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!

Clough finds an unlikely ally in Russell Brand!

I’m not all that familiar with Russell Brand beyond the occasional appearance I’ve caught on Jonathan Ross – where he comes across as a fairly superficial person very much in the mould of the recent cult in ‘celebrity.’  So it was quite a surprise when a friend pointed me at this excellent article he’s written about Duncan Hamilton’s book about Brian Clough, and linked it with the current vacancy for the England job. 

So it’s made me reappraise him very much – so I figured I’d give you the opportunity to similarly view Mr Brand in a different light!  The article is published here on the Guardian website, and I’ll reproduce the text below for your reading pleasure.

Barwick must atone for the sins of his fathers 

Brian Clough, for all his extraordinary achievements as a player and a manager, is still often remembered as the best manager England never had. I am reading Duncan Hamilton’s Provided You Don’t Kiss Me in which he chronicles 20 years of interviewing Clough whilst, initially, working for a local Nottingham newspaper. I’ve not yet progressed beyond the early chapters so Clough is still in his prime, virile, volatile, passionate and frequently unreasonable.

What I enjoy most about this beautifully written and tender account of the relationship between a nervous young nit of a provincial reporter and a football genius is the sense of genuine proximity to its subject, so that Clough’s obvious flaws seem forgivable and even beguiling, rather than cruel and unbearable.

In the introduction Hamilton recounts an occasion where, whilst he was still in his teens, Old Big ‘Ead viciously coated him off in the home changing room in front of the wet and nude first team effin’ and blindin’ with such ferocity that he feared for his safety while Garry Birtles stared embarrassed at his own nude tootsies. The severity was such that Hamilton assumed that his relationship with Nottingham Forest was finished forever. Naturally, within 24 hours, Clough had called instructing him to get to the City Ground at once and that the argument had been a mere trifle.

From what I’ve read so far this is a wonderful book but I suppose I ought reserve judgement – perhaps in later chapters Hamilton loses all regard for his work and just scrawls slogans across the page in nail varnish, which would be absurd and not altogether unrewarding. What I can be assured of is that Clough will descend into alcoholism and stay at Forest for 18 months longer than he should have which gives even these early episodes a hue of sadness.

I’m a shade too young to have been fully cognoscent of goings-on at FA headquarters at the time that Clough ought to have been made national manager but have strong memories of his enormous and compelling personality. Once, during a non-aggressive pitch invasion, I think after Forest had won an important cup tie, he clipped one of his own supporters round the ear like an aggressive dad. He was a very potent man with an incredible life force and often such characters are sniped at and undermined rather than elevated and celebrated.

In his pomp Clough would’ve been a marvellous England manager – he vibrated on a plane of consciousness that made him a formidable leader but unnerved administrators. It is widely assumed that the reason he didn’t get the job is because the FA didn’t think they’d be able to control him – and they probably couldn’t have. That’s one of the reasons he’d’ve been bloody good.

If you have not yet guessed that I’m building towards a rather grand fanfare in support of the appointment of Jose Mourinho then you don’t deserve a newspaper and I suggest you take this copy of the Guardian, God’s newspaper I call it, and thrust it into the palms of an orphan who will be grateful of the nourishment. I think that by appointing Mourinho we can as a nation atone for the criminal neglect of Clough’s talent. Mourinho is his natural heir, more than Martin O’Neill, who admittedly played under him, more than any of the potential candidates. Who could be better? Who could inspire a nationwide buzz in the way that the sexy dog smuggler has so effortlessly done? Wenger or Ferguson? Why, they only have one European Cup between them and two full-time jobs.

I read that Brian Barwick, when asked about the likelihood of Mourinho being offered the job, just stared into space and mumbled bizarrely. Well, that’s the wrong attitude, no one ever got anywhere by staring into space and mumbling bizarrely except, maybe, Nostradamus but it is more for his perspicacity that he is admired than his mumbling and staring. Barwick must immediately cease this mumbling and staring and get on the phone and avenge the errors of the past and give us something to feel optimistic about.

Mourinho’s future is yet to be written but let’s insist that it is strewn with leading Blighty to glory. Let’s as a nation embrace unique and gifted individuals rather than suspiciously eyeing them as they subdue unspent ambition with toxic, bottled anaesthetic.

