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on 21 January 2012
Having devoured everything written about Clough for the past 15 years, I purchased this book more from a completeness perspective rather than hoping to discover anything new. When this weighty tome arrived my fears were compounded, because at over 500 pages it wasn't to be tackled by the light hearted either. Easy holiday read it wasn't going to be. However, after managing to fit this into the luggage, I was pleasantly surprised. Whilst it is detailed, it does in my opinion, provide a definitive biography of one of the most celebrated managers of all time. Yes, it does make many references of the other published work (all of which I have read) but in a conextual way and with the ultimate objective of providing a balanced view of the great man. The other biographies (Hamilton's in particular)are doubtless more amusing, but paint Clough in the usual misty eyed way. This presents him with all of the idiosyncracies and complexities he clearly had, some of which will make even the most committed wince. The drinking issue was clearly prevalent at various points in his career and whilst it seemingly lurched out of control during those last few years at Forest, it was by no means exclusive to that final ill fated season.

Ultimately though balance comes to the fore. Peter Taylor's contribution in their most productive phase starts to get the recognition that hasn't really been seen in other works. Equally, the lack of recognition he received (not just from other writers and career stakeholders, but from Clough himself) is redressed somewhat. Everything the pair touched ultimately did not turn to gold and on several occasions both their personal and professional judgements are called into question. Clough's final phase at Forest, without Taylor, although destined to end in the ignominy of relegation in 1993 is covered with critical acclaim. Whilst many suggest that Clough achieved little without Taylor by his side, Wilson profers that actually this was Clough's third great phase. Trophies may have been largely lacking, (League Cup and other assorted meaningless pieces of silverware nothwithstanding) but the quality of football and a couple of genuine Championship near misses on meagre resources, place it into a much more positive light than perhaps only the most ardent of supporters have previously suggested.

This is a labour of love, both from the author and the prospective reader. It is neither boring nor a re-hash of previously published work. If you want the most detailed and perhaps most balanced Biography of Brian Clough this is it. I completed it the same committed fan that I was at the start, albeit better informed and with a more balanced view.
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on 15 February 2012
There have been too many books about Brian Clough. And - like many, I think - I've read quite a few of them. I only bought this because it is by Jonathan Wilson: Inverting the Pyramid really is that good. While this one is not a wholly satisfactory experience, it is certainly worth reading. But for me there is a quite superb (and much shorter) book hiding inside it. Wilson has structured his book in five chronological sections, but for this reader it resolved itself into three ... the second of which is excellent:
The first couple of hundred pages cover Clough's childhood, playing career and management up to the Derby title win in 1972. It's done well, with some elegant and pithy writing: the reference to the "triangle of loathing" between Clough, Don Revie and Bob Stokoe is a good example. But all this is well-worn ground, and to be honest Wilson seems to add little to what's already out there, while relying heavily on contemporary press reporting. It has to be said, though, that having set out to write a full-length biography, it is difficult to see what else he could have done here.
The book really takes off with the 110-odd pages covering the final period at Derby to the end of the Leeds affair. Equally well-worn material of course, but Wilson produces the most even-handed, entertaining and convincing treatment I've read in a section that reads like a good novel while dispassionately sticking to the evidence. Quite a feat.
The third section - the rest of the book - doesn't quite hit that standard, but it keeps you reading. The handling of the break with Taylor, and of the final events at Forest in 1993, are particularly illuminating. Rather oddly, though, the book pretty much ends there. Aside from a perceptively analysed description of a 1995 Clough TV appearence, the last 11 years of his life are covered in a couple of paragraphs. It would have been interesting to know if - and, if so, how - Clough looked back critically on his career and his persona in that time. Maybe there's just nothing to say?
In sum, then, this is a very good biography. If I'd been Wilson's editor, I might have been tempted to suggest that he should publish just the 1972-74 section as a monograph. And, if I were a reader who's pushed for time, I might be tempted to start the book at page 229. All that said, though, I'm glad I read it.
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on 9 August 2017
I've only read one biography of Brian Clough and this is it. It is long and in some ways detailed but it misses so much out. The detail about match results, who scored the goals, etc, is a lot of the time really quite tedious. It is about matches played by teams Brian Clough rather than about Brian Clough. But so much is omitted. I remember seeing Clough pontificating regularly on TV, but this book mentions this a few times, only in passing. It doesn't tell you when he started TV work, who he did it for, when he stopped or switched. But this is how a lot of us felt we knew him, from what he said. There is reference to him writing a column for the Sunday Mirror, but I've no idea when he started this, whether it was controversial in content or with the club(s) he was managing or when he stopped. He also seems to have written for local newspapers. We are told he would prioritise time with his family, but there is little about them, apart from Nigel as a Forest player. We move quite quickly from him finishing at Forest to his dying, which reflects the fact that this is really a biography of Brian Clough as a football manager rather than of Brian Clough.
Probably the best part is the first part up to the end of his playing career. I knew very little about this, and the book fills this in well. But I can't get away from the tedium of constant short match reports while skirting around what else Clough is doing alongside the club management. There really ought to be a better, shorter, biography than this.
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on 14 October 2012
This book trawls through Brian Clough's career as a player and a manager.

