TRIBUTES & OBITUARIES
Sunday November 25, 2007
Observer Sport Monthly
May 26, 1989: the day every football fan remembers. The last game, the last minute, the last
kick of an epic season; Arsenal's Michael Thomas scores the goal that takes the First
Division title away from Liverpool by securing a 2-0 victory at Anfield. It was, some say,
the day that England began to love football again, after an era of hooliganism, tragedy and
rough, unattractive football.
That same day, in an Edinburgh hospital, Don Revie, the former Leeds and England manager,
passed away, aged just 61, his body ravaged by motor neurone disease. 'A friend of mine died
yesterday, a big lovable bear of a man,' wrote the Daily Mail's Jeff Powell; other accolades
seemed to be lost in the excitement following Arsenal's victory. Some commentators, in the
aftermath of his death, even accused Revie of initiating English football's decline, by
introducing 'professionalism' - the bone-crushing, win-at-all-costs football that brought
his Leeds teams such success in the Sixties and Seventies and that had been taken up by
At his funeral a week later, the Leeds players he had managed, now in their forties and
fifties - Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, Johnny Giles, Allan Clarke, Jack Charlton and all
the rest of them - were out in force. Kevin Keegan flew in from Spain and Lawrie McMenemy,
the former Southampton manager, was there too. But there was no one else from his England
days, no one from the Football Association. When the new season began that August, there was
no minute's silence, no black armbands. There was no indication that the man being mourned
had been the most innovative manager of his generation.
Just as Clive Woodward and Bill Sweetenham have transformed rugby union and swimming with
their unconventional approaches, so Revie changed the face of English football. He was a
confidant to the players, psychologist, social secretary, kit designer, commercial manager,
PR flak, dietitian and all-encompassing 'boss' of his team. In an era when pre-match
preparation consisted of a 10-minute chat before a game, Revie was a revolutionary. Not
until Arsene Wenger was appointed Arsenal boss in 1996, more than two decades after Revie
had left Elland Road, would a manager exert such a profound influence on his club - and the
English game as a whole.
Matt Busby was knighted for his success at Manchester United; Alf Ramsey for his with
England. Bill Shankly, who also died relatively young, is quoted like some secular saint.
Other managers of the era, such as Joe Mercer, Malcolm Allison and Bill Nicholson, are
remembered with fondness and admiration. But although his successes outstrip those of most
contemporaries, Revie has never been revered, or regarded with warmth. His reputation has
been defined not by his feats at Elland Road, but by allegations of corruption and venality.
Those allegations have rarely been challenged.
Donald George Revie was born on 10 July 1927 in Depression-stricken Middlesbrough. This was
the town of JB Priestley's English Journey 'whose chief passions... were for beer and
football'. It was, Priestley wrote, 'a dismal town, even with beer and football'. Revie's
father was an unemployed joiner; his mother, a washerwoman, died when he was a child.
Poverty and football defined his childhood. 'He used to talk about taking baths in the sink,'
says Ernest Hecht, a friend and business associate of Revie from the 1960s. 'It was a poor
upbringing and that left him determined that everything went well later on the monetary side.'
At 14, Revie left school and began work as a bricklayer.
Growing up under the shadow of Ayresome Park, football was an escape. He idolised Middlesbrough
players George Camsell and Wilf Mannion, and fell under the influence of Bill Sanderson,
manager of a junior team, Middlesbrough Swifts. A train driver by day, Sanderson was obsessed
with the minutiae of the game: in his council house he held team meetings, distributing
dossiers on local rivals and showing a tactical nous that would have shamed many First
Division clubs. His ideas left a deep impression on the young Revie.
Revie's breakthrough as a footballer came at 16, with Leicester City, initially playing in
the wartime leagues. He joined Hull City in 1949 and Manchester City two years later. An
intelligent but not especially quick player, he rose to prominence at Maine Road, developing
a role as a deep-lying centre-forward, modelled on that of the great Hungarian player Nandor
Hidegkuti. Revie won six England caps, the first of which came in late 1954 in the season in
which he was named Footballer of the Year. In the next season, using the so-called 'Revie Plan',
City won the FA Cup. But he was transferred to Sunderland in November 1956 and two years
later, though he may not have recognised it at the time, came the crucial move in his career
: a £14,000 transfer to Leeds.
