Tag Archives: Brian Clough

What Happens When a Huddersfield Fan Writes a Book About Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

Books can be long.  Sentences can be short.  Repetition beats inspiration.

Books can be long. Sentences can be short. Repetition beats inspiration for commercial success. I’m David Bloody Peace.

As any avid reader will know, it’s frequently the second or subsequent reading of a book that gives you a real insight into what it’s all about. Equally, giving up on a book part-way through tells you all you need to know about that work. But all too often, you’ll read a book just the once and walk away with an experience that might actually be quite misleading. Such, I suspect, is the case with David Peace’s “The Damned United”.

I read this once, seduced by the subject matter and what sounded a suspiciously extravagant claim to “get inside the head of Brian Clough”. The prose style was – well, let’s say ‘different’. But it survived a one-off read and, give or take some fanciful fictionalising together with a legion of liberties taken with history, it got me through three or four evenings tolerably riveted. And I got a perverse jolt out of the title. The Damned United. That’s us, that is. I guessed there and then that Leeds fans would take it up as a badge of honour. I guarantee that is not what was intended.

Then a short time ago I heard that Peace had written a similar book on Bill Shankly and I read some distinctly lukewarm verging on unimpressed reviews. Intrigued, I asked my wife what she’d thought of the author’s bleak crime series set in West Yorkshire in the seventies, at the time the Ripper was active. She pulled a face that spoke a thousand words. So, I decided to revisit “The Damned United”.

Many will be familiar with the storyline. Some from this book, others less helpfully from the lamentable film of the same name. Then there are those lucky few who actually lived through the events described, or who are students of Leeds United history; they will be the best informed of all.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the narrative, whatever injustices were done to the likes of Johnny Giles, Don Revie and Clough himself, whatever the departures from historical accuracy – it is the style, for want of a more appropriate word, that I want to address here. So let’s see if we have any more success in getting inside the head of David Peace than the author enjoyed in his attempt to read the character of Brian Clough. As a task, it should be a lot less complex.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer.

I sit staring at the screen and wait for inspiration. No ideas. No Clough speaking to me. Not here. Not today. It’s the first day of a project. The first day. Of how many days? The project is Clough. But he’s not speaking to me. Not here. Not today.

I write down some random sentences. Pick them up later, use them where I can. Use them again and again. It’ll do.

Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash. Whispering in the corridors of Elland Road. Elland bloody Road. Under ugly Yorkshire skies, an ugly Yorkshire stadium. There I am. Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash.

That’ll do, I can use that. I just need to get inside Cloughie’s head now.

But Cloughie’s dead. He’s not speaking to me. Not here. Not today.

I have a break. Clear my head, make room for Cloughie, if he decides to talk. Out into the garden, breathe some clean air. Then it’s back to it. Back to the project. Back to that damned United, waiting for Cloughie, though Cloughie is dead. Back to it.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer. Brian is in my head. Brian is swearing. He’s the Leeds United manager but he hates it. Hates it. Hates Leeds United. I can hear him. Hating Leeds United, hating Don bloody Revie. There he is. Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash. Whispering in the corridors of Elland Road. Elland bloody Road. Under ugly Yorkshire skies, an ugly Yorkshire stadium.

I can do this. I’m David Peace. David bloody Peace. Author. Huddersfield Town fan. Hate Leeds United, hate, hate, hate. Hate them for what they were, for what they are. Cloughie is the same as me, like that. But Cloughie is dead. And now he’s gone out of my head for the day. But there’s always another day. Always. Always one more bloody day.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer. No ideas. No Clough speaking to me. Not here. Not today….

And so it goes on, that style. In parodying it, I actually cut down on the repetition, minimised the number of stock phrases, decimated the profanity count. But it gives some idea, I feel, of David Peace’s formulaic approach to establishing his own “style”. There, that troublesome word again, “style”. Some authors have an inimitable style because it’s genuinely unique to them, it can’t effectively be reproduced by other writers. Some authors’ styles should be inimitable because nobody would really want to imitate them – except in parody. Mr Peace falls into the latter camp.

