Tag Archives: Don Revie

Time For Leeds United to Make a Real Statement; Bring Back the LUFC Smiley – by Rob Atkinson

The LUFC “smiley” badge. Iconic as hell.

It seems pretty certain that Leeds United will be playing their centenary (and hopefully promotion) season with a new badge proudly emblazoned on their various new shirts. That being the case, the design of said new badge is certainly decided already, with only an unveiling amid much ceremony remaining to be done.

This piece, then, is more a forlorn expression of hope than any real ambition to influence matters. The hope burns fiercely, though – because I like many others feel that the time is nigh, if not well overdue, for Leeds United to return to its most iconic badge ever. It’s a design of beautiful simplicity and endless appeal, quite unlike the pedestrian emblems of lesser clubs. It embodies the yellow, white and blue, it scorns the empty folderol of pretension favoured by other. It’s got a message, and that message is: We are Leeds and we are proud. It’s recognisable the world over as an elite design for an elite club. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the LUFC Smiley Badge.

It probably won’t happen. The best we can realistically hope for is the grudging inclusion of the Smiley as a detail of some other design. Even that would be better than nowt. But, just imagine. What if the club really did see sense – what if they marked 100 years of the best football club in the world, by harking back to its best badge, with those nostalgic links to the original Super Leeds era, the Don, King Billy and the rest of the legends. How fine would that be?

We’ll know soon enough, I suppose. I’ve seen pictures purporting to represent the new badge, and I can only hope they were fashionably fake news. I know what I want, and I know thousands of others want it too.

Bring back the Smiley Badge!

Marching on together

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

revieportrait

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.

Stumbling Blocks Hardly Unknown on Leeds United’s Historic Success Trail – by Rob Atkinson

All White Champions

Champions 1973/74 – despite a late blip

There can be no denying that Leeds United were more than a little unfortunate to emerge from Saturday’s Yorkshire derby clash with Sheffield United empty-handed. Given ordinary luck, with just a break or two going the way of the Whites, it could have been a very different story; even a draw would have seen Leeds two points clear of third place. But little went right on the day and that, sadly, is a feeling that every Leeds fan down the years knows all too well. 

As it is, we had to take an undeserved defeat on the chin, with the woodwork, injuries and just about every factor you could name ranged against us. United are now a point off the automatic promotion places, when they could have been five points clear of third. Loud and woeful has been the wailing, rending of garments and gnashing of teeth among the United faithful, as the fates seem determined to conspire against Yorkshire’s Number One club.

But wait just a minute. Calm yourselves, fellow Leeds devotees, and be of good cheer. It’s all happened before, you see, at about this time of year too – and it’s rarely been fatal to our chances of success. When you look at our most recent landmark seasons, right back to when I was nobbut a lad, you’ll see that a late stumble or two, with United there or thereabouts and the tension mounting, is much more the rule than the exception.

Going as far back as 1974, when Don Revie‘s Super Leeds were stumbling somewhat along the title path, having at one stage been nine points clear, Burnley visited Elland Road and departed with two points from a 4-1 victory. It was hailed as nearest challengers Liverpool‘s great chance to overhaul United, but Leeds ended up as Champions and by a decisive margin.

Then, in 1990, Barnsley were the visitors on a night when nothing went right for Leeds. Centre back Chris Fairclough was absent for 13 first half minutes having seven stitches in a head wound. He rejoined the fray in time to plant a brave and bloody header into the Barnsley net, giving Leeds a well-deserved interval lead, to the massive relief of a huge Elland Road crowd. Surely, nothing could go wrong now?

In truth, we battered Barnsley throughout the ninety minutes but, in a sickening second half turnaround, two subs for the Tykes scored in quick succession, gifting the Reds an extremely unlikely win. Again, doom and gloom stalked the streets of Leeds – but United still went up as champions.

