I worship the memory of Don Revie. He’s probably my all-time hero; he took over a nothing club with a nothing history, famous only as a stepping-stone for the World’s Greatest Footballer on his way to success with Juventus as Italian football’s finest-ever import (yes, step aside, Platini, Maradona, Law, Greaves et al – John Charles is still the King for the tifosi). Don took over at Elland Road, instituted a scouting system second to none and – let’s cut to the chase here – gave us the finest club side these islands had ever seen. But in one respect, Don’s effectiveness is open to doubt. A notoriously superstitious man, he became convinced that Elland Road was under a malign curse – so he recruited a gypsy from Scarborough (I can personally confirm that the place is crawling with them) in order to exorcise the spell and ensure success.
The fact that Revie and his team achieved far, far less than they should have has been put down to various factors over the years, but the possibility that the lady from Scarborough was off-form the day she went about her curse-lifting cannot be excluded. It would, perhaps, be the most likely cause of United’s managing to finish runners-up so often with easily the best team around. Always the bridesmaids, never the brides, it was often and cruelly levelled at the peerless Whites – and while some trophies found their way to LS11, that legendary team – dominant during a viciously competitive decade – never won its proper dues. And when the talent drained away from Leeds in the wake of Don’s departure – well, then the curse really bit.
From the perspective of a half-century on, it’s possible to argue the theory that Don failed in his efforts to rid Leeds United and Elland Road of supernatural barriers to success. It’s even arguable that, since those halcyon times, the strength of whatever evil influence pervades LS11 has actually increased. How else to explain the fact that so many players over the years have done well in elevated company, but arrive at Leeds United and are immediately transformed into bumbling failures? Or, indeed, the number of players who have served a spell with the Whites, looked hopelessly out of their depth – and have then gone on to do distinctly OK elsewhere?
As a club, we do seem cursed in some vital particulars. Look at the effect we have on centre-halves, for instance. They come in, they look good, they earn a permanent deal – and then they start playing like Frank Spencer in the 1970’s sitcom “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em“. Likewise with managers. Our last two were notable for the ease with which they have attained promotion from this league into the FA Barclays Promised Land. But they come to Leeds, shine briefly before the Gypsy’s Curse gets under their skin – and they then start floundering horribly, unable to make a single coherent decision, at a loss to pick a winning team or choose effective tactics. They end up at after match interviews or press conferences, looking like rabbits caught in the headlights. It’s pitiful.
Never has this line of reasoning seemed so obvious to me as right now. We’ve just had two home games against distinctly un-scary opposition – and we’ve contrived to lose both, heavily, with only late goals putting a rather flattering patina on the ugly landscape of abject failure. We have an intimidating stadium, players who have been successful elsewhere – and who will doubtless be successful elsewhere in the future – we have the best fans in the world, we’ve had managers with proven track records. And yet we’re still irretrievably, inexplicably crap. What to do?
Maybe the Italian guy is the answer in more ways than just the obvious financial sense. He’s quite a superstitious cove himself, is our Massimo. Perhaps he will sense the malevolent ambience around the place and take steps of his own to get rid of any other-worldly nasties that Don’s Scarborough exorcist failed to blitz. Maybe the key to Cellino’s revolution lies in his ability to follow his own superstitions, make whatever supernatural changes are necessary and see Elland Road emerge from under the cloud of an ancient curse and into a bright new future where we get a bit of bloody luck every now and then. At least we can rest assured we won’t be sporting a purple strip, and we can hope against hope that Cellino’s lucky colour is all-white.
It’s got to be worth a try. Let’s face it, we’ve tried just about everything else – and still the Gods have rarely smiled upon us. Then again, they’re usually too busy sorting out a spawny late winner for Man U, damn them. We’ll just have to hope it’s not too late to get rid of whatever shreds of curse are still left after Don Revie’s failed attempt to get us blessed back in the sixties. And I still won’t have a word said against the Greatest Manager There Ever Was. He may not have known how to pick an effective gypsy, but he sure as hell could build up a club from nothing. How we could do with the Don of Elland Road now.