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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Review

Clough’s War by Don Shaw
Published 2009 by Ebury Press
ISBN 9780091928636
Review by Daniel Cann

This tells the story of maverick football manager Brian Clough’s resignation from successful outfit Derby County in October 1973 and the battle by the fans and the author of this book in their efforts to reinstate the man who had transformed their club from a lowly second division team to a top of the first division as well as a strong European side.

On the face of it this is not exactly earth shattering stuff. It’s not even current, but in light of the recent David Peace book and film of it ‘The Damned United’ as well as numerous documentaries about ‘Old Big ‘Ead’ this book offers to set the record straight giving a true and accurate account of Brian Clough. Author Don Shaw is well placed as he not only knew the man but was head of the Movement which campaigned tirelessly for Clough to get his job back. Shaw had many meetings and encounters with Clough during key moments in his career, particularly his tenure at Derby County, so this is no fiction. With this in mind I was hungry to find out more.

Shaw has excellently structured this book in that he covers the drama of the efforts to get Clough back and juxtaposes it with the background story of how Clough came to be manager of Derby County in the first place and the ensuing years from 1967 to 1973. In this way he weaves an intriguing and gripping account while at the same time providing background and depth. To die - hard fans much of this will be common knowledge: such as his close relationship with assistant manager Peter Taylor. Again Shaw enriches the story with new added insight and the reader gets a full overview of the cast of characters involved in the saga as well as the importance and significance of each.

What is really a small town affair is turned into something akin to a detective thriller as both sides plot and manipulate against each other trying to dictate events. Shaw was right at the front line of the ensuing battle. I eagerly read on as I learned of how chairman Sam Longson’s feud with Clough grew to devastating proportions over the years. Even the casual fan will enjoy the shrewd negotiating of Clough as he signs new players as he attempts to build a successful team. There are plenty of witty anecdotes illustrating Clough’s magnetic personality and persuasive nature. There is plenty of action off the pitch as well as on it.

I was totally immersed in this bygone world of English football in the 1960s and 1970s and it could all have been a much lesser work in another writers hands but Shaw has written an exceptional and original book. There is an authentic feel to it thanks to Shaw’s own involvement in the story, he does acknowledge that he has taken artistic licence in places but this in no way detracts from a first rate account of a fascinating story. I felt that I was in the boardroom and the Kings Hall as well as at the Baseball Ground (Home of Derby FC) as events unfolded. The showdown between the older, avuncular, proud and vain chairman Longson and the dynamic, young, charismatic and blunt manager Clough makes for excellent reading. Shaw manages to capture Clough’s personality and genius as episodes involving him leap off the page. He is like a general commanding his troops such is his hold over the players and their loyalty towards him.

This is a worthy tribute to a sports personality with undoubted mass appeal and star quality. Shaw’s pedigree as a journalist and television script writer shine through as he has crafted an extraordinary book which covers the beautiful game, the personalities involved in it and the Machiavellian intrigue and plotting that goes on behind the scenes. This is as close as you can get to Brian Clough without reading his own autobiography, this is a sterling effort on a working class hero and sports icon and I recommend it to any serious football fan.

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