Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: The Damned UTD

This entry is part 52 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

It’s getting late on Sunday night. Ten to eleven. Five to eleven. I’ve been working hard all day. It’s hot. Record-breaking temperatures. I’m in no mood to write this blog right now.

And I’m not going to.

Today I’ve read half a Stephen King book – not known for his works of a few pages. Edited over ten scenes for my next novel, and scheduled the blog due for release before this one. My Richard Branson review.

So why am I writing these words now, when I should be five minutes from going to sleep? When I’ve not yet had a bath. When I still have one more scene to edit.

Well, I haven’t written my fresh words for the day yet, and every day I want to write fresh words. It’s my promise to myself and to

That’s why I’ve written these words, and why these are the only words I’m writing today.

I may return to this blog tomorrow. But for now, I’m going to edit my last scene, prepare my lunches for the week, go in the bath, and go to bed.

Before midnight if possible.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

I did it, but that’s all I’ll be saying on the subject today. More tomorrow.

I wrote about Brian Clough and me during my last Brian Clough blog where I reviewed his autobiography. You remember. but check it out before we proceed.

This is different, of course. It’s fiction based on fact. Written by a man named David Pearce. A man known for writing books based on fact.

I’ve not read any of his works before, so let’s skip that, and move straight on to talking about the book.

The Damned Utd

I’ve had the book a long time but, surprise surprise, I’ve never read it.

I have seen the film based on the book (and renamed) – The Damned United.

I first saw glimpses of it around someone else’s house. I enjoyed it. It made me want to watch the whole thing and, sometime later, I did.

I’ve no idea when this was, but I have watched the film again within the last year, and once more enjoyed it.

Known for playing real-world characters, Michael Sheen is brilliant as Brian Clough. You watch interviews of the real man and the portrayal is spot on.

Timothy Spall as Peter Taylor may not be quite as accurate, but it’s still a great character, and performance.

The side characters, too, are excellent. The most notable of these being the former chairman of Derby County Sam Longson – played by Jim Broadbent.

So I went into the book with preconceptions. Having enjoyed the film I was looking forward to seeing where it came from.

But how did it compare?


I’ll talk about this first because it’s unusual. Unique, even.

The book, for those that don’t know, centres around the forty-four days Brian Clough spent as Leeds United manager, interspersed with his earlier career exploits, beginning at Hartlepool, moving on to Derby and finally Brighton.

The film makes a great job of juggling this past/ present narrative. Cutting between them without making us seasick. Building an interesting narrative, without becoming confusing.

With the book, each chapter is a day with forty-four chapters in total (duh).

The forty-four day passages are first person, present tense. Boardering on stream on consciousness. Might even be stream of consciusness. Although, of course, no one actually thinks in such complete sentences.

Peace then weaves the past within these chapters in italics, making it obvious that’s where we are.

To make it even more clear, it is in second person. Yep, the one that’s never used. So it is as though you are Clough, and someone is telling you what you are thinking and feeling.

It’s an interesting way of displaying the narrative, which at least makes the book memorable.

Does it work?

Um, sort of.

It puts a clear division between past and present, and Peace weaves in the two stories very well. But there are limitations.


For example, the film is allowed a greater degree of freedom than the book.

A lot more happened in the life of Clough during his time at Hartlepool, Derby, and Brighton than at Leeds. You know, because he was there for years, rather than forty-four days.

As a result, the film puts more focus on the past, weaving the present in as the secondary story.

The book doesn’t have this option.

Peace’s decision to have a chapter for each day, means something must happen every day.

But something doesn’t happen every day. It can’t. This is pre-season. This is football.

This means there is a lot of repetition. In training, in matches. Many of the passages appear and reappear and reappear. Clough takes training and the team try to hack him down. Clough argues with his trainers who hate him. Clough and the board go round and round and circle. Clough thinks on how much he hates Revie.

Spoiler alert. That happens a lot.

Same stuff, different day.

The film is not restricted by this linear day by day narrative. They are able to pick the most interesting events from the time at Leeds. This is then threaded in with the events of the past, which I felt worked much better than the other way around in the book.


In the book, Peace reveals the past in snapshots. Little snippets of those stories and it always feels a little undercooked.

The second person telling is a nice idea. But there is a reason it isn’t used outside of “Choose Your Own Adventure” type stories. I used to love the ‘I give myself Goosebumps’ books.

It’s quite limited as a device, and a few paragraphs is all you are able to digest – especially written in italics.

Once again, the film is not lumbered with this restriction, which makes for a more immersive narrative in those past times.

Sum Up

This book could have been more.

Could have done more.

But Peace has taken one of the most fascinating footballing characters ever to exist. Creating an interesting story around him.

How much of this story is true is up for debate. The dates are correct. The names and faces all there, and the book is well researched. Biographies used to create a fictional narrative that is as close to fact as possible.

It isn’t perfect, but nothing can be. No one knows what the cast were thinking and feeling bar the characters themselves. Sadly the two key players – Clough and Taylor – did not live to give their opinions on their stories.

And if there is one thing we can say for sure it’s that Clough would have had an opinion on this story.

And probably a negative one.

Next time

From one imposing character to another.

After taking on a fiction based on fact book this time out, we’ll be taking on a fiction based on fact book next time.

it’s a book written by fictional superagent – Ari Gold.

Rules to Rule by.

See you then.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: Business Stripped BareMan vs Bookshelf: The Gold Standard – Rules to Rule By >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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