The Damned United

The Damned United

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tom Hooper
Produced by Andy Harries
Grainne Marmion
Screenplay by Peter Morgan
Based on The Damned Utd by
David Peace
Starring Michael Sheen
Timothy Spall
Colm Meaney
Jim Broadbent
Music by Rob Lane
Cinematography Ben Smithard
Editing by Melanie Oliver
Studio BBC Films
Left Bank Pictures
Screen Yorkshire
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) 27 March 2009 (2009-03-27) (United Kingdom)
Running time 97 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $4,091,378[1]

The Damned United is a 2009 British sports drama film directed by Tom Hooper and adapted by Peter Morgan from David Peace's bestselling novel The Damned Utd, a largely fictional book based on the author's interpretation of Brian Clough's tenure as manager of Leeds United. It was produced by BBC Films and Left Bank Pictures, with additional funding from Screen Yorkshire and Columbia Pictures. Sony Pictures Entertainment distributed the film. The film was originally proposed by Stephen Frears, but he pulled out of the project in November 2007. Hooper took his place and film was shot from May to July 2008. The film marks the fifth collaboration between screenwriter Peter Morgan and actor Michael Sheen. The film was released in the United Kingdom on 27 March 2009, and in North America on 25 September.



After failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, England manager Alf Ramsey is replaced by Don Revie (Colm Meaney), the highly successful manager of Leeds United. Revie's replacement is Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), the former manager of Derby County and a fierce critic of Leeds, because of their violent and physical style of play under Revie's management. Furthermore, Clough's longtime assistant, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), has not joined him.

The roots of Clough's conflict with Leeds are depicted as happening in a 1968 FA Cup match between Leeds, the leaders of the First Division[2] and Derby, who were struggling near the bottom of the Second Division. Clough, assuming Revie to be a similar man to himself, as they grew up in the same part of Middlesbrough and both played for Sunderland, made many preparations for the match; come the day of the match however, Revie failed to even acknowledge Clough upon entering the Baseball Ground. Derby eventually lost 2–0.[3] Although Clough initially blames the brutality of the Leeds players, he and Taylor recognise that their side are not good on a technical level. So they sign veteran Dave Mackay (Brian McCardie), along with several other young players. Chairman Sam Longson (Jim Broadbent) is extremely anxious about the investment, as well as the fact that Clough did not consult him before signing Mackay. However, in 1969 Derby are promoted. They once again face Leeds, only to lose 5–0. The club win their first ever League championship in 1972, meaning a European Cup campaign the following year. They go through to the semi-finals against Juventus. Unfortunately, against Longson's advice, Clough uses his best squad in the last match before the semi-final, against Leeds, purely out of pride and determination to beat Revie. They suffer injuries and Billy Bremner (Stephen Graham) sarcastically wishes Clough well for the semi-final. Juventus defeat them easily, and Clough publicly lambasts Longson.[4] Later that year, after Taylor suffers a heart attack, Clough tries to secure his position by offering up his and Taylor's resignations. To his horror, the club's board call his bluff, terminates their contracts and bans them from entering the Baseball Ground again (although Clough later sneaks in as a supporter). Derby fans' outrage raises Clough's hopes of being reinstated, but Dave Mackay is appointed manager instead. Derby fans quickly lose interest and Clough loses all hope of getting his job back. He and Taylor are then offered jobs at Brighton & Hove Albion. They agree to take the jobs after taking an all-expenses-paid holiday in Majorca. During the holiday, Clough agrees to take control of Leeds after being approached by their representatives.[5] Taylor, however, argues the case for staying at Brighton, and after a bitter quarrel, the two go their separate ways.