And then, two years on, Leeds were engaged in an almighty battle with Them from There for the last ever Football League Championship. The media were all agog for the Devonians to win the league – how fitting it would be, they purred. When Leeds lost heavily away, twice in a short space of time, it looked as though the script was written, with Leeds cast as fall guys. A 1-4 defeat at QPR had been followed in short order by a 0-4 reverse at Manchester City, and the Leeds-hating nation celebrated. But it was the Whites who held their nerve and mustered their resources to clinch the title of Last Champions by four points, while Manchester’s second club amusingly choked on the dry ashes of defeat.

So nil desperandum, all you devoted Whites out there. We’ve tripped up, recovered and gone on to win many a time before, in accordance with this great club’s motto of “Keep Fighting” – and there’s no reason we can’t do it again. Have faith in Marcelo Bielsa‘s boys, who really do have that fighting spirit that typified Super Leeds of old, and simply trust that all will come right in the end. Believe.

Marching On Together

Clear Proof That Leeds Were Robbed in the 1975 European Cup Final Against Bayern – by Rob Atkinson

1975

Billy Bremner, clearly not interfering with play as Lorimer lashes the ball past Sepp Maier

We’ve all known it for nigh on 44 years, but here, for anyone who might have had even a shadow of doubt, is the ultimate proof that Leeds United were robbed of their rightful European Cup triumph in Paris way back in 1975. A glance at the photograph above, which captures the moment that the ball flew off the right boot of Peter Lorimer (arrowed), past German international keeper Sepp Maier and into the Bayern Munich net, clearly shows that Billy Bremner, who had been pushed into a marginally offside position, was way out of the line of sight between Maier and Lorimer. So it was impossible that Bremner was interfering with play and, by any interpretation of the laws then or now, the goal should have stood.

The goal was disallowed, of course, only after the insistent intervention of Bayern captain Franz Beckenbauer, a player noted for his habit of pressurising and influencing match officials. Beckenbauer had also been involved in a first half penalty claim for Leeds, scissor tackling Allan Clarke in the Munich area. It was the clearest penalty you could possibly wish to see, the type that even one of today’s Football League referees would have been hard pressed to deny Leeds. There was another penalty claim in that first half too, Beckenbauer involved again when he seemed to handle the ball on the ground inside his own area, but referee Michel Kitabdjian, may his name be cursed for all eternity, blithely waved both appeals away.

Leeds United fans on the night expressed their displeasure and sense of injustice in the most violent manner, resulting in a subsequent European ban for the club. It was a night, to quote a distinguished American president on the occasion of Pearl Harbor “that will live in infamy” – and, believe me, in a football context, given the scale of the injustice and the prestige of the trophy at stake, that oblique comparison does not seem invalid.

Subsequent interviews and retrospectives have been interesting in that there has not been much evidence of the Bayern players in that final disputing the injustice that took place. If anything, they tend to hold their hands up and acknowledge that their triumph was a mixture of luck and larceny – Leeds were robbed, not only of that big, beautiful trophy, but also of European Cup qualification the following season. Uli Hoeness, the great Bayern forward, was once interviewed and asked about 1975. In his own words, he said that the result was a travesty. The better team lost and they lost for no other reason than the performance of the referee. That’s cold comfort four decades on, but it counts for a lot in any debate about the fairness or otherwise of the outcome that night.

I remember the Final well, it was a shattering experience for a 13 year old kid who was dreaming of seeing former manager Don Revie‘s great team put the seal on their immortality. And it was just as devastating for the White Army who followed United to Paris – they deserved better than a tawdry con trick, especially after they’d witnessed their heroes being robbed of another European trophy two years earlier in Salonika – take a bow Christos Michas, another spectacularly bent UEFA referee. It makes you wonder – has any other club been blagged quite as often and quite as lavishly as Leeds United?

We all know the answer to that. But all this time later, we still hold our heads up high, knowing that the proof is out there and that, morally at least, we have two more European trophies than the record shows. Some of us will be campaigning to our last breath for UEFA to recognise this, retrospectively award us our trophies, and set that official record straight.