So there you have it, hats off to Russell Brand for a much unexpected commentary on both an excellent book (which I may or may not have plugged extensively before! 😉 ), and a solid appraisal on the current situation at the Football Association HQ.

Top award for Clough author Hamilton..

Great news for author Duncan Hamilton, his book has won the coveted award of William Hill Sports Book of the Year today – which is thoroughly deserved, not that I read all the other nominated volumes of course!  Graham Sharpe from William Hill said “The judges were as close to unanimous in their decision as any panel is ever likely to be.” – high praise indeed.

Incase you missed it last time around, I wrote a piece about the book back in May shortly after it was published, and basically gave it rave reviews – as did the guys at Left Lion, and Jonathan Stevenson over at the BBC, when interviewing the now award-winning author.  There’s a rather splendid new interview with Hamilton on LeftLion now, too – which is well worth a read.

So there you go, a bit of off-the-pitch glory for the mighty Reds, kind of – but on a less flippant note I’m chuffed as hell than Hamilton’s excellent portrait of such an over-caricatured man has gained some much deserved recognition.  Perhaps it will encourage filmmakers eyeing up Clough as a potential movie opportunity to consider this approach rather than the entertaining-yet-fictional parody that David Peace created in his ‘The Damned United’

So, if you’ve not gone out and read it yet, then bleeding well go and get a copy!

Clough family condemn defamatory Brian Clough book..

It’s odd timing, really – since the book in question has been out for a while – but the local media picked up this morning that the great man’s widow, Barbara Clough, has recently discovered the David Peace fictional work “The Damned United” – a book charting BC’s tumultous 44 days in charge of Leeds United.

The books is one that’s been ‘on my list’ for a while to read – but since picking up Duncan Hamilton’s ‘Provided you don’t kiss me’ I’ve resisted – and I think given this feedback from somebody who knew him better than anybody else, I will give it a miss in the end.  I’ll be in good company, Brian’s two sons Nigel and Simon have both vowed to ignore the work completely.

I suppose this media outburst (and indeed, my collusion in reporting it) gives further publicity to the book, and indeed the proposed film that the BBC of all people want to make of it.  The main crux of the criticism is that it portrays Clough as little more than a potty-mouthed trouble causer – which is perhaps not surprising when you consider Peace is a staunch Yorkshireman (that said, Brian would describe himself also as this).

Whilst I doubt that many people would deny Clough was capable of the occasional swearword, he was fundamentally a witty and intelligent exponent of wordplay – have a look around YouTube for a few interviews if you have any doubts on this front, so it’s understandable why Peace’s dark and very one-dimensional portrayal of him has offended those who knew him best.

In memory (or discovery?) of Stewart Imlach..

If, like me, you are feeling the lack of football already this summer then I may have a short term fix for you.  I’ve just finished reading ‘My Father, and other working class football heroes’ by Gary Imlach, son of former Forest winger Stewart – who played a starring role in our 1959 FA Cup win.  To me being the age I am, Imlach was a familiar name from poring through old programmes and statistical histories as a child, but I must admit to otherwise being utterly ignorant – so this was a voyage of discovery for me.

So too, it seems, was it for Gary whilst writing the book – being a youngster he felt he’d missed out on his father’s career and it wasn’t until after his death tha the realised there was so much to discover, and so much he had wished he had asked.  So for me I felt instant empathy.  I won’t go into loads of details as frankly I’d only get it wrong – but this is detailing an era when footballers were basically slaves beholden to clubs, and whilst I regularly bemoan post-Bosman player power, it does make me realise how badly some of our past legends were treated professionally.

The other thing is that I didn’t really follow the positions.  You see, my generation were brought up on 4-4-2 formations, they were the default but there are all kinds of tantalising things like “an attacking W” mentioned here, Stewart Imlach was an outside left – which was basically a left winger as far as I can tell, but perhaps more advanced – he relied on an inside left to provide him the ball where he’d either cross or cut inside to have a shot.  He was a grafter, a hard worker and won man of the match in the 1959 FA Cup final when we played with 10 men for the majority of the game after Dwight broke his leg.

He was discarded in strange circumstances – and in this I discovered that, not for the last time, a successful side was harshly and crudely dismantled rather than being built upon – this time by Billy Walker.  This is the first documented instance of this I’ve come across, but not the last – that’s for sure!  There are snippets about Jimmy Hill being a campaigner for player’s rights, and there’s me just thinking of him as the buffoonish pundit with a big chin that made me laugh as a child.