Back in the storyline's "present," Clough alienates his players in their first training session, first by telling them that they can throw away any awards they have won because they "never won any of them fairly," and then making them start with a 7-a-side game. The season starts with a Charity Shield match against FA Cup winners Liverpool, which is widely anticipated as both the final match of Liverpool manager Bill Shankly and Clough's debut as Leeds manager. Unfortunately, the event is marred when Leeds's captain, Billy Bremner gets into a fight with Kevin Keegan. Both are sent off, and in turn throw their shirts off and walk off the pitch bare-chested in defiance. Leeds lose the match on penalties, and Bremner is given a two-month suspension from football, forcing Leeds to start the season without their influential captain. As a result, Leeds suffer a horrendous start to the season and are in danger of relegation only one season after winning the title. After Bremner and the players air their grievances to the board, the club terminates Clough's contract - though he forces them to pay an enormous severance package. Afterwards, Clough agrees to do a final interview with Yorkshire Television, but finds Revie there to confront him, 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 as inflexible and egocentric. Clough brings up the incident in the 1968 FA Cup, and Revie claims to have not known who 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, Clough drives down to Brighton to patch things up with Taylor. It involves Clough literally on his knees, grovelling at Taylor's dictation, but they reconcile.

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 where he was accused of financial mismanagement. 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."


Leeds United
Derby County
Minor characters
  • Mark Bazeley as Austin Mitchell
  • Mark Jameson as head groundsman
  • David Stevenson as reporter
  • Nathan Head as reporter
  • Chris Wilson as FA disciplinary
  • Ralph Ineson as a crazy wild-haired reporter
  • William Martyn Conboy as Key Reporter, Revie Departure Scene



In 2006, Stephen Frears read The Damned Utd while travelling to the Venice Film Festival. He enjoyed the book and talked with The Queen producer Andy Harries about it.[8] He then sent it to Peter Morgan, with whom he also worked on The Queen, on the eve of that film's premiere in Venice; Morgan read it by the next morning.[9] Morgan enjoyed it, stating, "It deals with themes I love: Alcoholism and self-destruction and psychotic male competitiveness and treachery."[10] Development of the project continued through February 2007, when BBC Films executive producer Christine Langan, another producer of The Queen, became involved.[11] Frears had Michael Sheen in mind for Clough right from the start. Sheen had appeared in three other Frears projects: Mary Reilly, The Deal and The Queen. He was chosen because of his physical resemblance to Clough.[12] When Frears suggested to Sheen that he play the part, Sheen "rolled his eyes and burst into a wonderful impersonation" of Clough.[13] Sheen said Clough was "one of those people who's decided he's going to shape the rest of the world in his image. Inevitably there's something in us that recognises that that's playing with fire and the gods will have to strike you down."[9]

With Frears as director, principal photography was scheduled for the end of 2007. He pulled out of the film in November, stating that he could not work out the logistics of the film and that he had "set out in pursuit of something that was leading him down a blind alley". Tom Hooper, who directed Morgan's Longford, replaced him.[13] Hooper researched Clough by reading Duncan Hamilton's Provided You Don't Kiss Me, an award-winning biography of Clough. He also planned to meet with Clough's family and with some of the Leeds players during Clough's tenure.[14] Casting continued through to May 2008. In April, Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent were announced as Don Revie, Peter Taylor and Sam Longson respectively.[15] During pre-production, Langan had viewed archive footage of Clough and Revie and considered whether Revie should be played by an actor much older than Sheen; despite being 47 in the footage, Revie "could pass for 60".[11] Before Meaney was cast, the younger Kenneth Branagh had been considered.[16] Non-league Garforth Town A.F.C. held auditions for non-speaking football players on 14 May.[17] Auditionees were expected to have played in the Northern Counties East League, Northern Premier League, or higher. Casting for extras took place on 20 and 21 May.[18]


Alterations to Elland Road for filming.

