Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Damned United

After success as Tony Blair and David Frost, Michael Sheen can now be seen masquerading as football manager, Brian Clough, in the film, "The Damned United". I haven't seen the film but I have read the book by David Peace.

Brian Clough was a 2nd division footballer and a goal scoring machine. Playing for North-Eastern clubs, Middlesborough and Sunderland, he scored at the rate of nearly a goal a game, but his career ended at 29 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

He found his way into football management, first at Hartlepools, the bottom club in the football league, then at Derby County - a midlands no-hoper team that he took the top of the 1st division, then with Brighton, another never-been-there outfit, and then on to Leeds United, the most successful team in Britain for the past 15 years.

Clough's recipe for success was pass, run, play for each other, never argue with officials, never criticise referees, never commit fouls, play football as it should be on the ground. One of his sayings was "If God had meant football to be played in the air, he would have put grass in the clouds."

But Clough didn't believe in God. He didn't believe in luck. He believed in Brian Howard Clough and fair play.

Leeds United played football in a quite different way. They were good, but they were hard. They sought out their opponents weaknesses and played on them. They fouled, they niggled, they feigned injury, they time-wasted, they bullied referees; they cheated. Their long term manager, Don Revie, was a meticulous planner, superstitious, and a whinger. He always had an excuse if thing went wrong. It was never him or his team that erred; it was always bad luck, or a blind referee, or the fans or fixture congestion, or the opposition cheating.

Clough and Revie were diametric opposites. Clough was arrogant, outgoing, conceited, often drunk, emotional, unreliable, brilliantly inspiring and a fast talker. Revie was taciturn,, unsmiling, introverted, tight-lipped, religious (in a superstitious way), punctual, regulated and tongue-tied. They did not get on.

Then there were the owners. In the 1970s football cubs were owned by a Board of Directors - usually self-made working class successes. These men had made their money form scrap metal or haulage, they were butchers or owned a fleet of taxicabs. They were often local politicians for how better to get those lucrative contracts than sitting on the council that awarded them. Local graft was the rule not the exception. The well known and irreverent footballer, Len Shackleton, wrote his own autobiography, rather than have a journalist to write it for him. He had one chapter entitled, "What the average football director knows about football". The chapter consisted of blank pages.

As you might imagine Clough did not get on with directors. He found himself dismissed from Derby County and while settled with lowly Brighton was approached by Leeds United. He broke his contract went to Leeds and told the players there to chuck their trophies and medals in a bin, since they'd only won them by cheating. The players, the fans, the directors, and the old manager all hated him and he hated them. He lasted 44 days before being canned.

5 years later he had taken Nottingham Forest, in the next door town to Derby, to the first division championship and twice to become Champions of Europe.

In 2004 he died of cancer having already had a liver transplant for alcoholic cirrhosis.

The novel is a strange one; a impressionistic fiction based on fact. It offended a lot of people, but was critically acclaimed. If the picture that it paints of football is an accurate one, then it is a horrible world. The footballers are foul-mouthed, heavy smokers, drinkers and lechers. Their on-the-pitch behavior is cynical and fraudulent. At one point in the novel Clough the socialist/atheist opines that there must be a heaven because the world he lives in is surely hell. I'd agree with that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Prof.Hamblin..We have been away on a fortnights visit to the Scilly Isles and on my return was glad to find you doing well after your op! I hope you carry on progressing well-your blog articles are very interesting.Best wishes- Margaret.