Taken 30 Years Ago Today, Leeds Legend Don Revie Was THE Greatest   –   by Rob Atkinson


The Don of Elland Road – 30 years gone, but never forgotten

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”?

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 30 years ago this very day.

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 player’s girlfriend or wife celebrated a birthday, a listening ear and helping hand whenever problems threatened to affect a man’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, then again as a coaching genius 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.

After a season in which a number of high profile managers have conducted themselves disgracefully by rabble-rousing in the media – and I’m thinking mainly of the two opposing managers for Monday’s Championship playoff final – it’s fitting that we can remember with fondness and immense pride a true managerial giant.

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

27 responses to “Taken 30 Years Ago Today, Leeds Legend Don Revie Was THE Greatest   –   by Rob Atkinson

  1. Some of us – not too many now – were lucky enough to have been there from the start to the finish of the Revie era. We can all thank John Charles for hooking us up with Leeds United as youngsters.
    The rest is history of a side that achieved much but could and should have achieved so much more. A side whose talent and brilliance was probably not totally appreciated at the time by both supporters and pundits.
    Will a Leeds United team ever eclipse the Revie era – NO. It’s just not possible in the game as it is today and you can trace back the demise of the club – apart from a sadly brief revival under Wilkinson – to that fatal decision by the board NOT to appoint Johnny Giles as Manager as recommended by Don Revie when he left for the England job.
    But for that the dynasty would have continued unabated. MOT


  2. I regularly have heated discussions regarding great managers and that whisky nosed and loathsome character fergusons name usually crops up. People forget though that the likes of Revie,Shankly,Nicholson etc had to rey on nous. Back then you had one substitute from the mid sixties onwards before that you had to make do with what was on the park. The competition was healthier also,6 or 7 teams at least were in contention for the league. I’m not sure about your inclusion of Dalglish as a great manager mind. He inherited the Liverpool team and bought the league with Blackburn. Anyway,ive decided who I want as the next Leeds manager- Gordon Strachan. That will give everyone a lift and i think he’ll be free soon.


  3. Graham Atkinson

    Great peice Rob, sums up the great man perfectly. How I wish he was around today and able to repeat his incredible achievements of the 60’s and early 70’s, much of which I witnessed stood on a home made box with dear Dad in the old Lowfields stand.
    There will be the usual rumourmongering now that Mr Monk has gone, obviously been enticed by another club in my opinion.
    Do you have any ideas about the next man to come in Rob, and who’s likely to ;e the man to actually get us that much needed promotion in your opinion ?


    • Not sure, Gray, a lot of people fancy the Boro guy Karanka (?) – personally I’d like to see them get Grayson back in, or take a punt on either Ranieri or Allardyce.


  4. Howard Mackey

    I cannot argue with one word of that article Rob.


  5. Excellent assessment of one of the world’s greatest football thinkers and man managers. He’s up there with the very best of all time.

    I concur on Monk whose action confirms my suspicion that he is a man who is scared to fail (which lies at the root of our spectacular late season implosion).


  6. Excellent piece Rob, as usual and it has a real resonance with those of us lucky enough to see the boys in white. I was the only Leeds supporter in my class at school in my early teens and there weren’t many Mondays during the season that I had to endure ‘ha-ha you lost’. We probably didn’t realise it at the time that we were watching the best team to play football on English soil. And as a lad I assumed it would continue forever. How hard reality kicks you in the nuts. As for Monk, I am disappointed he bottled it. The old managers of our youth had loyalty didn’t they? The Don, Shanks, Sir Matt, Billy Nick, Bertie Mee, Joe Mercer, Harry Catterick et al. Now its just a bloody merry-go-round. RIP Don – at least you don’t know about the shambles Leeds have become.


  7. David Dean

    Great reading as usual and an amazing tribute to the great man. The Don was one of the best – not on his own though, Bill Shankly has to stand with him – he built a great club from scratch too and I would have to include Busby and Clough (he did it with two clubs) in the same category of greatness. I am sure Revie would have done it with a second club given the chance after England. Harry Reynolds deserves a mention too. Without him and his support Revie would have become great at another club. A year following The Don’s appointment as player manager Leeds were bottom of the second division and looked doomed for relegation. Bobby Collins was signed and they were not relegated. Revie signed John Charles during the close season which was a disaster and Leeds were in trouble again looking like candidates for relegation. Reynolds again continued to support Revie – he saw the vision and backed him 100%. They signed Don Weston and with Jim Storrie the goals started to flow as soon as John Charles was sold. Harry Reynolds splashed the cash big time in support of Revie and it paid off handsomely. We weren’t a club that didn’t have two haepennies to rub together – Harry Reynolds was a self-made millionaire who loved the club and bought into The Don’s vision and backed him. Without the money we would have slipped into Div 3 and probably never have risen again. I was there watching from just before the time Bobby Collins was signed. Great to look back on those early years especially. I agree with you re The Monk. A shameful exit. His pride went before him – Radz smoked him out and won the poker match. He should have accepted the one year extension with humility and loyalty and should believed in his own ability. He bottled it big time and I am glad he has gone. Radz will deliver and whoever we appoint will be backed and we will get promotion – maybe not this year now but whatever happens it will be another great season.


