Man vs Bookshelf: Clough: The Autobiography

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

Today, with book seven, we have something new.

The first non-fiction book of Man vs Bookshelf.

Exciting, no?

As well as being the first non-fiction book, Clough has also pinched an undesirable record.

Lowest pages read per day (so far) at 45. Beating previous loser, Good Omens (69), by some distance, and being well below our front-runner. Big Little Lies, with 155.

This low pages per day record also mean it took the longest to read at seven days. Although this was still within the week I allow myself, thank God.

So does a low pages per day count show an unenjoyable book?

Let’s see…

Brian Clough and Me

04/12/1982 Division One – Notts County v Nottingham Forest
Brian Clough
Credit: Offside / Mark Leech

Having been born in August of 1992 my first football season on this world was Clough’s last in management.

I can’t say I took much notice.

By the time Clough died, some 12 years later, I was still not all too interested in football.

Clough only came to my attention some years later when, at uni, I finally got into football in a big way.

I learned of Clough through my Grandma, a lifelong Nottingham Forest fan, first. Then, later, as a result of the book, The Damned UTD, and film of a similar name, both of which I loved.

As of 2017, I have a much greater understanding of the Forest and Derby legend. I’m a long time player of Football Manager and, as a result, managers have always interested me.

I’ve read plenty about Clough and watched interviews from back when he was still alive and in the game.

Despite this, I’ve read neither of the Clough autobiographies on my bookshelf.

I’m not sure why. I’ve always wanted to read them, but must never have got around to it.

Now, though, seemed like the perfect time to crack one open. Not only because of the challenge but because they belong to my Grandma. I’m visiting her this week and thought I should return at least one.

So, as a fan of Clough and his confrontational style, what did I think of his first autobiography?

Brian Clough: The Autobiography

I wasn’t sure, and still am not sure, how I was going to review a non-fiction book.

I’m used to talking about plot and character, but that won’t work here. I can hardly blame Clough for weak characters and crappy plotting. He is, after all, restricted, seeing as his life is his life. It’s not his fault he didn’t have a final showdown with big bad Don Revie before he retired. Although, that would have been good.

But I suppose I can talk about general enjoyment and writing style. So that’s what I’m going to do. As usual, making most of it up as I go along.

So prepare for that.

Enjoyment

As stated above, this book took me longer to read than any other on the challenge so far, but there are a couple of reasons for that. Neither of which suggest, in their own right, that this book was any worse than others I have read.

In fact, to set my stall early on, I preferred this book to both Good Omens and Devil May Care, despite giving each a 3/5.

On a ten point scale, I would have given this a seven and Good Omens and Devil May Care sixes. These are VERY different scores, as we all know. But you’ll have to take that up with Goodreads and their stupid scale.

So, reason one: I had a day off.

Since starting this challenge I’ve had one day off, a Tuesday, the day after I had started reading this book.

I went to the cinema and was knackered when I got home and didn’t feel like reading.

(Well, I didn’t feel like it, and it was late. I didn’t want my girlfriend to be mad at me like she will be when she reads this sentence.)

Taking this into account, I read Clough on six non-consecutive days. This would bring the average pages per day up by seven. Still the lowest, but closer to Good Omens.

Second, this is a non-fiction book.

This means it is not plotted to be a page-turner. At least, not in the same way. There are no cliffhangers at the end of chapters to drag you along. The story is the story, and so there is not that same tug as with a fiction book to page turn.

Brian’s life was his life, and while it was interesting, he will never be able to compete with the lives of Batman and co. Because of his unfortunate drawback of not being fictional.

This, though, I don’t think we can hold against him.

The above contributed to a lower average page count, but the book was enjoyable. I love reading about football managers, and Clough was one of the most interesting.

Although, having an exciting life will not, alone, make for an interesting book.

Writing Style

Writing style is as important in an autobiography, as it is in fiction. More so, even, on account of it not having cliffhangers etc. to keep you going.

Anyone can ruin an interesting life by writing about it dully.

Brian Clough avoids this.

Part of this may be down to the fact he had John Sadler writing either with him or, more likely, for him.

Although, the choice of Sadler – who worked for the Sun – as writer does make you question the validity of the book. After all, the News is supposed to be factual, and the Sun has never worried about that.

