The Damned United

The World Cup hasn’t even started and I’m sick of it. I’ve seen the St. George’s Cross on almost everything imaginable in the run up to South Africa. I feel like the damn flag’s tattooed onto my retinas. Anyway, I’m not going to pretend I know that much about football but I did just finish watching a film about the good ol’ beautiful game, the 90 minute rollercoaster, that game played primarily with the feet, the- y’know what? I really have no fucking clue what I’m on about…

The Damned United (2009)


Yeah- I don’t know much about football, let alone the personalities involved. I’d heard of Brian Clough and him being “the best manager England never had” but other than that, not much else. I gather that The Damned United isn’t the best place to start learning more about the man, considering the source novel’s loose grip on reality, but fuck it- I can’t unsee it now, can I?

“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the country. But I’m in the top one.”

As I said, The Damned United is based on the novel of the same name, concerning the life and times of Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), with special focus on his infamous time managing the then top of the league Leeds United. What I liked about the film was the level of characterisation throughout. I had a horrible feeling that the film would be a 98 minute sappy love-letter to the game. However, football is merely the backdrop to the big personalities of Clough, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) and Clough’s nemesis, Don Revie (Colm Meaney). As far as I can tell, Michael Sheen is great as Clough, presenting us with an arrogant, stubborn yet somehow likeable man. I thought Timothy Spall was good too, giving a lot of heart as Clough’s aide and best friend.

We actually see very little football on-screen, which works really well. There’s a fantastic scene where Clough is pacing around his office as his Derby side take on Revie’s Leeds, with the score only indicated by the roar and silhouettes of the crowd. It’s an effective sequence which really draws you in to the emotion of it all. It’s interesting to see how football has changed over the years too. The footballers in The Damned United all look about 50 and like they’ve been on a five-week fried breakfast and whiskey diet. It’s a far cry from the poncy, perfectly coiffed millionaires that hoof a ball about today.

Clough is a fascinating character, often seeming quite mad in his desire to be the best. It’s a genuine thrill to see Clough’s “hell with it all” attitude and plans succeed and painful to see them fail. I felt that his friendship with Pete Taylor was a little too overstated, as the number of “look- they’re the best of friends!” scenes prepared me for the inevitable breakdown of camaraderie between the two. The rivalry between Clough and Revie is probably the most curious aspect, as the film suggests that the bad blood between them was caused by Revie not shaking Clough’s hand after a match. It seems oddly petty, but the way Clough is presented makes it seem pretty plausible.

“We’re from the North, Pete. What do we care about Brighton? Bloody southerners. Look where we are! We’re almost in France!”

If you don’t like football, don’t be put off seeing The Damned United. It’s actually more of a character study of people who just happen to be involved in the sport than anything else. It’s also got a great Michael Sheen performance and some solid supporting acting by Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent to enjoy as well. Catch it if you can.

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