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Great Sports Movie: The Damned United

Geoff Wood

Michael Sheen image from Tsar Kasim on Flickr.com

Against my proper judgment, I watched a soccer movie. I had recently been wading through a bunch of old episodes of “At The Movies” on TiVo and caught the two critics praising The Damned United as a great sports movie. I was apprehensive, since I have no understanding nor care for soccer, but I went for it anyway since it starred Michael Sheen (pictured above) who I’ve enjoyed in past roles as famous Brits (Tony Blair in The Queen and David Frost in Frost/Nixon).

Leeds United jerseyI’m glad I went for it because the film was excellent. It’s a sports-themed movie but the plot is much more about Brian Clough, the man (Sheen’s character), than his sport. Clough was a soccer club manager who built his squad (Derby County) from a low level all the way up to champions of England. A few years later he took over the manager’s slot at his rival club (Leeds United), a dynastic champion, and lasted all of 44 days before being fired. He then went on to coach another underdog squad to the championship of both England and Europe, twice, which is an accomplishment never matched. The movie cites him as "the greatest manager never to manage the England [national] team."

The story is true but seems crazy when you put it in American sports parlance.

As ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote about the movie:

“It's a famous English soccer saga that means nothing in America, but imagine [New England Patriots coach] Belichick taking over the Colts from Dungy this past summer and then getting fired in Week 6, and you have an idea of how loony this episode was.”

The English soccer system is completely foreign (pun intended) to American sports fans and I had to consult Wikipedia.com a couple times to research the importance of certain events but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

The actors are great, the characters interesting, the plot compelling, and story moves well. I watch a lot of movies and a lot of them are junk, however, this one is great. If you’re looking for a great sports movie you’ve never seen – this is probably it.