Paul Poulton looks at the story within a story

The Damned United

True-story films by their nature carry inaccuracies; it's hard to cram all the actual facts in their true time-line. I think movie-goers would rather keep the dialogue and action moving along than be bogged down by the tedious nature of accuracy for accuracy's sake. So it's not surprising that 17 factual inaccuracies have been reported with this portrayal of the dark tough world of English football in the late 1960's and early 1970's. The focal point of the story seems to be the envy and rivalry between the outspoken manager of Derby County Brian Clough and the successful manager of Leeds United Don Revie. However, there is another story going on beneath the main narrative: Brian Clough, it appears was not the amazing football tactician most of the world thought him to be, it was his side-kick, Peter Taylor, the man whose public persona was one of deference and subservience to Clough and basically one of keeping his mouth shut when the TV cameras were rolling and letting his effusive partner do the talking. Taylor was the man with the skill, he had a remarkable ability to size up a player's potential, knowing what position to play the man in and kept his finger on the transfer market's pulse. Clough without Taylor was like a canoe without a paddle. The partners worked well together, in fact more than well, they kissed each other often, held hands and as footballers do (and some church-goers) hugged each other frequently. All this of course was without one tiny hint of sexuality playing a part; this was true David and Jonathan stuff. The dynamic duo of Taylor and Clough used their respective skills to raise Derby County up from the bottom of Division 2 to the top of Division 1, the highest place in English football at the time. However Clough's outspoken TV interviews riled the board of Derby County and Clough and Taylor find themselves without a job. A gentlemen's agreement with Division 3's Brighton & Hove Albion is struck up by Clough and Taylor, Clough reneges on it because a better offer from top club Leeds United comes in but Taylor is a man of his word and honours his hand shake agreement with Brighton. "Blessed is the man who keeps his word even though it hurts."

Clough's 44 days in charge of Leeds United was an unmitigated disaster on almost every level, his best friend and confidant Peter Taylor no longer wants to even talk to him on the phone and a TV interview with his arch enemy Don Revie sitting beside him goes disastrously wrong. We then find Clough in his car with his two young sons, he asks them, "Who is the most immature person in this car, who needs to grow up?" It's a pivotal moment in the film and in Brian Clough's life. He makes his way to the south coast to humble himself before his former friend and partner Peter Taylor, who he finds working in his front garden. Taylor wants a sincere apology; Clough insists he will not grovel. Taylor says, "Okay then," and turns to walk away. Clough shouts out, "Okay, I'm grovelling," and gets down on his knees. Taylor dictates the words he wants Clough to say, which as well as the apology include the lines, "please baby, take me back". It's a funny moment in the film, and yet so poignant, Clough can hardly get the words out, this is a proud man being humbled or rather humbling himself. It's a similar humility that we see in 'Beauty And The Beast', the beast must humble himself to become human once more. It's the same story the Bible has been telling us for centuries: if we humble ourselves we will be lifted if we are proud we will be lowered. Clough somehow manages to get the word "baby" out of his mouth and the two are true friends again, all animosity and hurt has gone. A long cheek to cheek hug follows coupled with words of love being whispered into each others ear, again without the slightest whiff of eroticism, this is "philia" (love between friends) working at its best. We are left with the feeling that this is how friendships should be. Clough and Taylor went on to be the most successful managerial team England has ever seen. It's lessons in humility, lessons that we'd all do well to take heed of. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.