  8. I think that the Don would be sad at the constant turmoil at our great club.
    Here’s hoping that the latest changes in the boardroom and imminent change in the dugout leads to some stability that could even bring a fraction of the success of the Revie years


  9. Ernie Leeds

    Thanks for the memories Don, you will never be forgotten.


  10. Well done Rob, I agree with every bloody word.
    I was really hoping that Monk could grow into a new Revie but he’s been lured away by someone (maybe Palace). He’s bottled it in my opinion and by doing so has shown that he’s not good enough or man enough for Leeds.
    I know for certain that he will come to realise that LUFC is the biggest club he will ever manage and will regret leaving and wasting his chance to be great.
    We’ll march on together, hopefully with a better man at the helm.
    God bless the Don, may he rest in peace.
    MOT always.


  11. Many great memories just need some more


  12. Childhood memories of a Leeds United besotted father at 39 playing as deep lying centre forward for his station team. Don was an honest man and never claimed paternity for the famous ‘Revie Plan’. It came into English football via the ‘Magical Magyars’ in 1953 and was then picked up by the Man City trainer and passed onto Don. The thing about Don and his peers was that they were very intelligent men. It makes me smile when I hear foreign coaches in our football being lauded for their brains as if they were a new thing in our game.


    • Everton fans who know their history will tell you it was their legendary pre-war attacker William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean who first played as a deep-lying centre-forward, and that he taught the art to a young stripling name of Tommy Lawton. But Revie brought it to a wider audience and was a true innovator.


      • Interesting but we may not be talking about the same things. Dean and Lawton scored lots of goals. In the Hungarian and Revie plans, the principal task of the centre forward wax to splay passes to the wingers from a deep position, not to score goals. He was the controller not the striker. Dean and Lawton must have been incredible athletes if they could do both. One thing we can say for certain is that Chris Wood is not an exponent of the Plan.


      • I read a biography of Dean, and it talked about him playing deep occasionally (not often) confusing the opposing centre half and creating space for his colleagues whom he would find with “angled nod-ons”. It does sound like an embryonic Revie Plan, but it was a very different game pre-war.


  13. Excellent article Rob, oh for 65 – 75 again.
    Very disappointed with Monk, it appears he would have received his 3 year contract but obviously had his head turned.
    Unfortunately I worry that having assembled a half decent squad, the likelihood of Bartley returning to Leeds has just diminished and will we be able to hold on to some of the other star performers from the season just ended, namely Chris Wood and Pontus Jansson.
    A new manager will have his own favourites and try to bring them in which will initially cause further upheaval.
    Personally I would love to see Simon Grayson come back or as an outside bet Lucas Radebe. M O T


  14. Was lucky enough to see the great Revie team as a 8 year old kid. Even then it was special to a young one. No-one has, or maybe ever will achieve so much. The only fault we had was not finishing off inferior opponents, or like the ’75 European cup final, robbed. Anyone who dares criticize the great Leeds team are envious and bitter, like many Manchester, Chelsea has-beens do! The Don is the Godfather of managers..


  15. Life is LUFC

    You’ve done it again. Reading merrily on and then I came to the mention of Mr Monk…….what’s this one going on about I thought, then I looked at the date. You crafty little devil.
    However never a truer word written or spoken Rob and still right in every sense two years on. RIP Don you will forever be in our thoughts.


  16. Reality Cheque

    Just imagine if you can Rob, what kind of slick football and how many showboating “Olay” passes Bremner, Giles, Eddie Gray & Co would have produced on today’s manicured carpet-like pitches without the opposition touching the ball, (except to pick it out of the back of their net again).

    I remember going to Elland Road as a youngster on the Football Special buses from beside the Queen’s Hall expecting nothing but another win. Those were the day’s eh Rob. Thank You so much Mr Revie & RIP


  17. What people forget is that most teams were on a level par regarding finances etc. When I was growing up and watching Leeds who were dominant but were so due to the manager not because of a bottomless piggy bank. I reckon you could safely say that most seasons there would be ten teams who could be in with a chance of winning the league and that’s no exaggeration. A manager would have to be very special indeed then to win the league as it was more or less down to him who was bought and sold and don’t forget teams were only allowed one sub too. Managers like,Nicholson,Shankly,Paisley were great managers and possibly Bertie Mee. But its only Shankly that came close to The Don though. The way he turned a city more obsessed with its cricket and rugby into the greatest footballing city this side of the milky way is astonishing. One more thing,I Kenny Dalglish a great manager?


  18. With respect to Dalglish, a truly great player, I wouldn’t count him among the managerial greats. He had a great side, for sure, but he got it handed to him on a plate. Someone else said us much on this thread. I agree with him.


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