Martin O’Niell once said of Clough when speaking at his funeral: “I was asked in an interview to sum up Brian in three words. I think he would have been insulted to be summed up in three volumes.” Well, Jonathan Wilson perfected it in one.
Jonathan Wilson’s account of the enigmatic manager Brian Clough is the most comprehensive book on the game’s first pre modern- football celebrity manager. In the time that have passed since his death there has been 3 statues erected in honour of Clough, while 13 books wince 2007 have been published accounting Clough’s career. His light just keeps on burning. To this day people younger than myself still educating themselves on Clough’s truly remarkable career.
Throughout the 550 pages we are brought on a journey from Middlesborough to Sunderland, from Sunderland to Hartlespools and beyond. We are shown Clough and his theatrical best, and his lowest of lows. Wilson separates the myth from the man, testing the veracity of his many half-truths and non-truths. The enthralling anecdotes he was so famous for.
There is a distinction to be made in this case, though, and it is present on the front cover. Wilson’s book is subtitled The Biography – not A Biography, or Another Biography – and it quickly becomes clear that this the comprehensive account of Clough in all his glory. Clough’s career may be documented in many forms elsewhere, paying his credence for anecdote a bit too much respect, but this is the first work to document his life from his early beginnings in Sunderland to his final days of ill-health.
Wilson looks to explain the character flaws of Clough, looking at why failing his 11 + proved so poignant in later life. How an injury cut-short a career of a goal-machine for Sunderland. How his fight to get in the England team led to a bitter distaste towards the FA. How the loss of his mother affected his management. His relationship with Peter Taylor is examined in-depth.
The key moments in his life, are laid bare; THAT interview with Revie proving a personal high point. The nights when Nottingham became the greatest footballing city in the world. His slow decent into alcoholism proves a sad point, but one still wholly engrossing.
Quite obviously, the book improves as did Clough’s managerial career, as he joins Derby. The initial moments of genius become all the more apparent. While the relay of match reports become somewhat tedious at times, they are worth the slog, as the book culminates in a weirdly brilliant moment of sadness.
Hailing from Sunderland, having his father watch Clough score goal after goal in Roker Park, there really isn’t a better man than to encapsulate Brian Clough than Jonathan Wilson.
Although clearly not a novel – and the outcome clearly known beforehand, the final pages still prove gripping. Wilson sums up the man, the manager, the father, and son – perfectly. Myth no more, just the man. Genius.