Book Review: Bloody Southerners – Clough and Taylor’s Brighton & Hove Odyssey by Spencer Vignes

Brian Howard Clough and Peter Thomas Taylor, more commonly known in the football world as simply, ‘Clough and Taylor’. Whatever your team, no one would begrudge their reputation as an outstanding management duo, who brought great success to football in the East Midlands, in the guise of Derby County and Nottingham Forest. And go into any bookshop and you will find a number of titles about their exploits at those two clubs. The major hole in their story is the time that the pair spent at then Third Division Brighton & Hove Albion, when they washed up on the shores of the South coast during the 1973/74 season after Pat Saward had lost his job as manager at the Goldstone Ground.

In Bloody Southerners – Clough and Taylor’s Brighton & Hove Odyssey, author Spencer Vignes produces an excellent account with interviews from players and staff at the clubs as well as local and national media of the time, to recount the story of the period that occurred between their stewardship at the Baseball Ground and the City Ground.

As with any good book, the central part of the story is detailed in context, with the reader presented with the early years of the pairs playing careers, their management time at Hartlepools United and later resignation from Derby County in October 1973. This provides the backdrop prior to Clough and Taylor taking the reins at Brighton in November 1973, brought in by ambitious Chairman Mike Bamber, the other main character in the book. There follows the story of Clough’s brief sojourn in the South, which was to last only until July 1974 when he jumped ship to take over at Elland Road, with Taylor staying and taking charge during the 1974/75 and 1975/76 campaigns.

Those seasons are well documented with in their first season, the infamous FA Cup replay defeat to Walton & Hersham detailed, as well as the 8-2 home defeat to a rampant Bristol Rovers. During that campaign, Clough does little to endear himself to the players, as he does not move down to Brighton (unlike Taylor), preferring instead to commute from Derby, meaning that his appearances on the training ground are limited. He also alienates the Club Chairman with his trip to discuss a possible job as Iranian National Manager, despite the flexibility Clough is given with regards to his media work. With his departure, Clough caused a rift with Taylor that whilst was to be resolved when they were reunited at Forest, started a fissure that was to return later in their careers and which because of the untimely death of Taylor, unfortunately was never to be resolved. Taylor himself also comes in for his share of criticism too once he became manager, with some not impressed at his time spent on the road looking for players, rather than being in the dug-out, especially in the critical run-in during the 1975/76 season when Brighton narrowly missed out on promotion.

Readers may conclude that it does not portray either Clough or Taylor in a particularly good light. However, whilst many of the interviews are critical of the pair, this book is by no means a hatchet job. Vignes builds a balanced case to show where some of the attitudes espoused by Clough came from, in areas such as his treatment of older and injured players and his relationship with Chairman. The author also succeeds in loosening some of the fictionalisation that has come to surround the pair with the making of The Damned United film, in sharpening the image of the reality of Clough and Taylor as men with faults, and not characters in soft-focus.

In closing the book, Vignes takes the Brighton story beyond the departure of Taylor and concludes with a chapter titled, An Unlikely Legacy, as the author lays out an interesting conclusion and reflection given the warts and all detail that had gone before. Bloody Southerners is a well-researched look at a period of the Clough and Taylor era that has been previously only seen as a footnote in their careers and is a must-read.

(Biteback Publishing. October 2018). Paperback 320pp)


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Posted May 4, 2020 by Editor in category "Reviews

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