Book review : Provided You Don’t Kiss Me

by

Provided You Don’t Kiss Me, 20 years with Brian Clough : by Duncan Hamilton

First Published : 2007

ISBN 978-0-00-724711-0

Score out of 5 :

On the one hand, Clough was capable of being unforgivably rude, unecessarily cruel, appallingly bombastic and arrogant, and so downright awkward that I wanted to drop something heavy on his big head. On the other hand, he could be extravagantly generous, emollient and warm, ridiculously kind, and loyal to whoever he thought warranted it, and he often went out of his way to be no bother to anybody. Ken Smales, Forest’s secretary, said that Clough could be like a sheep in wolf’s clothing or a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but that ‘mostly he was just himself’, a description which perfectly encapsulated my problem in the minute or two before our daily meetings: which Brian Clough was going to turn up?

Seven years after his death Brian Clough is still talked about in football circles, ‘legend’ ‘maverick’ ‘best manager England never had’ and all the other cliches that the ‘jumpers for goalposts/ Big Ron Manager’ stereotypes still throw out about the man. The many highs and equally numerous lows of his long football life are well known to everyone who loves the beautiful game on these islands. That’s why I picked up this biography of Clough with reservations, but I was very wrong. This is the best book on any subject I’ve read in a long time.

Duncan Hamilton was a precocious 18 year old, his new sports journalist’s notebook still fresh in his hands, when he first met Clough. Over the next 20 years he had one of the best seats in the whole circus that was the life of Brian Clough. Yet this is no hagiography, although the writer’s admiration for Clough is obvious he doesn’t hold back from the bad shit – and gives a touching portrayal of the old Clough, battling against relegation and his biggest enemy, the bottle.

For Brighton fans there’s little about Clough’s time on the south coast before he left for his infamous 44 days in charge of ‘Dirty’ Leeds, but Hamilton was a reporter for the Nottingham Evening Post, and Nottingham Forest was where his biggest successes came, along with his saddest failures (the long, slow death of his partnership with Peter Taylor is given a candid re-telling here).

You can’t have a book about Clough without mentioning some of his irreverent wit, there’s plenty in here, but more importantly, there’s something of the simplicity of his football philosophy. In today’s game, where you can’t get into a changing room without tripping over nutrionists and psychologists, Clough stands for something that’s gone missing – the common touch, the unfancy approach, and yet for a man whose appearances at team training sessions were erratic to say the least, his teams played fair and played good, attractive, and (early on at Derby and Forest at least) winning football. For this alone, he’s probably missed by supporters of the game everywhere. Here’s a few lines from very many of a very, very good book indeed:

Clough believed that everything in life was overcomplicated and that most coaches were guilty of overcomplicating football, as if it were ‘something like nuclear physics and Einstein had written a book about it’. A pained expression crossed his face whenever he heard coaches talk about ‘systems’ or saw chalk lines scratched on the blackboard. He looked at ‘Subbuteo men being pushed around a felt pitch’ with disgust. ‘Get the ball,’ he said. ‘Give it to your mate or try to go past someone. Score a goal. Make the people watching you feel as if there’s been some skill, some flair in what you’ve done.’

If only the Sam Allardyces of this brave new football world had that outlook on what is really a very simple game.

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