The Damned United directed by Tom Hooper; written by Peter Morgan and David Peace (Columbia Pictures, BBC Films, Screen Yorkshire, R, 98 minutes)

Starring Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, and Colm Meaney.

The Real Football

So I really love football. I don’t mean American football—the NFL is great and I enjoy it thoroughly but it is not the subject of this review. I mean actual football—fútbol to some, soccer to others. Despite my affinity to the sport, I am rather new to the game. I am able to discuss, in detail, the current teams, tactics, and players but I haven’t a clue about the legends of years past.

For this reason, The Damned United interests me. It depicts the tumultuous and short-lived era of Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) as the manager of British heavyweight, Leeds United, in 1974 after the storied manager, Don Revie (Colm Meaney), takes the English national team job.

When It Gets Personal

The story, though, begins years earlier when Clough and his right-hand man, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), manage middling Second Division club Derby County.

Upon drawing Leeds United in the FA Cup in 1968, Clough readies the Derby pitch in expectation of hosting this First Division leaders and Revie, a fellow former Sunderland player. When Revie ignores Clough and uses dirty tactics to win the cup tie, a rivalry is born.

Clough uses this snub to fuel his ambition and inspire his team (coupled with some shrewd signings) to promotion into the first division.

Now battling Leeds in league play, Clough and Taylor experience first-hand the poor play and win-at-every-cost attitude of Leeds United. In every way, Clough molds Derby County to represent the antithesis of Leeds United—sort of like the Red Sox free flowing attitude in comparison to the stuffy feel of the Yankees.

In Over Your Head 

Later, when Revie earns a promotion to the English National Team, Clough jumps at the chance of managing Leeds, even if his compatriot, Taylor, feels loyalty for a previously accepted offer. With the dynamic duo split, Clough’s time with Leeds suffers.

 

Ever the pugnacious personality, Clough welcomes the Leeds faithful by calling his players cheaters for their style of play and disregards the Leeds championships because they weren’t won with beauty. In short, Leeds aren’t champions because they don’t play like champions.
Of course, such statements do not win over his players. Still devoted to the managerial and personal style of Don Revie, the Leeds players rebel against Clough leading to the worst start in 20 years.
What follows leads the viewer to ask questions about the value of teamwork and the importance of communication. Clough is a brilliant manager but without the help of Taylor, he feels unmoored. When the Leeds players refuse to respond to his managerial style, Clough loses the locker room. In a personal vendetta against Revie, Clough finds himself over his head.

Filling in Some History

As a soccer fan, I have heard of Clough and Taylor and the brilliance they enacted with Derby County and later with Nottingham Forest. But I don’t know many specifics. Even though I would not label The Damned United a masterpiece, I value it for its contribution to my understanding of soccer’s history. Even though it’s hard to think of a time before Manchester United, earlier eras held their fair share of unique narratives and dramatic personalities.

I enjoyed learning more about Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. If you call yourself a soccer fan, you need to watch The Damned United. It’s not the greatest film in the world, but it tells a fascinating story.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

Posted by: Donovan Richards
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