Published 2006 set in 1974 Day 27 & Day 21 (contains strong language…)
‘What do you think of this then, Sydney?’ I ask him.
‘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.