All together now: “We are the Champions, Champions of Europe…” 

RIP Edna Newton, 94, Leeds United Superfan Since the 1930s – by Rob Atkinson

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Leeds United superfan Edna Newton, who died this week aged 94

Whenever I hear the word “superfan”, I usually think of Gary Edwards, the Kippax painter, author, playwright and all-round good guy who has famously not missed a Leeds game for more moons than most of us would care to count. I was lucky enough to sit a couple of seats away from Gary on the Kop for a few seasons, and I was in awe of his longevity and dedication, as well as his legendary hatred of man u, the Pride of Devon, which complicated his life as a painter to the extent that he’d refuse to paint anything red, but would strip red paint for free.

Gary’s out on his own in many ways, but today I learned of another United superfan who, for sheer length of service, puts even Mr Edwards in the shade. Unfortunately, the reason that I became aware of Edna Newton is that she has sadly passed away this week at the grand old age of 94. Having accumulated that many years, Edna has probably earned her long, last rest – but it does seem a great shame that she won’t be around to witness the long overdue return of her beloved Leeds to the top flight.

Still, as a season ticket holder for 64 consecutive years, Edna had seen it all, and doubtless had many tales to tell of John Charles (I knew John, she said, he was a smashing fellow), the Don Revie era and much more from the chequered history of the Greatest Club in the World. Her achievement was such that even a legend of the stature of ex-Arsenal striker Ian Wright took time out to tweet “Rest In Peace Edna”, which is a pretty nice touch.

Fans are probably still the least appreciated part of a game that would not be half the spectacle without them – yet, every now and again, sheer loyalty and devotion above and beyond the call of duty, over literally decades, will be recognised and acknowledged. Such is the case with the late Edna Newton, and deservedly so. She stands comparison with any other Leeds fan and has her own place in the pantheon of United legends.

RIP Edna Newton (1924 – 2018)

Leeds United, Club and Fans, Could Have Done Better Over Jay-Roy Grot – by Rob Atkinson

The Don – fostered family atmosphere at Leeds

In a week hardly short of news stories about Leeds United, one in particular stands out for any fan of the Elland Road club who remembers how the first faltering steps to greatness were taken under Don Revie in the sixties; how, in short, football’s greatest family club was built. So, while I could have written this week about the arrivals at Elland Road of quality recruits for the campaign ahead, I will resist that temptation.

Instead, let’s look at Joe Urquhart’s recent Yorkshire Evening Post revelations about the struggles in his Leeds career so far of a young man called Jay-Roy Grot who, at the tender age of 20, is going for a year on loan at Dutch side VVV-Venlo. Grot, a young colossus of a man at 6’4”, arrived at United last summer from NEC of Nijmegen, snatched from under the noses of Italian giants Fiorentina. Sadly, the lad’s first year at Leeds did not go well, and his confidence has suffered. The loan away from United is designed to remedy that, in the hope of seeing him return stronger in the future.

All well and good, but a look at the role of club and supporters in this less than creditable tale might be instructive. The Elland Road support has been notorious since well before Revie’s time as “a hard crowd to play for”. They’re a crowd of extremes. They can get right behind their team, lifting them to peaks of effort and attainment. But, for the individual who is struggling to put a foot right, it can feel much less encouraging, with the terrace critics sometimes launching in even before a ball has been kicked. Young players of great potential can nevertheless find themselves dismissed as “crap”, and persecuted accordingly, should they fail to hit the ground running. Such was the shattering experience of Jay-Roy Grot.

Back in Revie’s day, before the term “pastoral care” had gained much currency, it was nevertheless a big part of the foundations of the Super Leeds side that grew up as a band of brothers to carry all before them. Revie saw to it that off-field problems would not get in the way of his team’s success on the park; his charges were looked after and nurtured. When the boo-boys got to a young and cherubic Billy Bremner, Revie supported and shielded him. If a player’s wife had a baby, there would be flowers from the Don, or a box of chocolates to celebrate a girlfriend’s birthday. No detail was too small, no problem too trivial. Revie looked after his lads and their families, and they repaid him by becoming legends.

Now, with the constant recent managerial changes at Elland Road, there seems to be no such continuity of care. The sad loss of Lucy Ward from her health and welfare role a few years back created a gap in the Leeds United system that remains arguably unfilled. These heartbreaking words from young Grot make for uneasy reading: “I am not someone who makes friends easily. And that also broke me up in England. Cooking, I had no problems with that. But coming home every day to an empty house, I had a hard time. I did nothing, nobody knew. I also had little contact with the other boys in the beginning”. The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that both fans and club could and should have done better in the case of Jay-Roy Grot and, going forward, they need to take this on board.

