Soapbox: The Damned United(s)


In prolific form (and on holiday, which explains it), Pete Sixsmith slots in an afternoon visit to the cinema to see the new film about one of our heroes…

One of the best ways to spend an afternoon when on holiday from work is to go to the pictures. There is a wonderfully decadent feel about slinking into a cinema on an afternoon when the rest of the world is out there making a living and I’m just making up time for my pension.

Last half term, I went to see The Reader, which I didn’t much care for. In fact, if I never saw Kate Winslet’s breast ever again, I would be a happy man, having had an eye full of then in this movie. I sneaked into a Silver Session for over 60s for this one and it was rather disconcerting to hear the male part of the audience rustling in their trouser pockets for a spare Wurther’s every time the well endowed Ms Winslet disrobed.

This time, I visited an out of town complex to see The Damned United. I read the book when it first came out and thoroughly enjoyed it and I was interested to see how an American director would deal with a quintessentially English story of two working class men (Clough and Revie) in the same job but with such different views on how it should be done.

I took the precaution of ordering the ticket in advance and this turned out to be a very wise move as the juvenile population of Stockton and Thornaby had descended on the complex. On going through the doors I was greeted by a sight that Hieronymus Bosch in his most imaginative mood would have struggled to envisage. Children running, children being dragged, children eating sweets, children depositing sweets on floor, children screaming, arguing and shouting. The smell of sugar would have sent a diabetic into a coma from which they would never have recovered.

Fortunately, they were more interested in films featuring dogs and monsters than those featuring 1970s football managers, so my screen was a haven of peace and quiet amidst chaos.

The film is good. Sunderland get at least eight mentions, while the Mags get none so that makes it a potential Palme d’Or for me. The performances range from good (Timothy Spall as Peter Taylor) to excellent (Jim Broadbent as Sam Longston – the kind of football director who has more in common with a brontosaurus than the likes of Niall Quinn and John Hays). Michael Sheen did a good job on Brian Howard Clough, despite lapsing into his native South Wales accent and flaring his nostrils like Kenneth Williams, who he had portrayed in Fantabulosa.

The football scenes were good and Sheen is a decent footballer, if not in the Clough league. I enjoyed watching football in the 60s and 70s as envisaged by an American and spent a frustrating hour trying to work out which ground they had used for the Baseball Ground – Saltersgate at Chesterfield if you want to know.

His relationship with Revie is the conflict that the film hangs onto, whereas the novel examines his inner conflicts and the self doubts that he had. But it’s an enjoyable way to spend 97 minutes and for people of our age who saw Clough score his only top division goal, it brings back memories of how good we could have been had he not been injured and had we not allowed Alan Brown to leave over a bonus dispute.

To bring the day to an end, I went to watch a decent Northern League game between Marske United and Sunderland RCA. Organising the warm up, picking up the cones and shouting from the touchline was a former team mate of Clough’s. The great and much admired George Herd is still there passing on his wisdom to young players who have the merest fraction of his talent and ability. Forty five years ago, Colin and myself stood in the Fulwell End and watched him slot home two sublime goals against Rotherham United in front of 56,000 people. What chance Dean Whitehead doing same on Saturday? Don’t hold your breath.

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