The Damned United..

I’ve mentioned David Peace’s novel based on Clough’s famous 44 days at Leeds United, but always from the position of supreme ignorance of never having read it.  Many of you commented, quite rightly, that I should – despite my reservations having heard the reaction of the Clough family to the tome.  However, I have relented and availed myself of a copy, and blitzed through it over the last few days, and can now comment on it from a position of being at least slightly less ignorant than I was.

Firstly, it’s a good book – I tried to suspend my judgements, my feelings, my fears that it would try to annihilate my hero, and judge it on it’s own merits.  It’s very important this is fiction woven around true events, those 44 days, as well as flashbacks to time spent at both Hartlepools (as they were back then) and Derby County – all told through a narrative purported from Clough’s mind.

I do think that Clough is portrayed quite one-dimensionally – if it were the only reference material you had on him, you’d think he were an unjustifiably arrogant chain-smoking person with a drink problem and a severe case of Tourette’s syndrome, not to mention a strange fixation with losing his watch.  You would think him embittered and obsessed by Don Revie, and you would think him an insecure and weak-minded person hopelessly out of his depth when managing a team who should have been doing much better than they were.

It got me thinking to the kind of self-narratives I sometimes have though, and if I were to write them down and read them back, I would probably not think them a fair reflection on my true self either.  I have no idea whether David Peace has a more sympathetic view of Clough than his caricature portrays, but certainly the thoughts we all have from time to time might not be quite as rational and pride-inducing as those that we choose to externalise either in writing or conversation.

Certainly Peace packs the book with facts as well as fiction, told in a time-line story in sync with a time-line of past achievements – and it’s interesting and compelling reading.  I struggled with the repetitive nature of Peace’s writing, he repeats phrases constantly – although perhaps his 44 days at Leeds felt like a monotonous and repetitive cycle of difficulty.  I imagine it can’t have been easy, attempting to tackle a bunch of mature and successful players who you’d spent the last few years slagging off must have been challenging.

Whilst it’s a very poor comparison on so many levels it brought to mind Megson’s time at Forest; attempting to motivate a bunch of overpaid bloaters who’d been allowed to indulge all their bad habits under Kinnear – of course, the manager, the players and the status of the clubs bear no comparison at all – but ultimately it’s a tale of the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time – apparently fuelled by both his desire to escape the obscurity of managing Brighton, and his embittered need to eclipse fellow Middlesbroughite Don Revie.

In leaving Brighton he left behind Peter Taylor; I’ve written at length before how much I feel Taylor’s contribution to Clough’s success is overlooked – and in lacking his ‘right arm’ at Leeds, it certainly didn’t help his struggle.  Of course, we latterly learned that Clough was capable of a second less glorious renaissance without Taylor at Forest, but never was he to rediscover those great heights they reached together, almost with Derby County – totally with Nottingham Forest.

Aside from minor quibbles (I don’t believe, despite capable of swearing like a trooper, that Clough would have oft used ‘the C word’ as he does in the book, nor do I believe he would have drawn such vivid sexual metaphors in his mind for Derby trying to overcome Juventus in the European Cup), it was an interesting and thought-provoking read.  Who knows how accurate the account is?  Not me – I personally choose to take it with a large helping of salt, but certainly it’s a book that is worth reading.

It didn’t leave me particularly emotionally touched, which books like ‘Provided you don’t kiss me‘ and ‘My father and other working class football heroes‘ did – but perhaps that isn’t the intention; so this isn’t exactly a rave review, but it’s somewhat a retraction on my previous reticence to even consider picking up the book – I don’t feel the time I’ve spent on it has been wasted, equally I wouldn’t say it’s inspired me either.  A worthwhile way to have spent the playoff weekend, though!

How good are the playoffs this season?

