Exclusive: Clough portrayal helped drive Giles's libel bid

JOHNNY GILES has revealed how his decision to sue for libel over The Damned United was, in part, motivated by a desire to make a protest on behalf of Brian Clough's family.

The former Leeds United midfielder successfully won damages off publisher, Faber & Faber, for the way he was portrayed in the acclaimed novel that was based around the 44 days Clough spent as manager at Elland Road.

In the book by Yorkshire-born writer David Peace, Giles was wrongly painted as a key figure in the sacking of Clough by the Leeds board.

As part of the settling of the High Court dispute in 2008, the publisher agreed to remove from any future editions the references that had angered the former United midfielder.

Click here to read about Giles setting the record straight >>

Despite receiving what his law team described at the time as "substantial" payment to cover damages and costs, Giles remains incensed with a novel that so readily blended fact with fiction.

Speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Post, he said: "The book was awful and I found the portrayal of Brian Clough outrageous.

"I took my stand because I was the only one alive who could do anything about it.

"The Clough family had no comeback. They couldn't do anything as Brian was dead. That was a huge influence (on taking the legal action). Nigel (Clough, Brian's son) actually rang me.

"Now, I didn't get on with Brian (at Leeds) – I found him rude and arrogant. But he has a wife, he has kids and for this guy (Peace) to do this and then say 'this is a book of fiction based in fact' was wrong.

"He (Peace) had Brian chopping up Don's desk like a raving lunatic. Brian was a highly intelligent guy who, in my opinion, was a genius. What happened at Leeds, happened. But at Derby County and Nottingham Forest, he was a genius.

"The book was damaging because people read it and take it as gospel. I had people coming up to me and saying, 'You didn't come out of the book very well?' How could I? I was the Irishman who was plotting against Brian Clough.

"The guy (Peace) thought he was being clever as I was perceived to be an enemy of Brian Clough and that there was no way I would be sticking up for him. But that wasn't the point.

"My action was a protest, it wasn't about the money. I was the first to make a protest. Up until then, everyone was Lording this guy."

Giles, whose autobiography A Football Man was published last week, had just completed his 11th season as a Leeds player when Clough was appointed as Don Revie's successor in the summer of 1974.

History has since discovered that Revie had, in fact, recommended the Irish midfielder for the job only for United captain Billy Bremner to get wind of the plan and stake his own claim.

The Elland Road board, fearing the choice of one team-mate over another might cause a split in the squad, decided to look elsewhere and plumped for Clough, who had been a fierce critic of Leeds's style of play and approach to the game.

The union was never going to last and Clough was sacked just six games into the 1974-75 season. His short reign at Elland Road proved to be the only blot on an otherwise impeccable CV and, more than 30 years later, the inspiration for what became the hugely-successful book, The Damned United.

Giles said: "He (Peace) said it was his interpretation of what happened. Well, anyone can do an interpretation of what happened and that is their own story. But he used existing names and that was what I found unusual.

"If you are doing an interpretation, surely you try and get as much information as possible? He never spoke to me, to Eddie (Gray) or Peter (Lorimer). or any of the lads.

"It was arty-farty stuff but using real names.

"He had me having a conversation with Brian Clough that never happened. You then watch the movie and the danger is people take this as a fact."

The belief that the public could be fooled into taking both the book and the film version of The Damned United as a factual account was underlined to Giles on the opening day of the season when Nigel Clough's Derby County side came to Elland Road.

Due to traffic congestion, the Rams players decided to walk the last couple of hundred yards – just as the film version had shown Revie once doing with his Leeds team before a game against Brian Clough's Derby.

He said: "I don't know why Nigel did that (on the opening day) but maybe he was having a go at the book because that simply didn't happen. Nearly all the things in the book didn't happen, nearly all the things in the movie didn't happen.

"What I can't understand is that the story itself stands up as Don was one of the most superstitious guys in the world. But why make up a new superstition?

"Anyway, if we had got off the bus 100 yards short of the ground, we would have been stoned by the home fans. It wouldn't have been safe."