We must aim for less of the destructive booing from fans, less ignorant haranguing on Twitter, with more awareness and support coming from the club. This is not rocket science, and it’s simply not acceptable for a young player to feel as isolated as Grot evidently did. Maybe Leeds United should just ring Lucy Ward and beg her to come back? In the sad absence of the late, great Don Revie, Lucy is probably the best option.

RIP Paul Madeley, the Rolls Royce Footballer who Only Wanted to Play for Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

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RIP Paul Madeley, Leeds United’s “Rolls Royce” legend

Another star from the Super Leeds galaxy has left us, with the sad death of Paul Madeley at 73. Paul was the archetypal Mr Versatile, a man whose ability to excel in a number of diverse roles possibly even counted against him as he was less likely to pin down a regular starting berth in a team of superstars that carried all before them. For a team like that to be able to call on a man like Madeley was a godsend – we can only be thankful that “the eleven Pauls” were never far away whenever a gap appeared in the ranks due to injury or suspension.

Really, after that,  there are few words. We all know what Paul was all about, we know he’d have walked into just about any other side at that time, we know that he was preoccupied above all else with playing for Leeds United – to the extent that he told his manager he’d be happy to sign a blank contract and let his boss fill in the amounts and the term of the agreement. Contrast that with the prevailing attitude today, and it’s clear that we were lucky enough to have a real diamond for so long in Paul – and clear also  that we have just lost a genuine legend.

It’s appropriate really that we should take a short break from wondering which football mercenaries we might be recruiting for the season ahead, in order to raise a glass to the memory of Paul Madeley and his legacy of decency, service and loyalty. A better servant to the club he loved you will not find, and I say this in the full knowledge that his team-mates were from the elite end of the stars of that time. That Madeley’s name is a watchword for the qualities listed above, when his contemporaries at Elland Road could also be described thus, says so much about his status in the pantheon of Leeds United legends.

Versatile, dedicated, unselfish – irreplaceable.  RIP Paul Madeley, 1944 – 2018

What Happens When a Huddersfield Fan Writes a Book About Leeds United – by Rob Atkinson

Books can be long.  Sentences can be short.  Repetition beats inspiration.

Books can be long. Sentences can be short. Repetition beats inspiration for commercial success. I’m David Bloody Peace.

As any avid reader will know, it’s frequently the second or subsequent reading of a book that gives you a real insight into what it’s all about. Equally, giving up on a book part-way through tells you all you need to know about that work. But all too often, you’ll read a book just the once and walk away with an experience that might actually be quite misleading. Such, I suspect, is the case with David Peace’s “The Damned United”.

I read this once, seduced by the subject matter and what sounded a suspiciously extravagant claim to “get inside the head of Brian Clough”. The prose style was – well, let’s say ‘different’. But it survived a one-off read and, give or take some fanciful fictionalising together with a legion of liberties taken with history, it got me through three or four evenings tolerably riveted. And I got a perverse jolt out of the title. The Damned United. That’s us, that is. I guessed there and then that Leeds fans would take it up as a badge of honour. I guarantee that is not what was intended.

Then a short time ago I heard that Peace had written a similar book on Bill Shankly and I read some distinctly lukewarm verging on unimpressed reviews. Intrigued, I asked my wife what she’d thought of the author’s bleak crime series set in West Yorkshire in the seventies, at the time the Ripper was active. She pulled a face that spoke a thousand words. So, I decided to revisit “The Damned United”.

Many will be familiar with the storyline. Some from this book, others less helpfully from the lamentable film of the same name. Then there are those lucky few who actually lived through the events described, or who are students of Leeds United history; they will be the best informed of all.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the narrative, whatever injustices were done to the likes of Johnny Giles, Don Revie and Clough himself, whatever the departures from historical accuracy – it is the style, for want of a more appropriate word, that I want to address here. So let’s see if we have any more success in getting inside the head of David Peace than the author enjoyed in his attempt to read the character of Brian Clough. As a task, it should be a lot less complex.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer.