Leeds were a mediocre team in the late 1950s: their only honour, the Second Division
championship, had been won long ago in 1924 and their ramshackle ground, Elland Road, bore
testament to the city's preference for rugby league. At the end of Revie's second season
they were relegated to Division Two; in his third they neared bankruptcy, with crowds
sometimes as low as 8,000. 'The club were fifth-rate and the players were undisciplined,'
says Eric Smith, who was signed from Celtic in June 1960. 'I thought beforehand I was coming
to a top club. I found out otherwise in the first three or four days.'
In March 1961, the Leeds directors gambled and appointed Revie, their 33-year-old captain,
as manager. Revie had previously applied to be Bournemouth manager and asked Harry Reynolds,
a Leeds director, to write his reference. While writing it, Reynolds was moved to consider
him for the Leeds job - one that no one in their right minds wanted at the time. 'Overnight
he had to make the transition from being one of the boys to being the boss,' recalled Billy
Bremner, years later. 'The way he affected the transition is a mark of the man himself.'
Revie called the squad together: he said he was no longer 'Don', nor 'Mr Revie', but 'Boss'.
In the following years he would redefine the term.
That season Revie saved Leeds from relegation. The next, he began to transform them. His
first task - after changing the colour of the kit from royal blue to all white to emulate
Real Madrid, the all-conquering European champions, a comparison considered preposterous at
the time - was to purge what he later called 'a dead club' of its rotten core. 'There were
players here who didn't care whether they played or not,' he recalled in 1968. 'I got rid of
27 in two years.' But he stuck with underperformers, such as Bremner, who was unhappy playing
in an unfamiliar outside-right role and homesick for his native Scotland, and Jack Charlton,
'a one-man awkward squad', nurturing their previously unrealised potential. Bremner was
persuaded to stay, moved to a more central role and eventually became Revie's captain; the
surly and undisciplined Charlton, previously an abysmal trainer, flourished under the new
coaching regime, becoming the cornerstone of a young, tenacious defence. His play so
improved that he became England's World Cup-winning centre-half. Revie combined their talents
with astute signings such as the veteran inside-forward Bobby Collins, from Everton, and
Manchester United's Johnny Giles.
One of his great managerial gifts was an ability to spot and nurture young talent. He inherited
several outstanding teenage players, including Bremner, Paul Reaney, Gary Sprake and Norman
Hunter, and added other unknowns such as Peter Lorimer and Terry Cooper to the squad. 'He
was a great man, a father figure really,' says Sprake. Leeds' long-standing goalkeeper, who
had never left Wales before joining Leeds, says that he was so homesick that he ran away
back to his parents' home after just two weeks. The next morning Revie was on the doorstep,
having driven through the night to persuade him to come back.
Revie watched more than what was happening at training. 'When you had a girlfriend,' Lorimer
says, 'he'd have her checked out and make sure she was the right sort of person, in his
opinion.' But Revie's loyalty could reach a more sinister level. In 1971 Sprake was involved
in a drink-driving accident, seriously injuring a female passenger before fleeing the scene.
When police turned up to arrest Sprake shortly after the crash, Revie intervened and the
incident was covered up: the goalkeeper's car was reported stolen and he received a mere
police censure instead of more serious charges.
At the training ground he introduced a regime that made Leeds the fittest and most technically
proficient club in the Football League, including hiring ballet dancers to teach the players
about balance and imposing dietary and nutritional standards. 'I laugh when I read about
these foreign managers bringing in new ideas and new techniques,' says Revie's son Duncan,
who points out that his father's initiatives predated the 1990s 'coaching revolution' by
decades. 'His training ideas were ahead of their time,' Lorimer agrees. 'I know when we
mixed with players from other clubs at internationals; none of them were doing the things
we were. It was all new. Everything was ahead of its time and that's probably why we enjoyed
it so much.'
Revie also created brotherly spirit among the squad. 'Our whole ethos was built on loyalty,'
Lorimer says. 'We all fight for each other; we all work for each other. If someone kicks me,
he kicks all eleven of us.' Revie involved the players' families, to heighten the sense of
togetherness. He organised social nights for the players, including rounds of carpet bowls,
dominos and bingo. 'We had 15 years of what no man gets,' Lorimer says. 'Every day you'd go
to work and it was an absolute pleasure. You couldn't wait to get in your car and go down to
the ground and be amongst the lads.'
