The Damned United

Now that the FA Cup “proper” is upon us, I am starting to feel nostalgic. The funny thing is, my feelings of nostalgia are for an era that occured decades before I started watching football on a regular basis. I have been watching English football matches since the 2000-01 season, and when I like something, I want to learn its history. One of the names that stood out to me was Brian Clough.

A brief bit of background: Brian Clough was a goal scoring machine–first at Middlesbrough, then at Sunderland. His playing career was cut short by injury, so he started coaching. He took Derby County from the Second Division (now called The Championship) to the First, (Premiership) and eventually they became champions of England.

The Damned United goes back and forth in time between Clough’s tenure at Derby County and his stint at Leeds United . . . All forty-four days of it. That’s correct; Clough was manager of Leeds for about six weeks. And I thought the National Hockey League had a high turnover rate.

That’s not the only thing English football during the Seventies had in common with ice hockey. Both sports were played in a rough and tumble, no-holds-barred style. If you have ever seen Slap Shot, you know what I am talking about. This was the style played by Leeds under the stewardship of manager Don Revie. When Revie left to become manager of the England National Team, Clough took his place at Leeds and tried to get the squad to play “The Beautiful Game.” Obviously, he failed.

In The Damned United, Brian Clough is played by Michael Sheen, who seems to be the go-to guy when it comes to portraying real life people on screen, and I have no problem with that. I will watch anything he is in.

Sheen’s performance as Clough is spot on. With such a larger than life character, it would be easy to slip into merely an impression, or a caricature, but Sheen knows where that line is. If you know anything about soccer, but nothing about Brian Clough, he was more or less the Jose Mourinho before Jose Mourinho. He was an arrogant s.o.b.–but he won trophies.

Clough wasn’t a mean guy. I guess you could describe him as “tough, but fair.” You always knew where you stood with him. Assistant coach Peter Taylor, played in the film by Timothy Spall, was the “Good Cop”– and together–they were magic.

Colm Meaney has a small, but crutial, role in The Damned United as Don Revie. In real life, I don’t know if Revie was the bad guy that Clough made him out to be. Meaney doesn’t play him that way, nor should he. Revie and Clough were two different people with two different theories on coaching and man management.

If you are not a fan of soccer, but like sports movies, I highly recommend The Damned United. The script written by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) was based on the novel by David Peace. The film was directed by Tom Hooper (Les Miserables, The King’s Speech, The Danish Girl). The filmmakers did an outstanding job recreating the look of the era; a time when most football stadiums were nothing more than wooden stands along the sidelines, and terraces behind the goals. Those were the good old days. Or so I have been told.


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