Nottingham Forest Football Club has been home to many iconic players throughout its illustrious past, perhaps none more so than former winger and cult hero Brian Rice.
Brian, now 55 years old, has just landed the manager’s job at Hamilton Academical in the Scottish Premiership having previously held assistant positions at Hibernian and St Mirren.
I will return to his coaching toward the end of this piece but in the meantime prepare yourselves for a whirlwind of events during his time at Forest under Brian Clough.
Brian Rice joined Forest for £175,000 from Hibernian in August 1985. Liverpool were vying for Rice’s signature at the very same time but as the man himself explained, it was an easy choice to make.
Brian had the following to say: “When I knew Brian Clough was in for me, having watched his great Forest sides over the years, there was only one place I wanted to go.”
I asked Brian if he felt the pressure and expectancy of playing for a club whom five years previous were European champions.
“It was more daunting following a man like John Robertson, who’s a God to the Nottingham Forest supporters.
!He’s an absolute legend, I was a massive fan of his, I’d watched Forest on the TV on that muddy City Ground pitch and seen this wee Scottish guy terrorising teams from all over Europe.”
It was at this point during the conversation that I realised the two men actually crossed paths for a short while at Forest.
Robertson had returned to the Reds from Derby in 1985 but featured in just a handful of matches for his former employers. Whilst the ageing legend’s contribution on the field was miniscule, his impact off it would prove to be pivotal in the development of 21 year old Rice at Nottingham Forest.
Brian revelled in his appraisal of Robertson as his mentor during those early days in Nottingham.
“I was staying in the Balmoral Hotel and John would come down at night and have a drink and a chat. I was a young Scottish lad away from home and he’d been through that himself, he really took me under his wing,” he said.
Brian recalled a time when he and John Robertson went to a local nightclub, “We were in Madison’s and everyone was coming up to Robbo for his autograph. Robbo told me to look above his head where there was a huge picture of the man himself holding aloft the European Cup.
“That’s when it hit me, I was out with a guy who’d assisted and scored winning goals in the European Cup final and scored the winner for Scotland against England, it doesn’t get any better than that!”
Once Brian Rice had settled in at Forest he forged another great friendship with Stuart Pearce, who’d happen to sign on the very same day as him. The pair would socialise together before striking up a great on field understanding down the left flank at the City Ground.
Brian then revealed a hilarious ritual that he and Pearce would engage in prior to kick off, “Pearce would beckon me to a quiet part of the dressing room as the lads went out for the warm up, then he’d get me to cut his fringe for him, I kid you not,” Rice continued in his strong Lanarkshire accent.
“Here’s the thing, I couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler but he must have been chuffed because it became a regular thing.”
On the field of play Rice and his teammates would be instrumental in Brian Clough’s second wave of trophy hunting.
The young pretenders produced two consecutive third place finishes in the top flight of English football as well as reaching two consecutive FA Cup Semi Finals and winning two consecutive League Cups.
I asked Rice what the secret to the team’s success was under Brian Clough? “First and foremost, it was great fun because everything was about doing things as a team and not as individuals. You never knew what the gaffer was going to do from one day to the next, five a side one day and then being told to bring your tennis racket the next.
One time Cloughie told us to bring our passports with us to training, next thing we knew we’re on a plane to France. Every day was an adventure which made life great fun, and that was the beauty of it because it kept you on your toes.”
The next topic of conversation was all about THAT goal at Highbury, I remember it like it was yesterday. Arsenal v Forest in the FA Cup Quarter Final, with Forest hanging on to a slender lead Nigel Clough sprayed a defence splitting pass to Rice who carried the ball a good 50 yards before lobbing John Lukic with the deftest of chips.
That was my version of it but it would be remiss not to hear it from the man himself. “It was all about the ball from Nigel and my first touch,” said Rice.
“When I went through I felt really confident even though I had England’s back four chasing me down. When I got to Lukic, who was a big lad, I waited for him to make the first move which he did by going down slightly.
“Then the instinct kicked in and importantly I managed to stay composed and just chip it over the top of him.” It’s no surprise to learn that Brian’s nickname has always been Chipper, which he earned those early years at Hibs.
I then asked if there were any comical encounters between Brian Rice and Brian Clough? “Aye,” said, Rice with a pre chuckle brewing in his voice. “I was on the bench one Saturday, just seconds from kick off when Mr Clough ordered me to run onto the pitch, he told me to ask our No9 if he was giving his dad a lift home after the game.
“I felt like a right idiot as I sprinted over to Nigel and whispered the question, delaying the kick off in the process. Red faced, I returned to the bench where Clough senior asked for his son’s response.” “Well, what did he say?” asked Brian Clough. Rice tentatively relayed Nigel’s response by saying “Am I ****”
If column space permitted, I could have written at least three full pages about Brian Rice and his time at Nottingham Forest, which he emotionally described as the best days of his life.
He produced some brilliant performances for Forest and weighed in with important goals too, like the winner against West Ham in 1986. The game is always remembered for Johnny Metgod’s stunning free-kick but Brian Rice’s goal at the Trent End put a huge dent in the Hammers title hopes on an unforgettable evening.
Brian is still obsessed with football and has progressed through the coaching world following his retirement from playing the game. His appetite is insatiable and It was no surprise to see him land the Hamilton Job, his first as the main man in charge.
He told me it would be a dream come true to coach at the City Ground one day and I for one wouldn’t bet against it, his favourite saying in football sums him up perfectly, “Hard work beats talent when talent does ne work hard.”
It was an absolute honour and a pleasure to interview such a wonderfully genuine guy, to this day Brian Rice has a great affinity for our fans and the City itself, he truly is a Nottingham Forest cult hero and will be forever more.
Pic cap - Forest fan Andrew Antcliff meets Brian Rice during a VIP night at the City Ground.