The source material is generally second hand.....old match reports, newspaper articles, biographies and well worn stories. Occasionally he cuts through Brian's own autobiographical errors. There is evidence purloined from some peripheral associates but you never get the feeling that the author ever got close to Clough or his family.

The book is very mixed in quality. Some errors are forgivable....for example, the Peter Daniel who played for Wolves was NOT the Peter Daniel who played for Clough at Derby.......some are not.....how can anyone mis-spell Dave Mackay ??? (its MACKAY not McKAY)... this might seem trivial but it isn't. We are talking about one of the greats. M A C K A Y. Ok?

At times his descriptions also beggar belief. He describes Kenny Burns as a player Clough converted into a 'cultured' central defender who was in the same mould as Colin Todd, Bobby Moore or Dave Mackay ??? What???? Kenny Burns was an effective defender but he was a clogger. No one in their right mind would put the words Kenny Burns and cultured in the same paragraph never mind the same sentence.

As the story proceeds the author starts to offer his own ideas and criticisms of Brian Clough and his behaviour....particularly the way he set about the job at Leeds; and by the end of the book the author seems to positively dislike Brian Clough the man. He describes him increasingly as an idle, violent, drunken and dishonest hypocrite - a dictator with a tyrants typical faults and foibles. His death is mentioned almost as a casual aside.

Brian Clough comes across a multi-faceted character hell bent on conflict and self-destruction. If so, then why?

The book documents his career and the vital games, but I didn't understand the man anymore at the end of the book than i did at the beginning.
i would liked to have discovered more.

When Brian Clough became a star with Boro whilst still living at home with his Mam and Dad how did the fame affect him and those around him. How did the family react to the emergent brash celebrity in their midst.

After he retired Clough looked back on his own career - sometimes with sober good humour - and he spoke warmly of Sam Longson, his nemesis at Derby. None of that humanity and nothing of that retrospective makes it into this story of the many famous battles he endured as his career sometimes spiralled out of control.

