Tag Archives: Don Revie

Leeds United: How Don Revie helped invent the modern game

How Don Revie and Leeds United invented the modern British game

By Amitai Winehouse (@awinehouse1)

When Andre Villas Boas was appointed Chelsea manager in 2011, social media went wild over old scouting reports he had written several years earlier. He was hailed as a new found genius, the Premier League’s new prodigy. The documents that ended up on Twitter were detailed, analytical, clever, and nothing new.

In 1961, Leeds United appointed Don Revie as their manager. Revie, who passed away in 1989, had shown his ability to look at football thoughtfully while still a player – when he was at Manchester City, the 1956 FA Cup Final was won by employing the famous Revie plan, based on the role played by Hungary’s Nandor Hidegkuti. Revie was deployed as a deep-lying centre forward, something unique in the English game at the time.

Revie went on to become the most important manager in Leeds United’s history, but while he is revered in West Yorkshire, he is reviled elsewhere in the country. His team were associated with what were seen as footballing dark arts, but many of these have become a normal part of what we see in the modern game.

Eddie was a key player in Revie’s side. Widely regarded as an ultra-talented winger, he has since managed Leeds United and currently works for the club’s in-house media channels.

“Lasher” Lorimer is Leeds United’s top scorer of all time, despite retiring from football in the 1980s. He played on the right side of midfield for Revie’s side, and was well known for his powerful shot.

“We couldn’t get intimidated, it never worried us.”

Once viewed as wrong, there is now no modern side that doesn’t analyse the opposition before a game. Revie was the first manager to introduce these, using coach Syd Owen as his spy. Leeds’s Peter Lorimer, who was part of Revie’s side, explained that the manager did it as part of an obligation to his players.

“He felt that if we conceded a goal and it was something he hadn’t told us, he’d let us down,” Lorimer told me. “He made sure his side was covered. The dossiers were very intense. Don was a believer in his players going out to perform, but he also wanted us to know everything about our opposition. We’d get a complete dossier on everything they did – free kicks, corners – and any weaknesses we could play on. In training, we’d work on exactly what to do and what to expect. We were basically prepared for everything the opposition might do to us. You can get caught out, especially against foreign opposition. Syd went all over to watch the opposition so we knew what to expect. They weren’t doing that to us – Don was one of the first to bring that into the sport.”

Eddie Gray, who played on the wing for Revie and later managed the Elland Road side, echoed Lorimer’s words, adding: “Don got criticised for the dossiers when he went to manage England, but for us, they were part of our footballing education. He always had people going to games, analysing players and then he would show us where we could hurt the opposition.”

While the dossiers are relatively infamous because of how they were seen at the time, one aspect of Revie’s innovations that has rarely been discussed is his use of team doctor Ian Adams. Arsene Wenger was highly praised for banning food like red meat, eggs and chips at Arsenal in the mid-1990s, but a throwaway comment from Lorimer revealed that Leeds had taken a new approach to player diets in the sixties.

“Don was one of the first managers to bring a doctor into the setup. Dr Adams made sure we were one of the first teams to work on diets and what to eat before games. We would have chicken and things like that. We ate the food that gave you energy. Before that, footballers ate a steak before a match.”

Many modern managers are especially praised for their man management, especially Jose Mourinho and the retired Sir Alex Ferguson, who undeniably changed sides through excellent motivational work, and Revie had that in his locker as well. Revie imbued his players with self-belief.

Imagine a side losing the title on the last day of the season because they had won an FA Cup final only two days before and were fatigued. Imagine that side then losing the FA Cup final the next season to rank outsiders, despite dominating the game, in one of the greatest cup upsets of all time. Imagine that side, with no additions, then coming back stronger to win the championship the next season, racking up a then-record 29 consecutive games undefeated in the process. Leeds did that in 1973-74. They had to believe they were superior and not be knocked back. Revie instilled that.

Gray admitted the team always believed they would win, saying: “We thought Peter was a big threat, the players in the side made sure that he got plenty of the ball. If Don thought I was the avenue to hurt the opposition, Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner made sure I got on the ball. It was nearly always proactive with us. We thought we had great players. You just had to look around the dressing room and see the players that were sitting with us.”

“When we played anybody, no matter, we expected to win,” Lorimer added, “because Don bred major confidence in the team. When a lot of teams go abroad and go away, they look not to lose – we went to win the game. We couldn’t get intimidated by opposition, it never worried us. We had a group of lads who were prepared to step up.”

Bluebird…no more?

Whilst reading this article, why not listen to the apt ‘Bluebird’ by Paul McCartney and Wings.

This is just a small commentary on a matter that has cropped up this week. Footballing message boards have been ablaze with responses to Cardiff City’s apparently impending change of branding. Blue to red, shifting across the generic colour spectrum, Cardiff fans could have understandably major qualms. As to whether they are right to and do, I feel several matters come to mind.

If I were to explore the history of my own club, a major event jumps out at me. Rebranding at the turn of the 1960s from Yellow and Blue to White was an integral part of Don Revie’s campaign to refresh Leeds United. Within ten years, they went from a regional club in a city dominated by Rugby to one of the best teams in the world (at that point). Anthony Clavane explains this incredibly well within the context of the Leeds Jewish Community in his award-winning book The Promised Land. Within 15 years, they had reached a European Cup final. Symbolically, the white kit represented the turning point in Leeds United’s history. That all white strip is a key feature of the club at this point. You do not hear of any controversy regarding this change, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the record books.

Given Cardiff’s recent failures in the play-offs, one could reasonably argue that a change in colour would provide a similar turning point. Frequent runs to the top of the Championship have been met with failure. Could it not, potentially, provide a similar benefit to that which it provided Leeds?

Admittedly, however, there is a massive difference between the two. As mentioned previously, Leeds were a minor blot on the footballing landscape at this point. The change in kit was no issue, as there was no real identity to the club. It was not as if Leeds’s nickname of the Peacocks had anything to do with the colour of the segments on the kit. Cardiff fans can point to their nickname, the ‘bluebirds’, as being heavily linked to the blue and white kit they wear. There is an identity there. It is not the same as a shift that occurred several generations ago. Too much history is tied up in the club colours to accept it readily.

Other minor benefits include the potential marketing ability of the new colours. Word is that in Malaysia, the club have struggled to take advantage of the connections of owner Dato Chan Tien Ghee in this regard, due to the colour of the kit. Red is, apparently, more marketable than blue. Furthermore, the money ‘TG’ could plunge in, were the club to change the kit according to his wishes, would obviously be a great boon to any attempt to get out of the league. Finally, the attempt to become the nation’s club by branding themselves in the primary colour of the flag could reap benefits. This could increase income, should the entire nation find themselves represented in the club.

However, in reality, history should take precedent. It is not like Revie’s Leeds switch, there is too much feeling involved to wade through. It has to be taken as a positive that Cardiff have decided not to go ahead with the change. One can say it would probably not have had a positive end.

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