Thursday, March 26, 2009

'Ole Big 'Ead

This Friday sees the release of the film about Brian Clough, or more accurately, his time as manager at Leeds United, called The Damned United. This was pre-empted last night by a fabulous 75 minute programme on the great man by ITV, who used their vast archive of Clough clippings to show what a genius maverick speaker and thinker he was.

As a Charlton fan of many years, I watched as our club came up against Clough many times: the first occasion I remember him was way back in 1968. He was manager of a Derby team that would become Champions of the Second Division (the equivalent of today’s Championship), and in November, his side scraped past Charlton 2-1 at the Baseball Ground. Cloughie described Charlton as the best team he had seen that season, including his own side, which was some praise, even though they beat us. Later that season, in mid-January, a televised match at The Valley saw Charlton win 2-0, with Ray Treacy scoring a Goal of the Season contender (I think it came fifth in the end from memory?). Derby went up, and Charlton just missed out, finishing third after a series of home draws in February and March put paid to any real chances of automatic promotion.

The Addicks didn’t cross paths with Cloughie for a few years after that, and it was probably a good job too! While the Rams went on to become League Champions in 1972, Charlton slipped into the third tier, after one dalliance too many with relegation. Clough then resigned from Derby in a flurry of petulance, but eventually took on the manager’s role at lowly Brighton. When Brighton came to Charlton in 1974, the Addicks were very much favourites, especially as we had a pretty good forward line (Hales, Horsfield, and Flanagan) and the Seagulls had recently shipped eight goals at home versus Bristol Rovers "Smash and Grab" partnership of Bannister and Warboys. Suffice to say that the 4-0 home defeat was a bit of a surprise to everyone, least of all the Man himself…

After that, Clough went to Leeds to replace Don Revie, who had taken over as England Manager following Alf Ramsey’s failure to beat Poland meant England missed out on the World Cup finals. Clough became the subject of legend, while Charlton dug themselves out of the third tier and into a solid division two team mainly thanks to those forwards (and Paddy Powell).

After Brian’s 44 day "holiday" in Yorkshire, he went on to take the job at Nottingham Forest, where he was re-united with his assistant manager Peter Taylor (no, not that one…). Forest were also a modest mid-table second division team, much like Charlton, and that season, the Addicks won in Nottingham much to the chagrin of Cloughie.

From there though, things took off, as Clough forged a very good side that won promotion, then the League title at the first attempt. Clough had signed many very good players by now, with Peter Shilton the rock on which he built his side. He did nurture his own talent though, with unsung names like Ian Bowyer, Ian Barrett, and Frank Clarke playing alongside internationals like Larry Lloyd, Kenny Burns, and the like. Brian Clough was only the third manager to win the title with two different clubs.

European Cup glories followed (think Champions league, without any of the league bit…it was pure knock-out stuff back then!) and not until 1986 did Charlton face Forest again. After Lennie Lawrence led Charlton to the hallowed land of the big boys, our first away game one warm August evening was at the City Ground to play a decent Forest team, who promptly despatched Charlton 4-0 (Neil Webb 2, Gary Birtles, and Nigel Clough). Home truths had to be learnt quickly, and luckily, Charlton followed up this loss with a 1-0 win at Old Trafford against Ron Atkinson’s average Manchester United side. So, for the next four years, Charlton locked horns with Forest and Clough. The Addicks had little success over those years - a few draws but no wins – and Forest usually had the better of games winning home and away. There was another (Terry Wilson inspired) 4-0 tonking at the City Ground in 1989, and then following relegation in 1990, and we had to say goodbye to games against Clough. The last Charlton match against Clough-the-Manager was a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park in March 1990 (Paul Williams the scorer).

Brian sank deeper into drink related problems, left Forest in 1993 when they were doomed to relegation, and died in 2004.

As a football fan, seeing Clough being outspoken on The Big Match was a highlight of every 1970's Sunday afternoon; even if Charlton weren’t on, and you hated Arsenal and Chelsea and Spurs, you still watched to see what he said, and who he might upset this week!

Sadly, the book – The Damned United – is a novel based on fact, and the line of where the fact is true and the novel takes over with make-believe is a thin one. Most of the main parties in the book are clearly libelled, but as they are dead, they cannot sue. One person who was identified – as the Irishman – is still alive and did sue, and won substantial compensation; Johnny Giles said on the ITV programme that most of the book is tosh.

The film is purportedly more compassionate, and from clips I’ve seen, does have an exceptional performance from Michael Sheen as ‘Ole Big ‘Ead himself, but I worry that the truth may become eclipsed by the myth of the book, or more likely the film of the book of the truth…

I’m therefore now in two minds over whether to see this movie, or retain my own memories of Brian Clough, manager extraordinaire.

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When I heard this film was coming round, it was the first time in a decade I've been tempted to go to the pictures.

Then I saw last night's documentary, and like you I don't like "faction" as in a mix of fiction and fact (perhaps I should call it "fict" instead).

Because there is such a large dose of fact intertwined with the outright lies you are inclined to swallow the lot - and I don't like being conned. The actors are top drawer though -the bloke who plays Clough was outstanding as Kenneth Williams.

I can see the sequel next year though - "Damned Athletic". Parkinson gets to play the part of a manager, Andy Gray gets to act as a striker, andg they all sing "Smash it up" at the end as they leave our club in ruin.

Pembury Addick
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