Taken From Us 25 Years Ago Today: Revie, The Don of Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

The Don - the Greatest

The Don – the Greatest

They say that great players don’t always make great managers, and Bobby Charlton is a stand-out example of that essential truth.  His brother Jack, by common consent not anything like the player Bobby was, but ten times the bloke, was by far the more successful manager.  Then again – he learned from the best.

And they will twist the argument around to show that average players can make great managers. We’re usually invited by a brainwashed and indoctrinated media to take Alex Ferguson as an example of this; my own choice would be Arsene Wenger, a deeply average player but a highly superior coach, tactician and innovator who made a significant dent in the Man U monopoly of the Premier League – despite the vast off-field advantages of the Salford club. Remember Wenger’s “Invincibles”?  There is also, of course, Jose Mourinho – and many others who pulled up no trees as players, but blossomed into legendary managers.

But there are a select few examples of truly great players who went on to be truly great managers – the likes of Busby and Dalglish, for instance – and I will argue passionately to my last breath that the best of the best was Donald George Revie, who died of Motor Neurone Disease 25 years ago today.

Don Revie was an innovative, thinking footballer, the pivot of the famous “Revie Plan” at Manchester City when he was the first to exploit deep-lying centre-forward play to great effect as City hit the heights in the mid to late fifties. He was instrumental in the Wembley defeat of Birmingham City in the FA Cup Final of 1956, and also helped restore English pride after two batterings by Hungary – the Magnificent Magyars having trounced England 6-3 at Wembley and 7-1 in Budapest. Revie’s adapted attacking role helped the National team annihilate Scotland 7-2 and his reputation was made as a selfless team player who was adept at making the ball do the work while team-mates found space as he dropped deep, baffling the defences of the time.

Revie was clearly a thinker, and developed very definite ideas about the game during his playing career, ideas he would later put into practice to devastating effect as a club manager. It is undeniable that, during his thirteen years in charge at Leeds, he elevated them from simply nowhere in the game to its very pinnacle, preaching togetherness and the team ethic above all else. Respected judges within the game have described the football played by Leeds at their peak as unmatched, before or since. In the eyes of many, that Leeds United team were the finest English side ever, a unit of grisly efficiency and teak-hardness yet capable of football which was outstandingly, breathtakingly beautiful, intricate in its conception and build-up, devastating in its effect.

Here is the scale of Revie’s achievement: in an era before the advent of lavish sponsorship and advanced commercial operations, he built a club from the ground upwards – a club with an apathetic support, which had hardly two ha’pennies to rub together, and whose prime asset was a group of raw but promising youngsters. The way that Revie nurtured those youngsters, moulding them into a team of supreme talent and majestic ability, is the stuff of legend. In some cases, he had to ward off the threats of homesickness: a young Billy Bremner was determined to go home to his native Scotland and Revie arranged for his girlfriend to move to Leeds, helping the lad settle down. Sometimes he had to adapt a player from one position to another – Terry Cooper was an indifferent winger who was made into a world-class overlapping full-back. Examples of his inspirational and man-management skills are many; he wrote the modern managerial manual from scratch.

Revie raised almost an entire squad from the junior ranks through to full international status, but he also had an unerring eye for a transfer market bargain. He took Bobby Collins from Everton, and saw the diminutive veteran midfielder produce the best form of his career. He lured a disaffected John Giles from Old Trafford where he was an under-rated performer. Giles swore that he would “haunt” Matt Busby, the manager who let him go, and Revie enabled this vow to be realised, converting Giles to a more central role after the end of Collins’ first team career. Giles and Bremner would form an almost telepathic central midfield partnership for Leeds, carrying all before them over the muddy battlefields of Division One. Revie later described his recruitment of Giles from Man U as “robbery with violence”.

As the sixties wore on, the Don would add Mick Jones and Allan Clarke to his formidable squad while it grew up together in a family atmosphere at Elland Road. Rarely if ever before or since can a manager have been so involved in his team’s welfare and well-being, no mere tracksuit manager this. There would be flowers and chocolates when a girlfriend or wife celebrated a birthday, a listening ear and helping hand whenever problems threatened to affect a player’s form. Revie was a father figure to his players for over a decade, forming a bond of mutual loyalty and respect that still sets the standard for enlightened management today.

Don Revie has been described in scornful terms by the ignorant, as a dossier-obsessed and over-superstitious manager by some people of insight and judgement, and as simply the best by his players who still survive from that amazing period of Leeds United’s dominance at home and abroad. He was perhaps too reliant on lucky suits and the lifting of gypsy curses, and other such supernatural preoccupations. He could maybe have let his team “off the leash” a little earlier than he did – when given full rein, they were next door to unstoppable. But it’s hard to hold the caution and superstition of the man against him; this was a time unlike today when livelihoods depended on a bounce of the ball, when results mattered in a bread and butter way. There were no cossetted millionaires then, no examples of young men who could pack it all in tomorrow and live in luxury for the rest of their lives. It all meant so much more in those days and the word “pressure” had real resonance.

The modern coaches have greats among their number, there’s no doubt about that. It would be invidious to single out names; after all, the media in a misguided fit of uncritical and commercially-motivated hero-worship have been busily engaged for most of the last three decades in dubbing “S’ralex” as the greatest ever. But the legend that is Don Revie can sit comfortably on his laurels, the man who – more than any other – took a sow’s ear of a football club and made of it a purse of the very finest silk which yet concealed a core of Yorkshire steel.

