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A brilliant vignette inside a more than adequate biography
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.