In defence of Don Revie – a damn good manager

Fifty years after he took over at Leeds, his son and ex-players say it is time to put the record straight and restore a tainted reputation

The Damned United may have highlighted the mutual loathing between Don Revie, the man who made Leeds United a force to be feared, and Brian Clough, his short-lived successor, yet how many know of Revie's friendship with Bill Shankly, his rival at Liverpool, whom he would ring every Sunday to discuss their teams' efforts the previous afternoon?

It is instructive to note the affinity shared by these two great football men who each led a club out of the old second division and to six major trophies, yet have contrasting reputations. Where Shankly's name retains iconic status, Revie's is synonymous with "Dirty Leeds" and tainted by his abandonment of the England post after three difficult years to go and coach the United Arab Emirates.

The media mauling Revie received for quitting England still draws a sharp response from his son Duncan, more than 30 years on. "In every other profession it's alright to wait for the sack but when you are the England manager you can't," he says. But Revie Jnr – who works in football as chief executive of Soccerex – hopes a new authorised biography, Revie: Revered and Reviled, by Yorkshire Post journalist Richard Sutcliffe, will "put the record straight" about his father, who became Leeds manager 50 years ago in March.

First and foremost, he says, Don Revie was nothing like the "curmudgeonly and mean-spirited" figure portrayed by Colm Meaney in The Damned United film. "He was quite the opposite. He'd treat the ladies in the washroom and the groundsman just the same as he would Allan Clarke, Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner – he was one of the most generous people in the world.

"He bound them as a family," adds Duncan of the spirit his father fostered within a club often under siege from critics outside West Yorkshire. "There were times when I thought I had 18 other brothers."

Peter Lorimer, who made his Leeds debut in 1962 and remains United's record scorer, says Revie's man-management was pivotal. "He didn't only work on us players, he worked on our families as well. He'd ask, 'How's your family?' and if someone wasn't doing that well you'd get a call later from your mum or wife saying, 'I got a lovely bunch of flowers from Mr Revie'."

Revie effected a remarkable transformation at Leeds, taking a trophyless team from a rugby league city up from the second tier and keeping them in the top four of the old First Division for 10 straight seasons up to 1974. If their gamesmanship and cynicism drew scorn, Revie was undoubtedly a forward-thinker.

His detailed dossiers on opposing sides are a notable example and Duncan Revie offers others. "He had a ballet dancer in to talk to the players about balance and movement. He had dieticians in. I remember as a small kid being taken on to the pitch at Elland Road. He pointed and said, 'Son, in years to come, people will come to games at 11, 12 o'clock and have lunch in executive boxes and it will be all-seater'. He was talking about what the Premier League is now. And that was 1964."

Revie later embraced the ideas of Paul Trevillion, a former Roy of the Rovers illustrator who, influenced by US sport, sought to give Leeds a more fan-friendly face – hence the wearing of tracksuit tops with players' names on the back, and gimmicks like waving to all four sides of the ground before games.

That episode came towards the end of Revie's reign when, as Lorimer put it, "he let us go out and play". Duncan Revie admits that his father wished, with hindsight, that he had done this sooner. "The most significant thing he thought, looking back, was if only he'd let the players off the leash a bit earlier and not worried as much about the opposition. After he'd become England manager, he saw what were supposed to be the best players in England up close, and realised that Leeds team probably should have won another 10 trophies."

Of the four domestic prizes they did win, memories of their solitary FA Cup success from four final appearances under Revie will be stirred by the visit of Simon Grayson's Leeds side to Arsenal next Saturday. It was against Arsenal that Leeds won the 1972 final, 1-0. "The Cup final with the Queen there was a fantastic day," Lorimer remembers. "I have pictures in my pub of me and [goalscorer] Allan Clarke with Billy Bremner on our shoulders."

Typically of a Leeds team that Lorimer felt too often paid the price for pushing for glory on all fronts, they missed out on the Double just 48 hours after Wembley with a loss at Wolves that handed the League title to Clough's Derby County. "Nowadays you wouldn't have to play twice in three days for such major prizes."

It is illustrative of how football has changed that Lorimer, now a Leeds director, believes the club's fans may regard an FA Cup run warily after last term's exploits – winning at Manchester United, drawing at Spurs – stalled their League One promotion push. "If we do well and win, great, it would be another step up the ladder. But for Leeds fans it is about getting back into the Premiership. We want to be playing these big clubs every week."

He expects Leeds to "go out and attack" Arsène Wenger's side. Whatever the outcome, Lorimer believes the club can look forward with confidence once more. "[Grayson] has done a fantastic job, he is a young manager, an English manager, and he has got a great spirit in the club."

It is telling that Lorimer talks about spirit, having served with Revie's band of brothers. Some of his Seventies England players may not have enjoyed such bonding methods as bingo and carpet bowls but they worked with Leeds.

"We'd eat together and relax together, and even now we are all still the best of friends and look forward to being in each other's company. There is nobody that doesn't get on with anybody else and that is a very unique situation in football. At most clubs people have fallen out but that wasn't the case with Leeds. He created that comradeship and it has stayed with us." Not so damned after all.

Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test