Jonathan Wilson’s biography about legendary football manager Brian Clough manages to combine the two best attributes by which a book should be judged: how it teaches things you never knew, and how spellbinding it was. Brian Clough: Nobody Ever Says Thank You accomplishes both tasks with aplomb in a beautifully written book that is so good, it’s hard to put down.
Remarkably, Jonathan Wilson’s biography of Brian Clough is the first to chronicle the famous football manager’s life from birth to death. The book begins by discussing the city in which Brian Howard Clough was born on March 21, 1935. The dreary world of working class Middlesbrough sets the stage from which Clough emerges, where he was brought up by his mother and father, and where he fell in love with the game of football.
Prior to reading this book, most of my memories of Clough were framed by his 18 year career as manager of Nottingham Forest, where he won an incredible two European Cups, four League Cups and won the First Division in 1977-78 during his team’s first season in the top flight. A book about his days at Forest alone would make for a riveting read, but I was more mesmerized by his earlier career, first as a professional footballer where he shone for Middlesbrough and then Sunderland. And second, during his earlier management career at Hartlepools, Derby County, Brighton and Leeds.
Clough was a complex man, a larger-than-life character who was unpredictable, driven and manipulative, but who could also be kind-hearted, a wonderful family man but incredibly flawed. If the story of his football career isn’t compelling enough, the psychological intricacies of Clough alone are worth “the price of admission.” The stories of the tragedies he faced at critical junctures of his life shine a light on what made Brian Clough the man he was.
This isn’t a tiresome read, full of in-depth interviews with the people who knew him best. Instead, it’s a chronological story of his life which, not surprisingly, features football as the main thread throughout the book. The “Nobody Ever Says Thank You” in the book title is in reference to a sound piece of advice that Clough’s mentor Harry Storer gave him regarding the thanklessness of football management.
The author rarely gets in the way of the Clough story being told in the book. When he does interject, it’s only to put some of Clough’s words and opinions into perspective, or to correct some of Cloughie’s exaggerations (or his convenient bending of the truth).
Brian Clough: Nobody Ever Says Thank You is the perfect book for any football supporter. It’s a biography of one of the greatest football managers to have ever lived, but it’s also the story of a unique man who, despite his legions of fans, had his demons.
Perhaps the best compliment I can give this book is that as I was reading it, I could picture the book being adapted into either a film or documentary about the life of Clough. Having said that, his life was so remarkable that any film or documentary wouldn’t do his story justice, which is why this book is a must-read. My only criticism is that, just like Clough’s life, it ended too soon. It’s the type of story you only wish could go on and on forever.