Tuesday, June 02, 2009

book review - The Damned United - David Peace

A couple of things to declare from the start. firstly, I am not a Leeds fan and secondly I was probably too young and removed from holding a view about whether or not Brian Clough was a genius.

But in the spirit of making declarations it is worth pointing out that after having read the Red Riding quartet by David Peace I was in the mood for another book so came to this with familiarity of the style and the voice.

That voice is one of paranoid violence and in this case comes from the lips and thoughts of Clough as he rambles through 44 days in charge of a club that he hates surrounded by players and staff who despise him. Peace weaves in the back story of how Clough got to the position of being manager at Leeds with the success at Derby and the pivotal relationship with Peter Taylor, who importantly opted to pass on Leeds, but it is the Leeds story that is captivating.

A man with a drink problem, a fragile God complex and a hatred for the methods of others enters a club that has already enjoyed success and simply starts to tear it apart. Clough's aim was to make them better and play more attractive football but the way he went about it was bound to fail. he failed to turn up at training sessions, goaded the players and when they expected his backing as a manager he gave them none.

But Peace is careful to give his Clough depth and although he is a severely flawed character the reasons for his yearning for success and wealth are laid bare with his playing career cut short by injury and his hard upbringing in the North East. You never quite fall for the man but you understand, particularly with even the scantiest knowledge of what happened afterwards at Nottingham Forest, that Clough had something.

The fact that you put the book down with that opinion indicates that this is more than the one-sided hatchet job that some people have made out. Maybe Clough wasn't as aggressive but that's what Peace's Yorkshire is like. Maybe it was always going to be too dangerous taking on such a well known character and well documented events and using them as the ingredients for fiction. But for the neutral, the non fan of anything to do with the book, this is a gritty tale exposing the fragility of luck in sport and the naivety of those involved in the game.

A tough read but far from a defeat. Perhaps to put it in the context of a Clough Leeds result it was one of his better efforts, a draw.


Philip O'Mara said...

Brilliant manager, must be careful to listen to anything that is someones opinion. No matter how much research is done, it is still opinions. He proved his worth at Forest.
Read a great new football comedy, entitled Classes Apart.
This is an adult sporting comedy that follows the fortunes of Paul Marriot, the secretary of the Barnstorm Village Sunday soccer team and coach of a school cricket team in Yorkshire, England. The story describes the remarkable camaraderie between the players and supporters of this little club and their desire to achieve success. The team had previously been known more for its antics off the field, rather than their performances on it.

During his time at the club he meets and becomes involved with Emma Potter, who is the sister of James Potter, a major player for their bitter rivals Moortown Inn. Thus, begins an entangled web of romance and conflict. He also begins working at Derry High School, a school with a poor reputation of academic success, where he becomes coach of the school cricket team. Here he develops an amazing relationship with the children and they embark on an epic journey.

Simon Quicke said...

philip thanks for your response that book sounds good. I will look in to trying to twist the arm of my library or surf ebay to see if I can get hold of a copy.