Born in 1967, & raised in Ossett, near Wakefield, David Peace is one of the UK’s leading crime fiction writers. His Red Riding Quartet, “Nineteen Seventy-Four” (1999), “Nineteen Seventy-Seven” (2000), “Nineteen Eighty” (2001) and “Nineteen Eighty-Three” (2002), rightfully established him as the UK’s only answer to US-Noire head-honcho, James Ellroy . . .
. . . Peace’s formative years were indelibly marked by the Yorkshire Ripper case, these mental tattoos being directly responsible for his initial interest in crime as a genre. The Red Riding Quartet eventually grew from this obsession with the dark underbelly of Yorkshire anti-folklore. In 2003, Peace was named 'Best Young British Novelist' by Granta magazine, & duly listed as one of twenty best young novelists working in the UK today. His 5th novel, “GB84”, set amid the historic 1984 miners' strike, was published in 2005, & critically acclaimed as a cultural tour de force. Peace’s 6th novel, The Damned United (2006), focuses on the 44-days Brian Clough spent battling the forces of evil at Leeds United FC. It reads like a thriller, even if you already know the history before you pick it up! Once you have picked it up, however, you won’t be putting it down!
Boxing day, 1962 . . . permafrost covers Roker Park, home of Sunderland FC. A crunching tackle, an awkward fall, that bastard Stokoe . . . the premature curtailing of a promising career: 251 goals in 274 appearances! For Brain Clough, it was all over bar the shouting. Luckily, for Cloughie, shouting was something that came naturally to him. Something he would forge a career out of . . .
Yorkshire, 1974 . . . Leeds United hate Brian Clough. Brian Clough hates Leeds United. Dirty Leeds. Dirty, fucking, cheating Leeds. Don Revie’s Leeds. The cheating fucking Champions. Leeds United, the country's most hated club. Dirty Leeds. Dirty, fucking, filthy Leeds! They didn’t win it! They stole it! Pour another drink. Light another fag.
Peace’s words resonate like chords . . . his sentences chug like riffs. Those riffs reoccur like choruses. Like chants. Like the voice of the people echoing around a deserted Elland Road. You’re not good enough for Leeds! Not good enough, do you hear? You’re a piss-head. A waster. Ol’ big head! All mouth & no trousers. We don’t want your sort round here! Pour another drink. Light another fag. Put the chair against the door!
In & out of italics, down that corridor, past those trophies, down them stairs, cutting between Clough’s glory at Derby & his damnation at Leeds, “The Damned United” spits its tale of jealousy, recrimination & spite across a period of 12-years & 44-days. Bereft of his erstwhile best-friend, right-hand-man & scapegoat, Peter Taylor, Cloughie is on his own at Elland Road . . . & Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner & their ilk are never going to make his life easy. Paperback books. Packs of cards. Silence in the dressing room. Silence on the coach. He’s said too much in the past . . . too much about teams winning things they don’t deserve to win, too much about teams employing un-gentlemanly conduct to secure victory, too much too fucking soon, as far as some people are concerned. Paperback books. Packs of cards. Silence on the coach. Black humour stains everything. The jokes return like birthdays: Where’s my fucking watch? What did that cunt say? Pour another drink. Light another fag.
But Cloughie’s not listening. Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs. Cloughie has plenty of suggestions as to where they can stick said advice. Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the stairs. Cloughie doesn’t believe in God. Up the stairs. Round the corner. Down that corridor. Cloughie doesn’t believe in luck. Pour another drink. Light another fag. Cloughie doesn’t believe in professional fouls, pressurising the referee, diving, time wasting, getting people sent off, dossiers, tactics or strategy! Cloughie doesn’t believe in Don fucking Revie. He wants to burn his desk, his chair . . . his fucking legacy. Pour another drink. Light another fag.
“The Damned United” blends reality & fiction, bending the accepted truth, curling it past the left-hand post & into the back of a bulging net. The modern managerial template espoused by the likes of Alex Fergusson at Manchester United is unquestionably founded on the dubious tactics, questionable morals & general superstitions of Don Revie: The Don! The man who single-handedly began the rot, yet still failed to win the European Cup. Pour another drink. Light another fag.
“The Damned United” is not only the greatest book ever written about football, it may well be Peace’s most coherent effort yet . . . & for a man oft compared to the genius that is James Ellroy, that’s one fuck of an achievement!
Jean Encoule – tMx 30 – 07/07