All in all, he overcame many examples of poor treatment at the hands of football managers and chairmen, didn’t get paid particularly well even compared to the working class folks spectating, yet carried on through determination and a love of the game – much like many of his contemporaries.  What an appealing era that sounds like – where passion was as fierce on the pitch as in the terraces.  But of course, with the distasteful underpinning of knowing that the players who provided this were being treated harshly.

I thoroughly recommend picking up a copy – I am really tempted to pick up a dozen from Amazon and posting them to Smoulds to give some of our primadonnas to have a read through – it will help them realise how privileged they are to be paid so handsomely for playing the game we all love.  So yes, if you’re suffering from a summer without any meaningful football then why not avail yourself of a copy – there’s plenty of snippets of interest I’ve not mentioned at all to make it well worth your while!

Click here for the paperback from Amazon.

Provided you don’t kiss me – a great insight into Brian Clough..

Given the current state of play this season, it’s probably not the best time to be dwelling in the past.  But when Al Needham from Left Lion alerted me to Duncan Hamilton’s new book, Provided you don’t kiss me, about his time as a sports journalist working so closely with Brian Clough at Forest, I very quickly enlisted my missus’s expert knowledge of the workings of WH Smith’s discount vouchers and despatched her to avail me of a copy of it.  The fact I’ve been less prolific at writing online during this time is probably testimony to the ‘not putdownable’ qualities the book has.

Like all Forest fans, I’m quite fiercely defensive of Clough.  Whilst only a fool would not concede that the great man certainly had significant faults and troubles – particularly during the era that I was first ushered into the ranks of Forest fans by my father and brother in the late eighties – he has been a constant and reassuring part of our history.  You could argue he is our history.  When I see fans of other teams say “you shouldn’t be in this league” for example, we can thank Brian Clough for that – because before him, we wouldn’t have been remotely out of place.

So I was suspicious of this journalist.  His name was familiar to me because of his presence in the local media during Clough’s tenure as manager – but the cynic in me naturally worried at the emergence of this book after Brian had shuffled off this mortal coil.  Was it to prove an insightful work, or just an exercise in cashing in on his memory which still proves lucrative in column inches or media coverage well beyond his retirement, and re-energised post-humously as plans to unveil a statue in Middlesbrough of Clough the player are imminent, and one of Clough the manager in Nottingham will not be too far behind.

I needn’t have worried unduly, as Hamilton presents a first-person account of his time building a relationship with Clough, with insight not only around his time at Forest, but those moments in his life that helped to shape the man he was to become.  A complex character, we’re all aware of that, is dealt with very candidly by Hamilton, he doesn’t pull any punches which I suppose is made easier when the subject is no longer able to answer for himself.  Whilst Clough’s latest autobiography was mostly honest, sometimes it does take an external perspective to try to get the flavour of a character.

The rift between himself and Peter Taylor is something that the surface had only been scraped from in previous commentary – it was heart-wrenching to read of how perhaps, had Taylor been in his office after Derby had beaten Forest 2-0 at the Baseball Ground, there may have been a small step made towards reconcilliation between the once great friends.  I never knew that before.  I’m completely with Hamilton when he states, in no uncertain terms when commenting on the Brian Clough stand, that “There is – disgracefully – nothing comparable to mark Peter Taylor’s contribution to the club’s successes.” 

In attaining such a relationship of trust with Clough, and spending so much time with him, Hamilton has been able to introduce much of the inner-workings of him, or at least his interpretation of them, that perhaps have been surrounded in mythology before.  In witnessing him arrive at Forest in all his pomp, to becoming the parody image of himself – collapsed beneath mounting pressure and alcholism – he illustrates starkly what started to go wrong for him, and the tragic thing is, some of it could have been repaired much earlier.

So I would certainly put my seal of approval on this book – it had me laughing, it had tears pricking on occasions and most of all it had me enthralled with a subject that I thought I was – whilst not expert – at least well versed in.  The tone and feeling in the words do not smack of a cynical journalist cashing in on his good fortune, but rather a man eager to put across a portrayal of this football giant that he feels accurately represents the man he spent twenty years getting to know.  Highly highly recommended by this reader.

It’s only £8.99 from Amazon at the moment, too.