Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years With Brian Clough

Duncan Hamilton HarperCollins 2008
March 1, 2018
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There can’t be many people who haven’t already read Provided You Don’t Kiss Me. With good reason, too, because it’s the seminal account of the manager/local press relationship which, sadly, has now been lost to football’s evolution.

From Duncan Hamilton’s first, stammering encounter with Brian Clough, to the blunt nature of their final goodbye, this is a truly compelling read. Clough himself is a great source of anecdotes, of course, but Hamilton mixes the usual squash-racket fare with a more tender treatment.

Nottingham Forest’s rise to the European Cup carries an enduring fascination and Provided You Don’t Kiss Me offers a faithful retelling, but the intimacy of the book is in its account of the aftermath – the mistakes Clough made in the years following, both personal and professional, the footballing errors which stain his legacy and, obviously, the deterioration of his relationship with Peter Taylor.

These kind of first person accounts are always best when their exists genuine warmth and, while it’s never really confirmed, you suspect that Hamilton and Clough had a great deal of affection for one another. Never, it must be said, to the point where the past is airbrushed: Hamilton is often critical and doesn’t fall into the familiar trap of attributing all of his subjects mis-steps to the alcoholism.

The news broke late on the afternoon of my day off. At six o'clock I rushed to the City Ground, half-expecting no one to be there. I saw Clough's Mercedes parked in its usual place outside the main doors. The doors were locked. I ran round to a side door, but it too was locked. I pulled at the handle, so hard that it threatened to come off its hinges. Eventually, I heard a familiar voice from behind the door. 'What the f--- are you doing? You're going to pull the whole ground down.' Clough had the door opened for me.

For a first-hand account of Clough at work, this really has no peer. Ultimately though, it comes with regret: at its root is a trust which hasn’t existed for many years and which will never do so again. The media are treated with great hostility now and what little access they’re given is provided with stringent conditions. They’re a resource. To be used and then locked out at will. Once almost a partnership, serving each other’s interests equally, the modern equivalent is essentially abusive.

That is what this book will make you think about: that there will never really be another like it.

But it’s likely also one which you’ll return to time-after-time. Not to fact check, just to enjoy. It’s not a forensic account of Clough’s career, it doesn’t pretend to be. Instead, it’s a charmingly uncomplicated observation of a highly complex, contradictory character and one which hasn’t been written with any particular agenda.

For better or worse, this is who Clough was.

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