In seasons past (or indeed, through the seasons before us?!) we’ve either been in the thick of playoff action, or looking bitterly wishing we at least had a chance in this lottery of attaining promotion.  Having steeled myself for our involvement this year, it’s been great to pay just a passing interest to the games as they occur – Southend vs Doncaster last night, and of course the Championship saw last year’s League One runners up facing Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park for a shot at the big time.

Southend couldn’t make home advantage count against a lacklustre Rovers, despite having the lion’s share of possession, and having more shots both on and off target, the Shrimpers must be content to take the game to Rovers up at the Keepmoat Stadium next week.  They will be boosted by the fact that former Notts striker Paul Heffernan decided to headbutt a Southend player directly infront of the referee, yielding the only card of the game – a red one – which will leave the striker suspended for the next leg on Friday 16th.

Leeds United will entertain Carlisle on Monday night at Elland Road for the second semi-final, and battle here will resume just three days later at Brunton Park.  I’ve never understood the scheduling of playoff dates – whilst Southend and Doncaster get a full week gap between their two games, Leeds and Carlisle get half.  But still, Carlisle won’t be relishing the trip, on an abysmal run of league form and facing not only an in-form Leeds side, but one with renewed rage following the failure of Ken Bates’ appeal to The Football League.

Of course, since we are now a Championship club (that felt good to type!) we should consider the playoffs at this level too.  Bristol City were, this time last season, where we are now – contemplating and planning for their future at the next level up.  Well this year they’ve just beaten Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace in the first leg of their playoff semi-final.  They took the lead before being pegged back by a penalty – but won the game with a 30 yard screamer to set up a challenge for Warnock’s men on Tuesday in Bristol.

Tomorrow Watford entertain Hull City, to be followed by a return fixture on Wednesday.  The same gap for all competitors in the Championship compared to the randomness of the league we’ve just left.  Whilst I wouldn’t say I’ve been religiously following them as I had considered doing, it’s great to sit back and check results and match reports without having any real worry about what they’ll be.  It’s certainly interesting to know who’ll join us or leave us, but beyond that – it’s blissfully irrelevant!

Season ticket prices to increase..

The club claims an average increase of 10%, I make it around 12% – casting my eye down the list of prices, then I would say I’m satisfied rather than pleased.  If we take a few of their renewal rates and divide them by 23 for a ‘per match’ basis, then it does start to look a bit of a rip off in some areas, but less so in others – but I suppose that this hasn’t really changed over the last few years.

Let’s start with renewing in the Trent End, £349 – the cheapest adult option at the City Ground – this represents a little over £15 per match which isn’t bad at all.  Take it to the other extreme and go for a new (ie, not a renewal) season ticket in C or D block for a whopping £517 and it works out at almost £22.50 per game.  Now, once you factor in the ‘everyone £5/£10’ type promotions, suddenly that doesn’t start to look like such a good option unless you can guarantee you’ll make every home game.

We would have been fools to not expect Forest to leverage their promotion as an opportunity to increase their prices, but perhaps with them achieving the unexpected on the pitch I had vainly hoped they would do something even more unexpected off it and offer a real reward to those of us who’ve stuck it out for the last few seasons whilst others have walked away.  A £25 difference (between a 5-8% discount depending on where you sit) isn’t really much of a reward when you think about it.

The full details are available by clicking here.  Mark Arthur had to say the following to announce the ticket prices:

“In setting the prices for season tickets we have taken into account several factors including other Championship club’s pricing structures, especially those clubs of a comparable size and stature, and our desire to give Colin Calderwood the best possible chance of strengthening the squad.”

Ah, the old strengthening the squad chestnut.  Mind you, if we could get (and these are completely hypothetical numbers) 15,000 season tickets sold, for an average price of £275 (once you factor in the younger fans and the senior citizen rates), then it would be worth over £4m, which isn’t to be sniffed at.  Having said that, if Mr Doughty is serious about his talk of wanting to be a challenger I imagine it would still take a fairly deep hand in his pocket to supplement the season ticket money…