::: FistedAway welcomes a guest post from Luke, tutting loudly at the
stray piss on football’s toilet seat over at Ruud Gullit Sitting On A Shed :::
Barry Plapp is someone you’ve probably never heard of, but if you’re a football fan you will likely be familiar with his work. In 2008 he was hired by Brian Clough’s widow Barbara to write fresh anecdotes about the formerly-witty, now-dead football management personality. Plapp has played a key role in rejuvenating interest in Clough by creating fresh stories about the forthright blowhard’s life, sustaining the image of Old Big ‘Ead and preserving the posthumous cottage industry which makes a tidy profit from Clough-centric paraphernalia such as books, mouse mats and green jumpers. He got the job after an appropriately brazen interview.
“I started here just before the release of The Damned United. For the job interview I barged into the room where the Clough family were sitting, and told them all that Michael Sheen was “a twat with a face like me mam’s elbows on wash day”. They hired me on the spot. I told them they were “all fickle and should bloody well be ashamed of themselves”. They hired me again on a different spot.”
But where does Barry get his ideas from? He lives in Derby, whose local economy has famously struggled since the closure of the town’s last remaining ideas factory in 2004, the same year Brian died. So where DOES Barry get his ideas from? I’m dying to know, and am growing impatient.
“I find watching Ken Loach films helps me. That sort of home-spun, kitchen-sink, home-sunk, kitchen-spun wisdom really is the lifeblood of what I’m doing here. It used to be Cloughie’s actual blood of course, until he snuffed his lid. I sometimes ask Barbara if Brian would’ve liked me if he ever met me. She always has the same answer. She says ‘No, and I don’t like you either’. It’s nice of her to make me feel welcome by acting like Brian would if he was still with us.”
But it’s not all fun and games breathing fresh life into a dead man’s legacy. Barry is no stranger to hard work, with a demanding schedule that keeps him on his toes.
“Usually there are peak times when I’m especially busy. The anniversary of his death, whenever a new book, TV show or film about him is being made, or whenever someone at Nottingham Forest does something twatty. My wife and I refer to our new conservatory as ‘The Extenschion That Schteve Built’. It was a very funny remark the first dozen times I said it.”
“The pay is good, and sometimes I’ll be given bonuses for some of the better yarns. I made up the one about Cloughie walking into a dressing room, pointing at his chin and telling someone to punch him if they’ve got the balls. The idea just came to me while I was shaving one day. It was used in a foreword to some book or other, so it went down really well. For that one I was given a bowl of stew. So the perks are good.”
Of course, no job is without a certain amount of difficulty, and Barry has suffered his fair share since becoming part of the team.
“At first they made me wear a uniform – red polo shirt, green jumper – but it just felt dehumanising. It was thought that it would help me channel Cloughie, but it just held me back creatively to be honest. Lots of people thought I looked like Peter Shilton circa 1980, and they would hurl abuse at me on the street. I always thought he had a clean-cut reputation, but let me tell you something about Peter Shilton – that man is hated.”
“Naturally there have been some creative mis-steps too. I once had a meeting with Barbara and Nigel and spent a good fifteen minutes pitching an idea about how Brian had initially found it hard to get work as a manager, and was only given his first job on the proviso that he pretended that the club’s recently-deceased chairman was actually still alive. Barbara seemed quite keen on the idea, until Nigel pointed out that it was the plot to Weekend At Bernie’s. I don’t think I’ll ever live that one down! It was very embarrassing at the time, but we have a bit of banter about it now.”
What does the future hold for Barry Plapp? Allow the man himself to look into his official Derby County Future Holder and tell us…
“Well I love my job here, but naturally I have ambitions for the future. My name is spreading in the world of posthumous reputational mythologising, and I have some good storylines for Brian to keep things ticking over for the next few years. I was asked about a possible sideline coming up with myths and fables for Nigel, to make him seem more interesting, but there was just no future in it. Everybody knows he’s a boring bastard. At the Clough family Christmas party he always brings Boggle along. I’m currently learning to speak Dutch, as I have some excellent material in the pipeline for when Johan Cruyff carks it. That’s my dream job, but we’ll see. It’s good to have ambition though. Like Cloughie.”
And with that, I leave Barry to weave further dreams. He is a visionary with imagination to burn, capable of summoning figments at will, like puffs of hot air from the lips of a ghost in the shadow of a unicorn’s dream. He might not be the best writer to make up stories on behalf of a dead man, but he is in the top one.