Today we hear from Ceilidh Mapes on England’s top football team.
First things first – in England soccer is known as “football;” and secondly, I am NOT a fan. I just do not get it and, despite numerous attempts by my brother, I still do not understand the offside rule. So imagine my surprise when I found myself actually enjoying a film about soccer, so much so that I could not wait to recommend it.
The Damned United of the title is Leeds United – the best English football team of the 1970s. They dominated the First Division, but were notorious for their dirty tactics. Brian Clough – arguably the most controversial manager of his day – has just taken over and makes it quite clear the days of playing dirty are over. Understandably, this does not go down well with the players or the owners, and so begins Brian Clough’s tumultuous 44-day stint as manager of Leeds United. Michael Sheen stars as the cocky, self-assured Clough, who was famous for his brash and abrasive approach, with lines such as “I wouldn’t say I’m the best manager in the country – but I’m in the top 1.” Sheen has a talent for portraying real people (as he does in The Queen and Frost/Nixon), especially when he works in conjunction with a screenplay written by Peter Morgan, and in my opinion, this is Sheen at his very, very best.
The film documents the journey that leads him to this turning-point in his career, his rise to the top of the English football league, and his friendship with assistant manager Peter Taylor (played by Timothy Spall), which is put under extreme pressure by Clough’s “mad ambition” and obsession with defeating his rival Don Revie – the former manager of Leeds United. The quarrel begins six years earlier, during an FA Cup match between Derby County and Leeds United, when Revie fails to shake Clough’s hand. Feeling slighted and overlooked, Clough vows to beat his rival, if it’s the last thing he does. But in order to achieve this, Clough’s team has to get into the same division first. Clough’s hatred of Revie lights a fire in him, and, together with Taylor they begin recruiting new players, which leads to a speedy rise to the First Division for Derby County. The suspense builds as the two managers and the two teams go head to head, and we wonder whether Clough and Taylor can build a team strong enough to defeat the mighty Leeds.
This film is shot in such in a way, with clips from actual interviews and footage from matches, that it both looks and feels like a documentary. One of the film’s greatest strengths is this feeling of authenticity – the hairstyles, the clothes, the wallpaper, the vintage cars, the dark, dank feeling of the changing rooms and the shabby, rundown stadiums all add up to create a potent sense of atmosphere – this is football before the money took over.
So, yes, The Damned United is about football, but more importantly this film is about friendship, and its ability to survive the pressures of ambition and ego, pride and selfishness. Clough was undoubtedly “the greatest manager the England team never had,” but he was nothing without Taylor.
Check the WRL catalog for The Damned United