"I want no epitaphs of profound history and all that type of thing. I contributed - I would hope they would say that, and I would hope somebody liked me," Brian Clough.
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on 14 May 2013
This is quite a weighty tome, and justifiably so as the subject is of one of the most extraordinary and successful managers of the beautiful game, but to me it seems the author does not have the necessary affection to the man, thus making his 550 page tour the force a bit exhausting.
The important details are covered, but still a certain detachment remains, and so the core of the complex personality of Brian Clough is not quite reached. As Jonathan Wilson seems to be more of a football tactics geek , apparently he was researching specifically in that direction, however could not get much here (Clough being more or less exactly the opposite of modern conceptual managers), and thus got a bit lost on the way.
By the same author: Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics: A History of Football Tactics - here he seems more at home, making this a more rewarding read. I would only recommend this exhaustive biography to the avid student of Cloughology.
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on 18 September 2014
Personally I followed Clough's career from 78 onwards closely and as a result have read several accounts of his life before.
So much of the content did not tell me anything new.
The analysis of what might have been going on inside his head was the best part of this book.
There was perhaps too much content in terms of going over all of the games from each season but to be fair it put into context the overall story.
Whilst there are quotes from various people involved, I'd have liked to have seen more in depth interviews included with people still with us as opposed to relying too much on match accounts and text from various autobiographies.
A good book, probably the best biography there can ever be of the man as the key people like Taylor are not around to add anything new to the story. Sadly no one now will ever get the chance to understand the man in full as I feel sure there was another side to him that he managed to keep private that might just have been coaxed out of him had he lived longer.
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on 12 August 2012
This is, as the author mentions in his preface, the first full-dress biography of a football figure about whom more has been written than perhaps any other, certainly in recent years. Unfortunately, the lengthy tome which follows does a better job demonstrating why no-one else had attempted to capture Clough in the conventional biographical format than it does illuminate or bring to life such a mythologised personality.

The virtue of the author, a meticulous researcher and distinguished football historian as he has shown in several other works, is the vice of this biography; anecdotes and insights which are of real interest are too sparsely scattered among reams of reportage, with an over-emphasis on individual matches with little wider significance, and research from regional newspapers.

The upshot is a sometimes arid read, particularly in the early stages detailing Clough's playing career at Middlesborough. The narrative picks up with Clough's forced retirement and move into management, and peaks with his years of success at Derby and Nottingham Forest, before appearing to rush through his decline in later career and retirement.

Some of the passages exploring Clough's personality and character are strong. Wilson successfully draws out some themes in his life that resonate - his emulation of Alan Brown, who managed him at Sunderland; the long-lasting effect of his career-ending injury; a tendency towards indecision - and is, perhaps strangely, more engaging on his many boardroom wrangles and man-management style than what happened on the pitch.

But overall, for a writer as accomplished as Jonathan Wilson this has to rank as a disappointment. It is not so much a bad book as the wrong book, and although it will almost certainly remain the pre-eminent reference work for the life of Brian Clough, casual readers may be better served by the many more digestible options available.
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on 18 August 2014
Brian Clough by Jonathan Wilson is a very good book about the legendary football manager who achieved the unlikely when he guided Derby to the title and the near impossible when he went onto greater success with Nottingham Forrest. It is a well-written, detailed, opinionated and informative book which tries to reveal more about a man who really was a legend in his own lifetime, but who unfortunately spent years creating and then trying to live up to an arrogant, argumentative caricature that it has made it difficult to ever get a true reflection on who was Brian Clough. Overall, a very good book about possibly the greatest manager that English club football has ever produced.
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on 10 June 2013
A really good read. There has been much written about Brian Clough. Jonathan Wilsons' work is the best yet. It's positive and describes rightly Brian Clough as the man of sporting talent, personality and man manager. As his players attest, teams he built, came to know, love and fear being in his employ.
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on 5 February 2012
I am mystified that this book hasn't got better reviews. I have read the author's previous books, Inverting the Pyramid and Anatomy of England, and enjoyed them both: but this is a better book, with a compelling human interest flow to the narrative, a biographical subject of Shakesperian dimensions, blessed with some wondrous talents yet also cursed with perverse and destructive traits.

I can only surmise that whilst the first two books covered territory that few others have trodden, on subjects that Wilson has made distinctively his own specialism (tactical analysis), this biography of Clough, whilst fuller than any of the others on the subject, nonetheless enters a crowded marketplace, and has perhaps received less attention than it deserves as a consequence.

Clough is a fascinating biographical subject, and short of a professional psychiatric analysis, this book offers as gripping a combination of informed narrative and analysis as one could wish for, which kept me turning the pages fast. I sincerely hope that Wilson can find some further football legends in the future to scrutinise with his considerable biographical talents - if he does, I'll certainly be buying again.

Thoroughly recommended.
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