Regardless of who wrote it, the writing style is very Clough. Plain speaking, accented, friendly and littered with exclamation marks. The latter of which being a horrible writing device, but anyway.

The writing works. It improves the flow and gives the book a Clough personality. Even if there are a lot of digressions as he tells his stories.

This, plus an interesting life, makes for an enjoyable read. But it was never going to be as good as the best fiction.

A 3/5 was always the highest it was ever going to go.

Predictions

There are a couple more things I could write about, outside of general enjoyment. One of them, which I won’t go into in too much detail, is honesty.

I could talk about how Clough claims never to take a bung, despite many official sorts being sure he did. He could be lying, he could be telling the truth, I don’t know, and speculation won’t get us anywhere, so let’s leave it.

One thing I will discuss is his predictions. Written in 1994, and read 20 plus years later, it is clear Clough would never have made a good precog. Fortune telling, then, would never have been for him.

Though I suspect most fortune tellers know what they are saying is nonsense. However they portray it.

Much like writers of the Sun.

Back to Clough.

There are three bold predictions Clough makes in this book that I knew right away were not right.

First – and he mentions this twice – Clough claims he does not believe any side will beat his Forest team’s record of going 42 games unbeaten.

In fact, Arsenal smashed this record in the 03-04 seasons, right before Wenger forgot how to put successful teams together. Or, at the very least, before everyone else learned how to do it better.

Second, he claims of his son, Nigel Clough, that “I don’t think he will choose football management, though. I’m certain he won’t.” Stating the reason ex-footballers become managers is because they are not equipped for other work.

Well, if that’s the case, Bri, your son was less equipped for the outside world than you thought. He went into management in 1998, only a few years after this books publication. He has been doing it now, at the time of writing, for 19 years. Albeit, not as successfully as his father.

The final prediction made is a sad one, and does not fall into the same category as the first two. It involves addiction, something only he can overcome, rather than anyone else.

Being in released in 1994, there were already rumours of Brian Clough and alcoholism, and he moves to address them in the epilogue.

He talks about how his family worries about his alcohol intake and admits it is something he will need to look at it. The penultimate paragraph reads:

“Whatever steps are necessary to set my family and friends at ease, I will take them. No-one is going to be able to brand Brian Clough as a drinker who lost control and could not conquer his habit. I will beat it…”

This is a prediction tinged with sadness. Here was one of the most successful football managers of all time. A man never afraid to step up to a challenge. A man who knocked down obstacles throughout his career and who was determined to do so again with alcoholism.

If anything shows the strength and resolve it must take to overcome addiction it is this. Clough would go on to battle addiction for almost a decade after the release of this book. A fight culminating with a liver transplant in January 2003 that saved his life.

What was written at the time as a message of strength to end the book, now adds a dimension of sadness, given the context.

But, whatever happened towards the end of Clough’s life, he will always be remembered as one of the greatest football managers of all time.

Not to mention one of the greatest personalities.

Next Time

Following on from the most depressing end to one of my reviews yet, I will be moving into the world of Private Detectives. And you know what that means…

That’s right, silly names and, ironically enough, alcoholism.

This time I’m reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first in the series of Cormoran Strike books (no really, that’s his name).

The book is written by Robert Galbraith, pseudonym of little known British author J.K. Rowling.

She wrote some children books about wizards and a snake man, or something.

See you then!

Man vs Bookshelf: Grandpa’s Great Escape

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

After struggling to get through Good Omens in the allotted time, I wanted to dive into a quick read.

I choose Grandpa’s Great Escape. It may look beefy, and weigh in at over 450 pages, but don’t let that fool you. It is, after all, a kiddies book, and thus utilises BIG words and plenty of pictures.

So I intended it to pose no problems, and it didn’t, as I raced through it in three days.

Nice and easy.

So what did I think?

David Walliams and Me

If you had asked me twelve years ago if I could see Little Britain’s David Walliams writing successful children’s books I would have asked you who you were and what you were doing in my school.

Totally inappropriate.

I suppose it’s not that weird to think that David Walliams is now writing children’s books.

Yes, Little Britain and Come Fly With Me were utterly inappropriate for kids, but that kind of irreverent toilet humour is ripe for translation into the type of books David Walliams now writes.

