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!

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6 Responses

  1. I’ve read it as well and like you I would really like to know if the author is anti-clough. He really does not show any positives. Not only does he concentrate on the Leeds era, he also concentrates on many negatives about his time at Derby as well. As we all know his time at Derby was very successful and majority of the time very positive. I am not sure if we are too pro-clough / paranoid but if Sir Brian was still alive I am confident he would have something to say about this book!!

  2. I too have read the book and did actually quite enjoy it although like everyone else had to take parts of it with a pinch of salt.

    As to whether the author is pro or anti Brian, we should have an opportunity to find out tonight as would you believe ‘The South Bank Show’ @ 10:50 tonight (Sunday) is an hour long show all about it!

  3. According to my research Peace is a Huddersfield fan, so won’t have any love for Leeds; nor possibly Clough – but I didn’t really think he was ‘for’ or ‘against’ him – I think it’s an honest attempt to portray the authors idea of what his internal monologue was like; personally I think it’s a little too simplistic, but I’ve no right to state that as fact as I never had the opportunity to get to know the great man.

  4. I thought this was a brilliant book. As a Forest fan and, of course, a huge admirer of Clough, I went into it detaching myself from the real BC – it is, after all, a novel, and not an autobiography or account from someone close to the man himself.

    Will look forward to the South Bank special and the upcoming movie of this (it has an excellent cast/crew) – I think Cloughie wouldn’t be too happy about someone else portraying him, though. He’d have been game for a crack at Hollywood!

  5. I thought it was a hightly entertaining read. An accurate portrait of Clough? I don’t think so, but it’s a right rollicking read nonetheless.

  6. […] Well I’ll be Damned, that was pretty good! What to do of a Saturday when there’s no Forest match, well, this weekend at least a trip to the cinema to see The Damned United.  Longer term readers will know that I had severe reservations about the book, and some of you coerced me into reading it – which I did.  I did review my initial stance – it’s a good book, and in David Peace’s own words, it’s designed as a portrait rather than a photograph – well, as a portrait artist Peace is rather one-dimensional.  The book painted  a bleak and embittered character who upset the Clough family (and even his former enemies like Johnny Giles).  Here is what I made of the book. […]

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