David Harvey interview: Film is damned with no praise

WHEN The Damned United is released next week, one man who won't be queuing to watch the film is David Harvey, the goalkeeper of the great Leeds United side of the Seventies and a bit-part player in the story of Brian Clough's controversial 44-day managerial reign at Elland Road. One of half a dozen Scots in Don Revie's all- conquering team, you might think he would be interested in seeing how he'll be portrayed by actor Danny Tomlinson.

Not a bit of it: he knows enough to tell me that "Tomlinson's apparently a good-looking lad but I'd have been happier if they'd chosen (Russell] Crowe to play me", but he hasn't read David Peace's controversial work of faction. Nor will he be seeing the film "unless I'm suffering from insomnia".

He is not alone. Virtually all of his former teammates reacted with horror at the portrayal of Clough's short spell at Leeds. Scottish midfielder John McGovern says the book should never have been published, the film never made; the Clough family hold the book "in abhorrence" for its portrayal of a profane, abusive, drunken Clough; Joe Jordan says there were "too many inaccuracies, too many people were saying things they didn't say, doing things they didn't do, being in the wrong place at the wrong time".

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Irish midfielder Johnny Giles received an apology in court after Peace depicted him as a Machiavellian schemer who told Old Big 'Ead that he should "never shit a shitter". Even Peace seems to have tired of the furore. "I have a lot of mixed feelings about that book," he admitted.

The novel has spawned a whole genre of copycat titles, such as Colin Shindler's The Worst of Friends: Malcolm Allison, Joe Mercer and Manchester City, a worrying blurring of the border between fact and fiction. It's hard not to sympathise with a seething Giles when he complained that "it's totally unfair as a lot of the book is just complete fiction. You can't have it both ways, using real names in a factual setting but then writing fiction about them."

But while the book and film have stoked up huge anger and resentment among his former teammates, up on the tiny Orcadian island of Sanday, where for the past 15 years Harvey has run a croft and worked as the island's postie, having nothing more taxing to deal with than avoiding Gandalf the aggressive gander, there is a sense of perplexed incomprehension. "The thing is that it's purely fictional; it's not factual, so to me it's just a non-starter," says the 61-year-old grandfather. "I can't understand why anyone would be interested because there's no fact there, I just don't see the point. It's the sporting equivalent of Coronation Street."

While some of the incidents undoubtedly happened – Clough certainly told the championship-winning side to bin their league winners' medals because they hadn't won them fairly, the team did win only one of six matches in his spell in Yorkshire and Billy Bremner did get sent off at Wembley for fighting with Liverpool's Kevin Keegan – Harvey contends that the whole tenor of the book is based on a misleading premise that the Leeds players were a bunch of surly prima donnas bent on getting rid of their new manager.

"I remember when we heard he was coming and there was very little reaction, there was certainly no agenda," he says. "Personally, I never got to know the man; I never had any dealings with him."

Harvey was at Leeds for almost 20 years, and still keeps in touch with a group of players he grew up with and says are much misunderstood. "We were all fairly quiet apart from when we played," he laughs in his cheery mix of Yorkshire and Scottish accents. "There were no real extroverts: we trained, we played, we enjoyed ourselves. Off the park we really weren't very inspiring at all."

Nor was the perception correct that Clough finished off a team which never finished outside the top four between 1965-74 under Revie. "Clough wasn't the end of that team, age saw us off."

What a team though. The names still trip off the tongue: the Scottish contingent of Billy Bremner, Gordon McQueen, Frank and Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer, Joe Jordan and, briefly, McGovern; the English players such as Norman Hunter, Jack Charlton, Trevor Cherry, Allan Clarke, Paul Reaney; and the Irish ringmaster Jonny Giles. After spending six years in the reserves after signing for the club as a 15-year-old apprentice, Harvey broke through in 1971 and in the halcyon years until Clough's arrival in 1974 he played in a succession of huge games for the club. The first was the 1971 FA Cup final replay loss to Chelsea, followed by the 1972 FA Cup final win over Arsenal and the loss to Sunderland the following year. He starred in the 1973 Cup Winners' Cup final loss to an AC Milan side later proved to have bribed the referee, and in 1974 he was a part of the Leeds team which finally broke Liverpool's stranglehold on the league title. He even spent time with Jock Stein during the great man's 44 days at Elland Road in 1978.

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"Every day was the greatest day of your life with that side," he says. "Just to go to training was a privilege. Unlike teams of today who are thrown together, we were together for years on end. We grew up together: I joined the club at 15 and was 30 when I left, came back at 33 and had another four years, that's the best part of 20 years. We still keep in touch. We're still children really, pensionable children. It's impossible to get them to Orkney of course, it's just too far; you can't drag half of them out of Yorkshire."

Harvey looks back with equal pride on his time with Scotland. Although born in Leeds, his father was from Auchinleck in Ayrshire and he opted for Scotland at an early age. He only won 16 caps and while he seems surprised that he remains statistically Scotland's most successful post-war goalkeeper ("Am I really? Must have got kicked out at the right time") he will be forever remembered as the best goalkeeper at the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany. That was the tournament in which a Scotland side featuring Jordan, Dalglish and Bremner held highly-rated Yugoslavia and the Brazil side of Luis Pereira, Rivelino and Jairzinho only to be eliminated on goal difference without losing a game.

"I look back on those days very fondly, although my main memory of the tournament is diarrhoea," he says. "We'd played Zaire in the first game and somehow won 2-0 but didn't play great at all and had Brazil up next. As the Scotland team usually is, everyone else was very optimistic but all I could see was danger, so I had diarrhoea for about four days before the Brazil game continuously – I was that nervous. I was always the worrier, could always see the dangers in a game.

"We had some real quality in our side and the whole build-up was incredible. So was the hysteria when we came back. You'd have thought we'd won the competition. They still speak about it now: it's amazing, if I'm in Glasgow now and get recognised it's the first thing that people speak about."

An enthusiastic Celtic fan, he still follows the game every day ("we may be close to the Arctic Circle but we do have Sky you know") but

has never suffered a work-life crisis. He had always promised himself he'd end up in Scotland, and after spells with Morton and Partick Thistle he spotted a croft on the tiny island of Sanday (population: 550; 17 miles long, two miles wide; other famous resident: ultra-marathon runner William Sichel) in Exchange & Mart and has never looked back.

"My only regret is I wish I'd come here earlier," he says of Sanday. "I love the peace and quiet. There's wildlife, there's gardening, and it's just a perfect place to bring up the bairns. There's not a single thing I'd change about my life. I'm the luckiest man alive."