That the story would read as brilliant as it is to a stubbornly romantic football fan like me, was expected. That Peace's writing would go all the way down a dark, haunting, decadent poetic road with such elegance and soul, such music, was not.
Apparently, Brian Clough was an impossible person. He was arrogant and he was angered. He wouldn't take criticism. He was vengeful and bitter. Perhaps unforgiving. Definitely annoying!
And he was isolated, isolated, isolated
. It nevertheless didn't feel like he was alone. The Damned Utd effectively avoids the cliché of yet-one-more-novel-about-withdrawal-and-how-we-fill-our-misery. Brian Clough didn't need to fill his misery, because his faulted heroic nature was shadowed by his ambition. It’s in almost every page of this book that you can feel the demons in his mind being threatened by his obsession to excel. It didn't always work, but when it did, another page of glory was added to the history of the sport.
Engaging Brian Clough with empathy was probably a challenge back in the day.
But this book isn't trying to make you like Clough anyway, because it doesn't need to. Brian Clough’s character is larger than the book itself. Constantly flirting with self-destruction, he is determined to give rise to his own legend. With memories of his more successful years at Derby County, he is set to exorcise the dark legacy of his predecessor at Leeds United football club, Don Revie. Nice and clean. Through work and painful honesty. No blue suits. No dossiers. No bingo and no bowls. No ritual walks around the traffic lights or lucky routes to this bench in the dug-out. No envelopes full of cash. No gamesmanship or cheating – Just football
. Only this book isn't about just football
. Because Brian Clough doesn't believe in God. But he does believes in doubt. He does believe in fear. Because David Peace winked to the 60s and the 70s with style, and made it so.