Having won promotion to the First Division in 1964, Leeds finished runners-up in both the
League and the FA Cup in their first season back, and over the next decade never finished
lower than fourth. They took the title twice, in 1969 and 1974, and won the League Cup in
1968 and the FA Cup in 1972. In Europe, they won the Inter City Fairs Cup - the forerunner
of the Uefa Cup - in 1968. 'It was a team that had everything,' Lorimer says. 'They had
aggression. They had class. They had experience. It was the complete team, it had the
perfect blend of players that offered every good part of the game.'
But Leeds' brand of football made them hated by many. It was a high-tempo pressing game that
suffocated opponents and overwhelmed those that tried to outpass them. If your side tried to
kick them, Leeds would kick back twice as hard. They feigned injuries, harassed officials
and pinched, kicked and hit opponents. The image of 'Dirty Leeds' was reinforced on the
terraces, where their supporters earned a reputation for viciousness. George Best claimed
that the only time he needed to wear shinpads was when he played Leeds. 'I hated playing
against them, I really did,' he said. 'They also had a hell of a lot of skill, too, but they
were still a bloody nightmare.' When Leeds played Everton in the so-called 'Battle of
Goodison' in November 1964, the referee pulled the teams off for a 'cooling-down period'
after a chest-high tackle by Willie Bell left Everton's Derek Temple unconscious (Everton's
captain, Brian Labone, once told me that he and his colleagues initially thought Bell had
killed Temple, so brutal was the assault).
Leeds players always denied they were a dirty side, or that Revie encouraged gamesmanship.
'What was called cynical in this country was called professional when the Italians played it,'
Bremner said. Or as Lorimer puts it: 'If a team wanted to mix it with us, we could mix it;
if a team wanted to play football, and we could play.'
Revie created an attitude within the club not seen before in English football. At the time
it was called 'professionalism', but this was no complimentary term; instead it encapsulated
the cynicism, physicality and relentlessness of Leeds. Within a few years, other clubs,
unable to cope with them in any other way, would try to copy them. To many, Revie is the
man who ended English football's age of innocence.
By the time of their second League title in May 1974, rival fans hated Leeds and their
supporters. Revie was widely disliked. 'Don Revie's so-called family had more in keeping
with the mafia than Mothercare,' Brian Clough said. But even Clough, who often used his week
ly newspaper column to attack Leeds, admitted a grudging respect for Revie's achievements.
With many of the great 1960s managers retired or at the end of their careers, Revie was
arguably the finest in the country. He was certainly the most successful.
This made him the logical choice for the England manager's job, which Alf Ramsey had vacated
in April, and he was appointed on a five-year contract worth £25,000 a year - three times
the salary of his predecessor.
On the field, Revie's England started well, with a 3-0 home success in a European
Championship qualifier against Czechoslovakia. There was a resounding victory over world
champions West Germany and a 5-1 win against Scotland. But England's form grew increasingly
patchy and there was unease among the players about Revie. He seemed unable to settle on his
best XI, changing his starting line-up every game. 'Strangely he seemed to go the way the
press wanted him to go,' Norman Hunter, who played under Revie for both club and country,
once recalled. 'He was very strong in his management of Leeds, but with England he seemed to
change and I think he tried to pacify the press with his decisions.' Some of his choices
were arbitrary: Alan Ball was captain in the last six internationals of the 1974-75 season
but was then dropped abruptly and never picked again. Ball told me shortly before his death
this April that he was still perplexed about the incident. Nor was the move a success:
defeat in Czechoslovakia and a failure to beat Portugal led to qualifying failure.
Revie's team-building exercises - the carpet bowls and indoor golf - were disliked and
self-defeating, as half the squad would skulk off to bed rather than sit through another
round of bingo. His technical dossiers on opponents were not welcomed either. What was the
point, players wondered, of a dozen pages on a Cypriot amateur? Duncan Revie believes there
was another, serious, problem. 'He didn't have a Bremner or a Giles and couldn't come to
terms with the fact that he didn't have two players like that for the England team.'
Revie's relationship with the FA's volatile chairman, Sir Harold Thompson, had also broken
down. 'They genuinely hated each other,' Duncan recalls. 'Thompson was an old Corinthian who
always treated the manager like a serf.' At an official dinner, Revie objected to Sir
Harold's habit of referring to him by his surname. 'When I get to know you better Revie, I
shall call you Don,' Thompson said. Revie retorted: 'When I get to know you better, Thompson,
I shall call you Sir Harold.'
England were paired with Italy for the 1978 World Cup qualifiers, with just one nation able
to progress. A 2-0 defeat in Rome in November 1976 meant hopes were slim almost from the
outset. Three months later Holland humiliated England at Wembley, Johan Cruyff and his
team-mates at times toying with the home side - the 2-0 friendly loss was likened by the
press to the famous 6-3 defeat by Hungary in 1953.
