Publish and be Damned: Giles fights back for Revie and Clough

Leeds legend tells Phil Shaw that his new book is motivated by correcting the 'outrageous' distortions in David Peace's novel

Saturday 13 November 2010 01:00

From Leeds to London and Birmingham to Dublin, John Giles has a book to promote.

A Football Man is among the year's best sports autobiographies, too, rich in anecdotes, wisdom and candour. Wherever he goes, ironically, people press the former Leeds and Republic of Ireland midfielder about another book. It may be inadvisable, however, to ask him to sign The Damned Utd.

Giles, who celebrated his 70th birthday last Saturday by crooning a Nat King Cole number on Ireland's Late Late Show, is a small, dapper man, as articulate off the field as he was with a ball at his feet. That may surprise anyone who saw the film version of David Peace's novel about Brian Clough's 44 days in charge of Leeds in 1974 as Don Revie's successor with the then champions.

There he is depicted as tall, gruff and with hair like a refugee from a rock festival, although that is not what led him to successfully sue Peace for libel in what the author called his "occult history of Leeds United".

"His book was outrageous. I'm portrayed as the scheming leprechaun," says Giles. "He had me in conversations with Clough that never happened. It made Clough out to be a wild man whereas he wasn't drinking then. I didn't get on with him but I found him highly intelligent.

"Peace said the novel was fiction based on fact. Trouble is, people assume it's the official version. The movie was a misinterpretation of the misinterpretation that was the book! Can you imagine Leeds going to Derby and Don making us get off the bus to walk through their fans? It would be dangerous. It never happened. It was ridiculous."

Giles's memoir provides the platform to give an alternative, insider's view about the Clough interregnum. It is also an opportunity to rehabilitate Revie's reputation, re-evaluate that of his first manager, Sir Matt Busby, and assess their contemporary equivalents.

"Clough was a genius. What he achieved at Derby and Nottingham Forest was incredible. And I now believe he was right about discipline on the pitch. But at that time he was coming from one planet and we were on another at Leeds.

"He hated what we represented and thought we were lying in wait for him. Don was gone, but it was about self-preservation for us. We knew we wouldn't do well unless the manager did well. He wasn't popular among the lads but there was no ganging up on him. We didn't get a chance to because he immediately laid into us."

Conventional wisdom interprets his supposed plotting as the result of Clough landing the job for which Revie had recommended Giles. He blames the messy affair on the Leeds board, led by Manny Cussins. "It was their fault Don left to manage England. They could've kept him. He wasn't on great money. But he'd made them redundant. You don't need directors when things are going well. He was contemptuous of them. The only thing they controlled was his wages.

"The last person who'd get the job was the one he put forward, me. Equally, they would've thought 'Who's the last person Don would want taking over from him?' It was Clough."

Didn't Clough have a point in his view that Revie's Leeds routinely intimidated opponents? "We did at times, yes. But it was the culture of football then. Every club had hard players," says Giles, throwing out names such as Johnny Morrissey at Everton and Eddie McCreadie of Chelsea. "Everywhere we went it was a battle. When you're successful, as we were, teams get stuck into you. You have to respond.

"Arsenal's most successful sides under Arsène Wenger had people who would respond: [Steve] Bould, [Tony] Adams, [Martin] Keown. Now they whinge. We never did that."

Giles came to Old Trafford from Dublin as a teenager. The Busby Babes were in their pomp. "The dream was football and the dream was Manchester United," he says. "Unfortunately, in football, dreams collide with reality." Despite winning the FA Cup with them in 1963, his relationship with the manager soured. Ex-United players eulogise Busby's man-management; Giles insists it was poor. "I was having serious problems with Matt. We didn't actually argue. It was just silence. I asked for a transfer and in 48 hours I'd gone to Leeds for £33,000. After such a rough time with Matt I wanted a manager to believe in me. Don gave me that reassurance."

They were not then "Dirty Leeds" or "Super Leeds" but Second Division Leeds. "Like all great managers do, Don provided an environment where good lads can flourish. He had outstanding young talents like Norman Hunter, Paul Madeley, Terry Cooper, Paul Reaney, Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer. There was a fierce hunger to do well, which was lacking at United. It was star-studded there, but they weren't together like we were."

Sir Alex Ferguson reconstructed United along similar lines, Giles maintains. His sides have the indomitable spirit that comes from "lads coming through together". One of that crop, Paul Scholes, is cited by Giles as the closest in quality today to the best player he played with or saw, Bobby Charlton. United's camaraderie ensures they invariably "come back even stronger" after setbacks or triumphs, like Leeds under Revie.

"Ferguson is up there with the greatest managers of all time. But so is Don. It's been fashionable to trash his name but the perception of him as purely cynical is a myth. The so-called gamesmanship – taking the ball to the corner-flag to kill time, sending the big centre-half up to stand on the goalline at corners – is standard practice now. Same with the dossiers he was mocked for.

"You have to look at what managers achieve. When he took over at Leeds, crowds were under 10,000. It was a rugby league city. They'd never won anything but he built a fantastic side, one of the best ever. When Bill Shankly went to Liverpool, he was reviving a great club. Revie did it from scratch."

'A Football Man: The Autobiography' by John Giles with Declan Lynch (Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99)

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