I will admit to not having a fever pitch for football (the English kind, not the American kind). Although I did grow up supporting Swansea City and Liverpool in an odd courtship of love and loyalty — the love was for Liverpool and Kevin Keegan; the loyalty for supporting a local team that happened to be Swansea City.
But I just watched The Damn United and wished I still had my old Liverpool scarf to knot one more time around my neck.
Michael Sheen gives one stellar performance worthy of an Oscar — or at least free season tickets to every premier English league game. He became Brian Clough, the focus of the film, so much that I had to Google Mr. Clough just to remind myself what he looked like.
The story revolves around the friendship, tough at times, between Clough and Peter Taylor (Clough’s assistant at Derby and later Nottingham Forest), and Clough’s bitter rivalry with Leeds United manager Don Revie (played by the fantastic Colm Meaney).
On one level the film’s about football in 70s England, the muddy pitches and the dirty games (epitomized by Leeds United, Football’s Enemies Division One, according to Clough in the film). It also touches on the approachability of those 70s players, so many from working-class backgrounds who would meet fans at local pubs and had salaries that weren’t that much different from the people they lived among. Not like today when footballers are paid salaries the size of the GNP of small countries and you’d be lucky if they gave you the evil eye.
On another level it’s about Clough and the forked-tailed ambition that drove him to succeed but also to be his own worst enemy; the Achilles heel of his own suffering. But what makes Clough so much more than just an ego-driven madman, with the world as a cup at his own lips, is his love for the game, for his friend Taylor, and his wit and honesty in the face of ridicule and dismissal from others.
In a strange way, Brain Clough was football’s Socrates. Like the Athenian philosopher, Clough was charged with introducing strange new gods to football and corrupting the young.
Currently listening to:
Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio. This New York band is the best thing since the Thin White Duke.
Get Behind Me Satan by The White Stripes. Oh, Jack, you know how to ring my musical doorbell.
Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective. I didn’t like this album at first but its freak folk and experimental sound has grown on me like psychedelic moss.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. Hornby writes like the chosen son of Laurence Sterne, Chekhov, and Del Boy and Rodney Trotter. His narrative is so witty and sad and uplifting and sneaky that I feel like I’ve been rolled up in a sweet jam roly-poly. And he has his finger pressed so firmly to the drama between men and women, fingering that wishbone of laughter and forgetting, loving and hating, that I have to keep shaking my head and saying to myself, no, Hornby didn’t create Adam and Eve, he’s just a writer doing what the best are supposed to do: tell us stories.