On the field, Revie's regime reached a crisis that summer. After Scotland beat England 2-1
in the annual Home Internationals fixture, many of the visitors' 30,000 followers invaded
the Wembley pitch, ripping up turf, dancing around the penalty areas and snapping crossbars.
Italy were closing in on World Cup qualification. The nadir of Don Revie's managerial career
had arrived; his disgrace was about to follow.
Writing about Revie in The Football Man, his 1968 journey around the English game, Arthur
Hopcraft described him as 'a big flat-fronted man with an outdoors face as if he lives
permanently in a keen wind'. His attitude towards the game, wrote Hopcraft, was like 'that
of a passionate player'. The impression was that of a typical bluff northerner - loyal,
professional, and straightforward. His son Duncan, moreover, describes a religious man,
attending church each weekend and praying each night, and providing for a wide extended
He was also, however, known as 'Don Readies'. His flirtations with wealthy clubs such as
Everton while still at Leeds, and his enormous salary as England manager, enhanced a
reputation for greed. While in charge of the national team he once demanded £200 from
journalists wanting to interview Malcolm Macdonald, after he scored five times against
Cyprus, supposedly pocketing the money himself while the striker remained ignorant of the
Certainly money had always been an issue for Revie. As a child of the Depression, his
upbringing was set against a backdrop of the Jarrow march and the north-east's industrial
decline. He was a player in a time of rolling contracts, tied to a statutory maximum wage of
around £20 a week, and his boyhood hero, Wilf Mannion, ended up as a tea boy in a
Now, in the summer of 1977, he was convinced that the FA were set on replacing him and that
they had lined up the Ipswich manager, Bobby Robson, as his successor. So Revie determined
to secure his future. On 11 July 1977, Daily Mail readers read that Revie had left the
England manager's job. They were the first to know: Revie had sold his story to the Mail for
£20,000 and his resignation letter arrived after the FA's Lancaster Gate headquarters had
closed the previous night.
Revie claimed that the pressures of being in a job when 'nearly everyone in the country
seems to want me out' were simply too unbearable for him and his family. Being England
manager, he said, had brought 'too much heartache to those nearest me'. 'He didn't turn down
his country,' his lawyer, Gilbert Gray, told me. 'He knew very well that his country,
represented by a lot of old fogies who had decided to get rid of him, were about to sack him.
He knew damn well he was on his way out.' But on 12 July the Mail announced that Revie was
leaving the country to take up a six-year contract worth £340,000, tax-free, to coach the
United Arab Emirates national team.
To the public, Revie's crime was not his disloyalty but his greed. It emerged that a month
before his 'defection' he had offered to resign as England manager - without mention of his
offer from Dubai - in exchange for a £50,000 pay-off. He boasted in the Mail of how he would
spend his new salary. 'I will travel to the great sporting events of the world,' he said.
'The major golf tournaments, the Olympics, World Cup finals - whatever takes my fancy.'
Sir Harold Thompson exacted his revenge, charging Revie with bringing the game into
disrepute and summoning him to a disciplinary hearing at which he acted as judge and
prosecutor; Gilbert Gray, who defended Revie, calls the hearing 'a kangaroo court, an
absolute disgrace'. After the disciplinary committee gave out its inevitable guilty verdict,
its punishment was severe: a 10-year ban from English football. Revie appealed to the High
Court; the ban was overturned, but the judge expressed reservations about Revie's integrity
and ordered him to pay two-thirds of his costs. 'Mr Revie... presented to the public a
sensational and notorious example of disloyalty, breach of duty, discourtesy and selfishness,'
said Justice Cantley. 'His conduct brought English football, at a high level, into disrepute.'
Two months after Revie left the England job, the Daily Mirror alleged that a number of Leeds
matches had been fixed over the course of the 1960s and 1970s. Previous allegations by the
Sunday People in 1972 had claimed that three unnamed Wolves players were offered £1,000
apiece to throw what would have been a title decider with Leeds, but Wolves had won and
neither police nor FA investigations found evidence of wrongdoing. 'Don Revie planned and
schemed and offered bribes, leaving as little as possible to chance,' wrote the Mirror's
lead reporter, Richard Stott. 'He relied on the loyalty of those he took into his confidence
not to talk, and it nearly worked.'
