Friday, 20 March 2009

"I certainly wouldn't say I'm the best manager in the business, but I'm in the top one."

I've been thinking about Brian Clough OBE a lot lately. In truth, for as long as I can remember, if I need to cheer myself up, all I have to do is trawl my memory for a quotation by Mr. Clough. I don't think I risk veering into a realm of originality by stating that he was a 'one off'. He would have turned 74 tomorrow, but, sadly, died in 2004.

At the moment, Brian Clough is headline news again thanks to the imminent cinema debut of The Damned United, a film adaptation of the book by David Peace. There has been plenty of coverage in the media, from numerous angles.

The book is very ‘dark’ and has been strongly criticised by the Clough family, who believe it to be a mis-representation of Old Big ’Ead (his self anointed alias, not mine). The Damned United is a ‘factional’ account of Brian Clough’s disastrous 44 day tenure as manager of Leeds United, in 1974. While the book may not paint a completely flattering picture of Mr. Clough, everything that I have seen or heard about the film points to it being a real celebration of the life and talent of a unique character.

As a Brian Clough devotee, I have been devouring as much of the coverage as I can, and some of it has been fascinating. Michael Sheen, the actor who plays Mr. Clough in the film, has given many interviews and time and again pointed out that although he completely understands the family’s hostility towards the project, he believes they should see the film as it’s a very affectionate portrait of the man himself.

Earlier this week, I listened to a great debate about the film on BBC Radio 5 Live. It took place during the evening sports show and, along with the presenter, featured Pat Murphy, Tim Lovejoy and a bona fide film critic whose name escapes me. I thought it was a particularly good discussion, because each contributor was able to articulate a distinct and valid take on the issue.

Essentially, it seemed to me that Pat Murphy was representing the Clough family. An excellent sports journalist, Murphy was (I believe) fairly close to Brian Clough and wrote a very readable biography of the man. I understand he remains in regular contact with the family. During the debate, Murphy regularly referred to the ‘17 factual inaccuracies’ in the film and he was, in my opinion, relatively hostile towards it.

Tim Lovejoy, the former presenter of Soccer AM on Sky Sports, represented the ‘average’ football fan (okay, so he’s famous, and probably rich, unlike the vast majority of fans, but you know what I mean). True to his name, Lovejoy loved the film – it took him back to a football era that he can barely remember (he’s 40) and brought one of the legends of the game to the big screen.

The bona fide film critic just did his job. He simply reviewed the movie as a piece of cinema and his conclusion was that it was a highly entertaining film with an outstanding central performance by Michael Sheen.

The discussion flowed well, covered many points of view, and was thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. Personally, I can’t wait to go and see the film and judge for myself. One thing I am sure of – from the clips I’ve already seen, Michael Sheen 'does' a fantastic Brian Clough.

More on Brian Clough very soon and an account of an occasion on which I met the great man. For the moment, I will conclude with his very astute assessment of the long ball game: "If God had intended for us to play football in the clouds he would have put the grass in the sky."

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