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Literature / The Damned United

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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!
-Peter Taylor

The Damned Utd is a book written by David Peace, later adapted into a 2009 movie named The Damned United directed by Tom Hooper and starring Michael Sheen. The main character is the famous British football manager Brian Clough. The account is a blend of fact, fiction and rumour, and simultaneously tells two different stories from Clough's career:

  • It's 1974, and Brian Clough has just been appointed manager of reigning league champions Leeds United. But Clough hates Leeds, and Leeds hate Clough. Moreover, Clough's loyal and capable Number Two, Peter Taylor, has opted not to join him. Clough struggles in the face of the hostile Leeds players who are still loyal to their old boss (and Clough's nemesis) Don Revie, and having to cope without Taylor. Ultimately Clough is sacked after just 44 days in the job.

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  • Back in 1967, Clough is manager of Derby County, a middling Second Division team with no recent history of success. Together with Peter Taylor, they steadily improve the club's fortunes. Derby are promoted to the First Division and then become champions of England at the expense of Leeds, while Clough's charismatic and opionated nature makes him a celebrity. However, Derby owner Sam Longson grows weary of Clough's antics, and their relationship sours, resulting in Clough and Taylor leaving, without intending to.

Both book and film end with Clough being sacked by Leeds and (in the earlier timeline) being appointed Leeds manager. The film's epilogue notes that Clough and Taylor were reunited at Nottingham Forest, and led the club to even greater heights than Derby.