Principal photography ran from 25 May to 2 July at locations in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Majorca.[18] Chesterfield F.C.'s Saltergate stood in for Wembley Stadium, the Baseball Ground, Carrow Road, and Bloomfield Road.[19] Saltergate was chosen because it had not had any significant modifications since the 1970s,[20] though some repainting work was done by the production team to differentiate the grounds from each other.[19] The car park outside Elland Road was dressed to look like the Leeds training ground[21] (until the move to the training facilities at Thorp Arch in the early 1990s, Leeds United's training ground was located next to the stadium). Other locations used in Leeds include Headingley Stadium, the former site of Cookridge Hospital, and a linen hire firm in Armley.[22] The recreations of the television interviews (based on those conducted on the regional news show Calendar) were filmed at the same location as the originals, these being the Yorkshire Television Studios in Kirkstall Road, Leeds.[23] Further exteriors scenes were shot in Armley, Beeston and Adel.[22] The training ground used by Derby County was the quarry football pitch which is nearby to the Elland Road Stadium.

During the week of 23 June, filming took place in Scarborough, in place of Brighton.[24] Interior scenes were filmed in the Victoria Sea View Hotel and the Esplanade Hotel.[22][24] Exteriors were filmed on the Queens Parade and at nearby Scalby Mills. Computer-generated imagery was added in post-production to make Scarborough look like Brighton. Filming then moved on to Saddleworth before concluding in Majorca.[24]


Rob Lane composed the film score in December 2008.[25]


The first television trailer premiered on Setanta Sports 1 on 23 January 2009, before the kick-off of the FA Cup Fourth Round tie between Derby County and Nottingham Forest.[26]

The distribution rights were originally pre-sold to Ealing Studios International. Sony Pictures Entertainment made a higher offer to the production companies and will now distribute the film worldwide.[15] It was released in the UK on 27 March 2009.[27]

A gala screening of the film was held at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival in September 2009;[28] the film went on limited release in the United States on 9 October that year.[29]

The film earned a total of $3,604,339 in the UK and Republic of Ireland, and in Canada and the US, it took $441,264; the worldwide box office take was $4,045,603.[1]


The film has been extremely well received by film critics and currently holds a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In the film, in which both Don Revie and Brian Clough are interviewed on the televised Yorkshire talk-show, both palaver in a similar fashion as to what the real interviews were held many years ago.[30]

It however received much criticism for inaccuracies used to create the film as opposed to what actually happened during Clough's reign.

Clough's widow, Barbara Clough, who was already an outspoken critic of Peace's book, expressed disappointment that the film was being made, insisting the majority of it never happened. On the implication that it would be similar to the book, she said "It's going to be pretty dire". Andy Harries responded by stating that "[The filmmakers'] goal is to tell a wonderful and extraordinary story with universal themes of success, jealousy and betrayal".[31] Filmmaker Donald Shaw criticised Sony's decision to release the film six days after what would have been Clough's 74th birthday. He said that Clough's family were "annoyed" that the film had even been made.[32] The Clough family declined an invitation to a preview of the film, and have stated that they loathe the whole idea of the film.[33] Nigel Clough says he has spoken to people within football who have told him the film bears no resemblance to what actually happened.[34]

Producer Andy Harries has claimed that without creating the fiction the film would not have been as exciting to watch.[35] He also stood firm in his reassurance towards the family of Clough that the film produced a kinder character of him than the book. Writer Peter Morgan claimed that he did not feel the film's accuracy was of major importance.[36]

Dave Mackay sued Left Bank Pictures over his portrayal in the film. By March 2010, Left Bank had apologised to Mackay and paid him "undisclosed damages". Roy McFarland did not like the film and agreed with Mackay's actions, but he enjoyed Sheen's portrayal of Clough.[37]

BBC Sport journalist Pat Murphy, a personal friend of Clough, noted 17 factual inaccuracies in the film after watching it twice.[38] He claimed that whilst he had the utmost respect for Sheen in his portrayal of Clough, he had full respect for Johnny Giles in his lawsuit towards Peace, which forced him to re-write the book and subsequently the film script, backing his claim that this was a film based on fact but developed through fiction. Particular findings of his are: -[39][40]