The star witness was Gary Sprake. 'I was quite surprised by the amount of information they
had,' Sprake says. 'Richard Stott asked me to get involved, but everything was already
written, really.' Sprake told Stott that there had been attempts to fix the Wolves game - a
claim he subsequently retracted - as well as several other matches. Jim Barron, the
Nottingham Forest goalkeeper, meanwhile said that Billy Bremner had been sent to the Forest
dressing room before a game in the 1971 title race to persuade his opponents to 'go easy'.
The request was rejected. Alan Ball, meanwhile, revealed clandestine meetings with Revie on
Saddleworth Moor in the mid-1960s, when Revie wanted to sign him from Blackpool. Revie also
sent weekly £100 bribes to Ball's home as part of his attempt to tap him up. The FA fined
Ball £3,000, even though he had ended up at Everton, and not Revie's Leeds.
Bob Stokoe, the Sunderland manager who had outwitted Revie in the 1973 FA Cup final, was the
most compelling witness. He said that while managing Bury in 1962, when Leeds were battling
relegation, Revie offered him £500 to 'go easy'. When he turned him down, Revie further
enraged him by asking to speak to his players.
The notion that a man who left nothing to chance and whose obsessiveness bordered on
paranoia would try to fix title- or relegation-deciders was not implausible. But the
evidence against Revie is shaky. Sprake had spoken out only after being paid £14,000. The
FA deny the existence of a 300-page dossier of allegations supposedly handed over to them by
Stott. No criminal or FA charges came out of the match-fixing allegations and, when the
Sunday People repeated them, Billy Bremner sued and won £100,000.'The people who made these
accusations - we didn't have to bribe them to be able to beat them,' Peter Lorimer says. 'I
was never aware of it and I don't think any of our players were ever aware of it happening.
You would think you would get to know if that sort of thing was happening, but certainly we
never got to know anything.'
And yet Stokoe, a well liked and widely respected manager, stood to gain nothing by speaking
out. He never profited from the allegation, which he repeated hundreds of times before his
death in 2004. The thought of it, he said, made him feel ill. 'It always riled me when I see
the career Revie has had. At the back of my mind, the bribe is always there. He was always
an evil man to me.'
Former team-mates have shunned Gary Sprake for his allegations, but the goalkeeper has since
made more. He tells me that Revie asked him to 'tap up' fellow Wales internationals Colin
Green and Terry Hennessey when Leeds played Birmingham on the last day of the 1964-65 season.
Sprake refused and Leeds drew 3-3, losing the League title to Manchester United on goal average.
Duncan, Revie's son, remains convinced that the allegations were unfounded. 'They must have
fixed lots and lots and lots of matches, because they won for at least 10 years,' he says.
'It was ludicrous in the extreme.' If Revie did fix football matches, it was not systematic
- and done in a way that was uncharacteristically unprofessional. Duncan believes that 'not
suing has wrongly damaged his reputation', because his father's name can never properly be
He had a great time in the Middle East,' Duncan says. 'It was probably as happy as I've seen
my mum and dad. They were relaxed. They enjoyed the sunshine, they enjoyed the golf, and
they enjoyed Dubai. The friendships that the family made out there still remain to this day.'
When Revie's time in the Middle East came to an end in 1983, he was only in his mid-fifties,
but there was no way back into English football. He was, once, mooted as a candidate for the
Queens Park Rangers job. In 1986 he moved to his wife's homeland, Scotland. Then came the
muscle-wasting illness that would take his life, motor neurone disease. From 1987, it
quickly robbed him of all physical abilities. 'Eventually he blinked twice for yes and once
for no,' Duncan says. 'He went from 17 stone to eight stone in two years.' At a 1988 charity
testimonial at Elland Road, Revie, now in a wheelchair, was reunited with some of his former
players. It was the last time they saw him; less than a year later he was dead.
In The Damned Utd, David Peace's novel about Brian Clough's six weeks as Leeds manager,
Revie appears as a ghost, stalking out Clough. For many, including Clough, Leeds remained
'Revie's club', and the disdain towards Leeds, 'Dirty Leeds', persists. Few outside
Yorkshire lamented their recent relegation to League One - the old Division Three, from
which Revie once saved them - and flirtations with bankruptcy.
The club's followers maintain the spirit of defiance that Revie originated - particularly
when it comes to the defence of Revie himself. 'For those who know him, have been in his
company, and seen what he's done,' Duncan says, 'why should we care what view other people
are forming from afar? The people I care about, the family, the Leeds people, the people
from Yorkshire, they all know the calibre of the person.'
