Don Revie: Loved in Leeds, but not in London.


This is the history of the undisputed “King of Leeds”, Don Revie, after he left his beloved Whites during the summer of 1974 to manage his country. Revie, after 13 years as manager at Elland Road, had just led Leeds United to their second Division One title triumph, having also taken them to their first championship in 1969. His team was a roll-call of some of the greatest men to ever pull on the white shirt: Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner, Allan Clarke, Norman Hunter, Peter Lorimer, Paul Madeley, Mick Jones, Eddie Gray…

Could the man from the North-East repeat his fabulous success at Leeds on the International stage? Well, let’s find out…

All hail the coming king…

Don Revie, at almost 47 years of age, was appointed the new manager of England on 4 July 1974, and brought a two-man team of assistant manager Les Cocker and trainer Bill Taylor with him. His first game as national boss wouldn’t be for almost four months, a European Championship qualifier against Czechoslovakia at Wembley.

Revie came into the job on a wave of public acclaim, despite not being a universally popular character with either the national football press, nor fans of any clubs not called “Leeds United”. He had created a dynasty at Elland Road. Perhaps the most accurate analogy of what existed at Leeds during his tenure was something akin to a Mafia “family”. Revie, appropriately enough given his forename, was a ‘don’-type figure. His players, club staff and their families formed a tightly-knit group, into which outsiders were not often welcomed.

It was a utopia, in which Revie acted with absolute autonomy when it came to footballing matters. He was the master of all he surveyed on the pitch, the club board, for the most part, knowing to limit themselves to the ‘business’ side of Leeds United.

A rude awakening

Whether Revie believed he could recreate this close-knit family environment at the national team level is unclear, but he was rudely disavowed from any such notions early in his time at Lancaster Gate. One of the most influential men at the Football Association (F.A.) in 1974 was Sir Harold Thompson. Thompson was an Oxford chemistry don, from a very different strata of society than the working-class man from Middlesbrough who was now employed as the team manager. Indeed, most of the other men with any say on footballing decisions at England headquarters were, likewise, from wealthy upper-class backgrounds.

Thompson didn’t become chairman of the F.A. until 1976, but his power was nonetheless absolute by the time Revie arrived. He took no time in making sure Don ‘knew his place’ either, referring to the manager only by his surname at all times, not even affording Revie the courtesy of ‘Mr’. It was akin to a school headmaster and errant pupil relationship, right from the beginning.

As if that frosty relationship wasn’t bad enough, Revie was coming in to take charge of a demoralised squad of players. England had failed miserably in their attempt to qualify for the World Cup Finals, held in West Germany that summer. They eventually rubber-stamped a poor finish to a disappointing campaign by failing to beat an ordinary Poland team at Wembley. That night was made even more embarrassing by Brian Clough’s pronouncement of the Polish goalkeeper, Jan Tomaszewski, as a “clown” during his pre-match comments in the TV studio with legendary host Brian Moore. The “clown” had had the game of his life, as if in defiance of the former Derby County manager, saving a succession of efforts at his goal. World Cup-winning manager Alf Ramsey was later informed that his services were no longer required.

This is not Leeds United…

At his unveiling, Don had quipped that “any Englishman that is worth his salt would want to manage the England team”, and whilst there is no doubt that it was a very proud moment in his managerial career, he was about to discover that life would now be very different indeed to the cosy position he had enjoyed at Elland Road for so many years.

That said, a few quotes attributed to Revie at the time of his inauguration may have hinted that he wasn’t as ‘surprised’ at differences between the England job and the role he’d enjoyed at Leeds United as some may have thought, talking of how leaving Leeds was like leaving his family behind.

There was also no way that Revie was going to be able to make the England side a ‘replica’ of Leeds United. Most of the players he had had in his Leeds team that had just won the First Division title were not English, and therefore were now “unavailable” to him. Of those that were English, Terry Cooper had not recovered fully from a broken leg suffered at Stoke City a few seasons earlier, and would not feature much; nor would striker Allan Clarke, by now past his peak. Experienced centre-half Norman Hunter had been on the England scene for a while too, but often struggled to replicate his club form for his country.

Don was therefore thrust into a situation of having to work, almost entirely, with players from clubs other than Leeds United and when I say “work with”, that was another hugely frustrating situation. At club level, Revie had spent hours every week forging relationships with everyone at Leeds, especially his players. They often took part in team-bonding exercises, like a family enjoying their time together. Now, he entered a world where he didn’t even see the England players for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. There would be no easy building up of relationships with his key men; none of the family atmosphere that he had forged at Elland Road.