On first reading, it’s something you can live with and the narrative bumbles along, reinforced, it seems, by the constant repetition, the continual use of pre-packaged standard buzz-phrases.  It’s meant to convey the turmoil inside Clough’s head, the way he continually questions, cajoles, reassures himself. At first glance it appears to do that. But on revisiting this book, I found myself irritated by the repetition, wearied by the recurrence of the buzz-phrases, disillusioned with it all.

In “The Emperor’s New Clothes” everyone marvels at the Head Honcho’s wonderful new invisible costume, right up until the little boy, unhindered by years of training in subservience and hypocrisy, calls out “But that man’s bare naked!” – and the illusion is shattered. One re-reading of “The Damned United” was enough to shatter the illusion created by my first reading, and I know now what David Peace is all about.

I’d be interested to learn how long the book would be without all the padding. Not exactly of epic length, I suspect. If you were also to subtract the ubiquitous profanity in Clough’s speech – in real life he was not, apparently, a profane man – then Peace’s Meisterwerk would be shorter still. Honest, Brian – it’d be none the worse for that.

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A Warm Leeds United Welcome on Saturday to Nottingham Forest’s “Tricky Trees” – by Rob Atkinson

Former United striker Dougie Freedman, now in charge of the Tricky Trees

Former United striker Dougie Freedman, now in charge of the Tricky Trees

Notts Forest (they hate being called that, so let’s go with it) are one of those annoying, middle-sized clubs with no real history or tradition, who got lucky for a brief period during an otherwise mundane existence – and whose fans have never stopped boring on about it since. In this respect, they’re even worse than Aston Villa, who had at least been there and done it in previous eras. But Notts Forest led a life of almost unrelieved dullness between the time of Robin Hood‘s departure and the arrival of one Brian Clough. Then, for a brief period, everything gelled – and there was a purple patch. Not one to compare with the dominance of Liverpool in the seventies and eighties, to be sure – or even Leeds United in the sixties and seventies. But a purple patch nevertheless, and – for many residents of Nottingham – it was the best time of their lives (always excepting the defeat of the miners in the mid ’80s…)

The magic factor that made the difference for Notts Forest is of course one man, now sadly departed. Without him, all of that unprecedented success would never have happened. His eye for a player and his ability to play his crucial part in a phenomenal double act was the vital ingredient – the difference between mere competence and spectacular success. What a pity that publicity hog and shameless ego-maniac Brian Clough went and nicked almost all the credit for himself, ruthlessly marginalising the true hero. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Peter Taylor – the divine spark behind the conflagration of conspicuous achievement at the City Ground 38 years ago. The fact that Taylor made the vital difference is undeniable – and reflects poorly on those who, to this day, accord all the kudos for everything to Old Big ‘Ed himself. They could hardly be more wrong.

The truth of Taylor’s importance to Clough is easily enough illustrated. For whatever reason, Peter Taylor remained behind at Brighton when Clough strolled into Elland Road, expecting to repeat the success of Don Revie “but better”. 44 days later, he left Leeds, an abject failure – but lollied up to the eyeballs and able to name his own terms in any future job. And he had learned the painful reality that, without Taylor, he was no better than ordinary. All of Clough’s finest achievements came about with Peter Taylor at his side. If that duo had ever worked in tandem at a big club – and there was none bigger than Leeds in 1974 – then a dynasty of success could have been founded. Taylor wouldn’t have let Clough make his rash Elland Road mistakes – he’d have set about the matter far more gently, far more constructively. It was Leeds’ calamity – and Forest’s eventual good luck – that the mainspring of the Clough/Taylor double act stayed at the Goldstone Ground, Brighton – while Clough was left alone in a hotel in Leeds to discover the unwelcome truth of his limited potential as a one man band.

