Leeds: How Don Revie became the first victim of CANCEL culture


As a footballer, he was a creative, deep-lying forward currently the height of fashion in the Premier League. As a manager, he resides among the finest born on these shores and architect of the great Leeds United team.

They won the title twice, succeeded in Europe and this year celebrate the 50th anniversary of their one and only FA Cup triumph.

Yet he found himself branded a traitorous money-grabber upon his exit from the England job. The FA issued a 10-year ban and though it was eventually overruled he never worked again in English football.

Don Revie (middle) secured himself as one of the best English managers ever while at Leeds

With no chance to repair his reputation before his death at the age of 61, Don Revie was the first victim of cancel culture, according to his biographer Chris Evans, the Labour MP for Islwyn in south Wales. 

‘You’d have thought Don Revie committed a crime,’ says Evans. 

‘He created Leeds, went to England and then disappeared without a chance to redeem himself before he died or the chance to refashion his image in the waves of football nostalgia that followed. Three years as England manager overshadows 30 years of innovation.’

Brian Clough, in contrast, retains a strong posthumous presence in popular culture, inspiring books and films against the backdrop of his achievements at Derby and Nottingham Forest.

Revie guided his triumphant Leeds side to two league titles as well as their only ever FA Cup

Revie guided his triumphant Leeds side to two league titles as well as their only ever FA Cup

Among them David Peace’s bestselling The Damned United novel of 2006, and subsequent film with a youthful Clough portrayed by Michael Sheen as he fails in succeeding Revie at Leeds, sacked after 44 days. For anyone born in this century, this is the go-to Clough while Revie is the humourless grump played by Colm Meaney.

‘Sheen’s Clough made Clough cool again,’ says Evans. ‘Every good story needs a nemesis. Don became the villain.’

Revie’s playing career is easily overlooked such was his work as manager of Leeds. He was a deep-lying forward, often deployed as a second striker, scoring four goals in six appearances for England and displaying early hints about his tactical mind.

He was crucial to Manchester City in the mid-Fifties, often deployed like a modern false nine. ‘Only a master footballer like Revie can make the plan succeed,’ declared Tom Finney.

Quickly hailed the Revie Plan, it helped City to successive FA Cup finals. They lost to Newcastle in a season when Revie was the Footballer of the Year, beating Birmingham at Wembley a year later.

Pep Guardiola has helped make the false nine fashionable again, although Revie’s features do not leap out at the Etihad Stadium. Images of the 1956 FA Cup win are more likely to feature Bert Trautmann or captain Roy Paul.

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Brian Clough famously lasted just 44 days after he tried to replace Revie (right) at Leeds

Brian Clough famously lasted just 44 days after he tried to replace Revie (right) at Leeds

Revie was appointed player-manager at Leeds aged 33 in 1961. They were near the bottom of the second tier, with no major honours and rugby league dominated the city’s sporting landscape until he set about improving the club.

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They got better coaches, better kit and better training equipment. They got better hotels for overnight stays. 

‘Instead of things being done to suit directors things were done for players,’ recalled Jack Charlton in his 1996 autobiography. The all-white of Real Madrid was adopted and the club crest changed. It was a genuine revolution.

Bobby Collins, signed from Everton, set the standard in the dressing room. Johnny Giles arrived from Manchester United. But the budget was tight in the early days so a restless centre half Charlton was placated and promising youth-team players nurtured.

Revie relied on his tactical acumen and attention to detail, with dedicated scouting and dossiers on opponents at a time when only one game a year was broadcast live on TV.

He generated a family atmosphere, cared for his players and took an interest in their lifestyle. He liked to see them settled, preferably married, and encouraged carpet bowls and bingo rather than dance halls and nightclubs.

‘Don would sit down with the young lads and talk to us about the great players like Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews,’ Eddie Gray tells Sportsmail. ‘About great teams like Hungary and Real Madrid with Alfredo di Stefano.

Revie (left) was a stickler for detail ands he set a standard that helped transform Leeds United

Revie (left) was a stickler for detail ands he set a standard that helped transform Leeds United

‘He’d call you into his office for a chat and pass you a glass of sherry with eggs and milk in to build you up. He was thinking about diet years ago. He would send us back to our digs three days a week with a steak.’

Leeds were promoted in 1964 and cut through Division One in their first season, beaten to the title by Manchester United on goal average and to the FA Cup by Liverpool in extra time. The trophy roll started in 1968 with the League Cup and Fairs Cup. A year later, they were champions, losing twice in 42 games.

Mick Jones and Allan Clarke added a lethal threat up front but Revie struggled to rid the perception that his team was defensive, tied to his tactical plan, and talented individuals were not cut free to perform. He had made them solid. Taught them the value of clean sheets, especially in European games, and they fought for each other, sometimes literally. They were hard, masters in the art of intimidation and could spoil a game if necessary.

Off the pitch, the dressing room policed itself as the best ones always do. When Joe Jordan arrived at 18 from Morton, he was designated the peg between Scotland legends Peter Lorimer and Gray.

‘I was put there on purpose, to learn and grow,’ Jordan, 70, tells Sportsmail. ‘I thought at the time he was a terrific manager and when I look back he was the best I ever had. I looked at him as Liverpool’s players looked at Bill Shankly.

