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The Damned United

The Damned United is a book written by David Peace, later adapted into a movie by Tom Hooper and starring Michael Sheen. The main character is the famous British football manager, Brian Clough. The account is largely fictional and tells two different stories, so to speak, at the same time: Clough's tenure as manager of Leeds United, interlaced with the story of his career as a manager up to that point, mainly his time at Derby County.

One interesting aspect of both the book and the movie is that it's a rare sport story that subverts/averts/ignores pretty much all the traditional Sports Story Tropes we're so used to: there is no Big Game and the games don't come Down to the Last Play, the underdogs can and will lose, and the Opposing Sports Team isn't even a villain! As Roger Ebert summarizes in his review of the movie: "The Damned United avoids all sports movie cliches, even the obligatory ending where the team comes from behind. Is this the first sports movie where the hero comes from ahead and loses?"


Tropes Include:

  • Adaptation Displacement invoked
  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie condenses the events of the book and focuses on the key moments, without losing its essence.
  • Anachronic Order: The film cuts between Derby's victories in the late Sixties and Clough taking over Leeds in the mid-70s.
    • The book is even more chaotic in this aspect, going through Clough's carrer from his beginnings as a player all the way to his fateful days Leeds.
  • The Beautiful Game: Very much considering it revolves around football (or soccer to heathens).
  • Break the Haughty: Clough's stint as manager of Leeds Utd. is one big breaking moment.
    • The book is slightly more complex on this aspect; Clough's motivations are more diverse and complicated and less clear, although his arrogance is evident throughout.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: In the film, Revie is honestly taken aback that Clough has been harboring such a grudge for so long, over an incident he himself didn't even notice.
    • Although Revie was infamous for painstakingly researching his opponents and it seems unlikely he would not have recognized Clough, so it is somewhat debatable whether or not he really didn't notice or if her was trying to play mind games. It is still a lot of emphasis to place on a somewhat minor slight, however. It also wasn't the Real Life reason for the animus between Clough and Revie.
  • A Father to His Men: Don Revie calls himself this for his Leeds players, and this is how they view him in return.
    Clough: They won't play for me, your boys. Your bastard sons.
  • The Film of the Book: The 2009 film starring Michael Sheen, Colm Meaney, and Timothy Spall.
  • Foreshadowing: In the film, Taylor foreshadows real life's more distant finale when, at the end, he makes it up with Clough but says that he knows Clough will "fuck things up" between them again.
  • Freudian Trio:
    • Id — Clough. For all his good qualities as a manager he lets his emotions get the better of him, first costing him and Taylor their roles at Derby, before things go spectacularly wrong at Leeds.
    • Ego — Taylor. While Clough doesn't want to admit it, he was perhaps the most vital component of Derby's success, and would go on to do so again at Nottingham Forest.
    • Super Ego — Jimmy Gordon. An excellent trainer and a nice guy, but proves to be completely out of his league in the assistant manager's role at Leeds.
  • The Grovel: Brian at the end of the film. "Okay, I'm grovelling!"
  • Happily Ever After: The film ends with Clough and Taylor reconciled and they go on to take Nottingham Forest to the top of the leagues, just as they did with Derby County. This is based on real events. What's elided is their final falling out and the anguish Clough felt over Taylor's early death. The film ends on a definite high note, reality not so much.
    • The final title card in the film reads "Brian Clough remains the best manager [the English national team] never had." so it's kind of bittersweet regardless.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Peter Taylor for Clough, specially in the movie.
    • It's not that Clough isn't competent, but he wouldn't have gotten very far without Taylor's expertise. The film's ending has him realizing this.
    • Older Side Kick
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Clough and Taylor. The whole movie could be considered a bromance between them. They both have wives and children but they seem to spend more time hugging and kissing each other.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Clough and Taylor
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Revie's Reason You Suck Speech at the end brings about the reconciliation of Clough and Taylor.
  • Miser Advisor: Sam Longson
  • Only Sane Man: Peter Taylor. Jimmy Gordon tries to take up the role when Clough goes to Leeds, but isn't quite as adept as Taylor in that regard.
  • Oop North: Clough and Taylor are Northerners and proud. Clough doesn't want to manage Brighton & Hove because it's so far south "we're practically in France!"
  • Opposing Sports Team: Clough thinks this of Leeds United under Revie's management, but it's a case of Wrong Genre Savvy.
  • Pride: The impetus for Clough's obsession with Don Revie is Revie's damaging his pride by unknowingly snubbing Clough before their teams' first match.
  • Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: Derby County.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Clough gives one to the Leeds Utd players in his first training session, telling them they have won all their caps and titles by "bloomin' cheating" and that they can just throw them in the bin. It's a reflection of how far his own self-regard has taken him over that he thinks this will actually work.
    • Clough himself is on the receiving end of two big ones, first from Sam Longson and second from Peter Taylor. Both are deserved. Longson's is a warning about the direction football is going and how Clough isn't quite as untouchable and brilliant as he thinks he is:
    I'm going to give you some good advice, Brian Clough. No matter how good you think you are, how clever, how many fancy new friends you make on the telly, the reality of footballing life is this: the Chairman is the boss, then come the directors, then the secretary, then the fans, then the players, and finally, last of all, bottom of the heap, the lowest of the low, comes the one who in the end we can all do without - the fucking manager!
    • Taylor, on the other hand, calls out Clough's egotism and lust for glory, and his extremely self-destructive tendencies, by pointing out how Clough has cost him personallu and abused his loyalty. Brian doesn't take it well, giving a rather less-fair salvo in return..
    Taylor: Without you, I'd still have a job in Derby! A job and a home that I love. Oh, yes, you're the shop window, I grant you that. The razzle and the bloody dazzle. But I'm the goods in the back! Without me, without somebody to save you from yourself, Brian fucking Clough, you're not just half. You're nothing!
    Clough: I'm nothing? I'm nothing? Don't make me laugh. What does that make you then, Taylor? Something? You're half of nothing! Nothing's parasite! A big fat pilot fish that feeds on nothing. A bloody nobody! The forgotten man! History's fucking afterthought!
  • The Rival: Revie to Clough. Not that Revie knew he was actually Clough's Arch-Enemy.
  • The Seventies
  • Smug Snake: How Clough views Don Revie, and presumably what the Leeds player think of Brian Clough. Along with Know-Nothing Know-It-All.
  • Took A Level In Jerk Ass: Clough is so consumed by his rivalry with Revie that he becomes a jerkass towards anyone who gets in his way.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The book is seen through Clough's eyes, making the true nature of the characters more ambiguous than the movie.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: A number of people who witnessed the events portrayed questioned their accuracy. Clough's son Nigel did not recall his father burning Revie's old desk, despite supposedly being present when it happened. 1960s and 70s Leeds player John Giles called the book and film "rubbish". He successfully sued the publishers for the way he was portrayed in the book and, consequently, his role in the movie was much reduced. Pat Murphy, a BBC journalist and friend of Clough, pointed out 17 factual inaccuracies in the film. Former Derby player and manager Dave Mackay was unhappy with the suggestion that he stabbed Clough and Taylor in the back by becoming Derby manager and received damages from the filmmakers.
    • As an aside to that, both Sheen and Meaney received a lot of praise for their uncanny portrayal of Clough and Revie, respectively.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: See the Happily Ever After entry.


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