It’s the stuff of legend; the story of how new Leeds United manager Don Revie looked for inspiration to Real Madrid in their brilliant all-white strip, as he set about the mammoth task of turning the Elland Road also-rans into the best team in Europe. There’s possibly a touch of the apocryphal about that version of events – after all, there’s strong evidence that United turned out in all-white before The Don took the helm. But the irresistible romance has persisted to this day, that of a young and visionary manager looking from afar at the early sixties Galacticos as his ideal for creating Yorkshire legends of equal prowess. Ultimately, there’s little doubt that Don Revie did create Europe’s top team, the most-feared and respected outfit just about anywhere. It was his dearest wish that United and Real should meet in competition; sadly that never happened in Revie’s lifetime.
Now, over fifty years on, Real Madrid have emerged from their own relatively barren years to once again reign as European Champions, with another galaxy of glittering stars and wonderful footballers. They have Cristiano Ronaldo, too. At Leeds, the wheel has turned full circle in that half-century; the Whites languish once more outside the top flight, a lowly sphere they’ve inhabited now for well over a decade. A new revolution is sorely needed at Elland Road, but where is our latter-day Don Revie? The best hope for Leeds is that the club can benefit from another outstanding crop of youngsters, as we saw back at the start of the 1960s. And still we have that iconic (more or less) all white strip, the symbol of past domination and the inspiration, we hope, for future success.
All of that represents a lot of wistful nostalgia and a fair measure of somewhat shaky optimism that we might one day see achievement on a comparable scale, all based on the symbolic value of that inspirational all-white kit. But way over on the other side of the world, in New Zealand, one ex-pat Yorkshireman and fervent Leeds United fan is creating his own dominant team of all-whites – and he’s drawn inspiration from that Revie story in order to galvanise his own young team.
Jon Stanhope, Leeds United fanatic and (I’m happy to say) a regular reader of this blog, found to his bemusement when he arrived as a teacher at Trident High School in New Zealand, that none of the boys under his guidance had really heard much about Leeds United. “Brainwashed by Sky Sports Premier League coverage” is how Jon puts it. Grimly determined, he set out to put that to rights and, on taking over the reins of the school 1st XI, he echoed Don Revie’s legendary decision, changing the team’s colours from blue to all-white – their former away kit.
The effect of that change of strip has brought about a transformation in fortunes not a million miles away from the one enjoyed by Revie’s Whites in the early days of his time at Elland Road all those years ago. Jon’s Trident High School 1st XI went on to finish third in a national tournament; the best-ever performance in their history. “It had to be the kit!!” enthused Coach Stanhope. “The lads look magnificent when they take to the field wearing the all white strip (although parents complain that it’s hard to wash !!!)”, he adds. “They know why they are wearing an all-white strip as they all know how much I love Leeds United. I feel genuinely proud when I see them lining up before games, the new white strip has lifted the team, they look like a class act wearing it and this has given them huge confidence.”
This confidence and the unprecedented achievements of Jon’s team have been rewarded by the prospect of a first-ever UK tour this coming April, playing teams from South and West Yorkshire. Jon, a native of Yeadon who moved out to New Zealand to be with his fiancée, is looking forward to seeing his charges take on all-comers in their all-white strip, as well as visiting a few stadiums and training grounds along the way. An undoubted highlight of the tour will be a visit to Elland Road to see Leeds United – “the only other team who look magnificent in all white”, as Jon puts it – taking on old enemies Cardiff City. “It should be a spicy affair,” observes Jon. “The lads and myself can’t wait to come over and they are very intrigued as to how I can be so ferociously loyal to a team that is never shown on TV!!! They don’t quite ‘get it’ just yet…..well, they will in April!!”
Jon is quite clearly one of those guys who won’t let the small matter of twelve thousand miles or so separation get in the way of his life-long love affair with Leeds United – and with the zeal of any prophet, he’s set about inspiring the young players in his team and converting them to Leeds fans as well, if he can. “The boys were not really aware of who Leeds United were when I first arrived….they know now and often come and see me on a Monday morning to tell me the Leeds score! How times are changing!!”
The idea of changing times is one that all Leeds fans will wish to embrace after the last mainly miserable decade and a half at Elland Road. The fans, as Massimo Cellino has pointed out, remain the real wealth of the club – with enthusiasm bordering on the fanatical among thousands who live too far from LS11 to hope to see their heroes in the flesh. It’s a globe-spanning devotion that deserves to be rewarded by success. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything wishes the Trident High School team – and their inspirational Coach Stanhope – every success on their forthcoming tour to the UK. Three points against Cardiff City wouldn’t go amiss, either.
I’d like to think that Leeds United itself might perhaps extend some courtesy to a team visiting from so far away. The story of success after a change to all-white is a blessedly familiar one in Leeds, and maybe the way it seems to be playing itself out again half a century on and half a world away, can serve as some little inspiration for the current staff and players of the Mighty Whites. Let’s hope so. Leeds United and Trident High School 1st XI – Marching On Together!