Provided You Don't Kiss Me

15/05/2007

Al Needham reviews the best book on Cloughie to ever hit a bookshelf (and then kiss it afterwards)


Look, Duncan, you’re a journalist. One day you’ll write a book about this club. Or, more to the point, about me. So you may as well know what I’m thinking and save it up for later when it won’t do any harm to anyone” 
Brian Clough, to the author

A confession; I haven’t read The Damned Utd yet, and I don’t think I’ll bother. For one, David Peace has a habit of rendering interesting milestones of modern history like the Yorkshire Ripper and the Miner’s Strike into tedious millstones of endless repetition. For two, I strongly detect that it (and the forthcoming film) will be another stitch-up of someone who I consider a personal hero - the man responsible for some of the happiest moments of my childhood, and the only person who made being a teenager in Nottingham bearable. So no, I’m not giving money to some ponce in a Tokyo studio flat for doing a hack-job on my idol, thank you very much.

(Author's note: After writing this, I ended up reading The Damned Utd, and realised I was talking out me arse. It's brilliant. But still not as good as this 'un)

In any case, after reading Provided You Don’t Kiss Me, I won’t have to bother with The Damned Utd. In fact, I’m willing to bet my entire collection of Forest in Europe programmes that the former - the memoirs of the author’s 18-year stint as Clough’s mouthpiece in the Evening Post - blows the latter out of the very water that Our Brian once walked upon. I’d be very surprised if it didn’t end up as the William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

If you’re from Nottingham (and I’m guessing you are), be prepared to check all preconceptions at the door; anyone expecting a hardback version of a sporting edition of the Post’s Bygones supplement, with tales a-plenty of happy-go-lucky Forest trolling round Europe winning cups ahoy with their endearingly bonkers manager, will be knocked bandy by both the quality of the writing and the dissection of the central character. The cover spells out how difficult a read it’s going to be for the red half of Notts; at first glance, you assume that good ode Chuffeh is flicking that V-sign at some FA minion, or the media, or hopefully even Margaret Thatcher. Several chapters in, you realise he’s abusing the Trent End.

Make no mistake; this is a harsh read for any Forest supporter. A standard cliché in book reviewing is that a book was so good, you couldn’t put it down. This is the first book that I’ve ever read that I couldn’t put down without hurling it to the floor in outrage. And then picking it up again in a desperate need to read the next chapter. When Saturday Comes once pointed out that ‘Forest’ was an acronym for Friends Of Really Eccentric Socialist Tyrant. Hamilton confirms it. “Clough’s eighteen years at the City Ground was a period of madness punctuated by wonderful bursts of sanity”, he states, and then goes on to prove it.

According to Hamilton, and going against the grain of everything you believe about the Clough era, Forest was the only club that he could have succeeded at by the late 70s; it was the only club run not by directors but by an archaic committee system, meaning his ego could run unchecked (the club comes out of the book looking like a shower of provincial halfwits, but everyone in Notts knows that anyway). Couple that with the revelation that the Leeds sacking was far from a wounding blow – the fat payoff to get rid of him gave Clough the financial security (and opportunity for worktime kaylideness) that other managers of the time could only dream of.

If you're looking for the inevitable tales of alcohol-fuelled palaver, you don't have to wait long; seconds into their first meeting (nervous teenage cub reporter for long-dead local sports rag and newly-installed Dictator of Football), Clough offers Hamilton a morning whisky, whilst knocking back a vodka and orange. From then on, you get the suspicion that Hamilton has been writing through a blizzard of Post-It notes left on his laptop by the publishing company that reads “MORE ALCOHOLISM, PLEASE”. Accusations of financial impropriety are thin on the ground, however - Hamilton saw very little, so keeps off the subject (he didn't mention, for example, that Alan Sugar is a minged-mouthed biatch who will sizzle in Satan's chip pan, so I will).

Hamilton’s greatest achievement is to bring – at long last – the criminally underrated Peter Taylor back into the story, but he doesn’t get an easy ride either. On one hand, Taylor is rightly commemorated as the man who made some of the most astute signings in football history. On the other, he turns out to be as paranoid and bitter as Clough at his very worst, and you’re reminded of who actually signed Justin Fashinu, Ian Wallace and all those European non-entities who were drafted in after a calamitous dismantling of the squad in the early 80s.

The book documents the falling-out between Clough and Taylor in excruciating detail (ironically, over the book With Clough By Taylor, which the former saw a betraying cash-in by the latter); at one point, Hamilton receives a string of calls from Taylor in a phone box, with demands for free classified ad space for his relatives, and the same radio that Clough received from the Evening Post for talking a potential suicide case off the ledge of Trent Bridge.

Next thing you know, Taylor - who all old-school Forest fans always saw as as a favourite uncle -is on the verge of a breakdown when he finally takes over while Clough was in hospital, checking his office for bugs and barking “I’m in Charge!” like Bruce Forsyth on steroids. It's all very upsetting.

(Oh, and County fans don’t escape lightly either – Hamilton’s first gig at the Post was as Notts correspondent, and he absolutely lays into Jimmy Sirrel. “Covering Notts County…was like dropping into the Fifth Circle of Dante’s Hell…he looked like a garden gnome who had been roughed up a bit…there were a lot of occasions where I would gladly have put my hands around Sirrel’s neck, squeezed hard and taken my chances”)  

If you give a toss about Forest and Nottingham, can stomach the extremely controversial assumption that Clough wouldn’t have been able to make it in today’s Premiership (oh, really? So why do the two managers who most resemble him today are Alex Ferguson and Jose Mouriniho, then?), and can get through the final chapters that chronicle his retirement and death without wanting to roar like a jessie, then you need to read this book right now. You’ll get all the trophy-winning and Liverpool-beating goodness. You’ll learn that the most important game in Forest’s history was a match between Mansfield and Stoke, for that’s what persuaded Peter Shilton to come to Forest (“When I looked at that fixture list, I nearly choked myself laughing. Peter Shilton at Mansfield? Fuck me! It was like asking Richard Burton if he’d mind doing a few episodes of Coronation Street).

Most importantly, you’ll get the book about the Super Reds that has been crying out to be written for decades. If you were there, you'll have your eyes opened until your lashes tickle the back of your neck. If you weren't, you’ll come away with as near an understanding of the method behind the madness as you’re ever gonna get.

“Clough the man may not have found a place in today’s corporate Premiership, but it is all the poorer for his uncompromising passion, his intolerance of red tape and bullshit, and his non-stop attacks on what is wrong with the game and why…Brian Clough lived. He lives still”
Duncan Hamilton

Provided You Don't Kiss Me, published by Fourth Estate, is out now in hardback.

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