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The Damned United: A deleted scene review

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While everyone is on Labor Day holiday, I wanted to look back at one of my favourite soccer films, The Damned United, and how one scene can greatly affect the message and tone of a film. The scene features Brian Clough putting his Derby County players through the hair dryer.

Ben Hoskins

One of my favourite soccer books of all time is the Damned Utd, and I love the BBC film adaptation as well. Adaptation is a difficult thing, so difficult that there's a whole movie called Adaptation about how difficult Adaptation is (it's also sort of about flowers). I've always felt like the movie did a good job capturing the character of Brian Clough from the book, while going through the events with pace. However, there's always been one part of the movie which confused me, where Clough's Derby County are taking on Leeds United halfway through the film.

It's the third match we see between Derby and Leeds, and Brian Clough as Derby manger has just purchased Colin Todd after an embarrassment away at Leeds United right after promotion. There's a bit of time that passes quickly, the 5-0 loss at Leeds happens in 1969 and then we jump to 1972 (Colin Todd was actually purchased in 1971).

In the story the movie is telling, Clough is embarrassed at Leeds, purchases Colin Todd, and then Derby turn their ship around. It happened much slower than that in real life, but movies can only be so long and it's a cinematic choice to get the main points across. Derby struggled initially after promotion, made some signings, and eventually won the league in 1972.

Returning to the scene, we meet Colin Todd and two other players (always two other players), and then they're in the locker room waiting for a home fixtures against Leeds. Clough goes around giving individual pre-match speeches, yells "come on", then retreats to his office.

Which doesn't make any sense. No one mentions him being suspended, not even a hint of a touchline ban. Why would a manager go straight to his office and not go out with his players. When I finally read a copy of the script, I realised a good chunk of that scene was cut. Here's the deleted scene if, like me, you bought the iTunes version and not the Blu-Ray:

Now it finally makes sense. Of all the cutting room floor jobs, this wasn't the smoothest. We lose Clough on the touchline, seeing his team come out flat, and tearing them apart at halftime. Giving them Brandy to celebrate their plan to get him fired, then storming off to the office with Peter Taylor coming in to comfort them displays some of the good cop/bad cop stuff that was in the book but mostly absent from the movie.

Without having seen the deleted scene, it appears Clough has no idea what the scoreline is outside. However, in the full version he knows his team is down 0-1, and that those cheers probably mean comeback goals. In the cut version, Peter Taylor calls Clough a genius, but for what? The starters he chose? It's a chopped up version of a conversation where Taylor calls the halftime speech inspired, Clough explains that he was shaking the nerves out of them, and we hear about the brace that won the match.

In a well done movie that allows for nuanced emotions, it's sad they didn't allow for the villain part of Clough to come out in the halftime speech. It'd be interesting to know if the scene was cut for time or if it was because drinking at halftime wouldn't sit well with modern audiences. I don't believe it's the latter, Clough is constantly shown drinking and the BBC film on the Manchester United plane crash had players smoking pipes in the tunnel.

Finding that deleted scene and finally understanding what the filmmakers were trying to get across is what inspired me to write this article, but I would feel remiss if I didn't talk about why I love this film so much. It doesn't fall into any of the American sports movie tropes: there are no last second goals, and triumphs are intermixed with failures. There isn't a triumphant final scene, though there is an epilogue showing Clough getting the last laugh on Don Revie.

The lessons learned are complex, not boiled down to learning to believe in oneself. Believing in oneself is difficult, one has to learn limits, gracefulness, when to listen, when to power ahead, when to know to bow to power, and when to burn a bridge.

I love that it shows those complexity through a manger. There are some great player personalities, but like players do they come and go. From Clough's position we get to see the pressure to win, the pressure to prioritise competitions, to spend within limits but produce beyond, and occasionally the pressure to live up to an impossible legacy.