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Leeds United and Elland Road have featured on the big and small screen many times over the years. Elland road stood in for Wembley in the Kings Speech and of course the weasel Norris ends up digging up the pitch to find buried treasure in the sitcom Porridge, though in that instance Loftus Road stood in for Elland Road. The most famous film to feature Leeds United is ‘The Damned United’, which features in the five best soccer movies ever made. The film was of course based on the book of the same name by David Peace.
The Damned United tells the tale of Brian Clough’s doomed 44 day spell as manager of Leeds United. Following the most successful period in the clubs history under its most famous and treasured manager Don Revie the club made the controversial appointment of Brian Clough, a previous outspoken critic of Leeds United and their great manager.
The film was a big hit with critics and audiences alike but the same cannot be said about Leeds United fans and ex-players. Dave Mackay and Jonny Giles both brought legal action against the makers for their portrayals in the film. To me the book and the film are different beasts. David Peace is a writer of great darkness and intensity and that shows in the book. It is a much more psychological investigation of Clough, his neuroses and anxieties. It’s quite ‘damming’ of him really. It plays on the fact that he thought Don Revie had slighted him and he carried that grudge against Don and Leeds through his career.
The film on the other hand is much more like 'Carry on Clough'…
Factual inaccuracies litter the film; Leeds United were not league champions when they played Derby in the FA Cup in 1968, Roy McFarlane was not stretched off after a nasty tackle from Jonny Giles (He played the whole match), Clough never attended Bremner’s FA hearing after his Charity Shield sending off.
It’s all done with artistic licence of course but when you mess with football, a subject which people hold with such passion you are bound to stir emotion and ruffle feathers. Jonny Giles insisted that “authors should not fictionalise around real events to locate an essential truth”, but if we can fictionalise war and politics why not football? Why are we so precious about it when it comes to the big screen?
If you’ve seen the film and it angered you but not read the book I recommend you do so, you will see things in a different light after. But if you want the antidote, the real story read We Are the Damned United, The Real Story of Brian Clough at Leeds United by Phil Rostron. This tells events from the perspective of the other side, the words of the Leeds players from the great team, the real ‘Damned United’.