The Damned Utd by David Peace

Published 2006  set in 1974     Day 27 & Day 21  (contains strong language…)

‘What do you think of this then, Sydney?’ I ask him.

‘Of what?’

‘Of this?’ I ask him again, pointing at this old Leeds United goalkeeping jersey.

‘I think if the team have to wear suits when they travel, so should their manager.’


In my modern luxury hotel room, in my modern luxury hotel toilet –

Because I never learn; never bloody learn; never did and never fucking will; why I failed my eleven-plus and haven’t got a certificate to my name, not a bloody one; why I scored 251 goals in 274 games but won only two England caps and not any fucking more – Why I won the Second Division and the league titles; why I reached the semi-finals of the European Cup and why one day very soon I’ll win the bloody cup itself – Because I never learn; never bloody learn. Never did and never fucking will – Because I’m Brian bloody Clough. Face fucking down on the floor tonight – The future bloody manager of England, face fucking down on the floor.

observations: As has been pointed out, Clothes in Books doesn’t do sport much. But after dipping a toe into the water last month with David Peace’s Red or Dead, a very long book about Liverpool FC’s Bill Shankly, I was impressed enough to try this, an earlier novel by the same author about a different football manager, the infamous Brian Clough. Mostly because it surely has the best book title ever.

The Damned Utd is a lot shorter than Red or Dead, and not quite so repetitive (as one reviewer pointed out, it’s not as though Peace doesn’t know he is being repetitive: but on the other hand, it seems fair to warn readers). The football was a lot less interesting in this one, and the double time scheme was confusing (though I suspect that’s personal, and cause and effect). But it is a horribly, rivetingly real picture of a man fighting his inner demons, and his alcoholism: totally persuasive, it convinces you that this must be what it is really like.

The word ‘impossible’ is completely inadequate for Clough – the book shows clearly how hard he must have been to live and work with, his terrible destructive streak that made him act badly and alienate everyone around him. And yet Peace does something extraordinary: through all the horrible scenes he makes Clough seem like a sympathetic person, so you want him to succeed, so you want him to stop making such a mess of everything - he doesn’t disgust the reader.

Peace’s style is unique, and may not be to everyone’s taste, but he certainly has one of the best voices writing in English today. (The strong language in the extract above is typical). Of course a book like this, described as a novel, is always going to require the questions ‘Is it true? Is it fair? If it’s not true, is that outrageous?’

Red or Dead is here. Nick Hornby is the other great football writer of recent years. Sportswriting is a different kind of job in the USA – as we pointed out in this blog entry on Richard Ford. Another real life being turned into fiction here.

The picture of Brian Clough is from the Dutch National Archives.


  1. Now you're talking! My kind of book, not that I have read it yet! Leeds were my team back in the 70's before I discovered the even mightier Luton Town!
    Great film of the book also, with someone whose name escapes me....Welsh actor chap.
    Wasn't Clough good looking back in the day, not at all what he looked like much later on?

    Do you plan on reading his Red Riding Quartet?

    1. Col, I was surprised by how nice-looking he was - as you say, in the early years. I haven't seen the film, and probably will go on to the other books, which would have been a more obvious fit for me: I know a lot more about politics in the 80s than about football!

  2. Moira - I'm not much of a sport fan, but this does sound interesting. And I know what you mean about Pearce's style. Still, it sounds very much worth a read.

    1. Margot - thanks, and yes, it's an obvious point, but a really good writer can make anything interesting. Better a good writer on an unpromising Subject than the opposite...

  3. Sounds interesting, but not sure I would like his style. Although the strong language is fine with me. I will wait and see if you try the Red Riding Quartet.

    1. I was surprised that I enjoyed these books so much, but I am certainly not recommending them for everyone. I probably will get round to the Red Riding ones, but goodness knows when.


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