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…
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?
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.
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.