Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Don Revie, the Godfather of Elland Road

Today (March 16) marks the 50th anniversary of the most significant managerial appointment in the history of Leeds United. But for the remarkable talents of Don Revie, it's odds on that Leeds United would have forever remained a mediocre provincial team, meaning little to anyone, even in its West Yorkshire homeland, where cricket and rugby league were always more important. In the 1950's, Leeds' ranks included a genuine superstar in the phenomenal John Charles, but he was an enormous fish in a small pond and could make the club nothing more than the stuff of very minor headlines.

Don Revie brought Leeds United to public consciousness in a very unique way. The reputation they earned was often dubious, but their profile was undoubtedly extremely high.

Away from Elland Road, the lasting memory of Revie is the distasteful and infamous manner of his departure from the job of England manager, with one famous detractor demanding that he should be castrated. Don Revie excited passionate emotions in football people, and in many corners of the country his name is reviled.

However, Revie's legacy at Elland Road is indisputable - the former England inside-forward dragged a side on the brink of Third Division obscurity up by its bootstraps to become the most powerful football team in the country. Round Elland Road way, Don Revie is remembered as a peerless Messiah, and there are few who will hear a word against him.

In an era when British football could boast some of its most famous and charismatic managerial characters - Busby, Shankly, Clough, Allison, Mercer, Ramsey, Stein, Nicholson - one manager and his team stood out from the rest, despite never enjoying the success their consistency and supremacy merited or the genuine affection Revie coveted.

Don Revie, Donald was born on 10 July 1927 at 20 Bell Street, Middlesbrough. He was educated at Archibald secondary modern school, Middlesbrough, and left school at fourteen to become an apprentice bricklayer, before joining Leicester City Football Club in 1943. Hull City bought him for £20,000 in 1950.

Revie transferred to Manchester City in 1953, and reached his peak as a footballer in the mid-1950s, winning six England caps and being voted footballer of the year in 1955. Manchester City won the FA Cup in 1956, using what became known as the ‘Revie plan’, with Revie, as centre forward, lying deep while feeding the ball to the other forwards and then moving through in the final stage, a tactic copied from the successful Hungarian team by the Manchester City manager.

Revie moved to Leeds United in 1958, after two years with Sunderland. At Leeds he was appointed manager in 1961, at a time when the club was struggling to avoid relegation to the third division. Revie not only avoided this, but brought Leeds to the top of the second division in 1964, and second to Manchester United in the first division in 1965, winning the League championship in 1969 with 67 points, the highest total in the history of the championship, and the FA cup in 1972.

His ambitions for the club were not confined to the domestic scene, and in 1968 Leeds won the European Fairs cup (the UEFA cup), beating Ferencváros 1–0, the first British club to win the cup. Despite these successes, Leeds had the reputation of being perpetual runners-up: they lost to Liverpool in the 1965 FA cup final, came second in the League championship in 1965, 1966, and 1970, lost to Chelsea in the FA cup final in 1970, were runners-up to Arsenal in the League championship in 1971, and lost to second-division Sunderland in the 1973 FA cup final.

In 1974, after Leeds United had won the League championship, remaining undefeated for the first twenty-nine games of the season, Revie resigned to take up the position of England team manager, following the sacking of Sir Alf Ramsey after England had failed to qualify for the 1974 world cup finals.

After a successful first season as the England manager, with the team undefeated after nine internationals, Revie encountered a set-back when England was eliminated from the European championship early in the 1975–6 season. While Revie was manager, England won fourteen out of twenty-nine matches, with seven defeats and eight draws. The poor results were attributed to the uncertainty and lack of continuity caused by frequent team changes rather than to the lack of outstanding players. He used fifty-two players in the twenty-nine games, awarding twenty-nine new caps, and he only once fielded an unchanged side. Morale sagged when England lost 2–0 to Italy in a world cup qualifying match in November 1976, and the press began to forecast England's elimination from the competition and Revie's dismissal.

In July 1977 the Daily Mail, to which Revie had sold his story, revealed that he had been in secret negotiations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) while the England team had been playing in South America, had accepted the post of team manager to the UAE for four years at £60,000 a year, and had resigned from his England job. This led the Football Association to ban him from English football for ten years. Revie successfully appealed against the ban in the High Court in November 1979, on the grounds that the head of the tribunal, Sir Harold Thompson, chairman of the Football Association, was biased. But the judge made it clear that it was still felt that Revie's conduct in leaving England so abruptly had brought English football into disrepute. He became manager of al-Nasir Football Club in 1980, and moved to the National Football Club, Cairo, in 1984.

By the time he left in 1974 some argued that Leeds was the greatest club side of all time, and that his achievements lay there, and not in his spell as England manager. He transformed Leeds from a club in danger of relegation into a club aiming at, and achieving, major honours at home and abroad. Revie was appointed OBE in 1970, and was voted manager of the year in 1969, 1970, and 1972.

Revie died on 26 May 1989 in Murrayfield Private Hospital, Edinburgh, of motor neurone disease. Leeds United legend Terry Cooper once said ‘He was a great man and a great manager who looked after us by wrapping us in cotton wool. On the field of play he made you feel 10 feet tall, so that you wanted to die for Leeds United.’

Eddie Gray: "He had tremendous physical presence and personality. He told my father, 'I know you don't know much about Leeds United now, but in the not too distant future, this club is going to be one of the best in Britain.' He was not the only manager who sang that type of tune, but his enthusiasm and drive were such that it was difficult to dismiss his claims. His persuasiveness was underlined even more forcibly by our belief in his assertion that Leeds could become the English equivalent of Real Madrid.

Norman Hunter, recalling the first and only time he was late for training, says, 'All Don did was to walk a couple of yards towards me and look at his watch - that really was all he did, and all he needed to do to make me feel bad about it.'

"He had a very strong character and when he was angry about something, we were liable to be quite sensitive about doing or saying anything which might make the situation worse. He was a big man with big hands. I remember the hands because when he brought his fist down on a table - something that he often did when upset - the whole room seemed to reverberate. If we had not played well, the other warning signal for us was his habit of storming into the dressing room after the match, briefly combing his hair in the mirror and then going out again without saying a word. At times like that, the dressing room suddenly became quiet enough for you to hear a pin drop.

"In team talks, when addressing players who had displeased him, he had a habit of muttering, 'I'm going to need to get the chequebook out' - meaning, of course, that if they could not do what he wanted, he would buy players who could. Despite the number of times he said it, occasionally in circumstances that made the remark seem farcical, it never totally lost its effect.

"He wasn't just a manager to me. I went to Leeds United as a 15-year-old and more or less grew up with him. He brought me along in life and was more like a father than a manager."

Under his management, Leeds won all three major domestic honours and were one of the most powerful teams in Europe. Between 1965 and 1974 they never finished out of the top four in Division One and were the most feared side in the country. The greatest testament to his influence on the club was the fact that, prior to his reign at Elland Road, the only major trophy they had won was the Second Division title. In later years, Howard Wilkinson inspired a revival but it came nowhere near emulating the achievements of Revie.

But there will always remain the depressing and lasting impression of Leeds United as eternal chokers, consistently blowing their chances in disastrous end of season collapses. They were runners up in the championship on five separate occasions, and an additional thirteen points at the right time would have brought them five titles to add to the two they actually won under Revie. They were beaten finalists in Cup competitions on five occasions and fell at the semi-final hurdle too many times to contemplate.

Despite all the heartbreaks and setbacks, however, Don Revie and Leeds United always contrived to come back, stronger and more determined at the start of the following season, when they would inevitably emerge once more as the team to beat.

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