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The real story of the life of Brian

It wasn't until 10 minutes from the end of Brian Clough: The Greatest Manager England Never Had? that the documentary tackled the question posed in its title.

In truth, it scarcely needed asking, let alone answering. Anyone who loves football and remembers Clough in his Nottingham Forest pomp -- when the team he assembled primarily from cast-offs, has-beens and rejects won the European Cup in consecutive years (1979 and '80), a feat no British manager has been able to repeat -- already knows the answer.

Mercifully, it was five minutes from the end of Stephen McBride's excellent film before there was any mention of Clough's sad slide into alcoholism, a process undoubtedly hastened by his guilt over failing to repair the rift with Peter Taylor, his long-time friend and managerial partner at Brighton, Derby County and Forest, before the latter's death.

No elucidation was necessary here, either. Clough's decline in his later years was plain for everyone to see in his red, raddled face, puffy from heavy drinking, and in his unpredictable behaviour, including thumping yobbish fans during a pitch invasion, an incident captured by the BBC cameras.

While McBride's film didn't shy away from the painful and the uncomfortable, it preferred to offer a rounded profile of Clough, a remarkably talented and charismatic character who was variously "player, manager, pundit, family man, psychologist and pantomime villain".

Football can be a desperately sentimental business, yet there wasn't a hint of hero worship about the film, which was richly decorated with archive clips of the inimitable Clough and featured frank contributions from friends, former players and admirers -- and a few detractors as well.

Few men in football have inspired so many conflicting emotions. Clough was "touched by genius", said sports broadcaster Tony Francis, but was "unpredictable and difficult to be with".

"People said he ruled by fear," said Clough's widow Barbara. "It was the opposite. He took the fear out of football."

Clough's players, almost to a man, had nothing but respect, admiration and affection for the boss who once said he'd like to be "the perfect dictator".

John McGovern, who played under Clough at Hartlepool, Derby, Leeds (very briefly) and Forest, recalled: "We had a team spirit that bordered on blind faith."

That faith was absent, of course, during the calamitous 44 days Clough spent managing (and failing to win over) the Leeds United squad he'd inherited from Don Revie, a period immortalised in the novel and film The Damned United.

"I don't think we were his favourite club or his favourite players," said former Leeds hero Allan Clarke, with deadpan understatement. "His remarks weren't very nice."

Clarke was referring to Clough's first day on the job, when he famously told the players to chuck their medals in the bin, because they'd won them by cheating.

But, in spite of all the protestations and denials, and the claims that Clough was the architect of his own downfall at Elland Road, many still don't swallow the official version. "He went into the lions' den," said veteran commentator Barry Davies, "and I'm afraid they ate him."

Just hours after he was fired by Leeds, Clough went head-to-head with Revie on a live edition of current affairs programme Calendar.

Seeing the real footage here, as opposed to the recreation of it in The Damned United, was extraordinary. You can't imagine anything like that happening these days. Then again, you can't imagine Brian Clough happening, either.


Brian Clough: The greatest manager England never had? ****