As someone who “watched every movie between 1956 and 1960 and one or two since” John Giles watched The Damned United on DVD. He admired the performances of Michael Sheen and Colm Meaney as Brian Clough and Don Revie and thought “Jim Broadbent was terrific as the old Derby chairman Sam Longson.”
Eventually, however, “the bullshit just got too much for me.” It wasn’t his portrayal. His legal action against the publishers of David Peace’s “arty-farty” book ensured the movie was “relatively harmless, just irritating.”
But in Gilesy’s view “there’s something about football that movie makers have never been able to grasp.”
“They don’t seem to be able get across the idea that Brian Clough hated Leeds for all sorts of reasons mainly to do with the football we played. So they invent this little scene in which Don Revie shunned Clough before a cup match.
“Maybe they’re trying to make the film appeal to people who mightn’t be interested in football, in which case maybe they should take out the football altogether.
“In football, if you haven’t got it, you can’t make it up.”
And that’s part of the reason why this lovely, gentle football book is such a compelling read. With Gilesy, the message may not always be moral, even palatable, but when it comes to the football, you’d be prepared to bet your life on it being the truth. You can take every story on its merits.
There’s nothing terribly new covered but everything is covered right.
The FAI are the FAI. He found out about his Ireland debut via the Daily Mirror. There’s a strong sense of anger at the treatment of the deceased families after Munich. And fierce sadness at the death of “Liam from Cabra… young enough to be a friend and old enough to be a hero.”
Don Revie. Peter Lorimer. Dunphy. Nobby Stiles. Good guys. Gilesy has frank words for Matt Busby’s mean-spiritedness but ready acknowledgement of his greatness, while the John Fitzpatrick business is briefly, a little coldly, dispatched.
“He knew, as did I, the terms of engagement. If you give it, you have to take it. I caught John on the half-turn with a bad tackle which was knee-high. Following treatment on the pitch, he finished the game. I did not break his leg.”
An encounter with Eddie McCreadie more readily mines Gilesy’s malevolent streak.
“In a really tight match one day against Chelsea at Elland Road, down near one of the corner flags, and with our backs to the referee, I caught him with a late tackle. \’What the hell was that for?’ I told him it was for doing my ligaments at Stamford Bridge in 1964. McCreadie looked bewildered. It was 1972.”
“Looking back on those days, I realise I was a much different person and that there were times when my behaviour left a lot to be desired.”
Plenty of reflection on the technicalities of midfield play and the composition of great players make this part footballing manifesto. Striking the ball, “a contact that felt so perfect I could hardly feel it at all.” But ironically maybe, you could almost take the football out of A Football Man and still relish what remained.
Hugging his mother after the 1963 FA Cup final, a victorious swansong at Manchester United. “This was most unusual for me, and for her. Neither of us were the hugging type.” “Have you been drinking?” she said. In truth, he’d simply lost the Sacred Heart badge in his sock when he went down with cramp in the second half.
Gilesy’s relationship with his father Dickie, the ultimate football man, is a constant feature. The sudden baffling appearance in the Copenhagen dressing room at half-time as the Irish team Gilesy was player-managing led the Danes 2-1. The dread as he knew “something terrible had happened”, fearing the death of his mother. Dickie cleared his throat. “This fucking team is made for offside.”
And then there’s the image of a young Gilesy stoning pigeons on the way home from Brunner primary school, mortified when he eventually hit one. With the help of a mate Hego, John “got the injured bird right again” and his career as a fancier took off from there. Poacher turned gamekeeper. Just as Clough’s “dirty Irishman” became the grand statesman of Irish football. A book brimming with moral courage and no little honesty of effort.
John Giles: A Football Man is published by Hachette. It’s written with the help of Declan Lynch