won with a five a side team recently, it was all ex-players, John O Hare, John Hollins,Kenny Sansom all had teams but my team made the final against Kenny Sansom’s team.

Kenny’s team had better players but we still won and that means a lot to me.

SG: Not content with winning the European Cup, the club also captured the Super Cup and a certain Mr Burns scored the vital away goal in a 1-1 draw after beating the Spanish giants 1-0 at the City Ground, what do you remember of those matches?

We played Barcelona at the City Ground and we won 1-0 with Charlie George scoring the goal, so we had to go there with 80,000 fans against us and they had a chapel in the stadium, everything.

I remember the roar as we came out, it was unbelievable.

Frank Gray gave away a penalty and they scored but then late on we got a corner which big Larry Lloyd flicked on and as the ball came to me I scored, it is always nice to score and put us 2-1 up on the away goals rule. It was a bonus that was the goal to give us the Super Cup!

SG: This kind of thing is the stuff that dreams are made of but Nottingham Forest were kings of Europe and they were determined to hang on to their crown, could you dream of retaining your crown?

To win the European Cup once was like a dream come true but to do it twice, you couldn’t imagine it would be possible!

Here was a boy who used to play his football in the street on the Peat Road in Glasgow and as a kid you always used to pretend that you were Di Stefano, Puskas and these kind of guys and to actually have won these finals and lift the trophies that those guys did was unbelievable.

SG: After overcoming Oesters Vaxjo, Arges Pitesti, Dynamo Berlin and beating Ajax in the semi-final, your performance and your goalkeeper Peter Shilton, made sure that Forest would meet Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg in the final?

We never spoke about the opposition!

We all knew that Keegan played for them and that was it really. Robbo gave us a bit of chat saying I have this Manny Kaltz and he is a German full back that I am up against but I had never heard of him until that night!

We all knew that Felix Magath was also in the team and he was a great midfielder but we just kept our heads and done our jobs and we kept a clean sheet and won the game 1-0.

SG: Forest went into this final as underdogs but again they came out on top with a goal from John Robertson but again both you and Larry Lloyd stood firm to make sure they would not pass, was this win just as sweet as the first win?

It felt great! It wasn’t the greatest of games and they were not the greatest of teams but they got there on merit and they still had to be beaten.

SG: You had a magnificent management team in Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, can you tell me just what made them tick as a management team?

Their management skills were unbelievable!

When things went against them and they went their separate ways, they were never the same, they were never as good apart as they were together. It was a case of good cop, bad cop and they were really funny.

When you could play the game with a smile on your face, that was a good thing and you could always do that in a Brian Clough team.

SG: What are you up to these days Kenny and would you like to be involved in the game again?

At the moment I am doing after dinner speaking and hospitality on match days at Forest, I really enjoy it.

Would I like to get back into the game? Yes! I would like to think that somebody would like to have a crack at me. I would love to be involved in the game today and if I had the chance to go to a lower league club in Scotland, I would consider it and I guarantee if I did, I would improve any team that I went to.

If they could learn one thing from me, which would be one thing more than they will have learned before. I think you have to be a great believer in your own ability and I am a great believer in my own ability.

I would love to come up the road and get a job, I did enquire about the Morton job about two years ago but nothing back, I would be interested in anything that came up in Scotland.

I would tell them just go out and play with a smile on your face and enjoy it! You see loads of coaches today who play 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 and all these different systems but what they have to remember is that football is a physical game.

Even from a throw-in you have to get yard away from the attacker, I would tell people how to play in defence, what positions they should be in and how to play the game so that they don’t lose their man etc, all these kinds of things.

I don’t believe that Man Utd or any of the top teams actually get coached, simply because they are expected to know it!

I know for a fact that some clubs don’t like smaller players, I know a lot of clubs gave up on Archie Gemmill because of his size!

I was with someone only the other week, Nobby Styles, he was blind, couldn’t tackle. but he had a job to do and he did it.

First Published in Issue 3.1 of SCOTZINE – The Scottish Football Magazine

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About Author

Chief Features Writer for Scotzine.com. Sean has written for various publications and websites over the years and has been involved with making documentaries on Aberdeen Football Club, Dundee United Football Club, Henrik Larsson, Paul Lambert and Jock Stein and also Radio programmes, one of which "Old Firm Day" won a Bronze Sony Award. He also worked in the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park. His love of writing started off with The Punter and has gone on to write for the following FIFA magazine, 442, Scotland's Oracle, Players Inc, British Football Week, ESPN, Give Me Football, Inside Futbol, 67 Fanzine and the matchday programmes of Aberdeen, Carlisle United, Montrose, Partick Thistle, Stockport County and Queen's Park. He has also been asked to write a blog for Youth Football Scotland on St.Mirren YFC such was his passion for football at every level from Grassroots to the professional game.

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