Book Review: Provided You Don’t Kiss Me – 20 Years with Brian Clough by Duncan Hamilton

Ghost-writing and writing about ghosts

Duncan Hamilton is haunted by the ghost of Brian Clough and it permeates much of his writing. He is fascinated not just by famous sporting characters but by relationships, especially between the living and the dead. A case in point is the book he was the ghost writer of, Johnny Bairstow’s autobiography A Clear Blue Sky. Hamilton understood so well the influence David Bairstow still exerted over his son, years after his death, because of how father-figure Clough continued to affect him in a similar way.

In his own name, Hamilton has written a number of acclaimed books but his breakthrough one was Provided You Don’t Kiss Me – 20 Years with Brian Clough. It could be said that he has done very well out of Clough. Apart from anything else, he won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award for it in 2007. And, despite its imperfections, the book deserved that award, he had great subject matter but did an excellent job of it.

His journalistic career flourished, in no small part thanks to the access Clough allowed him into his crazy, zany and utterly distinctive world. That was where Hamilton developed his skills as a ghost writer and many of the newspaper pieces we believed were written by Clough himself were in reality Hamilton’s work.

In the following years, he followed up his success with a number of fine books including another William Hill winner, in 2009, on cricketer Harold Larwood. He had promised in a section at the end of 20 Years called ‘Provided You Do Kiss Me’, “I won’t be writing about Brian again.” That promise kind of held true for two whole years. Only kind of, as it can be argued that Old Big ‘ead: The Wit and Wisdom of Brian Clough is not written by Hamilton, only compiled by him. But I wonder if some of that ‘wit and wisdom’ had been ghosted by him in any case?

There is no doubt whatsoever that Hamilton was hugely fond of Clough but there are a number of things that catch the attention on (re)visiting the book. First of all, there is the nature of the relationship between Clough and the author. Hamilton was much younger and admits that he felt in some ways like a son. Then there is the relationship between Clough and Peter Taylor which Hamilton describes as being virtually like a marriage, even so far as the way it led to a messy divorce when they fell out permanently. It’s all very macho, like the relationship between Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And there is a funny yet touching moment in the book where Clough admits that he does not know how to cope with Justin Fashanu, whose homosexuality made his manager feel uncomfortable. Such was Fashanu’s fear of him and need to win his approval that Clough commented, “If I say, ‘Good morning’ to him, he bursts into tears.”

But in this very male world described by the author, two things stand out in particular; Brian Clough was married, to Barbara, from 1959 till his death 45 years later and yet she plays a much less significant and no more real role in the book than Norman Bates’s mother does in Psycho. Her total absence is very surprising and most noticeable during Clough’s descent into alcoholism. The great manager is depicted by the author as a totally isolated individual and there are strong hints that Hamilton became much closer to him after Clough’s friendship ended with Taylor than either his actual wife or children, including Nigel who played for him at Nottingham Forest.

This leads to the second point. Duncan Hamilton was clearly very fond of Clough and in many ways idolised him. Perhaps this reason, alongside his journalistic objectivity, is why he did nothing to try to help Clough out of the chronic alcoholism that destroyed him. This idol seems to have been so daunting when alive that he separated himself from other people, a bitter irony for a self-confessed champagne socialist but then, after death, his ghost began its haunting. He was abandoned by people as his face blotched with all the alcohol, his reputation suffered as his bung-rumoured corruption started to mirror that of his nemesis Don Revie and a second liver was given a severe bashing. Once safely dead, people could then begin to sorely miss Old Big ‘Ead.

Graeme Garvey

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Posted June 19, 2019 by Editor in category "Reviews

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