A bright start?

Initially, though, things went well. The first game of his tenure, a European Championship qualifier at home to a very decent Czech side, ended in a very encouraging 3-0 victory, thanks to a brace from Manchester City midfield maestro Colin Bell after an opening goal from Southampton’s Mick Channon. However, as the nation celebrated a notable victory afterwards, Revie was already looking stony-faced and solemn. According to his son Duncan, after the game Revie remarked that “we just haven’t got the players”.

Perhaps it was a comment that reflected Don’s regret, already, at having hurriedly left his beloved Leeds United in the summer. Back at Elland Road, the board had invited the devil himself, Brian Clough, to take charge of Revie’s team…possibly one of the most ridiculous, short-sighted decisions ever made by a football club. That “party” had, infamously, lasted all of 44 days, during which time Revie’s former side had plummeted down to near the foot of the league table. The players, to all intents and purposes, refused to perform for a man whom they utterly despised. Clough, in turn, called them ‘cheats’ and suggested they throw all their medals into the bin. For Revie, now watching on from the ‘outside’, it must have been akin to having a dagger twisted in his heart.

A hiccup

Three weeks after defeating the Czechs, Revie’s England played out a tame 0-0 draw at home to Portugal, the game ending with the home side getting booed and jeered by disgruntled fans. Revie had recalled Terry Cooper, but he broke down with injury after only 20 minutes, and the side couldn’t find a way to break down a well-drilled Portuguese defence.

In what must have been a frustrating ‘break’ for a man used to being involved in club football management on a daily basis, Revie wouldn’t have another game to oversee until the following March of 1975, when England hosted reigning World Champions West Germany in a glamour friendly. However, that game, in front of a full house of 100,000 people at Wembley, went well for Revie. His side, under the captaincy of Alan Ball, played some excellent stuff and won 2-0 thanks to Colin Bell and a first ever international goal for Newcastle United striker Malcolm Macdonald.

Buy an iconic Alan Ball t-shirt from the Football Bloody Hell shop
Buy an iconic Alan Ball t-shirt from the Football Bloody Hell shop

Cypriots “Macked”!

Their next assignment was a home game against minnows Cyprus in the European Championship qualifiers; it would turn out to be a famous evening for Macdonald, who grabbed ALL five goals in the 5-0 thrashing. However, Revie was already making enemies amongst some of his playing staff. Liverpool’s Emlyn Hughes, who had been captain when Revie was appointed, now wasn’t even making the starting XI, much less wearing the captain’s armband. Hughes would later be one of Revie’s biggest critics.

A month later in the return fixture in Limassol, a single goal from Liverpool forward Kevin Keegan was enough to give Revie another victory over the Cypriots. So far, this international management lark was proving ‘easy’ for the Leeds icon!

Revie’s British Champions

Things got even better when the British Home Championship (an annual tournament played between the traditional ‘home’ nations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) came around in May, though quite honestly the results England achieved were not that outstanding.

Revie took England to Belfast for their opening game at Windsor Park against a Northern Irish side that were very much in transition, under the leadership of player-manager Dave Clements. On the evening, the Ulstermen’s defensive stubbornness was enough to curtail the England forwards, and a dour 0-0 stalemate followed.

The following week, 21 May, England hosted Wales, and Revie handed a debut to Ipswich Town striker David Johnson (who would go on to become a household name at Liverpool). Johnson instantly repaid his manager’s faith with two goals as the sides played out a spirited 2-2 draw.

Three days later, England knew they had to defeat the “old enemy”, Scotland, at Wembley to stand any chance of becoming British Champions. The Scots had beaten Northern Ireland 3-0 in Glasgow, and were in pole position. The game, in front of a predictably raucous packed house, was effectively over within the opening minutes, as quick-fire goals from Queen’s Park Rangers striker Gerry Francis and Ipswich Town’s Kevin Beattie put the visitors firmly on the back-foot. Further goals from Colin Bell, Francis and David Johnson left the final score 5-1 to England, and Revie had won his first trophy as a national manager.

Dropping the Ball…

Afterwards team captain, Arsenal’s World Cup winner Alan Ball, opined that the game was “as good as it gets”. What he couldn’t have known was that it was to be his last ever game in an England shirt.

