“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one.”
So said Brian Clough; reflecting on his up and down career.
I have written elsewhere about the Clough phenomenon, in my review of the quite remarkable David Peace novel, Damned Utd but this is something different and just as touching.
The man is truly unique and I bought Provided you don’t kiss me, the 2007 William Hill Book of The Year, on the basis that I thought it would be full of ascerbic and hilarious insights into his career as seen by an insider.
It’s written by the previously unknown (in book terms at least) Duncan Hamilton, but surely we can’t have seen the last of him. Hamilton was a rookie sportswriter/reporter on the Nottingham Evening Post and so got first dibs on Cloughie for over 20 years. The relationship he built with Clough is at the heart of this book.
It is a thing of great beauty.
It’s no kiss and tell, despite the title, rather it is a heart felt, honest, even loving reminiscence of how a provincial reporter built an intimate, trusting relationship with the greatest football manager in history; and let’s not overlook this fact. He was.
Let’s get this in perspective. Nottingham Forest winning a League title and two European cups in the late seventies was the equivelant of someone like Stoke, or Colchester doing it now. Provincial, modest crowds (never above 25,000 even at their peak) and peniless.
And yet. And yet.
And yet Clough (and let’s not forget Taylor – Hamilton sure doesn’t) built Nottingham Forest into the greatest team in Europe.
They pissed on the mighty Liverpool.
But the book is not a football borefest. It ain’t for anoraks, it’s for people who love people. Clough was like a surrogate father to Hamilton. It was a love affair of sorts. A truly symbiotic relationship.
As the book moves through the glory years and into Clough’s decline it is sad beyond belief. At several points I was close to tears as Hamilton recounts Cloughie’s decline into alcoholism, his loss of dignity and confidence and his eventual, rather sad, retirement and most heartfelt of all; his death.
This book is a window into the human soul. A historical insight that no-one else could have written.
It IS funny in parts; because Cloughie was a star comedian (indeed he was a mate of Eric Morecambe’s).
But poignancy is its greates virtue.