Damned Utd donation could save company

Author David Peace
Author David Peace
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IT was 44 days that became infamous in the history of Leeds United Football Club.

And now the story of Brian Clough’s managerial stint at Elland Road is to become the saviour of a Leeds theatre company - thanks to the generosity of author David Peace.

Michael Sheen as Brian Clough in the film version of The Damned Utd.''Photographer: Laurie Sparham

Michael Sheen as Brian Clough in the film version of The Damned Utd.''Photographer: Laurie Sparham

He has sold the theatre rights to his critically-acclaimed Leeds United novel The Damned Utd to Red Ladder, which lost 100 per cent of its Arts Council funding in July, for a nominal fee of just £3.68. The fee, “the minimum amount possible,” represents the 368 pages of the book, and allows the company to produce and tour a play that could it afloat.

Ossett-born Mr Peace, who also penned The Red Riding quartet, released The Damned Utd in 2006, based on Brian Clough’s spell as manager in 1974. In 2009 it was made into a film, with Michael Sheen playing Clough.

Mr Peace, who attended Batley Grammar School and Wakefield College, moved to Tokyo, Japan, in 1994 and returned to the UK for two years in 2009, when he was first connected with Red Ladder, joining a writers’ group.

Mr Peace said the “inspiration and support” he received from Red Ladder, and the “enthusiasm and interest” of artistic director Rod Dixon and producer Chris Lloyd showed in his work was behind his donation. He added: “They were so helpful and inspiring when I was writing Red or Dead - offering the theatrical rights for The Damned United for the minimum amount possible was the very least I could do to try, even in a such a small way, to help ‘Save Red Ladder.”

The Save Red Ladder campaign aimed to raise £80,000 to fund a touring production in 2015. It is only now they know what this production will be - The Damned Utd. The campaign has received support from Monty Python director Terry Jones, comedian Phill Jupitus and singer Paul Heaton, but Mr Peace’s donation is the most high profile - and valuable - so far.

Mr Dixon said rights to a book like The Damned Utd would be worth “in the tens of thousands.” “It’s a massive gesture for us.”

As well as performances in Leeds, Mr Dixon hopes to take the play to Nottingham and Derby, where Brian Clough is still a revered household name.

“Whatever we do with the script, it will be completely different to the film - a theatrical version, and true to what David imagined with the book,” he said.

Mr Dixon already has a wish-list of actors he can imagine stepping into the shoes of Ol’ Big Head. “David Peace’s book could attract the very best,” he said. “It would be great to have a Yorkshire, or even a Leeds-born, actor in the main role.”

David Chafer as Peter Taylor and Luke Dickson as Brian Clough in The Damned United.

Damned United stage play is heading back to its roots in Leeds