I sit staring at the screen and wait for inspiration. No ideas. No Clough speaking to me. Not here. Not today. It’s the first day of a project. The first day. Of how many days? The project is Clough. But he’s not speaking to me. Not here. Not today.

I write down some random sentences. Pick them up later, use them where I can. Use them again and again. It’ll do.

Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash. Whispering in the corridors of Elland Road. Elland bloody Road. Under ugly Yorkshire skies, an ugly Yorkshire stadium. There I am. Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash.

That’ll do, I can use that. I just need to get inside Cloughie’s head now.

But Cloughie’s dead. He’s not speaking to me. Not here. Not today.

I have a break. Clear my head, make room for Cloughie, if he decides to talk. Out into the garden, breathe some clean air. Then it’s back to it. Back to the project. Back to that damned United, waiting for Cloughie, though Cloughie is dead. Back to it.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer. Brian is in my head. Brian is swearing. He’s the Leeds United manager but he hates it. Hates it. Hates Leeds United. I can hear him. Hating Leeds United, hating Don bloody Revie. There he is. Don’s office, Don’s bloody desk, Don’s chair. Brown envelopes stuffed with cash. Whispering in the corridors of Elland Road. Elland bloody Road. Under ugly Yorkshire skies, an ugly Yorkshire stadium.

I can do this. I’m David Peace. David bloody Peace. Author. Huddersfield Town fan. Hate Leeds United, hate, hate, hate. Hate them for what they were, for what they are. Cloughie is the same as me, like that. But Cloughie is dead. And now he’s gone out of my head for the day. But there’s always another day. Always. Always one more bloody day.

Into the office, sit at the desk, boot the computer. No ideas. No Clough speaking to me. Not here. Not today….

And so it goes on, that style. In parodying it, I actually cut down on the repetition, minimised the number of stock phrases, decimated the profanity count. But it gives some idea, I feel, of David Peace’s formulaic approach to establishing his own “style”. There, that troublesome word again, “style”. Some authors have an inimitable style because it’s genuinely unique to them, it can’t effectively be reproduced by other writers. Some authors’ styles should be inimitable because nobody would really want to imitate them – except in parody. Mr Peace falls into the latter camp.

On first reading, it’s something you can live with and the narrative bumbles along, reinforced, it seems, by the constant repetition, the continual use of pre-packaged standard buzz-phrases.  It’s meant to convey the turmoil inside Clough’s head, the way he continually questions, cajoles, reassures himself. At first glance it appears to do that. But on revisiting this book, I found myself irritated by the repetition, wearied by the recurrence of the buzz-phrases, disillusioned with it all.

In “The Emperor’s New Clothes” everyone marvels at the Head Honcho’s wonderful new invisible costume, right up until the little boy, unhindered by years of training in subservience and hypocrisy, calls out “But that man’s bare naked!” – and the illusion is shattered. One re-reading of “The Damned United” was enough to shatter the illusion created by my first reading, and I know now what David Peace is all about.

I’d be interested to learn how long the book would be without all the padding. Not exactly of epic length, I suspect. If you were also to subtract the ubiquitous profanity in Clough’s speech – in real life he was not, apparently, a profane man – then Peace’s Meisterwerk would be shorter still. Honest, Brian – it’d be none the worse for that.

Don Revie and Leeds Could Have Saved the Life of Man United’s Tragic George Best – by Rob Atkinson

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The late, not so great George Best

In George Best, the football world lost a massive talent if not a truly great player, when the maverick Irishman died prematurely at only 59 in 2005. In the twelve years since his tragic death, the debate has continued over his place in football, his ranking among the legends of the game. Best was a genius technically, blessed with the skills to enable him to do pretty much whatever he wanted on the football field. But he was also a flawed and addictive personality, less able than most professionals to deal with the pressures of professional football, more likely to be swayed from the straight and narrow by the temptations that would face any rich and over-hyped young man.

