After failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, England manager Alf Ramsey is sacked and replaced by Don Revie, the highly successful manager of Leeds United. Revie is replaced at Leeds by Brian Clough, a former manager of Derby County and a fierce critic of Leeds’s style of play under Revie. Much attention is [...]
After failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, England manager Alf Ramsey is sacked and replaced by Don Revie, the highly successful manager of Leeds United. Revie is replaced at Leeds by Brian Clough, a former manager of Derby County and a fierce critic of Leeds’s style of play under Revie. Much attention is called to the fact that Clough’s longtime assistant, Peter Taylor has not joined him at Leeds, and Clough claims in an interview to Yorkshire Television that the team cannot possibly have been happy under Revie, due to the violent and physical nature of their game.
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The roots of Clough’s conflict with Revie are depicted as happening in a 1967 FA Cup match between Leeds, who were then leading the First Division (though they did not win it that season) and Derby, who were struggling near the bottom of the Second Division. Clough assumes Revie to be a similar man to himself, owing to the fact that they grew up in the same part of Middlesbrough; come the day of the match however, Revie either ignores Clough or fails to make him out in the crowd upon entering Derby’s Baseball Ground stadium. The match proves to be a tough affair, and despite their best efforts Derby lose 20 to Leeds. Clough initially blames the brutality of the Leeds players, but he and Taylor recognise that their side simply aren’t good enough on a technical level and so remedy the problem by signing veteran Dave Mackay, along with several other young players. The club’s frugal chairman, Sam Longson is extremely anxious about the investment and more so the fact that Clough didn’t bother to consult him about signing Mackay. However, Derby win the Second Division title in 1969, and the following season once more face up to Leeds, the defending First Division champions… and promptly lose 50.
Back in the storyline’s “present,” Clough almost immediately alienates his Leeds players by telling them that they can throw away all their medals and trophies, because “[they] never won any of them fairly.” The season starts with a Charity Shield match against FA Cup winners Liverpool, which is widely anticipated as both the final match of legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly and Clough’s first match in charge of Leeds. However, the event is quickly marred when Leeds’s captain, Billy Bremner gets into a violent on-pitch fight with Liverpool player Kevin Keegan, which results in both players being sent off, and in turn causes them to throw their shirts off and walk off the pitch bare-chested in protest. Leeds end up losing the match on penalties, but a more serious consequence is that Bremner is given a two-month suspension from all competitions, meaning that Leeds will have to start the season without their influential captain.
Returning to Clough’s time at Derby, despite his continuing clashes with Longson over spending on players, the club win their first ever League championship in 1972, meaning a European Cup campaign the following year, which eventually sees them reach the semi-finals in a tie versus Juventus. Longson suggests that Clough rest his senior players in the match before; however this happens to be against Leeds, and Clough selects his best squad out of sheer pride and determination to beat Revie. This decision backfires after a particularly crunching match gives Derby a massive injury list. After the match, Bremner approaches Clough and sarcastically tells him “Good luck in Europe.” Juventus quickly send them packing from the European Cup, giving Clough a chance to publicly lambast Longson. Later that year, after Taylor suffers a heart attack, Clough decides to try and secure his position by offering up his and Taylor’s resignations. To his horror however, the club’s board call his bluff and not only terminate their contracts, but ban them from ever setting foot in the Baseball Ground again (although Clough still sneaks into their next match as a supporter anyway). Clough is confident that the board will come to their senses and re-instate him and Taylor, but Dave Mackay is appointed manager instead, and the appointment of the popular former player mollifies the Derby fans and extinguishes any hope Clough has of getting his job back.
Subsequently, he and Taylor are offered jobs as manager and assistant respectively of Brighton & Hove Albion, and they agree to take the jobs after having a holiday in Majorca which Brighton’s chairman pays for. During the holiday however Clough is approached by representatives of Leeds and agrees to take over there. Taylor on the other hand prefers the prospect of Brighton, knowing that whatever Clough achieves at Leeds it will still be with Revie’s team, and after a fierce argument the two go their separate ways, with Clough taking over at Leeds and Taylor becoming Brighton manager.
Without their captain, and also suffering from major differences of opinion with Clough, Leeds suffer a horrendous start to the season and look to be in danger of relegation only one season after winning the title. After Bremner and the players air their grievances to the board, the club decides to terminate Clough’s contract – although not before he forces them to pay a huge severance package.
Afterwards, Clough agrees to do another interview with Yorkshire Television, and this time Revie is there to have his say, bringing the two face to face at last. Clough accuses Revie of being cold-hearted and fundamentally dishonest, both as a person and a football manager, and Revie in turn brands Clough inflexible and egocentric. Clough also brings up the subject of Revie’s failure to acknowledge him in the 1967 FA Cup match, and Revie claims to have not known who exactly the rookie manager was at the time (a doubtful claim considering that Revie was known for meticulously researching every opponent his team faced). After the interview ends, Clough drives down to Brighton to patch things up with Taylor.
In the film’s epilogue, the audience is told that Don Revie proved a complete failure as an England manager, and afterwards never worked in football in his home country again, spending the rest of his career working in the Middle East. Brian Clough and Peter Taylor meanwhile reunited at Nottingham Forest, where he repeated his prior achievements with Derby by taking them up and winning the First Division, and this time bettered both Revie and his own spell at Derby by winning two European Cups in succession. The film ends by branding Clough “the best manager that the English national side never had.”