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THEATRE REVIEW: Dark Days in the life of Brian




The Damned United is a stage adaptation of David Peace's celebrated book about Brian Clough’s turbulent 44 days as manager of Leeds United Football Club in 1974. Photo supplied by South Holland Centre. (2461252)
The Damned United is a stage adaptation of David Peace's celebrated book about Brian Clough’s turbulent 44 days as manager of Leeds United Football Club in 1974. Photo supplied by South Holland Centre. (2461252)

Six years before celebrated football manager Brian Clough achieved legendary status with his exploits at Nottingham Forest, "the beautiful game" threatened to turn very ugly for him at Leeds United.

Taking over the team he described in a 1969 TV interview as "The Leeds Machine", Clough's time at Elland Road was acted out by Luke Dickson who portrayed "Old Big Head" driven by a desire to outdo the man he most despised in football, his predecessor as manager Don Revie.

In just an hour, Dickson and fellow lead actor David Chafer (who played Clough's long-term assistant manager Peter Taylor) laid bare the agonies and ecstasies of football management at a time long before the advent of the Premier League, telephone number transfer fees and 24-hour phone-ins came along.

The Damned United was really nothing to do with football, but far more to do with the evaporation of the human spirit and how one man's desperation to feed his ego can turn to drink, disrespect and denial.

Football was the mere backdrop for the Clough expose, brilliantly portrayed by Dickson who gave no clue of the starry heights the ill-fated Leeds manager would go on to with Nottingham Forest - 11 trophies in 13 years.

This review would not be complete without mentioning the crucial role played by the third member of the cast, Jamie Smelt who had the thankless task of playing Derby County chairman Sam Longson for whom Clough won an unlikely First Division championship in 1972.

Smelt also had the task to portray Leeds United chairman Manny Cussins who went down in history as the man who sacked Brian Clough after 44 days.

But it was the spirit and personality of the man who still casts a shadow of English football management today that dominated The Damned United, from his pig-headed defiance of Leeds United's own legacy to his emotional collapse on hearing of the death of his mother.

Another aspect of Clough's nightmare at Leeds, brought out skillfully by Dickson, was his total disdain for a group of footballers who had won seven major trophies under the nemesis that was Don Revie.

As a stage production in its own right, The Damned United could have been adapted from any high-profile downfall, whether in business, entertainment, politics or sport.

In comparison with the film of the same name, The Damned United director Rod Dixon can confidently say of his play: "I wanted to do something you hadn't done".

Revie said: "If honesty is allowed to destroy the game of football, then we're in all kinds of trouble."

Review by Winston Brown



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