For many Revie remains an enigmatic figure, but the view from Leeds is possibly the truest
measure of the man. For no one sums up a manager more accurately than his own supporters,
they are unequivocal in their judgment of Don Revie. To them, quite simply, he was the best.
Profile from Manchester City:
Don Revie benefited as a player from studying role models and learned at the feet of willing
mentors after developing skills and techniques in the back streets of his native North East
with a ball made from rags, as the romantics would have you believe. He caught the eye with
stylish displays for Leicester City and Hull City, before blossoming with Manchester City
and breaking through into the full England side in 1954 after years as a nearly man. However
his first three seasons with City saw the team struggle and, according to several friends,
Revie felt he had made the wrong decision. He believed he was being moved from wing half to
inside forward and back again without much thought, and detested the perennial relegation
battles that plagued City in the early 50ies. He decided that the 1954/55 season was to be
his make-or-break year. Together with Manager Les McDowall started to perfect a new tactic
of playing a deep Centre Forward based on the Hungerian approach Despite a few early failures,
it was a revelation and quickly became known as the "Revie Plan", although Revie was the
first to admit it had not been his idea to begin with.
It was a tragedy that Revie won only six England caps and enjoyed such a limited time at the
very top of the game. However, he won the Footballer of the Year award in 1955, when he took
Manchester City to the verge of the Twentieth Century's first League and Cup double, and had
the most celebrated game of his life a year later when he was recalled to the City side that
won the FA Cup. He enjoyed a pivotal role as the Revie Plan brought home the bacon.
Revie lost his way as a footballer after that triumph, winning his sixth and final England
cap in October 1956 and shuffling sideways offstage with Sunderland and then humble Leeds
United before finally retiring from playing in 1963. For a time he had combined playing with
managing, but his final onfield contribution was in March 1962 as Leeds battled to avoid
relegation to the Third Division.
Opinion is divided about Don Revie the player, with many commenting on a surprising
inflexibility, and a need for the rest of the team to play his way. Sunderland inside-right
Charlie Fleming played alongside Revie in his latter days and is a critic: "The trouble is,
there was only one way Don could play but there were ten other players on the field. We had
to start off trying to get him into the game. He did a lot of things foreign to us and we
could have frozen him out ... For instance, Don would centre the ball and then disappear. He
was always caught behind. I found that Don's system was alright in Manchester but everybody
knew about it when he came to Sunderland, and how to play against it. Don couldn't change
Others from his Roker days were more generous. Half back George Aitken: "He was a great
player ... he was forever trying to make the rest of the team play. Don took the game very
seriously ... and he would try to help people and give a bit of advice." Billy Simmons,
life-long Sunderland supporter and club historian, was similarly positive: "He played plain,
clean football and could find holes in defences. The reason why he was not a success at
Roker was that the players could not keep up with his football brain."
Revie won new admirers after his move to Elland Road. His favourite son at the club, Billy
Bremner: "What impressed me more than anything else was his vision on a football park ...
it was tremendous. And after he had struck the ball, he would pose, as if for a photograph."
Jack Charlton is direct in his summing up: "Good striker of the ball, good passer, was Don -
though he couldn't tackle to save his life."
Renowned as he was as a player, however, it was when Don Revie hung up his boots and
concentrated on management that he achieved his greatest fame - and notoriety. History will
always remember Revie more for his controversial resignation from the England manager's job
than his highly successful near Twenty-year playing career. So unlike his peers - Busby,
Shankly, and Mercer - he was unable to enjoy a period of "elder statesmanship". He was never
sought by the media for his views on 1980’s football, or of the leading personalities.
Instead any mention of Revie was in connection with Leeds' negativity of the 70’s.
The late 80’s saw him suffer from motor neurone disease, and Revie died in Edinburgh on
26th of May 1989. He was only 61.
During his 13 years as United manager, from March 1961 to April 1974 Don Revie transformed
Leeds United from also rans in the Second Division into the best team in Europe. He brought
seven major titles - the Second Division Championship, the League Cup, two League
Championships, the FA Cup and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (twice) - and lost only 111 of 555
League games during his time in charge.
Born in Middlesbrough in 1927, Revie grew up close to his home club's football ground. "On
match days the steelworkers would come tramping past our door," he wrote in his autobiography,
Soccer's Happy Wanderer, "and their eager chatter about football was music to my ears."
