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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The Damned United

Literature and football have never been easy bedfellows. Unlike say cricket there has always been a shortage of wordsmiths willing to describe the beautiful game. Indeed Basingstoke Boy John Arlott who wrote many a fine piece on both sports described football as "the craft without an art". Although things changed in the 1960s with the likes of Arthur Hopcraft and Hunter Davies writing about the game, its still a challenge to find anything stimulating on the bookshelves beyond the trashy "my story" biographies. Thus when a gem such as "The Damned United" comes along it really stands out from the morass. The Damned United was published in 2006 and written by David Peace. It is the sixth novel written by Peace, all of them an attempt to write a fictional account (faction?) of events in Yorkshire in the recent past. The first four, known as the Red Riding Quartet, chronicle the eventually successful investigation to catch the Yorkshire Ripper. The fifth provides an account of the 1984 miners' strike, whilst The Damned United takes on Brian Clough's disastrous 44 day spell in charge of league champions Leeds United.Divided into 44 chapters, Peace provides a day by day account of Clough's quick failure to stamp his authority on the team, who were to go onto reach the European Cup Final under his successor Jimmy Armfield.This is no staid procession of results and reports however, as intertwined with the story is Clough's tale of his career, a prolific goalscorer in the North East with Sunderland and Middlesbrough, a playing career cut tragically short by injury, the slow rise to managerial glory with Hartlepool United and Derby County with partner Peter Taylor, the sacking from County and return to the lower divisions with Brighton.The fact that the book describes a time when Derby and Leeds were not only amongst the best clubs in England but also Europe, makes it simple to slip into this almost fantasy world of Clough as Peace imagines how Old Big 'Ead would tell his story. A swift look at the history books confirms the fantastic facts of this portion of Clough's career, but what Peace does so well is to explore the psyche of a man who against solid opposition from all quarters of the establishment rises to become the hottest managerial property in football.This is no hagiography though, as Peace endeavours to uncover a man with such a strong drive to succeed that he will destroy anyone who stands in his way with his cutting comments, with even friends and family not spared the wrath of his tongue. This provides Peace with a route into Clough's alcoholism, as for all his success and hero worship, Clough appears as a man haunted by his failures, with only a whisky providing succour.Of course this particular story ends in failure, but Clough's belief remained indestructible, battered but unbowed, the epilogue reminding us that he would go on to take a second rate midlands club to championship glory and not one but two European Cups to take his place in the pantheon of English managers accompanied in my view by only Herbert Chapman, Alf Ramsey and Bob Paisley.How did he do it? By not knowing when he was beat, by relishing seemingly impossible challenges and achieving them, by having utter faith in his ability as a leader and manager. Quite simply his credo can be summed up in The Damned United by his answer to the question "Do you believe in God Brian?"
"No I believe in Brian Howard Clough".
Read on: The Damned United by David Peace is available from all book sellers of distinction.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brain Clough should have been the England Manger. But should never taken the Leeds job you can,t slag off players and club then expect the same players to respect you.