That being the case, Best could hardly have suffered a worse fate than to be taken onto the books of Manchester United as a callow youth, there to develop as a skillful footballer, but also to be lost in the maelstrom of hype and self-aggrandisement that has dogged the Old Trafford club since the start of the Matt Busby era and, particularly, since the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. For Best, it was the wrong club at the wrong time; he needed a different approach and a less relentlessly goldfish bowl existence. Stronger, less easily-led personalities than George Best prospered at Old Trafford, but the combination of George’s skill, personal attractiveness and extreme marketability made him ripe to be chewed up and spat out by the Man Utd/media publicity machine. Therein, the seeds of his eventual destruction were sown; Best was doomed by the unfortunate circumstance of becoming a Man United prodigy, his downhill path plotted even while he was enjoying such spectacular, early success.

It could all have been so different for George Best. What he needed was a better and more professional environment, somewhere his stellar talent could have been harnessed for the benefit of a crack team of inseparable brothers. Somewhere with a “Side before self, every time” mentality, with a manager who treated his players like sons and their wives and girlfriends like daughters-in-law, a place and a club where press flattery did not venture, but where instead a siege complex was fostered that strengthened the squad from within. George Best, had he but known it, needed Don Revie and Leeds United; if history had worked out differently, and Best had grown up alongside the likes of Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer and ex-Man Utd star John Giles, then I would venture to suggest that his development and indeed his whole existence would have been along such radically different lines, he may well have been still alive today.

George was let down by his football club, its management and the surrounding hype and worldwide acclaim. He was considered by many to be the greatest of all time, a view he would publicly endorse on his own behalf on many occasions. And that says a lot about George, about his inadequate standards and lack of humility. It’s something that would have been ironed out of him swiftly and early at Elland Road. Such conceit was frowned upon in the ultra-professional environment at Leeds, where individual skill was fostered and encouraged mainly within the pattern and demands of team requirements. Those were of paramount importance in Revie’s blueprint, so you had world-class talents like Gray, Bremner and Giles willing, nay, eager to devote their own brand of genius to securing the optimum team results. They’d have kept young George’s feet on the ground alright, and the Leeds backroom staff would have been there every step of the way, nurturing Best’s talent, inculcating the team ethic, bringing him down when that was needed, boosting him when necessary. The fact that Eddie Gray succeeded at Leeds was proof that a properly motivated and disciplined Best could have succeeded as well – and he’d have a had a long career, a longer life, if only that could have been the case.

It’s such a shame about George. The Manchester scene was all wrong for him, as would most probably have been that of London. Moreover, the club where he landed, at such a tender age, was in the business of producing legends, media stars to feed the delusions of their fans and meet the post-Munich hype and voracious desire to be the biggest, the best, the most glamorous. It takes a hardy seedling to prosper and grow in a hothouse like that and, despite early promise and a devastating few years of gaudy brilliance, George was doomed to wither and fade far too soon. The scars of that traumatic fall – he won his last club honour at only 22 – affected him for the rest of his life, leaving him easy prey for unscrupulous advantage takers, and for the buzz and temporary relief provided by alcohol. Who can deny that the more focused atmosphere and environment of Leeds United would have kept Best on the right path, providing him with a stage on which his technical genius could flourish, giving him the tangible rewards his prime deserved and yet never received?

In the public consciousness, Best was the Best – because we’ve been relentlessly told that’s the case, which has a lot to do obviously with the media circus and public adulation surrounding such an over-hyped football club. But sober analysis identifies Best as a genius footballer who was not a team player, not a very professional player and certainly not, over the span of his career, a world-class performer. Best, for all his talents, was not in the top twenty of all-time greats – but he should have been. He could perhaps have been right up there, among the best of the best. That he wasn’t and isn’t is something revisionists will deny, but a look at the facts and stats tells its own damning story.

George Best could gave been a much greater footballer, and he could still have been with us today. If only he’d been lucky enough to have started out, under Don Revie, at Leeds United, just as the Super Leeds legend was being born in the early sixties. What a different and infinitely happier story his might then have been.

