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Don Revie: A Paranoid Winner

Donald George Revie was born 10th July 1927 In Middlesbrough. He was born into a working-class family as his father was often out of work due to the Great Depression and his mum was a washerwoman. He was always grateful for his parents and despite his career, he always remembered no one is more important than anyone else in a community.

Revie played for Newport Boys’ Club and Middlesbrough Swifts but signed his first professional contract in 1944 with Leicester City; at Leicester he also worked as an apprentice brick layer. Originally the Foxes thought he wasn’t good enough to be a professional, but Sep Smith took it upon himself to mentor Revie. Smith taught him about positional awareness and to pass around a player rather than dribble past him.

Revie played in the wartime league but made his Football League debut on the opening day of the 1946/47 season. Leicester lost 3-0 to Man City who went on to win the Second Division that season. Don impressed before Ron Burgess broke his ankle in a game against Tottenham. Back then a broken ankle could end a career however, Revie was back to full fitness within 19 weeks.

Then Leicester boss Johnny Duncan saw Revie’s talent and wanted to centre his team around him. Although both the 1947/48 and 1948/49 seasons were disappointing, they did reach the 1949 FA Cup final. Don scored the opening goal in the semi-final against First Division champions Portsmouth but one week before the final he had a burst vein which caused a nasal haemorrhage. It became life threatening but he recovered and could only listen on the radio as his side lost 3-1 to Wolves.

Duncan left Leicester and with Revie already annoyed with the club’s league performances he left as well. Hull City bought him for £19,000 in November 1949 and this saw Revie link up with Raich Carter who was Hull manager. Hull were underwhelming in the Second Division as they finished midtable in 1949/50 and 1950/51 before enduring a relegation battle in 1951/51. Former Hull teammate Andy Davidson later said that the former Leicester player wasn’t physical enough and the team couldn’t protect him, but he was an excellent technical player.

Like at Leicester, Revie left Hull after the manager departed. This saw a move to Manchester City in the First Division. Man City parted with £25,000 and Ernie Phillips who at the time was valued at £12,000 for Don. Man City finished a place above the relegation zone and Revie often felt isolated from his team due to his lack of pace.

The Citizens then sold Ivor Broadis to Newcastle, this allowed Revie to drop deeper. This change in position was pivotal as he made the deep-lying centre forward role his own as it was introduced to English football for the first time. The “Revie Plan” changed football and it became especially successful for the Hungarian National team under Nándor Hidegkuti. Revie dedicated 20 pages to Les McDowall’s idea to move his position in his 1955 autobiography ‘Soccer’s Happy Wanderer’. The tactical change led to Revie being named as the 1955 FWA Player of the Year.

Revie was fined £27 by McDowall for going on a family holiday despite trainer Laurie Barnett giving permission for the holiday. McDowall also dropped Don for most of the following season and in October 1965 Revie left Maine Road to join Sunderland for £22,000. In the 1956/57 season Sunderland just about survived relegation thanks to a seven-game unbeaten run to lift them to safety. A financial scandal over illegal payments to players resulted in manager Bill Murray resigning. Murray was replaced by Alan Brown who favoured physical football which didn’t suit the former Citizen. In 1957/58 Sunderland were relegated to the Second Division.

In 1958/59 Revie was dropped in favour of youth and was seeking for a move away. In September 1958 he rejected a move to hometown side Middlesbrough where he would’ve played with Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. Instead Revie joined First Division Leeds United in November 1958 for £14,000.

Leeds manager Bill Lambton appointed him captain and hoped his creativity would help in their fight against relegation. They survived relegation in 1958/59 but were relegated the following season with the worst defensive record under Jack Taylor.

Following Taylor’s resignation, Don Revie was appointed player-manager in March 1961. Revie originally applied to manage Bournemouth, but the Cherries couldn’t get the £6,000 to get him out of Leeds so Leeds themselves appointed him. This was a turning point in English football history.

Leeds were in debt and in an area that favoured rugby which meant less than 7,000 turned up the Leeds United’s last game of the 1960/61 season. Revie knew big changes had to be made. He started by bringing a family atmosphere to Elland Road making sure to care for everyone at the club and know them personally, he also made sure there were no big egos at the club and requested the players were put in higher quality hotels before games, these changes and principles remained during his stay with Leeds.

Leeds struggled in 1961/62 in the Second Division. Don wanted to implement a youth policy and apart from Billy Bremner and Jack Charlton, the team was still mainly journeymen. Revie played his last game in March 1962 before retiring to focus on being manager. He struggled to persuade young players to join Leeds over bigger clubs but his extra effort for caring for the players helped him. He once drove to Scotland to persuade Bremner’s girlfriend to let him stay at Leeds.

1963/64 was a lot more promising as Revie’s side pushed for promotion. They fell away to fifth due to the harsh winter causing a backlog log of games which caused too much for the young side. The following season saw the side win promotion back to the first division. It was around this time they picked up the reputation of being “dirty”, a stigma which has stuck at the club to this day.

In their first season back in the First Division, Leeds impressed. The Whites finished second in 1964/65 to rivals Man United on goal difference after they failed to beat Birmingham on the last game of the season. They also lost the FA Cup final 2-1 to Liverpool after extra-time.

Revie didn’t strengthen the squad for the 1965/66 but showed his out of the box thinking against Torino in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Leeds went out wearing unfamiliar numbers to confused Torino’s tight man marking system. It worked as they ran out 2-1 winners. However, later in the competition he wanted the fire brigade to flood the pitch at Elland Road. This was because they were drawn against Real Zaragoza and he thought the Spanish side would struggle with a bogged pitch. This trick didn’t work as they were knocked out at the semi-final stage.

Revie went on to win plenty at Leeds. He won two First Divisions, two Inter-Cities Fairs Cups, an FA Cup, a Football League Cup and a Charity Shield. After winning the First Division, Revie left in 1974 to manage England. A few weeks later on a tv appearance with Nigel Clough, Revie revealed he was torn between leaving to manage England or have another crack at the UEFA Cup with Leeds.

He only managed England for three years before leaving to manager the United Arab Emirates. The FA were furious with Don despite them planning to sack him. Revie went on to manage Al-Nasr and Al-Ahly before retiring in 1985.

After returning to Britain, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in May 1987. Revie made his last appearance at Elland Road in a wheelchair in May 1988 for a charity even raising money for motor neurone disease.

Don Revie sadly passed away in his sleep on the 26th May 1989 aged 69 in Murrayfield Hospital, Edinburgh. His funeral was attended by mainly Leeds representatives but also by Kevin Keegan, Alex Ferguson and Denis Law whilst the FA didn’t send a representative.

Brian Clough and Don Revie had a clear rivalry and have constantly been compared to each other. Clough may have won two European Cups but had a longer managerial career and a worse win percentage than Revie. They were both winners with their own principles and their rivalry is often compared to Wenger and Ferguson’s rivalry.

The former Leeds manager will be remembered as a pioneer as he introduced diets to footballers and ways to get advantages. His teams may have been labelled “dirty” but during his television appearance with Brian Clough when Brian said Revie’s side had topped the disciplinary charts, Revie hit back by saying they had done it once and he was ashamed of it. He wanted to win at all costs but clearly a man of principles.

Don Revie’s Leeds United may be remembered as “dirty” and “cheaters” but they were winners that looked for small advantages wherever they could. His legacy as a manager and a man doesn’t get the praise it deserves but Revie changed the game and was a born winner.


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