100 Years of Leeds United - Daniel Chapman: How Don Revie's careful touch created a Whites legacy

To celebrate Leeds United's centenary and the club's rich heritage, the YEP will this week exclusively serialise tales from '100 Years of Leeds United' by author Daniel Chapman.

Thursday, 17th October 2019, 10:00 am
100 Years of Leeds United.

When he became manager in 1961, Don Revie’s first mission at Leeds United was to make the players care about the club, and he knew that first the club would have to care about them.

Getting Billy Bremner to understand that was not easy, because all Bremner cared about was Scotland, his girlfriend Vicky, and going home to her and his family.

Without telling Bremner, Revie began making trips to Stirling, meeting Vicky and telling her about his plans to build a top European team around her boyfriend, and how she could help.

Revie had an advantage here; his wife Elsie was Scottish, and he loved the country and people that Billy was missing so much. He knew how to assure Vicky that life in Leeds would not be so different, and make her understand that the rewards would be worthwhile.

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That personal touch with talented schoolboys and their families was vital to filling the junior teams. Revie and chairman Harry Reynolds would travel hundreds of miles to wherever the boy called home, and having come so far, stay as long as they could.

They were easy company. In villages in Scotland or Wales, they were politely entering working-class homes where Leeds had never been heard of, but their own upbringings and homeliness put a boy’s parents at ease.

Here were two men like themselves, so Leeds could not be all that different to home. Rather than giving their boy a lavish lifestyle just for kicking a ball about, he would be well looked after and made to work hard, which was just what mum and dad wanted to hear.

Leeds United had never been associated with the best of anything, and Revie was prepared to force the connection. He introduced gleaming and unadorned all-white shirts, shorts and socks, an unashamed imitation of Real Madrid, the best team in the world.

Bremner attended their 7-3 demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt in the European Cup final at Hampden Park in 1960, one of the best performances in history by any football team; Revie was said to have acquired and regularly studied a film of the match.

The new strip was visible and immediate, the first thing anyone saw, but it took time for the rest of the club to catch up. Revie brought energy and ideas; above all, he cared. But in the first team he had only two really good players, and one of them, Bremner, was a homesick kid. The other was an overgrown youth who wasn’t homesick, but was sick to death of everything.

After so many arguments between them as players, when Don Revie called the team together and asked them to call him ‘boss’ it was the worst thing that could have happened to Jack Charlton.

He was 25, still obviously the best player in the team, but just as obviously no better than he had been at 19. If anything he had regressed, and if anybody knew it, it was him.

Charlton was desperate for better, enrolling on the technical courses at Lilleshall, the FA’s football school, becoming a fully qualified coach before he was 23, but expanding his horizons only emphasised how gloomy the skies were over Leeds’ training pitches on Fullerton Park.

Revie, the goody-two-shoes captain who had told Charlton that if he was manager he wouldn’t pick him, was now in a position to do just that. Instead, he offered Charlton the captaincy; Charlton turned it down. He also moved Charlton to centre-forward, hoping to recreate the John Charles effect; Charlton scored a few goals but fought the decision.

Being shoved out of position was, to him, just another example of how his chance of ever being somebody in football was being taken away by the fools around him. Charlton knew too much already about wasted talent.

His younger brother Robert was playing in the First Division for Manchester United and internationally for England, fêted as one of the best midfield players in Europe; he was part of a brilliant young team, assembled by Matt Busby, that looked destined to win the European Cup.

That dream ended on a frozen runway in Munich in 1958 when, travelling back from a match in Belgrade, Manchester United’s aeroplane crashed on take-off, killing eight players, three staff, eight journalists and two others.

Through Bobby, Jack was friends with all the players who died; you didn’t have to tell him about wasted talent. This was the atomic age and the Cold War era, when optimism was clashing with fatalism, when if the H-bomb didn’t get you, a tragedy like this might.

Who had time to waste their best years playing football for a fool like Don Revie, at a club like Leeds United

Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.