His early life was full of adversity. His mother died when he was a young boy, his father's
employment was uncertain during the depression, and, when 19, he suffered a
career-threatening broken ankle at his first club, Second Division Leicester City. The
setbacks continued. He missed Leicester's 1949 Cup Final through injury, and a £20,000 move
to Hull City merely confirmed him as a bottom-half-of-the-Second-Division-player. At his
next club, Manchester City, he played in the First Division, albeit it with a team fighting
In 1954-55, however, Revie proved well-suited to Manchester City's deep-lying centre-forward
plan. City were FA Cup Final runners-up and Revie was voted Footballer of the Year. The
following season City returned to Wembley and Revie's brilliant performance helped them to
But the disappointments returned. He was relegated from the First Division with Sunderland
(1957-58) and again at Leeds (1959-60) after his £14,000 move in November 1958. When he was
appointed Leeds United player-manager, he still had something to prove.
In his preparation and planning, Revie left nothing to chance. He recruited young players,
taught them his values - short hair, no jeans, the right girlfriends etc. - and built up a
family atmosphere at the club. He sent Birthday cards to player's wives and children, and
took the players away to good hotels. On friday nights they played bingo and carpet bowls
together. The bonding was such that 13 players - Sprake, Harvey, Reaney, Cooper, Madeley,
Bremner, Charlton, Hunter, Cherry, Bates, Giles, Lorimer and Gray - each clocked up over 10
Some people believe the take-off point was a Second Division game at Swansea in September
1962 when Revie brought in four teenagers - Sprake, Johnson, Hunter and Reaney - and United
won 2-0. Others point to the key signings of Bobby Collins and John Giles. But the truth is
that Revie slowly devised a system that perpetuated success. He paid great attention to
detail. He changed United's blue shirts to the all-white kit of Real Madrid. He ensured that
bus journeys to games would be safe and relaxed. On European trips he had a secretary handle
the players' passports, passing them to players just before immigration control and
recovering them immediately on the other side (All pro teams do this now). Before each game
Revie spent an hour or more telling his players the strengths and weaknesses of opposition
In the late 1960's, Leeds were perpetual runners-up but Revie continually picked up his
players for the next season. Eventually, Leeds United broke through disappointments to
become a great side rewarded with trophies.
Awarded the OBE in 1970, Revie was an obvious choice as England manager in 1974. In the job,
however, he could not create the same intense family atmosphere as he had at Leeds, and was
frustrated at having to call upon what he regarded as less dedicated players.
Revie's England team failed to qualify for the 1978 World Cup Finals. After three years in
the job, he left to take a lucrative job in the United Arab Emirates, a decision which
brought him fierce criticism and nicknames such as 'Don Readies' and 'Goldfinger'. yet there
was nothing ostentatious about Revie, and he was never seen as greedy by his players.
Revie died in May 1989, after suffering from motor neurone disease.
Revie’s own ideas:
“What I expect from my players"
by Don Revie O.B.E. (Manager of Leeds United).
Some time before Leeds United won even the first of the several honours that have come our
way in recent seasons, I told a gathering of the players that if they became champions they
would realise, I hoped, that there was more to it than being the top team. I cannot recall
my exact words, but remember well the gist of them, which was that it was not sufficient
merely to become champions; of equal importance in my book was to behaved like champions,
off as well as on the field.
This can have many aspects: behaviour on the field, behaviour away from it; appearance on
the field, conduct of it. There are many aspects, but all contributing towards the whole,
the complete, educated, accomplished footballer of today.
Many years ago the great Scottish club Rangers had a foreign manager, one Willie Struth.
Over the years many tales have been told about him, some perhaps they embellished with the
passing of time and in the retelling. But from at least one or two of them there shines a
fine example of what I mean, and what I expect from a champion team.
There is the story about how he used to order any player with hair nearing his collar to
attend upon the hairdresser; how the roared out two players found in the cheaper seats in a
Glasgow cinema with the blast "As Rangers, will occupy seats befitting your position". He
was said to have been something of a martinet, but I doubt whether any of his players suffered
because at that. Indeed, from some who served under him I had heard nothing but praise, and
certainly he produced in his players a terrific pride in their club and in their profession.
