I spent a good part of a rainy weekend immersed in a great novel: David Peace’s The Damned United. It’s a fictionalization of, bear with me here, the 44 days in 1974 when Brian Clough managed Leeds United Football Club. It may sound unlikely, but you don’t need to be a soccer obsessive or even sports nut to read a book that’s blurbed on its cover as the greatest novel about sports ever written.
Clough, or Cloughie as he became known to legions of television viewers in England, was the kind of character that wouldn’t last four days under today’s media microscope. He was a foul-mouthed drunk who was happy to neglect his teams to appear in some television studio. But he was also an undoubtedly brilliant football manager (soccer coach in the American parlance): he took a flailing Derby County team from nowhere to the English championship and the semi-finals of the European Cup. After his rapid falling out with Leeds, he managed Nottingham Forest for nearly two decades, most notably to two consecutive European Cup victories. Thanks to his unyielding personality and the conservatism of England’s Football Association, he never managed England.
Peace’s novel tells the story of his 44 days of failure with dirty, dirty Leeds in the voice of Clough. It’s gripping reading because of the emotional highs of triumph and lows of failure and the constant, pitiless pressure to perform game after game after game. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
David Peace’s most recent book, Tokyo Year Zero, was ecstatically reviewed by The New York Times, even if the references were slightly dizzying: “Peace’s masters would seem to be Dostoyevsky; postmodern collagists like William S. Burroughs and Kathy Acker; and practitioners of the French nouveau roman like Alain Robbe-Grillet.” (Incidentally, reviews even in the Times obviously do little for book sales. Tokyo Year Zero currently ranks 47,589th on Amazon.)