There cannot have been many greater characters in British sport than Brian Clough. So much so that a mythology has engulfed his memory. There have now been at least seven biographies of the self-proclaimed "Ol' Big 'Ead", the latest, 'Provided You Don't Kiss Me' by Duncan Hamilton, winning the 2007 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.
But Clough was so much larger than life that perhaps the best way to depict him is with fiction. That's what David Peace did with his book 'The Damned Utd', in which he imagined himself as Clough during his acrimonious 44-day reign at Leeds, a club he loathed, in 1974. Given the invective that spews out, the book could quite properly have been called 'The Fucking Utd'. But then it might not have been accorded a high-brow showcase on The South Bank Show (ITV1, Sunday). According to the author, "There is no such thing as non-fiction". For a man called Peace, he certainly manages to stir things up.
Melvyn Bragg, veteran presenter of the venerable arts programme and a devoted Arsenal fan, placed Peace in the tradition of Yorkshire literati such as David Storey, Sam Barstow and Keith Waterhouse, whose works were turned into gritty films such as Storey's rugby league fable 'This Sporting Life'. Peace explained: "The only book I took as a model of what I was trying to achieve was 'This Sporting Life', the only book I can recall that captures the physical presence sport has growing up in the north of England."
Peace has always courted controversy, his other works looking at the Yorkshire Ripper and the miners' strike. Here he struck a nerve again. "The Irishman" Johnny Giles successfully sued the publishers, and Clough's widow, Barbara, issued a statement that Bragg read out, in which she dismissed "this façade of egotistical bravado". When interviewed Michael Parkinson was too busy talking about himself.
Peace probably does not endear himself to his fellow Tykes by saying: "I never thought for a moment I was lucky to be born in York-shire. As soon as I could, I got on the train to Manch-ester." From there he went to Istanbul as an English teacher, then Tokyo, where he has done his writing. The Broad Acres were obviously not broad enough.
The film of the book comes out next year and will feature such luminaries of British cinema as Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall and Michael Sheen, he of the Tony Blair grin, as Clough himself – a cruel irony given Clough's intense left-wing ideals.
Peace is also planning to write a history of Geoffrey Boycott's relationship with Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Boycott was a good friend of Clough, and spoke at his memorial service. It should be easy to cast his character: surely it must be the man himself. But that may mean a slight change to his catchphrase: "As I've said before – or did I?"Reuse content