Sport on TV: Damned lies beat the statistics in a war of words about Peace

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The Independent Football

Despite all the hoo-ha over the veracity and fairness of his depiction in David Peace's novel 'The Damned United' and the new film of that name, Brian Clough would probably have enjoyed becoming a hero of the big screen. Except obviously he would much rather have played himself.

He epitomises the cliché of being larger than life. As narrator Pete Postlethwaite observed in the documentary Clough (ITV1, Wednesday), he was already "football's first TV evangelist". But as one of his autobiographies was called 'Walk on Water', Clough might have added he was more of a deity than a mere preacher.

Clough seemed to be on ITV all the time during the 1970s and was more than happy to offer trenchant criticism of his fellow managers. This was, after all, the man who was reprimanded by a certain boxer: "I've been told you talk too much. They say he's another Muhammad Ali. Now Clough, that's enough!" The response was predictably preposterous: "I want to fight him." In this giant clash of egos, Old Big 'Ead might just have come off worse.

Geoff Boycott, a close friend of Clough who loomed large in the documentary, actually compared Clough to Ali. Like Clough, the cricketer turned pundit sans pareil simply loves the sound of his own voice. It's a wonder that either of them could get a word in edgeways when they sat pontificating in Mrs Clough's kitchen.

Brian's widow, Barbara, very rarely appears on television, but she came on here to condemn the portrayal of her husband in Peace's book. She has two main bones of contention: that he swears far too much; and that he boozes constantly. She also makes the very valid point, "You cannot libel the dead". The same applies to two other protagonists in the tale of Clough's ill-fated 44-day tenure at Leeds United: the man he replaced, Don Revie; and the captain, Billy Bremner. You wonder how Peace would have stood up to a broadside from Brian.

Johnny Giles was so upset with his own character, "The Irishman", that he sued Peace and won. But this is the nature of the beast that Peace has created as a writer. For he is a leading exponent of a genre of literature labelled "faction" (another example is reviewed below), where the boundaries between fiction and fact are as blurred as the morning after a night on the scotch.

Peace made his name with the 'Red Riding' quartet, recently converted into a trilogy of TV films on Channel 4, which concern themselves with police corruption in Yorkshire in the Seventies and Eighties, and almost all his male characters are foul-mouthed and drink constantly.

One can only wonder how the fur will fly when Peace completes his latest project, reportedly an account of the relationship between Boycott and Yorkshire County Cricket Club. He might find a few bouncers coming his way.