I’m in no way a football fanatic (and never have been) but I recall discussing the resignation/sacking of Brian Clough as Nottingham Forest manager back in … 1993 with my dad who would never knowingly miss one of the Saturday matches from the English Division I which the Danish TV channel used to screen during the 1970s and 1980s. “I never liked him,” Dad commented, “but Nottingham were brilliant”. To appreciate the comment, you should know that my dad a) had a working class background (what I mean by this is, that problem was not that Clough was somebody with a working class background who had made it) and b) was born and grew up in Vejle. (In case you are clueless about this, look here for explanation).
While The Damned United includes a number of factual inaccuracies, it offers more than a glimpse into the mind of Brian Clough, famous for making lowly Derby a force in English football in the late 1960s and early 1970s, then repeating the feat with Nottingham Forest in the late 1970s and early 1980s and for never becoming England manager. The film is based around Clough’s doomed tenure as Leeds Utd. manager in 1974 which ended with his sacking after a mere 44 days, but the real issue is Clough’s rivalry with former Leeds manager Don Revie and his relationship with his former (and later) assistant Peter Taylor.
Why did Clough have such an issue with Revie? The film claims that Clough felt slighted by Revie when Leeds played Derby in an FA Cup tie years earlier, but I suspect that the real problem was that while both Clough and Revie were groundbreaking in their approach to football managing, their aims were different: Revie wanted to win and did so by meticulously recording the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents – and if it took brute force on the pitch to destroy the opposition, so be it.
Needless to say Clough also wanted to win, but he wanted to win in style. No kicking and rushing here. Passing the ball was his game. Quite an ambitious approach to football when you consider the state of the
pitches mudfields available. Strangely, bullying players and talking big, very big, was also part of Clough’s approach to managing a team. But it worked, just as Revie’s approach had worked.
The film? Oh, it’s brilliant. If you have any memories of the 1970s, they are brought back vividly. Everything from the awful wallpapers to the terrible football pitches are there. I even suspect that my dad, had he lived, would have been endeared to Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Clough (while still hating every single inch of the man’s guts). I fear that this Clough would even be able to sell me a used car.
If I should point to a weakness in the storyline, then is it that we never really get an explanation of why the Leeds Utd. board chose Clough as their new manager (it is easy to understand why Clough wanted that job even if a wiser and more self-assured man would have turned the offer down). Pundits have pointed out that the Leeds squad Revie had assembled was nearing its sell-by date in 1974 and needed rejuvenation – Revie in all likelihood knew this which was one reason for his taking the England job – but surely a sensible board would have asked itself what the impact of Clough would be. But then again, Clough was a bit of a hurricane.
That said: You don’t have to have an obsession with football to enjoy the film.
Brian Clough endears himself to the Leeds Utd squad on his first day at work:
And here is a clip from what must surely be one of the most awkward football-related interviews ever. Brian Clough meets … Don Revie in the studio after his sacking (yes, it really happened):
Oh, and is it possible to find a Danish parallel to Brian Clough? As it is, I think so.