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The Top One
on 21 March 2009
"I wouldn't say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one."
So reads the first quote on the back of Duncan Hamilton's "Old Big 'Ead" - and many of the posters for the soon-to-be-released film adaptation of "The Damned Utd".
In the past few weeks it seems as if column miles, not column inches, have been devoted to Clough and 'Cloughisms'. Many of those dwelling on the latter have, like a local radio station, simply repeated the same track listing, just in a (slightly) different order.
"Old Big 'Ead" is different. Unsurprisingly.
'Unsurprisingly' because it's been put together by Hamilton, author of the wonderful "Provided You Don't Kiss Me". That earlier book described Hamilton's time reporting on Clough and Nottingham Forest during his time at the Nottingham Evening Post in the 1980s - and deservedly won about every sports writing award worth winning. Also - I'm not ashamed to say - it brought tears to my eyes.
As did this. (More on that later...).
Yes, all the tabloid favourites true fans know off pat are there ("I only hit Roy [Keane] the once. He got up, so I couldn't have hit him very hard.") as they should be. But it's clear that Hamilton has also dug deep into his own notes, newsprint and memory to dredge up what amounts to far more than the 'Wit and Wisdom' of the title - if anything this is a one man oral history.
One quote I'd never read before, and still sticks with me, is: "I received a Get Well telegram from someone which read: 'Didn't know you had one.'" He'd just had heart problems.
That's a reminder of how divisive Clough was back in the day - something today's nostalgia can't really cope with - but this little book captures admirably.
So, on to those tears.
Throughout the book Hamilton begins each chapter - Hartlepool, Derby, Forest, Peter Taylor, Directors, Drink and others - with a short but pithy precis of what's to come. And the book ends with a coda in the same vein. It's matter-of-fact, simple, heartfelt and wistful. But after Brian's voice has come to life over so many pages the last three words (from Hamilton) are really quite affecting.
And I won't spoil them.
Who knows whether Hamilton will ever write another book about his time with Clough? But if not this feels like a fitting goodbye. The Damned Utd