‘Every day, going to training I felt nervous and going into a match I felt nervous but never ever did I feel overawed. I looked around and saw the players we had in the dressing room and never thought we would do anything other than win. That all came from the manager. My thanks and admiration go to him.’

Leeds players looked to Revie much like Liverpool's players looked at their boss, Bill Shankly

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Leeds players looked to Revie much like Liverpool’s players looked at their boss, Bill Shankly

Leeds players were loyal to their gaffer. In return, he was prepared to fight for them, railing against the London media. The ‘Dirty Leeds’ tag stuck and there were plenty of critics. ‘Jealousy,’ insists Gray. It amused Clough to taunt their disciplinary record.

Even when he took over from Revie for his ill-fated 44 days in charge at Elland Road. ‘Throw your medals in the bin,’ said Clough. ‘You’ve done it all by cheating.’ But no one disputed the quality in Revie’s Leeds team.

Lorimer smashed in goals from all angles and Gray could dance through the mud like George Best. Famous showboating footage from a 7-0 win against Southampton in 1972 includes a couple of back-heels from Billy Bremner and a rabona pass from Giles.

Revie’s genius was to forge the bonds to last a lifetime and create an environment where gifted players shared his ambition and responded to his demands.

By the time he left in 1974, Leeds were champions again, a sixth major honour across seven incredible seasons, with controversies galore.

Within three years, he was an outcast, having failed to generate anything like the same success with England and then quit for riches on offer in the Middle East.

England failed to qualify for the finals of the European Championship in 1976 and were soon struggling with qualification for the World Cup in a group with Italy and only one qualifying place.

Then came three Wembley defeats in 1977. First, a lesson at the hands of a Johan Cruyff-inspired Holland and then beaten by Wales and Scotland, when the Tartan Army spilled from the terraces, tore up the pitch and demolished the posts.

Revie (right) was among the finest managers in the land and he was appointed England boss

Revie (right) was among the finest managers in the land and he was appointed England boss

A sharply-dressed Kevin Keegan (right) pictured at Liverpool airport with England boss Revie

A sharply-dressed Kevin Keegan (right) pictured at Liverpool airport with England boss Revie

It would be Revie’s last game at Wembley. Earlier in the year, he had been approached about a lucrative job opportunity in the United Arab Emirates and declared an interest, telling them he expected to be sacked if his team failed to reach the World Cup in Argentina.

Results worsened, criticism grew and pressure intensified and FA chairman Sir Harold Thompson started casting around for a replacement, calling Ipswich to ask about Bobby Robson’s availability.

Revie found out and as England flew off to a South America for a three-match tour, their manager made plans for a scouting mission to watch Italy in Finland, travelling via the UAE, where he agreed a four-year deal worth £340,000 tax-free, including a £100,000 lump sum, luxury accommodation, a car and first-class travel.

For someone paid £25,000 a year this proved an offer impossible to refuse. After joining the South America tour for friendlies in Argentina and Uruguay, he asked the FA to pay up his contract. They refused.

A month later, Sportsmail’s Jeff Powell broke the bombshell story of Revie’s decision to walk out on the front page of the Daily Mail.

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‘I sat down with my wife Elsie… and we agreed the job was no longer worth all the aggravation,’ he told Powell. ‘It was bringing too much heartache to those nearest to us. Nearly everyone in the country seems to want me out. I’m giving them what they want.’

The backlash was fast and fierce. Headlines branded him a traitor and a mercenary, turning his back on his country for Arabian oil money. It probably didn’t help with pictures in Dubai of him cruising in a gold-coloured Mercedes.

When the story landed before the letter of resignation, Thompson was furious. He and Revie had never seen eye to eye, and he launched the disciplinary process that led to the disrepute charge, then chaired the commission that issued the 10-year ban.

Letters were sent to all 92 Football League clubs reminding them not to employ Revie. ‘He was treated badly by the authorities,’ says Gray, 73. ‘If another manager had done it, he wouldn’t have got the stick Don got. There was a bit of history between him and a few people in power.’

Revie (middle) was loved at Leeds but he was viewed as a traitor for his exit with England

Revie (middle) was loved at Leeds but he was viewed as a traitor for his exit with England

Revie spent three years as supremo of UAE football and another four coaching Al-Nasr in the UAE Gulf League. There was a brief spell at Al-Ahly in Egypt before he returned to England aged 56.

His ban had been ruled unlawful in the High Court and there were talks with Queens Park Rangers about replacing Alan Mullery and speculation about a return to Leeds in an executive capacity but he never worked in football again.

It was unquestionably a sad end to a brilliant career.

It has also had implications for his legacy beyond Leeds where he will never be anything but a hero. There is a statue and a stand named in his honour at Elland Road.

Revie’s final move was to Elsie’s native Scotland, to Kinross on the banks of Loch Leven. In 1987 he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and died two years later. His Leeds players were loyal to the end and regularly visited. Charlton would call in with salmon after his fishing expeditions.

Would an apology change anything now? ‘I don’t think it would bother Don and it doesn’t bother his players because we know,’ says Gray. ‘It might be nice for his family because in general Don doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Just look at what he did for our club.

‘We’d never won anything and he turned them into one of the most powerful clubs in the world. We’ve not won anything in a while but the name is still huge and that’s down to Don and the vision he had.’

Don Revie: The Biography by Christopher Evans (Bloomsbury, £20.00).



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