  • In the film it is shown that three signings are made by Clough at once, those of Dave Mackay, John McGovern and John O’Hare. However, O'Hare was signed almost a year before Mackay, and McGovern and Mackay were signed on different days.
  • Murphy claimed that the scene in which Clough sits in his manager's office unable to watch Don Revie's Leeds face Derby County was completely false, and insisted that this would never have happened.
  • He also declared that the insinuation of Clough not wanting to debate with Revie about his tenure at Leeds United is completely inaccurate.
  • Murphy was also angered by the portrayal of Clough's drinking and smoking. He insisted that throughout the 1970s Clough was a perfectly fit manager who often actively trained with players at training ground matches, and that the portrayal of him drinking and smoking heavily was a battle he faced approximately 10–20 years after he became manager of Nottingham Forest in 1975.
  • In an interview with Murphy, Martin O'Neill stated that he had noticed an obvious error:[41] The film implies that Dave Mackay was still a Derby County player when Clough resigned as Derby manager in 1973. In fact, Mackay had left Derby in 1971 to become player-manager of Swindon Town, and later manager of Nottingham Forest. In the film we see Clough reading out a list of Derby players who are demanding his reinstatement as manager. At this point Taylor walks in with a copy of a newspaper announcing Mackay as Clough's successor and says "But not Dave Mackay." This gives the impression that Mackay is still a Derby player, however Clough then says that he gave Mackay two years as a player. As the film clearly states that Mackay was signed in 1968 it is implicit that he had left the club some years before Clough's resignation. O'Neill also questioned the portrayal of the relationship between Clough and Peter Taylor.[41] He praised the performance of the actors, however, particularly that of Michael Sheen as Clough.[41]

