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Ol’ Big Head Clough On An Ebbsfleet Mission

dai-sport journalist Terry Phillips knows a lot about Ebbsfleet United, who visit Wrexham AFC at the Racecourse on Saturday. Phillips worked for the Kent Messenger as a young journalist, moved to the English midlands and was reporting on Nottingham Forest when manager Brian Clough took his European champions to Stonebridge Road where they played Gravesend and Northfleet (now renamed Ebbsfleet). 

Here are Terry’s memories

It proved to be a memorable day during July 1980 . . . . 

Ol’ Big Head strode across to the press box as if he was a man on a mission.

The inimitable Brian Clough – the manager who could make players and journalists alike cower in fear – plonked the European Cup on a desk next to me and said: “Look after that young man!”

“Brian took the cup out on to the pitch before kick-off and all the fans cheered,” says Terry. “Then he brought it over to me, put it on the desk and said, ‘look after that’. It was there for 45 minutes. I was just sitting with my hand on it. Nowadays, of course, you’d have security all over you.”

With that he walked away and, for the first half of a friendly game in Kent, I had one of the world’s most recognisable trophies next to me.

I kept a tight grip on the Cup, I can tell you.

All those years ago Forest headed to Gravesend for a friendly arranged as part of Lee Smelt’s transfer from the Kent minnows to the European champions.

Back then Roger Easterby was Gravesend chairmen and he was manager of pop ground Edison Lighthouse, whose single ‘Love Grows Where Rosemary Goes’ was a number one hit.

I’m still in touch with Roger today.

Smelt became Peter Shilton’s understudy and played for Cardiff later in his career but, on a night when Clough sent out virtually a full-strength team featuring the likes of Trevor Francis, John Robertson and John McGovern, he was beaten six times.

I recall Smelt being taken aback by his move from Gravesend to Forest.

Today, Smelt, now aged 60, is Charlton Athletic’s Academy goalkeeping coach and I’m pretty certain he won’t remember the journalist who looked after the European Cup.

Wrexham are second in the Vanarama National League, one point behind leaders Harrogate Town, while Ebbsfleet are 13th.

Captain Shaun Pearson headed Wrexham’s winner at Braintree in Essex last weekend and the Dragons are unbeaten in three matches.

Ebbsfleet were last in action on Saturday when a long trip to the North East to face Gateshead ended with a Chris Bush own goal handing the home team all three points.

That followed a point earned away at Dover a few days before that when Darren McQueen’s opener was not enough to earn a victory. 

Wrexham players celebrating a goal. Pic: Wrexham AFC.

Wrexham midfield player Brad Walker made his debut at Braintree and will now look to continue a good run in the side. The 22-year old on loan from Crewe Alexandra produced a battling performance.

Wrexham defender Manny Smith is ruled out by injury, while Mark Carrington will be assessed on match day after missing the fixture at Braintree.

Ebbsfleet manager Daryl McMahon wants his team to show their ugly side at the Racecourse.

‘Fleet boast the second-best away record in the National League, but that’s in stark contrast to their poor home form.

Four defeats out of five at Stonebridge Road mean McMahon’s side travel to Wales seven points adrift of the second-placed North Walians.

“I don’t really care about Wrexham or any team in this league,” says McMahon. “It’s important we do what we do better.

“We need to go after teams a bit more. We’ve always been a high-tempo team, but at the minute we’re placid. We need to be more ugly to find a win.

“I’ve got 21 players and I love all of them, but we’re only doing 80 per cent of the job. We need to be better and that extra 20 per cent is the difference.

“We need to find it quickly, but there are no panic buttons here.”

Wrexham defender Manny Smith is set to sit out the next two months.

The 29-year-old was injured during the 1-0 defeat at Solihull Moors, Dragons’ only defeat of the season so far, and is likely to return in November.

“We’re looking at eight to 10 weeks and then he’ll be back,” said Ricketts.

Vanarama National League – top 10

1 Harrogate Town 10 22
2 Wrexham 10 21
3 Leyton Orient 10 20
4 Hartlepool United 10 19
5 FC Halifax Town 10 18
6 Salford City 10 18
7 AFC Fylde 10 17
8 Gateshead 10 17
9 Barnet 10 17
10 Sutton United 9 16

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