Saturday, 14 January 2012

Book #7 The Damned Utd by David Peace

The Damned Utd

It may surprise a lot of people to read that once upon a time I knew a fair bit about football, I knew all the first team players names and many of the players names on teams I didn't support, the managers in the league, the fixtures, transfer window rules, and the meaning of 'on aggregate' and 'offside'. But for social reasons (and for that read bullying) I stopped "following" football when I left school, I didn't need the hassle anymore and now would be hard pressed to name more than a handful of current players on all sides as a whole.

Initially, I believed that The Damned Utd was a biography of Brian Clough and would therefore cover my "non fiction" quota. But, though it is based on biographical information, it is in fact a novelisation of his life. A known character of the football world Brian Clough was a man who was never afraid to say exactly what he thought, and do exactly as he pleased, but this approach made him enemies and lost him friends. The novel tells the story of his rise and fall as a manager between 1965-1974.

Told in "present day" 1974 in which Clough has just become manager of successful Division One side Leeds United, the novel flashes from his ill fated 44 day tenure there to Clough's past as a manager of Hartlepools and Derby. It chronicles something of an existential crisis for Clough who adored Derby and was a Derby man to his core, but having left the club on bad terms goes to manage Leeds. The problem is throughout his managing career Clough's passionate hatred had always been for Leeds and their former manager Don Revie. He is unable to see them as his men or his team, but Revie's men, the rotten dirty cheats he has always known. Lonely, isolated and homesick, Clough's world spirals out of control.   

The novel provides this fascinating psychological portrait of a man who lived for the game, and who was consumed by it, it was more than a job, there was real emnity and drama off pitch. The prose at times can be slightly repetitive "Revie. His team. His players. His club" and lists of wins, losses and draws against various sides, but this is to reflect the obsessional nature of Clough and the repetition does  convey this aspect well, and actually didnt irritate me it added to the atmosphere.

A film starring Michael Sheen was made, but, I liked the story as I saw it in my own head and I imagined Clough as he was back in the day and wouldn't want to see someone elses portrayal I don't think. The story also shows a bygone era of football before it became more of a commercialised business and also of a bygone era of society, where men were drank like fish and smoked like chimneys and spoke as they found and didn't care if they gave offence.

I liked The Damned Utd very much there was something quite addictive and charming about it, and it took this bluff arrogant alcoholic and made you see his frailties and his flaws and made you love him and root for him and pity him. It made you hate Don fucking Revie too. A must I think for any Clough fan or football fan but if you are neither it is still a great story about a man unable to stop sabotaging himself teetering on a psychological brink.

Really enjoyed it 8.5/10

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