Results and fixtures portrayed in the film are also inaccurate. Neither of the Derby County v. Juventus European Cup matches in 1973 took place midweek following any of Derby's games with Leeds that season.[42] Likewise, Leeds' 1-1 draw with Luton was also incorrectly depicted as a 1-0 defeat.[43]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Though Leeds were leading the table, they did not win the league that season, eventually finishing fourth. The eventual winners were Manchester City
  3. ^ Although Leeds did beat Derby 2–0 in the FA Cup that season, in reality the game was played at United's Elland Road ground. It was the second of three games between the two sides that season, the FA Cup tie being sandwiched between the two legs of a Football League Cup Semi-Final.
  4. ^ In fact, the match between Derby and Leeds took place before Derby's quarter-final match, which they won despite their injury list. Their eventual defeat by Juventus was with a nearly full-strength squad, and Clough blamed Juventus's gamesmanship, rather than Sam Longson for Derby's exit.
  5. ^ The film shows him effectively reneging on his deal to take over at Brighton, although in reality he had nine relatively unsuccessful months as manager there.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Mitchell, Wendy (21 June 2008). "Graham, McDonald take key footballer roles in The Damned United",, Emap Media. Retrieved on 24 October 2008.
  7. ^ Watkinson, David (1 April 2009). "Blackburn ‘ref’ enjoys Damned good role in Brian Clough film". Lancashire Telesgraph. Retrieved 27 January 2010. 
  8. ^ Kennedy, Maev (18 May 2007), "The Guardian profile: Stephen Frears", The Guardian, Guardian News and Media. Retrieved on 2 September 2008.
  9. ^ a b Jeff Dawson (April 2009). "Strife of Brian". Empire: pp. 116–120. 
  10. ^ Charity, Tom (2 May 2007). "Peter Morgan Interview". LOVEFiLM. Retrieved on 24 April 2008.
  11. ^ a b Langan, Christine (25 February 2007), "My week: Christine Langan", The Observer, Guardian News and Media. Retrieved on 2 September 2008.
  12. ^ Staff (16 February 2007). "Queen director Clough film hopes", BBC News website (BBC News). Retrieved on 24 April 2008.
  13. ^ a b Solomons, Jason (11 November 2007). "Trailer Trash: Not Match of the Day", The Observer, Guardian News and Meda. Retrieved on 24 April 2008.
  14. ^ Bamigboye, Baz (18 January 2008). "Forty-four dreadful days in the life of Brian", Daily Mail, Associated Newspapers. Retrieved on 24 April 2008.
  15. ^ a b Dawtrey, Adam (24 April 2008). "Sony scores 'Damned United'", Variety, Reed Business Information. Retrieved on 24 April 2008.
  16. ^ Solomons, Jason (27 May 2007). "Trash Cannes: Ken revs up for Don", The Observer, Guardian News and Media. Retrieved on 29 April 2008.
  17. ^ Robinson, Paul (8 May 2008). "Garforth Town to host player auditions for Leeds United film", Garforth Today, Johnston Press. Retrieved on 10 May 2008.
  18. ^ a b "Chance to Take Part in a New Film". Chesterfield F.C. website (16 May 2008). Retrieved on 17 May 2008.
  19. ^ a b Whiteley, Pete (5 June 2008), "There's No Business Like.........", Chesterfield F.C. website. Retrieved on 2 September 2008.
  20. ^ Ward, Nick (31 May 2008), "Saltergate..or the Baseball Ground?", Sheffield Star, Johnston Press. Retrieved on 2 September 2008.
  21. ^ Calhoun, Dave (10 June 2008), "Set visit: 'The Damned United'", Time Out, Time Out Group. Retrieved on 2 September 2008.
  22. ^ a b c Robinson, Paul (30 December 2008). "Damned United: Release date set for Leeds United film", Yorkshire Evening Post, Johnston Press. Retrieved on 8 January 2009.
  23. ^ Taken from the DVD commentary of the film, The Damned United, Sony Pictures, 2009
  24. ^ a b c Beever, Kirsty (26 June 2008), "It's Spall over 'old big ed' – it is now", Scarborough Evening News, Johnston Press. Retrieved on 2 September 2008.
  25. ^ Carlsson, Mikael (2 December 2008). "Rob Lane: The Damned United", Upcoming Film Scores (Movie Score Media). Retrieved on 8 January 2009.
  26. ^ Sutcliffe, Rich (23 January 2009). "The Damned United promo to launch on Setanta tonight",, Haymarket Media. Retrieved on 23 January 2009.
  27. ^ "UK Film release schedule (March 2009)", Film Distributors' Association. Retrieved on 15 January 2009.
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ "The Damned United on Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 21 August 2009. 
  31. ^ Alberge, Dalya (19 November 2007), " Film is offside, says Brian Clough's widow", The Times, Times Newspapers. Retrieved on 24 April 2008.
  32. ^ Staff (1 December 2008). "Controversial Brian Clough film to be released during his birthday week", Derby Evening Telegraph, Derby Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved on 5 December 2008.
  33. ^ Gibson, Owen (7 March 2009). "Damned: Clough family boycott film of legendary manager's life". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 7 March 2009. 
  34. ^ "Clough will snub 'Damned United'". BBC News. 18 March 2009. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  35. ^ Cox, David (30 March 2009). "The Damned United should never have been made". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  36. ^ Cox, David (30 March 2009). "The Damned United should never have been made". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  37. ^ Staff (26 March 2010). "Former Rams star backs Mackay's decision to sue makers of movie". Derby Evening Telegraph (Northcliffe Newspapers): p. 3.
  38. ^ Russell Fuller (presenter) (2009-03-18). 5 live Sport (Radio broadcast). BBC Radio 5 Live. Retrieved 2009-03-18. 
  39. ^
  40. ^ Cox, David (30 March 2009). "The Damned United should never have been made". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  41. ^ a b c "O'Neill reviews new Clough film". BBC Sport. 18 March 2009. Retrieved 20 March 2009. 
  42. ^ "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 
  43. ^ "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 

External links

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