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The Damned United

Posted on 28 March 2009 | 10:03am

I liked it, though not as much as I was hoping to. My sons said much the same. My partner and daughter weren’t that keen to come, which suggests in the build up the message has been football, football, football, rather than incredible story of extraordinary period in the life of remarkable human being.

First things first – yes, Michael Sheen is brilliant as Brian Clough and, unless they were using body doubles, no mean footballer too. The Don Revie character is also superb. Bafta award to the hair and make-up department for him alone. Some of the mixing of the film and real footage also worked well, though it was frustrating to see Clough’s entire Nottingham Forest career scrunched into a couple of video clips before the credits.

To be fair, this was not about his time at Forest but his miserable 44 days as manager of Leeds, and the visceral hatred of Don Revie, his predecessor in the job, that led him to take it. That part of the film works well, as does the growing tension between him and the players. The ‘dirty Leeds’ theme is strong both in film, with a vicious Norman Hunter tackle on Clough in training, and in old TV footage – oh what memories, the Billy Bremner-Kevin Keegan bust up in the Charity Shield at Wembley. Loved it. 

The two things that didn’t work for me were the constant chopping and changing between his time at Derby and his time at Leeds, though again I can see how hard the story is to tell, other than in a linear fashion, without that. And there was one scene I found really irritating, if only because I cannot imagine it happening, and the storyline was strong enough without it. If it did happen, apologies, but seriously, was Brian Clough once so nervous about Derby v Revie’s Leeds that he hid away in a room beneath the stands, tried to follow the game via the crowd noise, and only learned his team had won 2-1 when he fell into the arms of his assistant Peter Taylor (there’s a fair bit of that by the way) after the match had finished?

Perhaps it was because I liked Clough so much as a character, and loved the ITV documentary so much, that I had built up my own expectations too high. But my sons said almost exactly the same thing – that it didn’t draw them in emotionally as they had been expecting, and they ended up liking it as much for the old footage as the new film.

All that being said, it is worth seeing, not least for the Clough-Revie encounter on TV at the end. Oh, and the wonderful contempt in Sheen-as-Clough’s voice when he says ‘Tories’ as a reason for him and Taylor not to manage Brighton and Hove Albion.

One more observation from last night – I should say that whatever I may have said about In The Loop on The Culture Show, judging by the reaction of the audience when the trailers were on, it will do very well without me.

Finally, someone responded to yesterday’s blog by saying they would vote Labour if I could answer the question – why did communism fail but socialism has seemed to prosper? Better thinkers than I have written hundreds of thousands of words on the subject, but I will try with a sentence – because socialism is about delivering social justice whilst going with the grain of freedom; communism will destroy both if they are felt to obstruct the ideology.

  • wgjackson

    Agree with your points about “The Damned United”.

    Colm Meaney was brilliant and uncanny as Revie, if anything even more believable than Sheen.

    I felt that the film did little to portray Clough’s gifts, placing greater emphasis for the success on Peter Taylor’s ability to find players. I was also left with the feeling that if Clough had been as weak in life as he was portrayed in the film, he would never have achieved what he did.

  • Alina Palimaru

    I agree with your communism/socialism distinction, and also appreciate your caveat that there’s much more to be said about these topics. I wouldn’t even refer to what we have today in welfare states as socialism, but rather as social democracies. In its purest (theoretical) form, socialism refers to the complete abolition of private property, which didn’t even occur in countries like Russia and China. So its use today is a bit extreme.

  • Alan Quinn

    Ally, if you want to see community in football pop in to watch FC United of Manchester next time you’re in the area.
    We’re a fan-owned, democratic club and have many comunity-based initiatives including working with schools, colleges, kids in care and persistent young offenders etc.
    You can also sing and stand for 90 minutes without being told to “sit down.”

  • Matt

    One of your Facebook friends is suggesting your line on the difference bewteen socialism/communism should be taught in schools. It already is at university – I am doing a dissertation on the dividing lines between communism, socialism and social democracy. I will use your sentence, though I think when you say socialism you actually mean what is today defined as social democracy. What was it Peter Mandelson’s grandfather H Morrison used to say – socialism is what a Labour government does. Anyway thanks for the line, and for all the insights in your diaries, which I also quote at length. I agree with you that Blair’s Forces of Conservatism speech was his best.

  • Phil Lea

    On the Soc v Comm statement,probably another take is that socialism/social democracy is all about equal opportunity rather than equal rights/everybody equal.

    Loved the Clough documentary on TV the other night and will watch the film. Difficult to gauge what will be fiction,fact or faction in that though after the comments on the book by Clough’s family, friends and Johnny Giles!

  • Caroline Hett

    Can you be a socialist and send your children to an independent school?
    Can you be a socialist and pay for private health care?

  • Liz Naish

    I’m really interested to hear your comments on the film and I look forward to seeing it myself…will let you know what I think. The website is very impressive by the way – did you set it up yourself?! I was also interested to read about your bagpiping skills. Did I miss something?

  • Emilianna

    Going with Alina’s distinction between socialism and social democracies, I would only add that democracies seem to get along fine with majority consent whereas socialism becomes tyrannical to any individual who opposes it.

    I think this is why “consensual” socialists societies like kibbutzes in Israel tend to only last for one generation. Seems socialism works when all involved choose to enter into it deliberately. In turn, the offspring of those who consented are unlikely to all choose the same path.

    This is all very much based on personal observation, I have no figures to back this up.

  • Andrew Bell

    As a Leeds fan its nothing new to see Leeds yet again portrayed as ‘dirty Leeds’, an overall pop at the great club again.

    I went and seen it with a few fellow Leeds fans and we left feeling nothing but disappointment. Cloughie has been made to look a clown, its a disgrace. The man is a genius at work. People dont succeed if they are so weak.

    I hated the book and I hate the film. I just hope people remember that this is based on a novel and not a real insight into his life.

    It does hurt me to think about what went on in ‘the real world’ when Cloughie was at Leeds. How different could Leeds fortunes be today?

    Hated the story, but the acting was good and enjoyed seeing a little bit of what my club was like back in the ‘good old’ days.

  • David Barrett

    If you look at the full length interview with Austin Mitchell and the Mr Clough & Revie that is currently on (yes it does have its uses), there doesn’t quite seem to be the contempt between the two as is often talked about. I found them actually quite warm to one another beneath it all, and indeed some level of mutual understanding. Either … Read Morethat or they did a bloody good job of hiding it.
    In which case it is enlightening in the fact that it is Mr Clough that is the seemingly more reflective of his ways and even apologetic for his ‘say now think later’ style which he quite rightly explains away as simply a facet of his character.
    Overall Messrs Revie & Clough seemed to me, simply the older teacher and tearaway cheeky chappy pupil who had beneath it all a sneaking admiration for one another.
    Indeed, I’d go as far to say that Mr Clough would secretly liked to have played under such a manager had his career not been curtailed by injury.
    I guess we’ll never know.

  • Jane A

    Perhaps the varying perceptions of how well the Damned United succeeds as a film stem from if we see it as fact, fiction or biography.

    I went along to see Melvyn Bragg speak at a fundraiser for Oxfordshire MIND on Friday pm ; he made the point about his most recent novels that he uses the “spine” of his own experience and then layers fiction on top, even though readers assume they are reading autobiography.

    I think there is some of that with this film – if its a film about a real person in (vivid) living memory, how far can the fiction veer from that and still be credible?

    I’ll have a clearer view on this tonight, when I’ve seen it.