“Christ, I haven’t felt that good since Archie Gemmill scored against Holland in 1978…” – that line, one of the more famous in British cinema history, was uttered in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, about the aforementioned, former Scotland and Nottingham Forest player’s wonder goal in the World Cup. We had the pleasure to speak to the man himself, promoting Jonny Owen’s documentary I Believe in Miracles, on the remarkable achievements made by Brian Clough’s Forest side in the late 1970s, where Gemmill played a vital role.
It’s nice to watch the team doing well, but it doesn’t make a great amount of difference to me.
The team spirit really comes across in the documentary, rarely do you see that sort of camaraderie between a group of players.
The spirit within the team was exceptional. I’m talking about on the pitch, obviously we can’t always get on well with every single person so there are a few little fall-outs here and there, but when you’re playing ay 3pm on a Saturday or half past seven on a Wednesday night, everyone is fighting, and you’d do anything you could possibly do in that those 90 minutes to secure a victory. If anybody needed any help, because obviously you can’t have everyone playing at top form the whole time, you would go the extra mile to help that player get over the 90 minutes.
Do you still keep in touch with everyone?
There’s a few of them that you’ll see every now and again, but we’ve got our own lives to get on with. I see John O’Hare, John McGovern, Kenny Burns, Frank Clark occasionally.
Has the film brought a few of you back together – a few you hadn’t seen for a while?
Yeah there were a couple of meetings and obviously the banter you get is exceptional. But I dare say it’s the same in most dressings rooms, but they’re still close-knit. There were 16 of us, in a squad these days you get 35 or 36 so it’s hard to get to know everybody.
It’s one of the greatest ever achievements in club football, did it feel like that at the time? Did you get a sense for how special it was and that you were a part of something – or is that something you can only really appreciate after it’s all over?
Yeah you don’t really realise what’s happening at the time because it’s just game after game after game and it didn’t come in to your mind that this is special. All you’re doing is trying to win the next match.
Do you we will ever see an achievement quite like this again?
Well, if people had asked back before we done it whether it was possible, we’d probably have said no. So it could be that somebody might do it in another 10 or 20 years, you just never know.
What do you make of the current Forest side – is there hope of a return to the Premier League in the next few years?
There would need to have a lot of money spend on them. But I’ve watched them here and there on the box and they seem to be well-organised and well-drilled and able to get results. They would be hoping that they can get into a top six position and take it from there. But it could be a little way away.
Do you keep an eye on all of your former club’s results?
Oh yeah, you have a look to see how they’re getting on.
Do you still get to many lives games these days?
I go now and then, I’m still in Derby and have a lot of friends, so go maybe half a dozen times a year to watch Derby.
There are less positive aspects though to your time at Forest, as it ended in quite a sour way for you as a player. Do you regret the way you left the club?
I didn’t like it at the time, but as I say, you just have to get on with your life and that’s it.
Can you recall how you felt when discovering the news you weren’t selected for the European Cup final? It must have been tough to take.
I hated it. I let the manager know and on no uncertain terms I told him exactly how I felt. But he showed once again that he was the boss because he got rid of me in pre-season, he sold me to Birmingham. That was it.
Does it still play on your mind every now and then, do you still think about that day?
Not in the slightest. I’ve got a son, and grandchildren, so why would I possibly, remotely think about playing in a European Cup? I don’t think so.
So what is the one memory from your time at Forest that you cherish the most?
Um, that’s very hard. I was only at Forest for a short period of time, but obviously winning the league, for any club it’s the yardstick that everybody goes for. If you can win a championship, that’s far better than winning European Cups or FA Cups or League Cups – the league is the big thing for any player.
Let’s talk about Clough for a moment – what a character. What was he like to work alongside during those years? Can’t have been a dull day.
The gaffer was the gaffer and I’d known him from working under him at Derby, so when I went to Forest it wasn’t any different. You just get told exactly what your job was, if you did it correctly, you stayed in the team, if you weren’t doing it properly you were out. It’s as simple as that.
You dipped your toes into management yourself – did you take a lot from Clough’s approach?
If I’d have taken from Clough, I’d would have still been a manager. So the answer is no.
Clough’s time at Leeds was also turned into a movie, in The Damned United – does it surprise you he’s managed to find himself as the central figure now in feature films?
Not at all, he was a complete and utter one-off. He had supreme confidence in his own ability and he had supreme confidence in Peter Taylor and he had supreme confidence in the players he brought in to do the job that he would instruct them to do. If you mix it all together, you’ve got a winning formula.
Of course I’m speaking to you today on behalf of a movie site, so I can’t not mention that your name is in a certain line in Trainspotting. Your name has become ingrained in cinematic culture thanks to it – what was your reaction when you heard it for the first time?
Well I was a bit surprised. I just wish I had the rights to it, I’d be worth a few bob now.
So did anyone get in touch beforehand to let you know they were going to use it – or did you just discover it afterwards?
It’s something I discovered afterwards.
Do people ever quote it to you now?
Occasionally, especially when I’m up in Scotland I get it. But once again, it’s just one of these things that was said, and that’s it.
Do you think I Believe in Miracles will appeal to film fans who aren’t too clued up on football? Has this got a wider appeal?
Well, every Forest fan will go and watch it. I would think that if anybody is a true football fanatic or even just a Tottenham Hotspur supporter – they will go and see it, especially because with all the money that’s in football nowadays and if you took the 16 player’s wages from the two years and what the manager paid for the players, it’d be two or three million maybe. Now a football player can earn 15 or 16 million a year. It’s absolutely frightening.
So this movie will take you back to a time when football was a little more pure and overtaken by money?
I don’t know if it will take me back, but I’ll enjoy the highlights of the film, when goals are scored, when saves are made and when tackles are made, it’ll be nice to see that again.
As you said, this will be a huge hit amongst Forest fans, and even us Spurs fans too – but how about Derby fans? Will many of them go and watch this when released?
I think they’ll go and see it, solely for one thing – and that’s the manager. They won’t go and see it to watch Nottingham Forest win, but they’ll go and watch it to see the manager again.
So finally, are you a big film fan yourself – do you get out to the cinema at all?
Well actually I’m going to watch Macbeth on Monday at lunchtime, so I do go and watch a few pictures.
Macbeth is great.
Is it? I’m looking forward to it.
I Believe in Miracles is released on October 13th, and you can read our review of the film here.