Tag Archives: literature

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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Ingenious Suggestions Invited

ImageSo, I’m writing this book.

It’s going to be about my team, Leeds United, and how the club have accompanied me on the highs and lows of my life, giving me misery when I’ve been at my happiest, and more misery when I’ve been down. It’s been done before, but every fan’s story stands alone and is unique in its way. Football affects us all differently, and we all react in an individual way to the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune that the game visits upon us. I started relatively late watching Leeds, and it was all my dad’s fault when I finally got round to it. Thanks, Dad. I think.

Really, I wasted the first 13 years of my life farting about watching old films and reading Biggles and Billy Bunter books, when I could have been watching Revie’s heroes stomping all the opposition into submission, and winning the occasional pot along the way. Instead of seeing us win our solitary FA Cup, I was reading a poem out loud at a Music Festival in Ponte, finishing runner-up in true Leeds United style. Instead of watching us take two league titles, I was being a bookworm and dreaming of a career as an astronaut. Talk about a misspent youth.

I finally started watching Leeds in April 1975. Revie had gone to his ill-fated stint as England boss. Big Jack had gone. The great days had gone too, although that wasn’t apparent at the time. Leeds were on their way to the European Cup Final, and my first game was a 0-2 defeat to Liverpool four days before I saw us beat Barcelona 2-1 in the European Cup Semi, First Leg, Cruyff, Neeskens and all. So, fittingly it was Billy Bremner who gave me my first Leeds goal, rocketing a shot into the top left corner in front of the South Stand as I watched stood precariously on my milk crate in that weird shelfy bit halfway up the Lowfields Stand. I still have the commentary of that goal as a ringtone on my iPhone. Fantastic.

And the rest is history; my history and the downs and ups of Leeds United FC over the subsequent 38 years to date. I hope you’ll buy the book, when it appears, and read more of my memories, interspersed with various rants here and there about how the game was, is and (I’m afraid) will be.

The thing is – I really need a title. I’m a bit stuck there, call it sub-editors’ block. The actual book is coming along nicely, and I think a lot of Leeds fans will empathise with what’s contained between the dust-covers – but I’m damned if I can think of a title for the front. Hang on – “The Damned United”?? Hmmmm, ideal – but I have the feeling it’s been done.

I would really appreciate some suggestions. If I end up using one of them, I will happily credit the owner of the idea on the inside front cover, as you do with proper books. And I’ll furnish a complimentary copy also, so you don’t have to wait for it to appear in the bargain bins for 99p. Can’t say fairer than that.

Honestly, I’m fresh out of original, snappy titles. Please help. As Brian McDermott says, we need to sing Marching On Together, and really mean it, suiting actions to words – so your support and inspired suggestions would be right in line with that Leeds United MOT spirit.

I look forward to some brilliant ideas, thanks in advance.