Leeds United’s Don Revie 50 years on: Don Warters remembers

Don Revie.
Don Revie.
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Fifty years ago today Don Revie was appointed the player-manager of Leeds United.

Former YEP writer Don Warters, who enjoyed unrivalled access to the club during that era, feels the man who made the Elland Road outfit a household name across Europe never got the credit he deserved.

PHIL HAY reports.

DON Warters joined the Yorkshire Evening Post as its Leeds United correspondent in 1970. On his first morning in the job, he was instructed by Don Revie, the club’s manager, to fill all the column inches he could find.

“I want something about this club in the Evening Post every night,” Revie told him. “Every single night.”

Revie understood football. As Warters discovered over many years, he also understood the value of publicity.

From meagre beginnings, Leeds United became a household name – in their home city and across Europe – because Revie refused to have it any other way.

Three years earlier, as a writer with the Telegraph and Argus in Bradford, Warters had encountered Revie for the first time. At an 8am appointment at Elland Road, Warters introduced himself as the newspaper’s new United reporter and prepared for a short interview. He and Revie eventually parted company eight hours later!

In that one meeting, Warters uncovered the compassionate personality responsible for the renaissance of a club with no profile to speak of on the day of Revie’s appointment.

His promotion to the position of player-manager at Elland Road came 50 years ago to the day, on March 16, 1961. By the time he and Warters crossed paths six years later, United’s revival was already in motion. Revie’s resume included promotion from Division Two and an appearance in the 1965 FA Cup final. Leeds were no longer the ravaged team who he inherited from Jack Taylor.

“When I went to meet him, I felt a bit of trepidation,” Warters said. “By that stage they were a reasonably successful club. Nothing like as successful as they would become later on, but a club with a bit of progress behind them.

“I turned up to interview him at eight o’clock in the morning and we spoke in the boot room while he got ready for training.

“Being from a Bradford paper, I wondered if he’d be interested in dealing with me. But when he was ready, we went for a cup of tea with the laundry ladies and he then invited me to watch training.

“Afterwards, he bought us a sandwich from a local cafe and we sat in his office speaking to his assistants, Maurice Lindley and Syd Owen. It was four o’clock in the afternoon by the time I left.

“Don’s knack was treating people he didn’t know from Adam as if they were old friends. He’d make time for anyone, remembering their face and remembering their name. I saw straight away that what Revie asked of his players, his players would do without thinking twice. It was easy to understand why. He had a presence that made people around him feel important.

“As well as football, he believed in the value of publicity. ‘All publicity is good publicity,’ he’d say. When I first started at the Evening Post, he told me that he wanted to read about the club in the paper every night. No exceptions. Sometimes I’d have nothing to write about so the two of us would sit down and work something out.

“The club became famous mainly because of what they achieved as a team, but you shouldn’t overlook how hard he worked to get them noticed. He wanted to give Leeds United a greater profile and, when you talk now about the massive fanbase the club has, I still think that’s down to him. The club had no great profile even in Leeds before Revie became manager. He spread the word everywhere.”

Warters covered the last seven years of Revie’s 14-year reign, the last four on behalf of the YEP. He was “privileged”, he said, to witness first-hand the machinations of the club under a manager who, five decades on, is held in unrivalled regard; a manager who, with plans for a lasting tribute afoot, will soon have a statue in the city erected in his honour. Many in Leeds would say that a tribute of that nature is many years overdue.

Warters covered the FA Cup victory in 1972 and joined Revie’s players in drinking beer from the trophy in the aftermath of the centenary final. “For whatever reason, they didn’t fill it with champagne,” he said.

He also experienced the many journeys into Europe, the Division One titles and the sporadic disappointments. Revie allowed him and other local journalists to travel on the team bus, warning them quietly that it was “an extension of the dressing room”.

“It was the done thing in those days,” Warters said. “We went everywhere with the players, but Revie made it very clear that the bus was out of bounds for stories. You weren’t allowed to publish details of anything that happened or anything that was said. There were no exceptions or second chances.

“He treated the players like his family but we were almost an extension of it too.

“The two of us had fall-outs, of course. Every now and again I’d get a call from his secretary saying ‘Mr Revie would like to see you in his office’ and you knew what was coming. A shouting match would go on over something I’d written and then he’d say ‘right, that’s off my chest’ and you’d never hear about it again.

“At the time, I realised I was working with a very special manager but you had no real idea about how significant the era would be or how people would come to remember it. You only see these things with hindsight.

“Looking back, it was a privilege to be involved as closely as I was.

“The funny thing about my job application to the Evening Post was that I submitted it from a hospital bed. I was having an operation at the time and was holed up in Seacroft. It’s amazing to think what I might have missed if I hadn’t bothered to put my name forward.”

Revie stood down to become England coach in 1974 and Warters continued working as the YEP’s United reporter until 1999, 10 years after Revie’s death. Another nine Leeds managers had come and gone and David O’Leary was the existing incumbent.

Warters would struggle to draw a sensible comparison between Revie and any of his successors at Elland Road, equating the skill of his management most closely to that of Bill Shankly at Liverpool.

No higher praise exists for an English coach.

“They were great friends,” said Warters, who celebrates his 73rd birthday tomorrow. “Fierce enemies from time to time, but great friends in the main. They were both from working-class backgrounds and they reminded me of each other.

“Don used to talk about how he played football with rolled up socks as a boy because he couldn’t afford a ball. They were both of that stock.

“When I think of Don now, I think mainly of his knowledge of the game and his fervour for it. He was a deep thinker and someone who noticed things that other managers didn’t. Shankly is the only person I can really compare him to.

“Don never got the credit he deserved at the time and he still doesn’t get it now, at least not outside of Leeds.

“The two of us became good friends and I was quite upset me when he took up the England job.

“I saw it coming, and I knew it would happen, but it’s strange to realise that someone who you’ve worked closely with for years – someone who was central to the club as I knew it – was moving on.

“I’d been through a lot in that time and he made the experience what it was.

“At the time of the FA Cup win, I was friendly with a local school teacher and Don let me take the FA Cup to show the school kids. No security or anything like that, just a promise that I’d bring it back in one piece which of course I did. He was that sort of man – someone with the ability to bring the best out of everyone.”

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