Legendary Brian Clough changed poor brothers’ lives after chance meeting on a beach

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Legendary football manager, a maverick genius with superstar levels of charisma, that’s Brian Clough, as Old Big ’Ead himself would have said.

But there was far more to Cloughie than winning two European Cups, punching Roy Keane or giving pitch-invading fans a clip round the ear.

Behind his brusque manner and lack of false modesty, Clough went to extraordinary lengths to help people in need.

Few outside his inner circle knew he welcomed two young brothers from their poverty-stricken and abusive upbringing in Sunderland into the loving fold of his family home.

One of those boys, Craig Bromfield, lived with him for almost a decade. Now, 17 years after Clough’s death, he shares the incredible story of how the sports icon transformed his life.

Craig, 49, says: “The good things in my life would not have happened without Brian. I have so much to thank him for.

“Before I met Brian, I’m not exaggerating when I say I had one pair of underpants. One shirt, one pair of trousers, which all got washed on a Sunday night.

“Meeting him made me feel like the boy in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who had nothing but won a golden ticket to an amazing new world.”

Craig first met Brian, then the most famous football manager on the planet, on the brisk morning of October 20, 1984 when he was walking on Seaburn beach.

Perhaps it was the confidence of the eleven-year-old, who strode straight up to politely address “Mister Clough”, which instantly endeared him to the Nottingham Forest boss.

Perhaps it was because he knew Craig and his elder stepbrother Aaron’s scruffy clothes were no defence against the biting wind whistling across the sands that day.

“I only wanted to ask if he’d seen his player Kenny Swain,” says Craig. “The previous night we’d been out asking for a penny for the Guy and Kenny gave us a fiver.

“In all our years Guying no one had given us a fiver. Ever. He promised we’d have the whole team’s autographs if we came back but we couldn’t find him.”

Sensing the lads hadn’t had any breakfast, Clough invited them to the team hotel to find Swain and join the players in the dining room.

“We couldn’t believe it,” says Craig. “We sat with real life people from our Panini sticker album and loved that they talked to us in accents we’d never heard before. They said we could eat whatever we wanted but we weren’t greedy.”

Craig and his brother, who spent spells in care throughout their childhood, were invited to travel with the team for the day’s game against Newcastle United. They ran home to get their coats but when they returned, Clough was aghast.

“He said, ‘Blow me, are they your coats?’ My green parka had lost its fluffy lining so was just a thin shell, and Aaron didn’t have a coat so was tripping up in dad’s far too big Crombie.”

It was all they had. Craig’s stepfather was a part-time drug dealer and wife beater, who once held his mother by her neck from the upstairs window before dropping her to the ground in front of his four screaming children.

His kids’ penny for the Guy collection paid for their own Christmas presents which were invariably sold later to pay for food or bills. As well as being undernourished in every way, the children were psychologically and physically tortured by their stepfather.

Being treated to chocolate on a famous footballers’ bus, match tickets and a fiver for a pie and Bovril at half time was beyond the boys’ dreams.

Soon, Clough asked Craig and Aaron to stay at his home in Quarndon, Derbyshire. But before they arrived they were briefed.

Craig says: “Brian insisted his wife Barbara was always called Mrs Clough. He said, ‘Lads, I’m not kidding. If I hear anything else out of those mouths, I’ll knock yer daft bonces together’.

“Before we reached the house for the first time, he said, ‘I want you to tell her that you are my kids from Middlesbrough.

“Tell her that your mam has sent you to get some money from me and that you’re not moving from the doorstep until you can talk to me. Alright? Now off you go’.”

It says everything about Mrs Clough’s nature that she welcomed the boys indoors, treated them to sandwiches, hot drinks and a warm spot by the fire before Clough, bright red with laughter, came clean.

The Cloughs’ children Simon, Nigel and Elizabeth embraced Craig and Aaron like family. And the Cloughs’ generosity knew no bounds.

In return the boys fetched and carried anything the players needed on match days. And they made Clough laugh until he wheezed.

Once Aaron joined the Army, Craig was invited to live with the Cloughs. There were holidays in Majorca and a VIP ticket to an Elton John concert.

But then Craig made a teenage mis-step that devastated the rest of his life.

Trusted with a job in Simon Clough’s newsagent, Craig was egged on by a friend to steal takings.

He desperately wishes he had not betrayed the family that given him so much.

“Although the family acted with nothing but grace towards me, in a way I wish they had involved the police,” he continued.

“If they had, I would have been punished and maybe even been in prison for two or three years.

“Instead I did 35 years because I’ve never managed to get over it. The guilt mentally destroyed me.”

The Cloughs gently loosened ties with Craig. But there is no doubt Brian would be proud of how the skinny, shivering lad he met that day on Seaburn beach has turned out.

Not just because his work ethic saw him reach director level for a recruitment firm. But because he has an unending drive to do the right thing.

Most of the proceeds from his book about his life with Brian Clough will go to underprivileged families.

Craig says: “Brian always told me to ‘be good’ and he didn’t just mean do everything you can the absolute best you can. He meant be a good man.

“My book is not just an apology for what I did, but a public thank you for everything Brian and his family did.”