Nowadays, the glory years of dominance and success are distant memories for both Forest and Leeds – though United’s early-nineties revival at least gives Whites fans a choice of eras to drone on about – and they find themselves instead as the undisputed two biggest clubs below the elite Premier League level. The meeting at Elland Road on Saturday will reflect this in a bumper crowd of over thirty thousand, with the added spice of what appears to be a keen mutual dislike between clubs, personnel and supporters. Notts Forest possibly resent the continual references to their local area’s lack of solidarity during the Miners’ Strike, and also to their ridiculous nickname. Honestly – the Tricky Trees? Who on earth was responsible for that particular weird flight of fancy? Neither have they got over the perceived injustices of the 1-1 draw between these two at the City Ground earlier in the season, when apparently the Tricky Trees should have had half a dozen penalties at least, if not more.

Saturday’s game sees Leeds United in a more relaxed frame of mind than might have been the case only a few short weeks ago. Relegation worries have been seen off, and the Whites are bobbing about comfortably in mid-table, looking unlikely to move very much either upwards or down. The most likely realistic goal for the remainder of the season will be to see if a disastrous pre-Christmas spell can be overcome for Yorkshire’s Number One to confirm that position in the league table. A win over Forest would be another step on the way to realising that baseline target.

The main problem for United is that the Trickies have revived somewhat since the dismissal of the useless Stuart Pearce, their results showing a distinct improvement under the guidance of former United striker Dougie Freedman. There are even some pundits who fancy them still to make a late bid for a play-off place, which would at least give the rest of us the pleasure of them collapsing in a fit of nerves against whoever they might play in the two-leg semis. But it’s more than likely that both of these mid-table pedestrians will be renewing hostilities next season, in the same league – but hopefully with better prospects – at least for Leeds.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s game still has that top flight feel about it, with memories of Curries and Strachans and Battys and Hankins taking on the likes of Shilton, Gemmill, Keane and O’Neill. It’s not a fixture that wants for historical appeal, and a fullish Elland Road will be ample tribute to that. Leeds fans will hope for three more points towards sealing Yorkshire supremacy and, with a few solid if unspectacular victories under their belts, it would be most welcome if – just for once – United could set about their visitors with enough relish to see them off convincingly. It’s not that long since Forest got the worst of a goal-laden afternoon as Leeds emerged 4-2 winners – but there have been heavy defeats for the Whites too, about which the least said the better we’ll all like it.

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything wearily dons its pundits hat then – and the prediction this week is that the Whites will see off their embarrassingly nicknamed foes by three goals to one. And, in a crude attempt at reverse psychology, I would simply like to emphasise that there is no possibility of Steve Morison scoring for Leeds, none whatsoever – just forget that completely, it ain’t gonna happen.

Glad we got that cleared up. 

 

 

Psychological Breakdown of Brian Clough at Leeds United.

Fascinating in-depth study of Brian Clough’s disintegration during 44 days in Hell at Leeds United. The hell was of his own making, and he ventured into what was undeniably hostile territory without his trusted Lieutenant Taylor.

People tend to indulge in what-ifs over Clough’s Elland Road tenure – what if Leeds had stuck by him, what if he’d had a better start, what if Bremner hadn’t got himself suspended by being sent off in the Charity Shield. For me, the only relevant what-if is: what if Taylor had agreed to up sticks at Brighton and join his mate in Leeds?

Then, I believe, subsequent history for a number of clubs might have been very, very different indeed.

Pensieve

I think it’s a very sad day for Leeds and I think it’s slightly sad for football.”

The echo of Brian Clough’s words in the aftermath of his 6-week sacking at Leeds in 1974 still rings true in the ears of modern day football managers. Just ask Paolo Di Canio. In light of the premature sacking of Di Canio after a mere 12 matches, you cannot help but draw comparisons to Brian Clough and his terrible tenure at Leeds. Two dictators, two big personalities, two training-ground bust-ups and ultimately, two terminated contracts. Many are claiming this latest scalp hammers the final nail in the coffin of dictatorial managers, what with the resignation of Sir Alex Ferguson who can you now point at to say are cut from the same controlling, disciplinarian cloth as the aforementioned managers? The question remains, what went wrong? Why are the managerial autocrats being cut…

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Is Nice-Guy Moyes Starting to “Fergify” Himself?

