Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Origin myth

Two short scenes from David Peace's Clough-at-Leeds novel The Damned Utd. There are three more scenes between them, all in the space of two pages.

First this:

The cleaning lady is cleaning my office, under the desk and behind the door, whistling and humming along to the tunes inside her head --

'You know, I once sacked all the cleaning ladies at Derby.'

'What did you do that for then, Brian?' she asks me.

'For laughing after we lost.'

'Least you had a good reason then,' she says. 'Not like Mr Revie.'

'What do you mean?'

'Well,' she says, 'Mr Revie once sacked a lass here for wearing green.'

'Wearing green?'

'Oh yes,' she says. 'He thought green brought bad luck to club.'

'And so he sacked her?'

'Oh yes,' she says again. 'After we lost FA Cup final to Sunderland.'

'Just like that?'

'Yes,' she says. 'Just like that.'

The telephone starts to ring. I pick it up. I tell them, 'Not now.'

Then this:

I have been in the kit room. I have been among the socks and the straps, the shirts and the shorts, but I have found what I was looking for. I have changed out of my good suit and nice tie into my tracksuit bottoms and this old Leeds United goalkeeping jersey.

Down the corridors. Round the corners. Through the doors and into the car park. The team and their trainers are already sat on the bus waiting for me. I climb aboard and plonk myself down next to Syd Owen at the front of the coach --

'What do you think of this then, Sydney?' I ask him.

'Of what?'

'Of this?' I ask him again, pointing at this old Leeds United goalkeeping jersey.

'I think if the team have to wear suits when they travel, so should their manager.'

'But what do you think of the colour, Sydney?'

'Green?' he asks. 'I think it suits you, Mr Clough.'

You'd call that cinematic, except the final reveal would be extremely difficult to do on screen. The writing has other hidden sophistications, too: I hadn't noticed the cleaning lady's dropped 'the's ("bad luck to club", "After we lost FA Cup" -- the tic of Yorkshire dialect cliche represents with a "t'") until I had to type her out.

For the significance of that green jersey, if you don't already know, try the picture at the head of this BBC obituary or the logo of the Brian Clough Statue Fund.

[The Damned Utd, by David Peace, Faber, London, 2006. A first-person account of the manager's nightmarish 44 days in charge of Leeds United, the most powerful and hated club in Britain, intercut with a second-person account of the rapid rise that took him there. The structure could be hubris and nemesis, or a reflection of the curse -- "first with gift and then with loss" -- that an unknown Yorkshireman is casting on our anti-hero. Builds an impressive sense of grim inevitability, although that could be something to do with me already knowing what's going to happen. No idea how far from documentary it is, but it feels original and fully imagined.]

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