Old controversies revived in new Clough film

There were times 20 years ago when it seemed Brian Clough was on the television or in the newspapers every day. Although the often-controversial manager has been dead for nearly five years, those times seem to be back. Clough's legacy lives on in a new film, books, a television documentary, newspaper and magazine articles, statues, and not least in the memories of arch-rival Nottingham Forest and Derby County fans, who have never forgotten how he revitalised their clubs and led them to glory in the 1970s and 1980s.

However, it is a rather less successful, but no less eventful, period in Clough's coaching career which has focused attention back on one of the greatest managers in the English game.

The 2006 novel by David Peace "The Damned United", which intriguingly tells the story of Clough's 44 days in charge of Leeds United in 1974 from the manager's imagined point of view, has been adapted into a film of the same name which is released this week.

Actor Michael Sheen, whose best-known roles include former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and television host David Frost, plays the leading part and said in a BBC interview that he had his own perspective on Clough.

"The central thing about him for me was that he was a prolific goalscorer and a great player, and he was injured which brought his career to a very early end, so he was always someone who didn't get to do what he wanted to do," Sheen told chat show host Jonathan Ross last Friday.

"I think management was always a second-best thing for him and he felt hard done by after he finished playing, so as "he" says in the novel 'from then on I lived my life as revenge'.

"I liken him in a way to Marlon Brando who had a disrespect for acting that gave him a freedom and a nonchalance and a risk-taking that was his genius -- and I think Clough had a similar thing about management."

QUICK SUCCESS

Clough may have regretted the early end to his playing career at the age of 27 after scoring 267 goals in 296 matches for Middlesbrough and Sunderland but he quickly put that disappointment behind him and became a successful manager.

He began his managerial career at lowly Hartlepool United, taking them to promotion, then moved to Derby, transforming them from a poor Second Division club into English champions in five years.

After a brief spell at Brighton and his 44 days at Leeds, whose previous manager Don Revie he passionately disliked, he moved to Nottingham Forest in 1975, and turned them into European Champions by the end of the decade.

Clough was outspoken and often very funny and the catchline of the new film recalls one of his most famous statements: "I wouldn't say I'm the best manager in the business but I'm in the top one."

His career at Leeds, which ended when he was sacked, famously got off to a shaky start when he told the players on his first day: "As far as I'm concerned you can throw all those medals you've won in the bin, because you won them all by cheating."

Like Clough in real life, neither the book nor the film has won universal popularity. The Clough family, including his widow Barbara and son Nigel, who took over his father's old job as the manager of Derby in January, have said they will boycott the film, with Nigel saying it is full of inaccuracies.

"If you base a film on a book filled with so much that isn't fact, then that film is not going to be so far removed," he said.

HARD SIDE

Norman Hunter, one of the key players in Revie's Leeds team whom Clough alienated, said this week that the film did not do Clough justice.

Hunter, arguably the hardest man in a very hard side, told The Times newspaper: "Watching The Damned United, I found myself feeling very protective towards the memory of Brian Clough which is a bit strange because for most of his 44 days at Leeds United he was trying to buy Colin Todd to replace me.

"Even though Clough turned out to be a disastrous appointment at Elland Road, only a fool would fail to acknowledge his greatness as a manager and I am not sure his qualities are done justice by the film."

"I didn't have any relationship with Clough whatsoever but later I found out he'd tried to sign me for Nottingham Forest. So he can't have thought I was all bad. But he never said anything nice to me in his 44 days.

"Despite my reservations about the portrayal of Clough, and my sympathy for the family, I have to say I enjoyed the film.

"It brought back a few memories and the basic truth is in there. Clough didn't really give himself a chance at Leeds, which was a shame."

Clough died from stomach cancer aged 69 in 2004 but as the continuing interest in him proves, his memory lives on.


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