Book Review: The Damned United

“I’ve got too much time on my hands, It’s hard to believe such a calamity” – The Styx

The fact of the matter is that I have had large amounts of free time since I’ve been over here in England. It’s amazing how much time hits you in the face when you don’t have a social life. If my train of thought paralleled The Styx song above, I would next be thinking…

“Is it any wonder I’m not crazy?
Is it any wonder I’m sane at all?…”

Not that you really need to see this

I won’t elaborate on whether or not that’s the case. I will say, though, that I have been trying to be somewhat productive with my free time. This blog is one of those things that I do to avoid wasting time (Yes, that’s up for debate). I have also been reading quite a bit. To be honest, I have probably read more books in the last 2 months than I did my last 2 years of college…so like 3. Anyway, I was thinking that it would be fun to write a review of a book or two every once in a while.

This first book I am going to review is fitting for a couple of reasons; it’s about footie and it’s based near where I am staying in Yorkshire.

The book is called “The Damned United” and is written by David Peace. It chronicles, day-by-day, Brian Clough’s short and tempestuous stay as manager of the then very successful Leeds United; while, simultaneously, re-tracing the steps of Clough’s climb to success with Derby County. At times, this can make the story somewhat difficult to follow, which makes it read like the story line of a Quentin Tarantino film. It was also graphic, like a Tarantino film, with a liberal use of language and copious amounts of booze.

In essence, it is a dramatized, somewhat poetic, version of a 44 day marriage between Leeds United Football Club and Clough. It was a marriage that was never going to last and it wasn’t going to be pretty, like a regrettable Vegas wedding. Prior to his appointment as Manager of Leeds, Clough despised their previous manager, constantly denounced their style of play and generally hated everything that Leeds stood for. He thought he could change Leeds, but never truly had a chance.

I think this is a good reflection of the importance of unity within a team. Even with a great manager and great players, Leeds struggled to find success because there wasn’t unity and mutual respect within the group. This is true of any team.

The historic Elland Road: Home to Leeds United!

The story is written from inside the mind of the legendary manager which reveals him as a tumultuous, tough, cutthroat, and yet vulnerable man. He is a man obsessed by football and he can hardly escape it in his own mind. He’s always thinking about the next game, who to buy or why things went wrong. He is also a very stubborn man, not one to take no for an answer. Multiple times he would go behind people’s backs to get his way. His charisma and passion, however, united some people as much as it divided others. This meant that he was wildly successful where he was loved, and a failure where he was not fully accepted.

As a man, he appeared to have few friends among his many acquaintances. If there was one thing he didn’t lack it was confidence. Clough’s attitude about himself is summed up when he – talking about Frank Sinatra – says “He met me, you know”.

As a manager, he had many admirers.  His management philosophies were summed up in the following excerpt:

“This is good bloody management. This is you and Pete at your best –
spotting the talent, buying the talent and then handling that ****** talent –
Insulting that talent. Humiliating that talent. Threatening that talent –
Hurting that talent and then kissing it ****** better again –
Again and again, bringing out the bloody best in folk –
In that ****** talent, that’s you and that’s Pete”

Pete was Clough’s right-hand man at Derby, and did most of his scouting and coaching for him. The book portrays Peter Taylor as one of Clough’s few friends, although Clough was not always the kindest of friends. Pete did not follow Clough to Leeds, which may have been just another reason why it didn’t work out.

Clough’s passion, drive, intensity, and success in his managerial career, before and after Leeds, were undeniable. From my experience, he was the quintessential British manager. He demanded the respect of his players and when he had it, he knew when to give them a good rollicking, but he also knew when it was time to build them up. If he got on with a player, he would treat them like a son, but when he did not, he had no need for them and dispatched of them as soon as possible.

I found myself attracted to Clough like girls can sometimes be attracted to the “bad boys” at school. If I step back and ask what is there to like about him? The answer is: “not much”. Yet, despite all of his obvious flaws there is something somewhat attractive about his personality.

I would rate the book a 3.5 out of 5. It really gave the reader a good glimpse of Clough’s raw character, while revealing the nuances of the strange and short-lived relationship between Leeds and Clough. However, it is not a book that would appeal to a large audience. It captures a good image of English football at the time and so I would recommend it to anyone who is passionate about soccer and has a general knowledge of the history of the game in England (ie: most people I’ve played with in the past). For most others, however, it may seem vaguely repulsive and remind them why they don’t pay attention to the sport in the first place.

You can buy it here if interested The Damned United
There was also a movie made based on the book. I haven’t seen it, but you can buy it here too: The Damned United on Blue-Ray


One thought on “Book Review: The Damned United

  1. Pingback: An Idiot Abroad « HEAD FIRST FOOTBALL

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