Sunday, October 31, 2010

Focus On : The Don Revie story

  Don Revie was ridiculed in the newspapers as a bit of a pretentious upstart when he declared: 'We are going to become a Real Madrid. One day, this club will rule in Europe. Behind his back, even some of his own Leeds United players were mocking him over the statement. The sniggering was hardly surprising given the circumstances. Revie had no experience yet in management, and Leeds United, a club of little pedigree, were languishing at the time in Division Two, where they had been stuck for a generation. Revie also announced that Leeds United would be changing their colours from blue and yellow to the all-white strip made famous by Real. 'You could almost hear the laughter ringing throughout English football,' Norman Hunter, the Leeds defender, recalled. Yet, for a brief period at least, Revie fulfilled his seemingly ludicrous promise. In the years between promotion in 1963—64 and his departure to take the England job in 1974, Leeds did, in fact, win more trophies in Europe than the Madrid aristocrats. 

The younger players had reacted differently to his prophecy than had the more cynical older pros: Hunter, a future England defender, said: 'I took it as read that it would happen. I totally and utterly believed in Don Revie. Revie transformed Leeds into the most consistently successful team in England. For a decade they finished no lower than fourth in Division One. In addition to their two titles, in 1968-69 and 1973-74, Leeds were runners-up five times. In Europe, Leeds won the Fairs Cup twice, one more trophy than Real. 'Don's greatest asset was his intensity,' Johnny Giles, the Leeds midfield player said. 'When he took over the job he wanted to be the best manager Britain had ever known.' His record at club level made Revie the Football Association's obvious choice as successor to Sir Alf Ramsey as England manager. Unfortunately, Revie's reputation would not survive the appointment in tact. Soon after taking the job as Leeds United manager, Don Revie drove across the Pennines to Old Traffbrd on a mission to pick the brains of the man he most admired in football. The example of Manchester United inspired Revie and Matt Busby was happy to give advice: 'Be loyal and honest to your players, never lie, and they will do anything for you in return. The task facing Revie in 1961 was daunting: crowds had fallen below 9,000 in what was a Rugby League stronghold; indiscipline was rife and the club's reputation in the game was poor. Several managers had previously turned down offers to work at Elland Road. Revie set about changing perceptions. 

 He rallied supporters, demonstrated his intent by doubling the club record transfer fee and overhauled the staff. He even bought new training kit and boots. In the transfer market, Revie paid Everton £25,000 for Bobby Collins, persuading the former Scotland international to drop a division. The diminutive Collins led the team to promotion by his own fiercely competitive example. Most significantly, he gathered together an outstanding crop of young players. Peter Lorimer and Eddie Gray were both Scotland schoolboy internationals. All three chose Leeds ahead of bigger, more established clubs. Paul Reaney, Norman Hunter, Paul Madeley and Gary Sprake also started out at Leeds. Revie succeeded by dint of persistence, charm and salesmanship. 'You may not have heard of us now,' he told Eddie Gray's father, 'but we're going to be one of biggest clubs in Britain.' On another occasion, hearing that Lorimer might sign for a rival club, Revie drove through the night to Scotland to secure his signature. The year 1969 was a turning point for Leeds United. 

 After several near-misses, the club finally won the First Division championship. 'Our targets now are the European Cup and the World Club championship,' he told reporters. 'I don't think we've reached our peak yet and if we keep working at it, the best years for Leeds can still be those to come.' Before 1969, Leeds were a disciplined, aggressive side specialising in 1-0 away wins. 'We went a wee bit over the top at times,' Bremner said. 'We weren't going to be intimidated.' Detractors accused them of cynicism and gamesmanship.
After 1969, Revie gave his players more freedom. 'We've changed our style,' he said, 'because now I believe we've got the players to win matches by scoring goals, rather than winning by keeping the opposition out.' Bremner said: 'In about four or five games up to 1974 we came as near to perection as you can. Ultimately, Revie suffered a degree of frustration and disappointment as a manager. He failed in his ambition to eclipse Manchester United as an institution; Leeds simply could not generate the necessary support and finance. His experience as national team manager was worse. Two years after his appointment, England failed to qualify for the 1976 European Championships. Faced with the prospect of England missing out again, this time in the World Cup two years later, Revie broke i   his contract to accept a lucrative and secret offer from United Arab Emirates. I was going to be sacked anyway,' Revie said. The media vilified him for I   walking away in such circumstances and, to this day, his reputation has not recovered.

Don Revie, the first Footballer of the Year to graduate as Manager of the Year, is the black sheep in the game's hall of fame. No manager of his calibre and record has a smaller constituency of advocates and yet the evidence in this book stakes out a claim for greatness on his and his team's behalf that stands in the face of thirty years of muck-raking and innuendo about their venality. The rôle he played in engendering the modem game is also largely forgotten. He boiled down his approach to being the father of the Leeds United family, saying time and again that 'I look on every one of them at this club as my own son'. But there was more to him than this modest job description. He turned a provincial Second Division side from what was then still a parochial city into arguably the best team in England for a decade from 1965. For a time he even made the city synonymous with his football club. He achieved this by training the players, devising the on-field strategy, scouting the best prospects in Britain, persuading them to join his crusade, designing the kit they played in, sorting out their finances and vetting their girlfriends. On any given day he was consigliere, masseur, dietician, transport manager and coach. In essence he was the alpha and omega of Leeds United. He built a great team but he may be said to have failed to create a great club because the System and structure he developed depended entirely on him. United's rise as England's finest squad could not have happened without him. Great teams, however, grow old. Great clubs have stronger foundations. By doing almost everything himself, Revie had become indispensable as the Leeds board found to their cost when they repaid his service by giving his job to the man in football who hated him most...

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'Don Revie mode Leeds United, plank by careful plank, ushering boys
towards greatness, buying wtth briliiant judgment and always building
to last - welding talent to talent, spirit to spirit, to attain tremendous
collective strength.' Hugh Mcllvanney, 1975

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