Saturday, 25 April 2009


Special thanks to Laura Wootton and Eric Salou

You don't have necessarily to be a Football fan to have the notion that legendary manager Brian Clough (1935-2004) is a part of British culture (1). The Damned United, a movie about the 44 days of Clough in charge of Leeds United - adapted from a controversial book by David Peace - was recently there to remind it (

Clough, a magnificent documentary from ITV Sport (produced and directed by Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna and James Williams), is a conterpoint to the biopic starring Michael Sheen. A superb tribute to the legacy of the man, with quality interviews of those who really knew him: family, friends and former colleagues (Geoffrey Boycott OBE, Martin O’Neill, Roy McFarland, John McGovern, Peter Lorimer, Johnny Giles or Gordon McQueen). « This is Clough, the afterlife of Brian » says narrator Pete Postlethwaite OBE.

« The unfulfilled player made for the brilliant manager »: as a player Brian Clough scored 251 goals in 274 games (a post-war record), most at Second Division level. He played for England twice in a career cut short by injury. In 1965, he became the the youngest manager in the Football League at 30, with Fourth Division Hartlepool ( « So many think they can go into management at a high level straight away. At Hartlepool he thought he should learn his new job » explains Barbara Clough, his wife, in the doc. Then started his management duo with Peter Taylor as assistant manager.


« He took his Football very very seriously and really was grateful he had the chance to play Football. » (Barbara Clough)

With the loyal Taylor at his side, Clough began to really display his magic with Derby County, Second Division champion two years after his arrival, and gradually shaped his persona: a combination of shrewd management with charisma, wit, an hyperbolic self-confidence and a zest of eccentricity. « Conceit and arrogance are part of a man's make-up. Maybe I got too much » confessed Brian Clough with a great intellectual honesty. « Football had its first tv evangelist » . Well, rather a cross between a purist philosopher and a brilliant general with shades of a boxing champion, a perfect "client" for television.

Precisely. One of the forces of the documentary of ITV Sport is the use of their formidable archives. Brian Clough regularly contributed to the The Big Match the LWT's programme (a prototype of the contemporary Football talk shows, and a classic revisited on ITV4). « There are certain players in the game who couldn't take the ball from my wife. And Bob is one of them ». The quips of the master Football strategist, added to his brilliance as a manager, made him so popular (« The number of people who said to me 'I don't like Football but I never miss Brian on television » explains Barbara Clough) that Clough earned a nickname, "Old Big'Ead", and the interest from television and radio comedians and impressionists. Eric Idle's impression in a Monty Python's Flying Circus episode remains particularly famous: « Well, I don't agree with that, Malcolm, quite frankly the only bit I liked was this bit with me in it now ».

« How do you react though when someone of your playing staff says 'Boss, I think you're doing wrongly'?
- I ask him which way he thinks it should be done. We get down to it. We talk about it for 20 minutes and then we decide I was right. »

Peter Taylor once said to player and manager Roy McFarland: « We've got to win Football matches because of the things that Brian says ». And with Taylor, Clough lead Derby on the road to League Championship in 1972 (for the first time in the club History) but his outspoken style and his habit to upset his bosses or the Football Association burned the bridge between him and Derby County chairman Sam Longson. Until Brian Clough and Peter Taylor had to sign resignation letters, accepted by the board of directors much to the surprise of Clough.


« I don't think it will take them long to realize that I'm a very very honest manager. »

The pair was at Third Division Brighton & Hove Albion when in July 1974, "The Don of Elland Road", Don Revie - Brian Clough's arch enemy - left his position as revered Leeds United manager for the job of England national Football manager. And the impossible happened: in spite of his immense contempt for a club at odds with his principles and his conception of the game (« I would put leeds in Division 2 »), Clough was appointed manager of what people called "Dirty Leeds".

44 days in Hell, without Peter Taylor - significantly remaining in Brighton - and an infamous meeting with the players where "Cloughie" told them that they should throw all their medals in the bin, since they'd won them cheating. Which was probably not the best way to develop a confidence relationship, and under Brian Clough Leeds made their worst season start in 15 years.

« We were rats to Brian Clough. He couldn't stand us . » (Peter Lorimer)

« Have you read a novel with a real person's name in it? » asks Barbara Clough. The transformation of what the excellent Scotsman review of the ITV documentary calls "the Leeds circus" ( into David Peace's The Damned United (2006), came as a wound for Clough's family, friends and even unexpected ally with Football legend Johnny Giles. Giles successfully sued the author of the "faction" book ( « The betrayal of Brian Clough in that book is absolutely outrageous. It's dreadful, it's mean, it's mean-spirited and it's wrong » tells Giles for the doc.


« Have you ever considered you'd never return to Football.
- Oh, many many times. I had such a good time, and always having such a good time, making a success in my mariage and family life. It was utopia for me. »

The book has been turned into a biopic directed by Tom Hooper, thanks to the writer of Frost/Nixon. The film, with the chameleon king of biopics Michael Sheen (The Deal, Frost/Nixon), as Brian Clough, has been praised for Sheen's performance (2). The trailer does not justice neither to its star nor to the movie as Michael Sheen's Clough seems to act more like John Lennon than like "Old Big'Ead" in it. « But you can't beat the real thing » writes Patrick Barclay in The Times ( One of the greatest moments of the documentary is a sequence of the Yorkshire Television Calendar special presented by journalist Austin Mitchell (since, a Labour MP), with a bright Brian Clough facing a Don Revie out for revenge with a wonderful and so "cloughian" « I wanted to do something you hadn't done ».

Four months after being sacked by Leeds United, Brian Clough became the manager of Nottingham Forest, a club struggling to stay in the Second Division. And with Peter Taylor back at his side. Three years after his arrival, Clough became only the second manager to win the League Championship with two different clubs. Then he signed Trevor Francis, the first £ 1 million player. More reclusive, less in the limelight, focused on running "his" club, Clough allowed Nottingham Forrest to win the European Cup twice in 1979 and 1980.

« The six-week circus at Leeds, for all its obvious fascination, was little more than a perplexing interlude between the two great acts of the manager's career. So, too, was the Football Association's decision not to appoint him as England manager » writes The Scotsman. Clough really benefits of the implication of the Clough family: Barbara Clough and their sons bring a moving and warm presence. Nigel Clough has followed the footsteps of his father as manager of Derby County.

This sincere ITV documentary is not an hagiography, it's not only the answer to The Damned United. Clough is like this statue on Old Market Square in Nottingham city centre (, an act of gratitude, a tribute to the achievement of a larger than life figure and what he has brought to his sport. On a wider note, documentaries are, with current affairs and news programmes, one of the many valuable assets of ITV. Clough is now available on DVD ( and deserves to be watched, even if you don't like Football.

« He wanted to fashion a team that people would enjoy going to see. » (Barbara Clough)

(1) Just for the anecdote, there's a bit of Brian Clough in Philip Glenister's Gene Hunt (Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes).
(2) Who will be the next? Marco Pierre White? Russell T. Davies? Please have a look at this article on the incredible Michael Sheen:

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