Donald George Revie (1927 – 1989) – Simply The Best.

19 responses to “Taken From Us 25 Years Ago Today: Revie, The Don of Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

  1. Spot on Rob.
    As an 11year old I once sat in Don’s leather chair and was lucky enough to touch Billy ‘s boots. I consider myself to be very privileged.
    Both men sadly missed, never forgotten.


  2. If you consider what Revie achieved throughout his career , and compare it to what other famous managers were given in terms of budget, and infrastructure, the Don wins hands down , Took a club in a rugby city, and made that city famous throughout Europe . Despised by all the media( with the exception of Jeff Powell ) for making a Yorkshire club successful . Parts of this city hated his leadership of our club as it stole the thunder of Rugby League, oh and used and abused by the FA . He taught us to have a siege mentality, we never forgot that advice . A great man .


  3. For real what would we give to have a gaffa half as good as SIR DON nowa days RIP are legend


  4. Michael Eaton

    An excellent summary, for an excellent man.
    He created the modern Leeds United, which those lucky to see and witness, will always be grateful for. Don Revie approach should be a template to many organisations, not just football clubs.
    The band of players he corralled were of course a remarkable blend,
    We all should be grateful for the vision Don Revie had, I sincerely hope it will not be wasted,we need these standards and structure in our club even more today!

    Michael Eaton
    Supporting LUFC since 1963


  5. Derided by the London press, but respected and feared in equal measure , by Shankly, Busby, Catterick, Nicholson, Mee, et al, tells us all we need to know about a great man and great man manager.
    That the BBC and Lineker were allowed to airbrush him from the programme celebrating Match of the days however many years, was disgraceful.
    Fantastic memories of witnessing his side taking on and beating the best at home and on the continent will stay with me forever.
    God bless the Don!


  6. Bill Watmough

    Thanks to the Don we ARE still famous throughout the world. I was lucky enough to be able to follow that great team and hope that maybe one day soon we will start to emulate it. RIP Don Revie, an amazing man.


  7. sniffers shorts

    So many greats under the don …. We in the know knew where his heart lay and not what the media then and since have said and drubbed his nose into the ground. As a kid in the 70s when Saturday came the anticipation of going into the local department store to see the half times and then the ritual of being anywhere but near to a radio or tv to watch the teleprinter or hear the results coming in were the days of my life at that time. And then hopefully we would be on MOTD rare on the big match always spurs or the arsenal …. Crying as a ten year old when we lost to chelsuit in the cup replay ….. Running around the local southern street when we won in 72 full white strip …. No one else in sight I expected people to stream out of their homes ….. Me and not a soul screaming united at the top of my voice …..will always remember the don leading out the most complete squad ever assembled unforgettable …… God rest the don he still marches with us


  8. scottywhites

    very well written article rob,i am to young to have seen this legend at work which is a shame i have seen some off the best games in the footy archives on the great web although in black and white they are great to watch wish we could find someone like him now R I P MR DON REVIE we will always MOT in your name ………………….MOT


  9. Compo's Style Guru

    Absolutely spot on Rob. How that great man took a provincial club on the bones of its arse, shook it up and took it to the peak of European football in a decade without spending a King’s ransom is simply unfathomable in the modern era. I can’t think of any living manager in English football who can hold a candle to him and only Shankley and Clough who achieved anything like a similar feat in the last half century. It’s a shame the rest of the footballing world choose to ignore the role this man played in putting English club and international football on the European stage but twas ever thus. It’s LUFC against English football and that’s the way we and The Don like it!


  10. Rob , good on you for complaining to the British betrayal corporation , the Millenium addition of Match of the day saw fit to disregard the most consistent team in England from 65 to 75 . Still, it couldn’t resist showing the Porterfield goal though ! . I know youhate the Mail, I don’t but we beg to differ, Jeff Powell warned Don that he was getting the sack from England, he jumped first, as anyone with pride would have .


  11. Chris Farnhill

    I remember as a young teenager queuing at the turnstiles 2 to 3 hours before kick – off to claim my spot in the Kop. If only I had realised at the time, particularly given our history since then, how very special that team and manager was. What a privilege it was to witness that era.I remember stood next to Norman Hunter as he left the changing room after a training session at ER. Unlike today’s over paid pampered “stars” He laughed as David Harvey drove away in an old banger and said ” sounds like a tank doesn’t it lads ” to me and my mate. How times have changed!


  12. love your passion for leeds Rob, its mine too, followed them since 69, lets hope this guy gets us 4 or 5 top class players in and get us back up there, and gives the manager a chance, god bless the don the greatest


  13. I think 99% of Leeds fans these days love Leeds united because of what Don did , he put Leeds on the map in a big way, when I was a young lad in the 70’s I was always ammazed , and proud , that fans of other clubs all around the world could reel off the names of all the Leeds team , including their positions,, don revie gave us all that pride rob and no one Leeds fan should ever be allowed to forget the great man , RIP DON , I know you’re watching over this great club and we owe it to you to make it great , feared and famous once more


  14. Greatest manager ever rip Don


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