That of course is how we should be. The more so today when not only the salary but also the
image of the player has risen to unparalleled heights; when the public, particularly its
younger members, set their sights on the footballer and their standards by him. In addition,
any club enjoying a fair measure of success, and certainly any player within any such club,
is subject to pressures of publicity never before experienced in the game. So we have today
a situation in which a team taking the title, indeed long before actually achieving it,
becomes subject to constant survey - has the eyes of public upon it's every action, both on
the field and away from it. In addition, as more and more clubs enter into European
competition so the image of the British footballer, and through him the Briton himself, is
spread there and further afield with more and more coverage what press and television.
We thus have the situation in which any club and its players are faced with the dual problem
- that of winning matches and doing so with dignity on and off the field. I could be said,
perhaps, to be particularly conscious of this, because of what I still believe to be a totally
unfair impression given abroad about Leeds when we first started to chase the honours. I
refer, of course, to the suggestion that we were more physical than skilful. I have never
subscribed to any such view, neither did I to any suggestion that we were more a defensive
side than anything else. Fortunately, for my beliefs the events of the past few seasons have
spoken for themselves and by now the Leeds are hailed as a side containing as many skills
as any; and more than most.
I recall George Best being asked last season and, just before we met them in the FA Cup
semi-finals, how he rated Leeds. He replied, "Their strength is that they have no weaknesses:
they also possess a tremendous team spirit and players of great individual skills". I like
to think that George was echoing the thoughts of most of the people in football, but for a
long time we had to suffer other things being said about us, and bare it with dignity. And
that is what being champions is all about really - a wearing a crown with dignity.
Let me stress straight away that I am not suggesting an 'after you' type of player on the
field. Perhaps it would be as well if I said at this stage what I expect from a player of
On arrival at Elland Road any new boy, be he a young apprentice professional or an already
established star, is quick to appreciate that he should combine courage, hard but fair play
and complete confidence on the field, with courtesy, good conduct, manners and humility away
from it. I do not intend to speak on this need for soccer skills, already obvious or latent.
That goes without saying.
To assist in this we hold our own 'educational classes' at United, with members of the staff
as the tutors and the incoming teenagers as the pupils. Augmented by advice from outside
professional and trade organisations, we inculcate into the lads a knowledge of dining out,
checking in to and out of hotels, how to travel in comfort, even how to reply to toasts and
many other things. In addition there is the emphasis upon religious advice if they want it
and talks on girlfriends, male and female fans, etc. In fact; everything and anything.
The idea behind all this is to insure that so far as is humanly possible every lad on the
staff has, within a short time of joining Leeds United, been taught sufficient to to feel
comfortable in any kind of company, able to enter any hotel he wishes and also made aware
of the temptations as well as the honours and awards that can come his way. I have heard it
said that this is not the function of a football club; that a club's sole concern should be
in the promotion of a fine football side and to the winning of more matches than achieved by
the opposition. But surely it is all part and parcel of the same thing.
Let me say immediately that no one is more aware than we at Elland Road of the importance of
winning matches and of establishing a fine football side with which to do so. Indeed that is
the major purpose behind everything we do, but there are others ancillary things to be
One is that while winning matches is of vital importance, the manner in which successes are
achieved must also be considered. The other vital factor ancillary to winning matches, and
winning them in at the right spirit, is that the boys who obtain these honours for a club
and its city, and in turn is feted by them, should be honourable representatives of that
club, and that city.
As I said earlier, let there be no question of us trying to put manners before everything
else. We are part of a football club, and a successful one at that, and such successes have
been achieved only by a complete one hundred per cent dedication - being able to match skill
with sinew when required in hard but fair combat with the opposition. But within that
requirement it is possible, must be possible, for football to uphold the dignity it has
brought into the twentieth century's later years. At the turn of the century and for many
years thereafter this great game was considered something of a festival of the cloth capped.
That was never completely accurate. The game has always attracted the intelligentsia -
though in much lower numbers it must be admitted - now, of course, are there are almost as
many egg-heads as those of other shapes attracted to, and attending a the game.
In turn the game has received recognition at the highest level, with Her Majesty the Queen
bestowing knighthoods and other decorations (of which I have had the great honour to receive
one), upon people in the game.
Football has indeed, arrived. It is recognised for what it is a great game for the masses,
a source of entertainment for the millions and a combination of employment and enjoyable
activities to the fortunate thousands learning their living from the game.
The eyes of the world are upon us and, being under such scrutiny, it behoves us all to do
nothing to belittle the game.
Often I think that winning a trophy is almost the easiest part of the exercise. Retaining
it, and at the same time one's sense of purpose, modesty and place in things is infinitely
But that's what I expect from my players.