Tuesday, 7 April 2009


Americans have been churning out movies about sports stars and those behind the lines for more than a decade.

Remember the Titans - based around legendary American football coach, Herman Boone, a man who led an integrated team during a time of racial hatred and extreme prejudice.

Also, The Rookie, the real-life story about injured baseball coach Jim Morris who tries to lead a bunch of college kids to the Major League but in the process finds himself playing for the Texas Rangers.

So, it seems rather strange that, until now, British cinema has ditched its usually premise of tanked-up footie yobs (Football Factory and Green Street) for a story which represents the football we all know and love.

This is The Damned United - a human, whimsical and thought-provoking masterpiece about the legendary football manager, Brian Clough and what some call the greatest manager England never had.

Shifting between the 1960s and 70s, writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), charts the 44-day managerial disaster Clough encountered while in charge of once bitter rival, Leeds United compared to his hard won glory days at Derby County.

It also shows the destruction of his relationships with assistant Peter Taylor, chairman of the club, Sam Longson and his fixation with ex-Leeds boss Don Revie.

But this isn’t a football film despite its premise - it is a story about one man’s ambition, flair, obsession and ultimately an arrogance which led to his own self-destruction.

Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) effortlessly plays Clough with aplomb, grace and delivers enough one-liners to keep the audience cackling. Timothy Spall (Secrets and Lies) is also top drawer as Clough’s right-hand man, the overshadowed Peter Taylor.

Clough once said to Michael Parkinson in a television interview: “I certainly wouldn't say I'm the best manager in the business, but I'm in the top one."

The same can be said for this sports movie. Top class!

Rating: * * * * *

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