Even at 66, Kenny Burns rarely misses the target. As a striker of some renown at Birmingham City he was a regular goalscorer until Nottingham Forest signed him in 1977 and turned him into a central defender. In his new role, he had a reputation for the uncouth – once receiving a £50 fine, almost a third of his wages, from Brian Clough for headbutting Arsenal’s Richie Powling.

He remains as pugnacious as ever; he is angry at his old club and with good reason. He says they have forgotten the men who won back-to-back European Cups – the second of which was achieved 40 years ago on Thursday past – a league title and a pair of League Cups.

The pictures of Clough’s all-conquering heroes, a team containing five Scots and the future Celtic manager Martin O’Neill, are being taken off the walls at the City Ground, the hospitality lounge is closed to them and car parking spaces delegated elsewhere. Yet the club shop sells a range of clothing labelled Miracle Men in tribute to the team Burns played in while video footage of the 1-0 win over Hamburg, courtesy of John Robertson’s 20th minute winner, has been running on the official website all week.

“We don’t really get looked after at Nottingham Forest,” says Burns. “What we did – what can I say? That’s what built the club: winning European Cups.”

“Players at other clubs are gods but not down at the City Ground they’re not. We are nothing to do with the club any more. Myself, Larry Lloyd, Peter Shilton, whatever. If we are asked to go down there we should get the hospitality of a top-class player but I see cricket players like Stuart Broad and his sons in there [hospitality], they’ve never done anything for Nottingham Forest. We can’t get in there, we’ve got to go up and sit in the stands. I don’t think they appreciate what we did for Nottingham Forest.”

Asked if it feels like a slap in the face to the men who put the club on the map, he says: “Well, it does actually. Where your picture was there at one time it has been taken down. They’ve got pictures of a five-year-old painting a picture with a paintbrush. I know one player – I won’t say who it is – probably one of the biggest signings we’ve ever had, and he’s told me he will never go back to the City Ground.

“Fans miss their heroes. We might be fat, we might be bald, whatever, we can still tell stories and I think we just seem to be losing that.”

If it is clear that the Glaswegian retains a sense of his pugilistic old self, he is given to good humour more often than not during a conversation that is punctuated by smacks of his lips as he eats his dinner. Indeed, these days, one is far more likely to be on the receiving end of a punchline – no doubt the result of a second life spent on the after-dinner circuit – than an uppercut.

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Back in 1977, Burns was noted for his hell-raising. Prior to his arrival, Peter Taylor followed him undercover to Perry Barr dog track to check on his betting habits before convincing Clough that Forest, newly promoted to the top flight, must sign him to play centre-half. The deal was done despite the Birmingham chairman advising Clough to stay clear of the player.

“Obviously, they had seen me play the season before they bought me,” he recalls. “I had fallen out with the manager at Birmingham and he said, ‘go for a holiday’, so I took the wife and I got a phone call and it was Brian Clough. My first thought was, ‘who’s Brian Clough?’ He said, ‘give me a phone as soon as you get back’ so I phoned him and we met at a pub. He had plans where to play me.”

The first Burns, who had scored 19 goals the previous season, knew what Clough and assistant Peter Taylor’s intentions were when he was handed a bib prior to a bounce game against the reserves and was told he was playing No.6. It was to prove one of many shrewd decisions by the pair. Forest duly won the title in that first season and Burns would win multiple player of the year awards. A European Cup win against Malmo was followed by that second against Hamburg.

In the build-up to the latter final, Kevin Keegan, the two-time European Footballer of the Year, was the man Clough singled out as the main danger in a side teeming with special players, including West German regulars Manny Kaltz and Felix Magath.

Burns and Larry Lloyd were detailed to noise him up from the outset and the mind games started in the tunnel before kick-off, a scenario Burns recalls with a hint of mischief.

“I was about three or four from the back and Larry and Kevin had played together at Liverpool. Larry said to Kevin ‘how are you doing, wee man?’ ‘Not bad, Larry.’ ‘Kevin, I need to tell you something, Burnsy’s going to have you tonight.’ And, just then he turned around, and I’m chewing on some local chewing gum, red chewing gum. Larry said: ‘look, he’s chewing on some meat’.”

The hard-man routine carried onto the pitch.

“Manny Kaltz got the ball and he pinged it over to Kevin, who got the run on me. And I put my hand up – and nobody believes me when I say it – I was shouting across to Viv [Anderson] and, wham, it went right across his windpipe. That was an accident. He didn’t like it and if you look at the game, he starts going further and further back. He started getting the ball off the goalkeeper and that was a sign that I had won my battle.”

Then Forest won the war. Soon, Hamburg were reduced to taking long-range shots at goal where Peter Shilton remained defiant and a memorable double was complete.

“They had most of the play and we were thinking, ‘yeah, they’re going to score a goal’ but they didn’t. We kept telling ourselves, ‘if they want to shoot from 30 yards, then let them shoot’. If we’ve not got a goalkeeper who can save shots from 30 yards then we are in trouble but we had Peter there, possibly the best goalkeeper in the world.”

Today Clough is given most of the credit for Forest’s achievements and while Burns is in no doubt about his genius – believing Ol Big Head to be superior to Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Sir Alex Ferguson – he says the players that did it on the pitch deserve more credit.

“I think we went 42 games without losing a match. That was because of the system we played. If we’ve got the ball they can’t score. We kept it and kept them out. What he said and what he did was fabulous but don’t take it away from the players, it was them who played the 90 minutes on the pitch. They did it for Nottingham Forest Football Club and we loved every minute of it.”

And the memories of those days are never far from the surface. Laughter was in abundance, so too was alcohol. Frequently the two would go hand in hand.

In a novel re-imagining of the “team that wins together drinks together” trope, Burns recalls the night in Amsterdam prior to the semi-final, second leg against Ajax in 1980, when the Forest players strolled through the Red Light district.

“Remember we were just young men, [we were walking through it] thinking, ‘Jesus Christ, look at those t**s.’ We walked into this small cinema, there must have been 50 or 60 people in there. We were all splitting up into rows of seats and as I’m not looking where I am going – I am looking at what’s on the stage – I stood on this gentleman’s toes. It was the Nottingham Forest chairman, Fred Reacher. He was already in there.”

And what of O’Neill?

“I got on okay with him. We didn’t go to bed together,” he says with, not for the first time, the faint trace of a chuckle. “Martin knew what he had to do and, he always mentions it, he was having to do all the chasing back and defending because the ball was always going over to the other side to John Robertson. Don’t get me wrong, he was a good player. If he wasn’t a good player he would not have been in that team. He has the trophies to show that.”