Brian Clough and Damned United

Last night, I watched the movie Damned United. It is the story of football manager Brian Clough’s 44 day run at Leeds United. Clough had turned second division Derby County into first division Champions in stunning fashion, and took the Leeds United job when Leeds manager Don Revie took the England job. Clough deeply disliked Revie and his cynical, but successful approach to the game. Prior to his first training session with the new team Clough did a television interview trashing Revie and arrived to meet with the Leeds United board offering these unforgettable words.

Board: I hired you to do this job because I think you are the best young manager in the country.

Clough: Thank you. I am the best old one too.

Board: I also did so under the assumption that you would be coming here wanting what’s best for this club. For the city of Leeds. So why do I get the feeling this is all about you and Don?

Clough: Of course it’s just about me and Don. Always has been. But instead of putting frowns on your foreheads, all you elders of Leeds in your blazers and brass-fucking-buttons, it should put big white Colgate smiles on your big white faces. Because it means I won’t eat, and I won’t sleep until I’ve taken whatever that man’s achieved, and beaten it. Beaten it so I never have to hear the name Don-fucking-Revie again. Beat it so the only name anyone sings in Yorkshire ale houses, raising their stinking jars to their stinking mouths, is Brian Clough. Brian Clough uber-fucking-alles! Understand?

Though Clough was out in 44 days, he would go on to win the European Cup twice with Nottingham Forest. His brand of bravado and passion ultimately proved best suited for sides lacking his confidence be it personally or institutionally. His belief in himself his signature and his gift was imprinting that signature on those he managed. Leeds was a failure because the audience of hardened professional with laurels, accolades and a hard-earned belief in themselves did not need or appreciate Clough’s gifts. There is a component of talent in the context of joint venture that requires compatibility.

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