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“The Damned United” (2006) by David Peace

DamnedUtdAs soon as I read the précis for David Peace’s novel I knew I wouldn’t go far wrong. It’s a combination of ‘Seventies social commentary, and the (temporary) disintegration of Brian Clough’s dream to see football become the reflection of the aspirations and fantasies of the Working Class, every bit as artistic and gritty as a John Osborne play, but with a happy ending as Clough and his Assistant, confidante and talent spotter Peter Taylor, reunited led Nottingham Forest to successive European Cups, something not achieved since by a British coach.

Clough was a Socialist of the old school, often seen marching with and raising money for the striking miners during the 1984/85 strike. This took some courage given that the Notts NUM broke away, became the hated UDM led by the contemptible Roy Link and were the bed rock of Nottingham Forest support.

David Peace however, takes us back a decade to when Clough made the seemingly bonkers decision to follow Don Revie into the Leeds United hotseat, this bizarre appointment taking place in August 1974 when that hated Leeds team were Champions of England.

If Clough, fresh from success at Derby which ended in rancour represented mythical the Corinthian Spirit of the People’s Game replete with his Left Wing ethics, then Dirty Leeds were the opposite end of the scale. Corporate and professional, but above all they won at any cost.

The only modern parallel would have been to see Arsene Wenger rather than David Moyes succeed Fergie in the Old Trafford hot sea given the bad blood between the Clubs, although no one could ever accuse Manchester United of not playing the actual football in the right way. It’s the diving and intimidation of referees, introduced into the English game by Don Revie’s 1970′s Leeds outfit that gets the back up of many neutral fans.

John Giles and Billy Bremner epitomised this ruthless, cheating 1970’s Leeds outfit . Injury feigned, referees intimidated, and the opposition brutally assaulted out of sight of the officials went with every low trick in Revie‘s new book. There was no TV from 58 angles to catch their malignant, cynical approach to the game.

Thus the football world was stunned when Brian Clough, maverick genius, decided he fancied the job.

He lasted 44 days…..

This is the best novel on football that I have read, outstripping even John King’s analysis of the game under Thatcher which is complete with brutal confrontation with the Police and each other in “The Football Factory”, and “England Away”.

David Peace tells the story of Clough’s Elland Road nightmare through the eyes of the main protagonist, day by day as he tries to turn the juggernaut of Uber Professionalism, into a purring machine that reflected the undoubted latent talent at the Club, but alone and without his sidekick and twin Peter Taylor Clough finds fault around him, and takes an unpleasant trip into his own soul….

The style is relentless and simple, no flowery prose just pure grit and dirt, but Peace has turned in a fantastic book for anyone who wants to understand football then, and what it has become now. Brilliant.

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About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.

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