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Many good judges are predicting that, with the Alex Ferguson era over at Man U, the club will now struggle to continue with their run of success.  By common consent, Fergie was not the greatest coach or tactician out there – his major contribution to the success down Salford way was more to do with his choleric temperament and his habitual intimidation of referees, reporters, players, other managers – just anyone who got in his way, really.  The terrifying effect of “The Fergie Factor” made the big difference in a game of fine margins, as a legion of cowed and downtrodden individuals would confirm, if they thought it was safe. But now we have ex-Everton boss David Moyes, and his track record suggests nothing of the talent Fergie had for using tantrums and hairdryer-like bollockings to get his own way. But could it be that the new gaffer is now setting out on the process of reinventing himself? Are we about to see the Fergification of David Moyes?

It wouldn’t be the first time that a youngish football manager, with illustrious predecessors inconveniently prominent in fans’ memories, has appeared as a sheep trying to don the clothing of a wolf.  Allan Clarke, after an apprenticeship at Barnsley, returned to Elland Road as manager, and immediately started trying to come over all Brian Clough.  “I’m a winner!” he would bark whenever a microphone was pointed his way.   As a player he certainly was just that, and he’d made a decent start in management too.  But as the new boss of Leeds United, following hard on the heels of the hapless Jimmy Adamson in 1979, he was suddenly operating in a goldfish-bowl environment, all eyes trained on him, all ears hanging on his every pronouncement.  His “I’m a winner” mantra swiftly made him a laughing-stock among local football writers, and he managed to fritter away the goodwill that had been built up between the club and the reporters by previous managers Don Revie and Jimmy Armfield.  Few tears were shed among the denizens of the local Fourth Estate when “the winner” turned into a loser and took Leeds down.  The moral would appear to be: Don’t reinvent yourself – just BE yourself.  Clarkey had some limited managerial success later on, so maybe he’d learned his lesson.

The early signs of similar folly are there with the Man U new boy Moyes.  Either off his own bat, or in response to a Govan Growl of advice, he’s setting forth to sound like an echo of Fergie – the accent is there to start with, but the incipient paranoia sounds familiar too. Take his comments about the Man U opening fixtures.  If you read them without knowing it’s a Moyes quote, you’d be looking for a name at the bottom and expecting to see that it was one A. Ferguson.  In a delayed response to the fact that Man U have to face Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool in the first five games, Moyes opined: “I find it hard to believe that’s the way the balls came out of the bag, that’s for sure.  I think it’s the hardest start for 20 years that Man U have had.  I hope it’s not because Man U won the league quite comfortably last year [that] the fixtures have been made much more difficult.”

It’s to be hoped that Moyes doesn’t feel he’s under any obligation to reprise his immediate predecessor’s policies of intimidation, or the tiresome “Mind Games” so beloved of a media in thrall to the grizzled and grizzling Glaswegian.  One of the many benefits of a Fergie-less football scene – apart from the very real prospect of Man U collapsing amid internal strife and external expectations – should be the chance of a rest from all of the nonsense that went with Ferguson and the way in which all and sundry used to defer to a man who really needed nothing more than a lesson or two in manners and deportment.  It seems highly unlikely that the relatively diffident Moyes could carry this tribute act off in the longer term, so surely he’d be better off setting out to stand or fall as his own man – not as some watered-down version of the tyrant he’s replaced.

The jokes have been going around along the lines of – oh dear, a nice Man U manager, how very unusual and depressing.  But in reality, Man U are in sore need of a bit of niceness at the top level of the club – they’ve had 27 years of the other thing, and have seen their image growing steadily grubbier in the process.  Good luck to Moyes – if that’s who he decides to be.  He could be instrumental in reinventing a once-great football club.  But if he chooses merely to ape Fergie in his pronouncements and his modus operandi – as suggested by his sulky comments over the opening fixtures – then he’ll deserve all he gets, which would probably amount to a needlessly sullied reputation – and a premature P45.

