Thursday, March 19, 2009

Peace in Our Time

There was an interesting and polarised debate on Radio 5 last night, following the film of David Peace's book "The Damned United." The Clough family were unhappy about the book, as were several of the players pictured in the novel; and obviously a film is far higher profile, and most people who go and see it won't know that its a dramatisation of a work of fiction, albeit one based on real events, but will see it as essentially a biopic on Clough.

Martin O'Neill had been to see the film. He had joined Forest shortly before Clough started there (and its worth mentioning that the book is not about these later triumphs, his greatest, but about that 44 day interregnum at Leeds, following his previous career pinnacle at Derby County.) His view was measured. He saw it as an entertainment, that occasionally strayed far from the facts, and occasionally, in Michael Sheen's performance, resurrected Clough before our eyes.

The book, I've written about before, is a tiny masterpiece. Regardless of its veracity, it reads real. And in a week when Rafael Benitez has finally signed a contract with Liverpool, delayed because he wanted control of transfers, seems, to this non-insider, to give a genuine sense of what football was like in the late 60s and early 70s, with Clough as the arriviste bringing success and confrontation in equal measure. Peace, interviewed on the show, is a little dissembling when he says its "a work of fiction", for, like James Elroy, he's wanting to use historical fact as closely as he can. This is not the "new journalism", nor is it the "faction" of a staple ITV drama; its a deliberate blurring of the edges, but requiring the reader's buying into its legitimacy to make it work. But I think, in this book at least, he chose the only viable option - after all, only rock 'n' roll has been worse served by the novel than football. A successful novel about football, has to, in my opinion, stick to the historical record. The only other option, is to write about the anonymous side of the game, the park footballer, or the amateur side. For as soon as you mention "United" and "City" and "County" and set it in a particular era, the reality of so many memories is there before you. (Similarly, a novel about music in the sixties could just about get away with an imaginary beat combo, as long as the Beatles and the Stones are not supplanted.)

Given the tendency of football to navel gaze, and at the professional level to be hostile to outsiders, its no surprise that football is the most antagonistic about an outsider writing a book from an "inside" perspective. Given that the story of Clough has been told many, many times - not least in at least two autobiographies from the man himself - Peace deserves praise for getting it (mostly) right. It is, after all, only a game. I'm looking forward to the film.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Couldn't agree more. It's a fine line though, isn't it, between art/life public/private.

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