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:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Clough with the Leeds players, which is ultimately why he gets sacked.
  • The '70s
  • 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 career from his beginnings as a player all the way to his fateful days Leeds.
  • Anti-Hero: Brian Clough. More so in the novel, which portrays him as an arrogant, paranoid and foul mouthed alcoholic, haunted by personal demons.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Billy Bremner snarkily asks: "did you ever play at Wembley, Mr Clough?"note 
  • Bittersweet Ending: One where you'd swear the writer was trying to exaggerate the hell out of this trope if it weren't what actually happened in real life. The story ends with Clough being sacked by Leeds and then coming across as excessively petty and vindictive during a subsequent TV interview with Revie. However, we're then informed that Clough later took over at Nottingham Forest and steered them to even greater success than he enjoyed with Derby, while Revie utterly failed as England manger and breached his contract to quit and take over as manager of the United Arab Emirates, leaving him with a tarnished and incredibly divisive legacy among fans of any club that isn't Leeds. Then, in the early 1980s Clough's relationship with Taylor broke down and they never reconciled before Taylor's death. But despite this, Clough still managed Forest relatively successfully (if not to quite the same extent as when he was working with Taylor) until they were relegated in 1993.note 
  • Bookends: The novel and film both start and end with Clough's appointment as manager of Leeds.
  • 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 he 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.
  • The Cameo: Muhammad Ali appears in the movie in a Real Life clip of him calling out Clough:
    Muhammad Ali: (on TV) There's s some fella in London, England named Brian Clough. Some soccer player or something. I heard all the way in Indonesia that this fella talks too much. They say he's another Muhammad Ali. There's just one Muhammad Ali. I'm the talker. Now Clough, I've had enough, stop it!!
    Peter Taylor: Are you going to stop it?
    Brian Clough: No I want to fight him!
  • Didn't Think This Through: Clough's gambit in his feud with Longson at Derby. At his behest, he and Taylor tender their resignations, assuming that they are indispensable and Longson will be forced out instead. To Clough's surprise, the board happily take the opportunity to get rid of them and he and Taylor find themselves out of a job.
  • Exact Words:
    Manny Cussins: Who do you think you are?
    Brian Clough: Brian Clough. Brian. Howard. Clough.
  • 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.
  • Flashback: Half of the novel takes the form of flashbacks to Clough's earlier, more successful spell at Derby.
  • 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.
  • Gilligan Cut: Clough is adamant that the Derby board will never accept his and Taylor's resignations. In the next scene, he bursts into the boardroom stunned that the directors have accepted their resignations.
  • 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 surpass their successes at Derby by winning the league title and two consecutive European Cups with Nottingham Forest, while the villain of the piece, Don Revie, is said to have failed in the England job and left in disgrace. This is based on real events. Reality was more of a downer. The film omits Clough and Taylor's final bitter falling out, and Clough's anguish over Taylor's early death; the two men had not spoken for years when Taylor died in 1990.
    • 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.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Clough and Taylor
  • Historical Domain Character: Almost everyone.
  • 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. Not to mention their reconciliation, which plays out like a Anguished Declaration of Love.
  • 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.
  • Idiot Ball: The Leeds board. Appointing the club's number one critic as manager was Too Dumb to Live territory.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Revie's "The Reason You Suck" Speech at the end brings about the reconciliation of Clough and Taylor.
    • Clough's "The Reason You Suck" Speech speech to the Leeds players would also resonate with many English football fans of that era. They weren't known as "Dirty Leeds" for nothing.note 
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: Clough always refers to Johnny Giles as "the Irishman".
  • Miser Advisor: Sam Longson.
  • Not So Different: Clough notes that he and Revie actually have a lot in common. Both were from Middlesbrough, both played for Sunderland and England, both were centre-forwards, and as managers both enjoyed huge success with a previously undistinguished club.
  • 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 Albion 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 personally 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!
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: How Clough regards managing lowly (and very southern) Brighton after leaving Derby. Taylor sees it differently, which leads to them falling out.
  • The Rival: Revie to Clough. Not that Revie knew he was actually Clough's Arch-Enemy.
  • Rival Turned Evil: How Clough views Revie, he originally considered him a Worthy Opponent and Not So Different but after meeting (or pointedly not meeting) the man, he changes his view of him.
  • Running Gag: Clough keeps buying players without telling Longson.
  • 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: While some aspects of the story are portrayed accurately, both the writer and the filmmakers also used artistic licence to fill in the gaps.
    • Clough's Real Life dislike of Revie had nothing to do with the latter supposedly snubbing a handshake after a match.
    • Pat Murphy, a BBC journalist and friend of Clough, pointed out 17 factual inaccuracies in the film.
    • In the book Clough chops up Revie's old desk with an axe and then burns it. His son Nigel said he did not recall this incident, even though he is meant to have been present when it happened.
    • Johnny Giles complained about the way he was portrayed in the book and sued the publishers. As part of the settlement, several lines were removed from the book and his role in the movie was much reduced.
    • Dave Mackay had retired from playing two years before he was appointed manager of Derby; he was actually manager of Nottingham Forest at the time. Mackay was unhappy with the film's suggestion that he stabbed Clough and Taylor in the back by becoming Derby manager and received damages from the filmmakers.
    • The film omits Clough's spell as Brighton manager and implies that he reneged on a deal to join them. He actually did manage Brighton for nine months, unsuccessfully: he won only 12 of his 35 games in charge.
    • Clough is seen blaming Derby's European Cup semi-final defeat to Juventus on Leeds injuring their players. He actually blamed the Italian side, whom he accused of having "bought" the West German referee. Furthermore, the match in question against Leeds took place before Derby's quarter-final tie against Spartak Trnava, which Derby won.
    • Derby's FA Cup game against Leeds actually took place in Leeds, not Derby, making the sequence where Clough goes to great lengths to clean up Derby's ground and welcome Revie an invention. While Clough and Taylor are shown to be elated at the prospect of facing Leeds and Revie for the first time, in fact Derby had already played Leeds earlier that season in a League Cup semi-final.
    • A few matches seen in the film are either invented, have incorrect scorelines or are shown taking place at the wrong times. Derby did not lose 5-0 to Leeds in their first season back in the First Division; they did lose to them by this scoreline several years later. Derby never beat Leeds 2-1 under Clough. His first win over Leeds (where he is shown hiding in the changing room) was a 4-1 victory in March 1970. Far from being happy, he was annoyed that Leeds had fielded their reserves, as they had to play a European Cup semi-final days later. Text on the screen has Clough's Leeds losing 0-1 to Luton Town. This match actually ended 1-1
    • While Clough and Revie did indeed face-off in a television debate hours after he was sacked, the dialogue they have in the movie doesn't bear much relation to the real one.
  • Vetinari Job Security: An inversion. Clough and Taylor think they're indispensible at Derby, so to strengthen their position in their feud with Longson, they tender their resignations, not expecting the board to accept them. To their surprise, the board does exactly that.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: See the Happily Ever After entry.
  • Where It All Began: The story finishes where it started, with Clough being appointed manager of Leeds.


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