Several months later, Revie arranged a friendly with Switzerland in Basel in preparation for the crunch return qualification game against Czechoslovakia in October. In a curious move, the manager had decided to leave Alan Ball out of his panel entirely for the trip, but rather than giving Ball the courtesy of a telephone call to explain his reasoning for that decision, Revie had written a cold, formal letter. The two men never spoke to each other again, Ball taking what he perceived to be an unnecessarily cruel snub as a personal insult.

In Basel, an eventful opening half saw goals from Kevin Keegan and Mike Channon give the visitors a 2-1 lead; Keegan also saw a penalty kick saved. That remained the score at the final whistle. The side was skippered for the first time by Gerry Francis, despite the striker only making his fifth appearance for his country. Again, it was a strange decision by Revie, given that he had a relative veteran in Colin Bell in his side.


Don Revie’s first defeat as England boss came in the very game he could least afford it. On 30 October 1975, Revie suffered a Halloween ‘horror show’ in Bratislava, where his side (including two of his former Leeds United men, Allan Clarke and Paul Madeley) encountered a hugely physical Czech side that more than ‘left the boot in’. The Italian referee was extremely lenient, only booking two players, as the hosts literally battled their way to a 2-1 victory, cancelling out Mick Channon’s opener for England.

That defeat was a disaster for England; they failed to qualify for the 1976 European Championships, after getting held to a 1-1 draw in Portugal three weeks later. The Czechs topped the Group, having only lost that single game in England, and ironically would go on to win the European Championship itself in Yugoslavia. England’s failure to beat the Portuguese in either game between the sides was decisive. It would be a black mark against Revie.

Downed by the Auld Enemy

Again, frustratingly, Revie would have to wait until late March 1976 for his next game, against Wales. By now he had been made very aware that the margins between success and failure at international level were infinitesimally thin. In Wrexham for a game to mark the centenary of the founding of the Welsh F.A., Revie’s England side won 2-1. He gave debuts to four players; Liverpool trio Phil Neal, Phil Thompson and Ray Kennedy (who scored) and Crystal Palace’s Peter Taylor (who also scored).

The close of the domestic league season saw the 1976 British Home Championship commence. Revie took England back to Wales for their opener in Cardiff and again emerged victorious with a 1-0 win thanks to another Taylor goal. His side was full of players either making their debuts or winning just a second or third cap.

Three days later they demolished Northern Ireland 4-0 at Wembley, with goals from Channon (2), Francis and Manchester United’s Stuart Pearson. Therefore, only Scotland stood between Revie and a second successive British Championship crown. However, on the occasion of the England side’s 500th international in Glasgow on 15 May, an early Channon goal was cancelled out by Bruce Rioch. Celtic’s Kenny Dalglish gave the Scots victory with a strike early in the second half. That defeat was enough to give the Scots the Championship.

Don’t cry for me…er, Argentina.

Don Revie had come into the England job on the back of his predecessor’s failure to qualify the nation for the 1974 World Cup Finals. Upon his appointment, he had declared that qualifying for the next Finals, Argentina 1978, would be his aim. Then he had gone further: Revie had bullishly talked of England not only going to Argentina, but winning the trophy in Buenos Aires.

One thing he may not have taken into account when making such a rash public pronunciation was that England’s decline in the early 1970s meant they were no longer among the seeded nations when FIFA made the draw for World Cup qualification groups in Europe. They, and therefore Revie too, paid a heavy price. They were placed into a four-team Group that included the mighty Italians. Only the Group winners would spend the summer of 1978 in Argentina. Given that the other two nations were Finland and Luxembourg, Revie was almost certainly now in a winner-takes-all showdown with Italy.

His opening game of the campaign was a trip to Helsinki on 13 June, to face a poor Finnish team. England were far too strong for their hosts, running out 4-1 winners, Keegan bagging a brace.

Dark clouds gather…

After the summer break, Revie got his players together for a September home friendly with the Republic of Ireland. However, the side were lacklustre during a 1-1 draw, epitomised by debutant Charlie George, who was withdrawn on the hour mark of his only ever appearance for England after a poor display. Stuart Pearson scored from captain Kevin Keegan’s cross.