The Pride of “The Damned United”

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Was ever another phrase so obviously coined with one intention, only to be taken up and brandished with pride to the completely opposite effect? Author David Peace – a Huddersfield Town fan – has described his book “The Damned United” as “an occult history of Leeds United.” The word “history” in this connection is somewhat optimistic – the book is decidedly fictionalised, and the point of view is the imagined perspective of Brian Clough as he struggled through his 44 days in what could fairly be described as enemy territory. The book was a success, met by a measure of critical acclaim. The film it spawned was of more dubious quality, famous for the lengthy list of goofs on its Internet Movie Database page, and widely regarded as particularly one-eyed in its depiction of personalities and events, none of which bears much resemblance to actuality.

It is the tag though – that Damned United tag – which seems set fair to achieve iconic status, and not with the intended pejorative effect. With a typical sense of gallows humour, devotees of the Elland Road club have taken the label and made of it a badge of honour, waving it under the nose of the millions who despise Leeds United as a symbol of inverted defiance. We Are The Damned United, they say – do your worst. The tiresome recycling of allegations about Don Revie, the endless litany of “Dirty Leeds” myths and the omnipresent attitude that the West Yorkshire club exemplify all that is shady about football, all of this is held up to ridicule as those who love the club glory in the new name. Sod the lot of you. We are Dirty Leeds, The Damned United, and we are proud. It’s a unifying message, the foundations of a siege complex that can rally support behind any popularly-hated institution. It’s an assertion of individuality, of a refusal to conform to the cosy standards beloved of media and Establishment. It takes gritty character to be a Leeds fan in the face of such universal hatred, and those of sufficient character know they’re part of something unique and special. We Are The Damned United.

It’s also had the welcome effect of reclaiming a measure of ownership and identification with that word “United”. It’s highly doubtful that Town fan Peace could have foreseen or desired that effect, but there it undoubtedly is. For decades, the press, the football establishment in the UK and elsewhere – and of course Man U themselves – have been unrelenting in their efforts to corner the term “United” exclusively for the Salford-based franchise. It’s been an important marketing tool, a vital part of the attempt to sell the myth of The Biggest Club In The World™ (Copyright © The Gutter Press since the late 50’s) to children of all ages from Devon to Singapore. It’s seeped into the public consciousness like the subliminally insidious selling technique it is, and of course the tat-consuming, replica-shirt-buying, Sky-subscribing suckers have fallen for it in their millions. But now there is The Damned United, inextricably linked with Dirty Leeds, and suddenly that formerly football-related suffix isn’t quite so exclusively Man U any more.

Dirty Leeds The Damned United

The contrasting psyches of the Leeds United and Man U support is an apt illustration of how the two sets of fans have embraced such polar-opposites in terms of club and image. The Man U fans desperately want that monopoly of terminology, they need to believe the press-powered fairy-tale that there’s “only one United”. The motivation for being identified with what they are always being told is the “biggest and best” has a Freudian compulsion at the back of it, a sense that there is an inadequacy which yearns to be compensated for, an insecurity which needs bolstering. There are people like that everywhere, victims of society, and so you find Man U fans all over the place, as common and undiscriminating as flies. Leeds fans, on the other hand, tend to support their team – where the connection isn’t simply local and tribal – for reasons of perverse pride. It’s a manifestation of defiance and a refusal to be categorised as a commercial target group. The pride is palpable, and the negative image of the club feeds this. Sod you lot. We Are The Damned United. The emergence of such a potentially iconic label was not good news for Man U-inclined inhabitants of armchairs everywhere, and again, this is not an effect the author would have counted as one of his aims in producing his work.

Thanks, Mr Peace. You could hardly have aided our cause any more effectively, and Dirty Leeds have gained from the exposure in popular culture. The book may have been an attempted exposition of Clough’s state of mind as that complex character negotiated his time in purgatory; the film may have been an amusing romp through the mythical hinterland that borders but rarely intrudes on the territory of actual fact. But the label will probably out-live the pair of them, and will flutter bravely and proudly in the vanguard of the Leeds United juggernaut as it – eventually – thunders its way back to The Top.