From Milk Crate to Press Box, 42 Years at Leeds United’s Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

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Sitting where Frannie Lee wouldn’t dare – within right-hook range of Big Norm

My Elland Road history is one of a gradual progression that has seen me following the varied fortunes of Leeds United from many different vantage points within that famous old stadium. I started out in the much-lamented Lowfields Road stand, its venerable roof famously braced by cross wires to stop it being blown away by anything above a stiff breeze. My spectating debut was in the funny little “shelf” area that ran the length of the stand between the terraces below and the seats above. I attended a good few games there, with our Gray and, solemnly in charge, my Dad – who saw that our match-day equipment included milk crates for us kids to stand upon, thus enjoying some sort of view.

When I first started going to Elland Road independently, I stood on the Lowfields terraces, but found the passion and buffeting of that experience a little too much – softie that I was. So the next move was to the Boys’ Pen, in the North-East corner of the ground. I stayed there until a ticket mix-up meant that I faced a choice between missing a League Cup tie against Everton, and braving the rigours of the Kop. I screwed up my courage to make my debut on that mighty and cacophonous hill – and never looked back. From that time on, I was a dedicated Gelderd-Ender and the Kop years represent my golden era of United support.

When the Kop went all-seater in the wake of Hillsborough and the Taylor Report, it never felt quite the same to me, and I sympathise with those who never experienced the thrill and surge of a packed Gelderd. One moment I’ll always remember is when Dave Batty scored against Man City early in our League Title season of 1991/92. As Batty himself later admitted, he was never much of a goal-scorer “but, against City, I were prolific”. Over a hundred games after his previous goal, at City in the late 80s, Batts hit the back of the net against the same opponents in ’91 – and at the Gelderd End, too. The whole stadium erupted in joy unconfined; I believe injuries were sustained on the Kop that day but, trust me, nobody felt any pain. It was a magical moment, the stuff from which legends are woven.

When my time on the Kop came to an end, my attendance at Elland Road growing less frequent, I became something of a nomad, taking in the view from the South, West and East of the stadium.  I was getting older and more curmudgeonly, less able and willing to tolerate the stresses of a packed crowd, or of bored kids making me get up and sit down all the time as they passed to and fro. I was becoming my grumpy Dad and, frankly, it had ceased to be fun. I was even considering a flirtation with Ponte Collieries, though my heart and soul belong to Leeds and always will. I just couldn’t hack it any more; I’d never got over the loss of the terraces, not that I’d last five minutes there, these days.

But now I’m back, a habitué of the press area courtesy of semi-regular Leeds United newspaper columns and, though I say it myself as shouldn’t, what has become a pan-global blog. Finally, I’m finding myself somewhat cossetted in experiencing an environment a bit kinder to middle-aged sensibilities. Last Saturday, I watched the Ipswich Town match beside one of my heroes, Norman Hunter, a legend of the Don Revie era at Leeds. I was utterly star-struck, but Big Norm was chatty and amiable – until the game started. Then he was kicking every ball, totally absorbed in the action, grievously upset at every United mistake (and there seemed to be a lot). It was an education for me in terms of what an old pro expects of the current crop, with the desk in front of us taking some punishment as Norm fulminated away. On my other side was erstwhile press-box doyen Don Warters, former Leeds United correspondent for the Yorkshire Evening Post. As Norman stumped off just before full-time, on his way to do his corporate bit in one of the lounges, I remarked that he didn’t seem too happy. Don grinned and replied, “He never is”.

I guess such hyper-involvement and the severely critical outlook goes with the territory for those guys who’ve been there and done it, especially at the level Norman, Billy and the rest played. But still, looking on the bright side – we did win on the day to stay top and, despite a couple of awayday blips recently, we’re still doing quite well overall. The football has been genuinely exciting so far this campaign, a real pleasure to watch and even to write about. What’s more, it’s a great view among all the scribes, the club kindly provides sandwiches, coffee and other such civilised comforts – and the company is amazing. All in all, just when I thought I was coming to the end of my Leeds United journey, it’s really wonderful to be back at Elland Road.

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Lowfields Road

Lowfields Road stand, towards the end of its life – but with the “Shelf” easily identifiable