I have read some very good books this year (Ubik, Blood Meridian, The Road) but the stand out so far has been ‘The Damned Utd’ by David Peace.
An account of Brian Cloughs short tenure as manager of English First Division high fliers Leeds Utd in the mid seventies, it tells the story through the eyes of Brian Clough, through his words, though the words are a fiction of the author. From what I remember about the man through his television and radio appearances, the Clough imagined here is accurate, but also more complex than I would have thought. Driven to succeed by perceived ‘failures’ and bad luck, this man is vulnerable yet has an unassailable belief in his own powers. Highly emotional, a family man with a strict moral code on winning and losing, his failings at Leeds give the story a poignant, even tragic, edge. The book presents him as an isolated figure, adrift in Yorkshire, seperated from his family and his managerial partner, Peter Taylor.
At Leeds, the team of players he inherits from his bitter rival Don Revie is resistant to Cloughs unique charms and they present an almost united sullen blank face in spite of the managers cajoling. As the season gets underway the cracks begin to show very quickly, and with the team not winning, most of the fans, many of the players, the Directors and Chairman want Brian Clough out.
There are 44 chapters, one for each day of his stewardship of Leeds, and contained within those chapters are flashbacks to his days as manager of Hartlepools(sic), his triumphs at Derby County and then the fall from grace, as he languishes at Third Division Brighton.
As a character study of a great manager, as an historical study of the minutiae of football in the seventies, and as a novel, it succeeds. The book is evocative and sparks interest in clough so much that I want to read more about him – and there is a book called ‘Provided you don’t kiss me’ by Duncan Hamilton that looks like it will fulfil that need. I really cannot recommend this book enough.