Graham Kelly: Revie legacy lost as Leeds' fortunes plummeted

Click to follow
The Independent Online

"There used to be a football club there," someone once remarked of Tottenham Hotspur, who pioneered the move to plcs, which, by the bye, made it infinitely more difficult for the Football Association to control the game.

There used to be a plc at Leeds United, owing £80m, but now by reason of some miraculous transformation the football club is apparently a subsidiary of a new company owing only about a quarter of that.

Over a weekend, when Sven Goran Eriksson ended speculation about his immediate future, my mind went back to events of 30 years ago, a time when there was indeed a football club at Leeds, a superb one, and their manager went off to manage England.

But first, some reflections on the new consortium's adviser, Geoffrey Richmond. Initially, he complained about an alleged smear campaign before the rescue deal was completed last week, saying that reference to the members being from the Jewish community was offensive, as it targeted his Jewish background.

He maintained that, had the consortium been of any other race or faith, it would not have been mentioned.

Richmond, being a former chairman of Bradford City, and, moreover, one who led them towards administration with debts of £36m in 2002, is not awfully popular with Leeds fans, and his claims of religious intolerance put me in mind of a sorry incident from past times.

Don Revie's Leeds team were top of the old First Division towards the end of March 1974 and going for their second title. They were due to play Burnley, seventh in the table, at home. Earlier in the season they had set the record of 29 League matches unbeaten without defeat, but had just lost to Bill Shankly's Liverpool.

The Burnley chairman, Bob Lord, was a member of the Football League management committee and, as a man who knew his football administration and had been around a while, he harboured ambitions of succeeding the president, one Len Shipman of Leicester City, who was prone to some hilarious and embarrassing malapropisms. The Anglo-Scottish Cup was never claimed to be the most significant event in the football calendar, but its stature was hardly enhanced when Shipman launched it as the Anglo-English Cup.

Lord, however, an arch-critic of television, had blotted his copybook in the most dismal manner at a Variety Club function, of all places, by saying: "We have to stand up against a move to get soccer on the cheap by the Jews who run television." As his audience contained a number of Jewish fund raisers and club directors and the game had always appeared to be free of any anti-Semitic bigotry, his speech caused a row, unsurprisingly. But I believe he was of a generation which unfortunately used the word "Jews" in the sense of driving a hard bargain without realising how offensive it could be.

Manny Cussins, the Leeds chairman, announced if Lord turned up at Elland Road he would walk out. He was saved the trouble, as the Burnley directors boycotted the game en masse. It was their loss, or rather their win: 4-1.

Whatever the cause of Lord's ignorance, it put paid to his chances of high office in football. When Shipman eventually retired the chairmen remembered butcher Bob's blunder and selected the silver-tongued Lord Westwood of Newcastle in preference, who didn't know quite as much about football but was less likely to drop an aitch or a clanger.

Revie's Leeds overcame the collywobbles to take the championship and although the Pay and Prices Board successfully intervened to prevent Everton poaching him, there was no such luck for the Leeds faithful when he became interested in the vacant England manager's position after Sir Alf Ramsey was sacked and Joe Mercer's brief tenancy ran out. The Elland Road board tried - and failed - to extract £500,000 compensation from the FA for the man who left them with a healthy balance sheet, a playing squad comprising over a dozen internationals worth in excess of £3m and a ground that had had £2m spent on it, in a little under two years. That ground is now the collateral for the new consortium's loan from Jack Petchey and could in theory be subject to a sale and leaseback arrangement at some time in the not too distant future.

It would hardly be original to point the finger again at Peter Ridsdale, except perhaps to place Leeds' dream in the context of the general unwillingness of English football to countenance any significant form of financial self-regulation. While that dream was turning to dust he was walking the corridors of power as a member of the board of the FA alongside then chief executive, Adam Crozier.

And this week the Independent Football Commission are embarking on a consultation exercise. Let's hope the Government sharpen their teeth.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

Comments