David Peace interview 13 March 2009

March 13, 2009

Capturing the strife of Brian

The first football game David Peace attended was Huddersfield Town v Leeds United, Brian Clough’s first game as Leeds manager. Now Peace’s book about Clough’s 44 days at Leeds — ‘The Damned United’ — has been turned into a movie. He spoke to Michael Moynihan.

THEY were going to the game anyway.

Trevor Cherry, the ex-Huddersfield player, was lining out for Leeds and he was the focus for a
seven-year-old David Peace and his father, avid Town fans both. Then the youngster spotted a distinctive figure getting off the United coach: new Leeds boss Brian Clough.

“His last game in charge after his 44 days was Leeds-Huddersfield in the League Cup, another coincidence,” says Peace.

“I didn’t go to that game — my Dad did — but it was a strange quirk of fate that Huddersfield bookended that period.

“And we always discussed that in my house, why he took the job, why they offered it to him, what happened and how it all went wrong.

“I suppose it was always there for me, from an early age.”

Peace — whose ‘Red Riding’ novels have been filmed for Channel 4 — published ‘The Damned United’ three years ago.

“What I wanted to do was an ambitious plan — probably not a very good one — which involved writing a history of Leeds United, a kind of occult history, getting into corruption early in the 20th century and so on, but things kept happening, and it kept getting longer.

“I’d always been thinking about Clough’s 44 days at Leeds, but in the original idea I wouldn’t have gone back to Derby County and Hartlepool, it would have concentrated on Leeds. “However, Clough overtook the whole book. I was very young at the time so I didn’t remember anything about Derby, or the players going on strike — I really only remembered him as boss of Nottingham Forest. The injury, his love of films like ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ — that was all new.

“I still think Revie is a complex, fascinating character. He’s a ghostly presence in the book, and while I wouldn’t do it, there’s surely a Revie novel there to be written.”

Peace prefers American writing on sport to much of what’s published on the same subject in Britain.

“I’ve thought about that a lot, and when I was researching The Damned United I read quite a lot of different books.

“’Underworld’, the opening is just fantastic, but I also read non-fiction about American football, baseball, basketball — compared to the non-fiction books about football you get in Britain, those are interesting enough but there’s no attempt to craft a great sentence, usually.

“I wondered if it was something to do with the nature of the sports — baseball and American football are almost more mythic as sports, and the pace is slower. American football is very violent and aggressive, for instance, but there are time-outs and breaks and so on.

“In Britain and Ireland, football is played at such a pace that it’s different. There’s an attitude that ‘if you didn’t play the game you can’t write about it’, which is a strange attitude.

“But it seems that American sportswriting, generally, is better than what we get in England.”

Warming to the theme, Peace agrees that American writing about sport often tries to locate those sports in a wider social context.

“I agree, and you could go deeper. Even the non-sporting British novel can appear to be in terminal decline — these are big, big generalisations — but to me, someone like Don DeLillo is streets ahead of someone like Martin Amis.

“These are difficult comparisons, but a lot of great American sportwriting isn’t just about the sport, but about the society. That’s certainly not the case in England, and I wonder if that’s the case also with novels. I think it could be a smaller mindset.

“Certainly there has been good writing about sport — Geoffrey Green, Hunter Davies — and Eamon Dunphy’s ‘Only A Game’ is fantastic. People have written very well about football without resorting to cliche, such as Nick Hornby, but there’s that exclusion I spoke about — that you can only write about it if you played, otherwise you’re only accepted if you write as a fan. Then the whole thing ends up with being quite narrow.”

Not an accusation you could level at Brian Clough. Peace confesses his affection for the larger-than-life manager.

“I didn’t have an impression one way or the other when I began the book. My memory of him would have been of him hitting fans behind the ear, that period of Clough.

“The real surprise for me was learning how outrageous a character he was, how rebellious. When I was writing it he was still alive — he died when I’d almost finished the book, and there was a huge outpouring of emotion.

“But on a Saturday night he was talking about the football, he’d be impersonated by Mike Yarwood, then he’d pop up on ‘Parkinson’. He was everywhere.

“I also realised that those were the worst 44 days of his life, very dark, but that made me like him even more. He did good things and bad things, like everyone, but when I finished the book, I’d say I admired him.”

*’The Damned United’ is published by Faber. The movie is released on March 27.

4 Responses to “David Peace interview 13 March 2009”

  1. Bill Buckley Says:

    Peace’s book is not worth the paper it’s written on. You can’t write fiction about real people and use factuial settings and expect to get away with it.

    • michaelmoynihan Says:

      thanks for the comment and for reading.
      I think that’s a bit harsh though, people write fiction about real people all the time – and they ‘get away with it’!
      But Johnny Giles had a good case and got them to remove the offending passages, while the Clough family are naturally going to have a completely personal take on the whole thing

  2. graham Says:

    How does David Peace feel about the Clough family’s reaction to his book and its adaptation now to film? He has clearly caused them a great deal of upset and offence. Does this concern him?

    • michaelmoynihan Says:


      thanks for the comment.

      I agree that the Cloughs are clearly very upset – that’s a question I probably should have raised with him, but when you’re on the phone line to Tokyo time is of the essence!
      My impression of David Peace in a quick phone call was that he seems a decent sort, I’d hazard a guess that he would be concerned with their concerns, if you get me.


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