Alchemy: Brian Clough & Peter Taylor at Hartlepools United by Christopher Hull – Review
By Karl Hornsey
There can seldom have been a football manager that has garnered more words written about him than Brian Clough. Not far short of 20 years since his death, Clough is still revered for his outspoken nature, his plain speaking and his ability, alongside Peter Taylor, to achieve unprecedented success with relatively small provincial clubs.
And, just when you think you’ve read all you need to read about the great man, along comes Alchemy by Christopher Hull, which focuses on Clough’s first foray into management, at lowly (very lowly) Hartlepools United in the mid-1960s. This period helped to shape the Clough/Taylor way of running things that has been much more widely documented at Derby County and Nottingham Forest, both in print and on screen. Taking on a seemingly unattractive prospect, wheeling and dealing with little money in the transfer market, ignoring those supposedly in charge of the club, and ultimately achieving incredible success – all key traits that followed Clough throughout his career.
Hull is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Languages & Cultures at the University of Chester, and this is his first foray into sports writing, but it’s an excellent addition that sits well alongside those written by the likes of Jonathan Wilson and Duncan Hamilton. What helps enormously is how Hull sets Clough’s time at Hartlepools into the social context of the time, not so much the centre of the Swinging Sixties, but a much dourer time in a town that struggled to attract attention for anything other than its football club’s seemingly neverending struggle to avoid demotion from the Football League.
There is also excellent background to help to explain Clough’s mindset, and how this developed from his playing career, which was brought to a premature end through injury, and robbed him of what could have been many more years of outstanding goalscoring achievements, and perhaps greater international recognition. Hull pulls the various strings together very nicely, and every chapter feels relevant, with no filler. It’s not a ‘sexy’ story or period in Clough’s life, at a time when much of the focus was on the likes of England and their 1966 World Cup winners, the Best, Law and Charlton era at Manchester United, and a top-flight that was much more gloriously unpredictable than these days. There’s something assuring about reading of life in the lower leagues, something so much more real, something far more interesting, with characters grounded in real life. And nobody fits better into that sort of narrative than a certain Brian Clough.
‘Alchemy – Brian Clough & Peter Taylor at Hartlepools United’ by Christopher Hull is published by The History Press