24 Jul The Damned United
A young boy at a soccer match, David Peace, had his hair tousled by renowned team manager Brian Clough, who told him, “You will never forget this day.” He didn’t. Years later Peace wrote a book on Clough called The Damned United, a dark, grave recount of Clough’s disastrous 44-reign stint as the team manager for Leeds United.
Award-winning writer Peter Morgan (The Queen & Frost/Nixon) approaches the story in a lighter, more mainstream retelling, which makes for a film with a far less gloomy atmosphere than the one in the book. Clough is played by award-winning actor Michael Sheen, whose performance some have described as his best, at the time.
The first thing you need to know is that the club Clough was to manage, Leeds United, was at that point one of the most successful soccer teams in England. Their manager at the time, Don Revie, was beloved by all of England and hated by Clough. You see, Clough is a principled man, whereas Revie was not. Clough had written articles criticizing Revie’s approach to management which seemed to include encouraging rough-play and borderline rule-breaking, smearing the image of the sport. After an exchange in which Revie missed his opportunity to shake Clough’s hand after a match, Clough’s hatred was cemented.
As the new manager for Leeds, Clough made it his mission to beat what Don Revie had achieved before him. Revie had moved on to become the manager of England’s national soccer team at the time. Clough, however, was not about to achieve this feat by the same dirty means Revie had utilized before. He insisted that the players play fairly, never resorting to shady tactics to clinch a win.
Fair enough, you might think, but I believe it was Clough’s approach which was his downfall. Clough wasn’t what you would call a humble man, referring to himself as the “top one manager” in the game. He wasn’t the shy type either, loving the limelight gifted by his regular television appearances. Convinced of his own righteousness and lacking in any tact whatsoever, he would publically criticise the team’s players, managers and fans. Not one to shy away from confrontation, his words and actions caused intense friction throughout the entirety of the team, and led one of the best soccer teams at the time to their downfall, losing match after match under his leadership. He was sacked after 44 days in charge.
Whether this story is an illustration of what happens when a strong, principled man is caught in an ethically dubious system, or a cautionary tale of how arrogance, ambition and pig-headedness eventually lead to one’s eventual collapse, is for you to decide.
This isn’t a fairy tale, but well worth watching if you’re into seeing real people struggling in a world dead-set against their ways. It’s also an objectively good film, receiving a 92% Rotten Tomatoes score and is deemed a much-watch film by Metacritic.