Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies, and The Damned United

The "Big Screen" adaptation of David Peace's "The Damned United" hits the cinemas this weekend. With little or nothing decent in the cinema at the moment the film is perfectly timed to capture the public imagination, especially with the Premiership title run in beginning to heat up.

Adapted from the aforementioned book, director Tom Hooper has foregone the darkness of the original manuscript and has gone for a more light hearted affair. It's hardly what you would call a comedy though...

Tracing Brian Clough's rise at Derby County, where he led the side to the league title in 1972 to his spectacular demise at the best team in the league, Leeds United in 1974, where he only lasted a remarkable 44 days before being sacked.

The critically acclaimed book is superbly written, and David Peace provides a book involving intrigue, corruption, power struggles, and football.

An incredibly potent mix, especially in this age where we cannot get enough of the Premiership.

What the book does wrong though, starts on the first line.

This book is a work of fiction based on facts.

What Peace does in writing this book is that he blurs the lines between reality and fiction. And does not tell the reader which is which. The only people who would know how to differentiate between them are all dead.

Brian Clough, Don Revie, and Billy Bremner are the books, and the film's main protagonists. And it is not without major significance that these people were the main characters.

You see, you cannot libel the dead.

If those three had been alive, this book and the film would never have seen the light of day. None of the main characters come out of the book well.

Clough seems to be an alcoholic, chain smoking, rage infested mad man, Don Revie comes across as a bungling manager and Bremner is a bad influence in the dressing room.

The only other person in the book who is unsympathetically cast is Johnny Giles. However, the Irishman, after reading the book and Peace's portrayal of him decided to sue the publishers.


All sections of the book that had cast Giles, usually mentioned as "the Irishman" instigating a plot behind Clough's back were changed. One of the most honourable characters in the game, and the most respected pundit operating today does not come out of the film in a flattering manner.

Something that he and the rest of the Leeds team of the day have found annoying and frustrating.

The fact that Giles won his court case very easily has not sat well with the families of Don Revie and most significantly Brian Clough. Unable to challenge the book because of their loved ones passing, they had to sit by and reluctantly accept the book for what it was.

A work of fiction, that casts Clough in a very bad way.

As opening day moved closer, the Clough family and many of the players from Clough's Derby, Leeds, and Forest days contributed to a documentary, in the hope that it would portray a right and proper picture of the legendary football figure.

One of the most significant things to come out of the documentary was the fact that the Leeds players, obviously hurt from some of the things that Clough had said to them, defended the manager's character.

Going on record to say that while they did not like his initial statements to the team, and that they had wanted him out, that Clough was not the alcoholic megalomaniac as the film portrays him.

Brian Clough's battle with alcoholism is well documented, but Peace takes huge liberties with something that did not start for almost 10 years.

What Peace does and what the film does is to portray Clough coming to Elland Road in a whirlwind of alcoholism and eccentricities and that his hatred of Revie fuelled this with a wild rage that undermined both him and the team.

With an embittered team working to get him out and with Clough slowly losing his grasp on reality, the Leeds board were left with the only decision they could make, and Clough was sacked.

What the film and book does not portray, is that Clough's philosophy of football was at the other end of the spectrum to Revie's.

Don Revie built a wonderful footballing side, make no mistake about that. Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner are probably the greatest central midfield pairing that English football has ever seen, when Leeds played, they played beautifully.

When things were not going well, they resorted to plan B. And this Leeds team were also probably the most feared football team ever assembled. They could win, the right way, or the wrong way.

Clough, who also used hard men like Dave MacKay and Kenny Burns, two of the most feared players ever to take to a pitch. But whereas Revie's team often instigated the battles, Clough's players were there to look after the team and finish battles.

When Clough took over at Leeds, it was him moving to a team with endless resources, from the skinflint nature of Derby. The fact that he was taking over from a man he regularly ridiculed on television in his work as a pundit fuelled it even more.

Clough saw football differently to Revie, and his statement to the Leeds team on their first meeting is now famous.

Clough told all the players to take every medal they had won under Revie and to throw them in the bin as they had won them by cheating.

Not an auspicious start, especially with the best players in the league at the time.

It was pretty much down hill from here for Clough, who badly missed the shoulder of long time adviser Peter Taylor. Had Clough's right hand been there, God knows how things would have turned out.

The book and the film are "entertaining" but be aware that they are fiction, using real people.

twitter / WillieGannon