Four years previous to this, Nottingham Forest had finished 16th in the old Division Two and was just spared relegation, by appointing Brian Clough as their manager.
In the 1978-79 European Cup, Nottingham Forest played against Liverpool in the first round, who had won the two previous seasons. There were home goals by Birtles and Barrett which meant that Forest went through on a 2-0 aggregate.
The final was played against Malmo Fotbollforening (known as Malmo FF) a Swedish team who also goes by the nicknames The Blue or the Sky Blues. Malmo FF’s kit was sky blue and white. Nottingham Forest’s kit was red. Malmo was managed by the English manager Bob Houghton at the time. All of Malmo’s players were 6ft plus, which made Birtles comments that playing them “was like Land of the Giants.”
The match was played on the 30th May 1979 at the Olympiastadion in Munich. The game hasn’t gone down in history as a great game. The Malmo team had some unfortunate injuries prior to the game, two of their best players midfielder Bo Larsson and defender Roy Andersson couldn’t play due to injury. Their captain and key midfielder, Staffan Tapper, broke his toe in training the night before the match. This made Malmo take quite a defensive role throughout the game because they’d been instructed to do this, to counter the skills of Nottingham Forest.
The stadium was attended by 68,000 fans, but because it was a large stadium, it certainly didn’t look full. Neither Nottingham Forest nor Malmo FF at the time was considered major clubs.
Brian Clough was the manager of Nottingham Forest at this time, and Forest was very successful. In February of this year, Clough had signed Trevor Francis from Birmingham City, with Britain’s first £1 million footballers. However the UEFA rules meant that he couldn’t play European football for three months; so the first game Francis played, was this European cup, on the right wing (MF7).
Because Malmo was just constantly defending, the game was mostly about Forest trying to break through this defense. Forest still hadn’t managed to do so, until around 45 minutes, John Robertson a winger, beat two Swedish defenders on the left-hand side, then got in a cross. The newly signed Trevor Francis was then able to head the ball, past goalkeeper Jan Moller, into the roof of the net.
In the second half of the game Gary Birtles (who played more than 200 games for Forest overall) and Roberton didn’t manage to make the most of their chances to score, but Malmo FF didn’t score either.
This meant that a fairly small English club, Nottingham Forest, had won the European Champions Cup final – Europe’s biggest football prize; knocking out Liverpool on the way. Malmo FF were the runners-up, and they received a Svenska Dagbladet Gold Medal for this. The Nottingham Forest captain for this game was John McGovern, and he held the huge cup aloft for photographs afterward. When the manager Brian Clough was asked how they won the game, he replied: “We were very good, it’s simple.”