‘The sun comes out but the rain stays put. No rainbows today…’
Brian Howard Clough. Probably the most revered football manager of all time. The quotes are legendary. His achievements beyond reproach. But as with many other elements of football, there is one club that always ruins it. In this case. In every case. It’s Leeds United. Clough’s white whale. The club he despised more than any other, with the manager he wanted to beat so badly and the players that he thought were cheats. Brian Clough’s 44 days in charge of the West Yorkshire club are legendary. David Peace’s book The Damned Utd (kind of) charts those tumultuous weeks but with the caveat that this is ‘a fairy story’…
The Damned Utd follows the dual narrative of Clough’s aforementioned spell at Leeds United and his glory years at Derby County. Both of these eras are narrated by a fictionalised version of Clough and while some of the events described here are taken from archive footage and first hand accounts, some of it is completely fictional. Once this has been taken as a given however, The Damned Utd can be fully appreciated for what it is – a stunning account of a man’s descent into self doubt and tragedy. Peace perfectly captures the feeling of tumbling into a metaphorical tailspin with ‘Cloughie’ doubting himself at every turn without his long time assistant Peter Taylor by his side.
As someone who harbours my own long time resentment about Leeds United as a football club, I found it incredibly satisfying to read Clough (albeit fictionally) railing against that Yorkshire club in such a violent and self destructive way.
The Damned Utd is not just essential for every single football fan, it’s just a fantastic piece of writing in its own right. An instant classic.