So, when I heard Walliams was writing fab kid’s books, I wasn’t surprised. Not only that, but I was keen to give them a go.

Now, full disclosure, I’m not a child.

Well, not in a legal sense, anyway.

Nor do I know any children to whom I could read these stories. But, if you think kids books are for kids and kids alone, you are a poop (ha!)

Kids fiction is at its best when it works on two levels. One for adults, one for kids. After all, it’s the adults that read the books to their kids, so it has to work for them.

And, when it’s top notch, it transcends age boundaries altogether.

Remember, Harry Potter was a kids book once.

(If you haven’t heard of Harry Potter, it is a series of books about a boy wizard. It was initially intended for children but has achieved a reasonable level of success across all age groups in the past twenty years, having sold at least forty trillion copies.)

So I was ready to give Walliams a go, and my girlfriend was kind enough to buy me three of his stand-alone stories. The Boy in the Dress, Gangsta Granny, and Grandpa’s Great Escape.

Grandpa’s Great Escape

‘Grandpa’ was the third of the three Walliam’s books I read.

Set in the 1980’s, it is the tale of Jack and his Grandpa, a World War II pilot who now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. When Jack’s parent feel they can no longer look after Grandpa, he is moved to the old people’s home, Twilight Towers, run by Miss Swine.

When it becomes clear that Miss Swine is mistreating her wards for person gain, Jack must help his Grandpa make a daring escape. An escape that, if successful, will give Grandpa a final chance to relive his past and once again take to the sky in his beloved Spitfire.

As with Gangsta Granny and The Boy in the Dress, this is a fast-paced, exciting read, and ‘Grandpa’ is certainly the most action-packed book of the trio, racing from set piece to set piece without ever losing the heart of the novel.

It’s also – as the others were – funny. There’s plenty here for kids – fart and poop jokes – but also for adults. The sly humour that kids won’t notice and only adults will get. Always very well done.

Based on humour and pace alone, it’s easy to see why children and parents have fallen in love with Walliams’ books, but there is something else he achieves in his writing I find so impressive.

Dealing with ‘adult topics’.

I don’t read a lot of children’s fiction, but I imagine many writers shy away from the issues Walliams utilises in his books.

The story of Grandpa’s Great Escape is all about Jack helping his Grandfather escape the horrible old people’s home – Twilight Towers.

This, alone, makes for a great story, but it’s the framework, and the heart of the tale, that really sets it apart.

See, as mentioned above, Grandpa is inflicted with Alzheimer’s. Now, this is a horrible illness, and one I can imagine is difficult to convey to children in a way they can understand.

Walliams’ does it brilliantly. It is not shoehorned in as some idealistic message, tacked on to the story. It is the story. It drives the plot along. Nothing happens if not for Grandpa’s illness, and we, the reader, are never left in any doubt that this is the case.

What is particularly touching is that, given Grandpa’s condition, grandson Jack is the only one who can communicate with him. By learning to live in Grandpa’s memories with him, Jack can help grandpa more than anyone else. He coaxes the elder down from great heights when he – grandpa – believes he is in his Spitfire and he – Jack – understands that, just because Twilight Towers is not Colditz Castle, does not mean it is not a horrible place, worth escaping.

This entangling of adventure and illness sets up a beautiful – and emotional – finale, which I won’t ruin here. But is thoroughly earned and the perfect culmination of everything that has gone before.

I’m not ashamed to say; it would make some people teary.

Not me though. I’m well manly, and this isn’t Lion King.

No matter how popular Walliams gets, a lot of people will be put off these books because of Little Britain, or Come Fly With Me, or because you’re not a twelve-year-old boy.

Don’t be put off.

Pick up a Walliams book.

Give it a go.

You won’t regret it.

“Hang on, before you go…”

Yes, yes, yes, I know what you’re going to ask, why did I give it a 3/5 on Goodreads?

I don’t know, to be honest. I probably should have given it a 4. If it had been a ten point scale I would have given it a seven.

Hey, have I mentioned how much I hate Goodreads’ five-point scale before?

Next Time

We’re going away from fiction next time out as I will be reading the first of two Brian Clough autobiographies I have.

I hope I’m reading the first released, but it’s hard to tell.

See you then!