What very few on the terraces could have known was that relations between Don Revie and his employers, and particularly Sir Harold Thompson (by now chairman of the F.A.), were enduring a nosedive from which they would never recover. There’s little doubt that Revie, by now, bitterly regretted ever leaving Leeds United, or at least the involvement of day-to-day club management.

A winning disaster…

That set the scene for the return game with Finland on 13 October, which England were expected to win handsomely, as goal difference would surely be an important factor in deciding who would top the Group after six games. If ever a victory in a game could still be counted as a disaster, Revie’s England squeaking to a narrow 2-1 win over the Finns was it.

After a dream start with a goal from Manchester City’s Dennis Tueart after only three minutes, England seemed set to tear their Scandinavian visitors apart but it simply never materialised. Instead, after that initial setback, the Finns played well above themselves and fashioned a deserved equalising goal early in the second half. As the home crowd grew ever more restless, England restored their lead through a Joe Royle header but no more goals followed, and at the final whistle all that could be heard were a cacophony of boos and jeers, Revie bearing the brunt of them, as well as some stinging personal abuse. Any ‘honeymoon’ period he had enjoyed with England was well and truly over.

Roman ruination

A little over a month later, Revie’s England side travelled to Rome, for the crucial World Cup qualifier against Italy in the Olympic Stadium. 17 November 1976 would go down as the darkest day in Don Revie’s England career, and possibly one of the darkest days of his life.

As he had done throughout his career with Leeds United, Revie had had his opponents watched numerous times, and had even watched them himself. Italy were almost like a club side in 1976, the bulk of their squad coming from just ONE club: Juventus. The Azzurri side that lined up against England that November afternoon included the entire Juventus defence (a youthful Marco Tardelli, who would later score that memorable goal in the 1982 World Cup Final, was at left-back), as well as legendary ‘Old Lady’ goalkeeper Dino Zoff.

In absolute contrast, Don Revie selected a starting XI that had never played together before, and were in an unfamiliar shape. Manchester United’s Brian Greenhoff and Derby County’s Roy McFarland were partnered at centre-back for the first time ever. Emlyn Hughes was recalled, but to midfield, not defence. Q.P.R. maverick Stan Bowles, winning only his fourth cap, was chosen as centre-forward, with Revie’s former charge Trevor Cherry brought into midfield as well.

It was a total shambles from the opening whistle, the Italians enjoying absolute supremacy on their own pitch. The only surprise was that they managed to score just twice, a goal in each half from Fiorentina’s Giancarlo Antognoni and Juventus legend Roberto Bettega.

Emlyn Hughes later recalled that “they murdered us 2-0”; Trevor Brooking, who stood forlornly up front for England during the game, reflected “I think even coming off the pitch it wasn’t a great surprise to have lost, because going out there you were hoping it was going to happen for England but you didn’t quite have that belief.”

The English press, who had now firmly turned against Don Revie, predictably had a ‘field day’. Like everyone else, they now understood that England needed a miracle to qualify for Argentina ’78, and Revie’s chopping and changing of both personnel and systems had them convinced that, two years into the job, Don had simply no idea what his strongest team was.

Double Dutched…

It was the beginning of the end, a blow which Revie wouldn’t recover from. The F.A. had arranged a friendly with their Dutch counterparts at Wembley for 9 February 1977, in preparation for the qualification game against Luxembourg at the end of March. For Revie, it was very much the wrong opposition at the wrong time. Holland were at the peak of their very substantial powers by now. They were beaten World Cup finalists in West Germany two summers previous when the irrepressible Johann Cruyff had led a masterful team, playing “total football”, to the brink of glory.

At Wembley, it was akin to watching an Oranje ‘cat’ playing with ‘mice’ in white shirts, as the side that would eventually get to another World Cup Final in Argentina in the summer of 1978 toyed with their hosts, before moving through the gears smoothly to score twice without reply, Johann Peters grabbing a brace. The gulf between the teams was a yawning chasm, a point forcefully driven home by various media outlets the following day.

No home comforts anymore…

Revie could find no relief from the constant pressure. Just over a month later he named a very strong side to face minnows Luxembourg at Wembley; the hosts destroyed the hapless visitors 5-0, Mick Channon grabbing two goals. However, Revie received no credit for beating a tiny nation that everyone else was hammering too.

The arrival of the Home Championship promised some distraction from the foundering World Cup campaign for Revie. The first game, in Belfast on 28 May, saw England emerge with a barely deserved (indeed, frankly lucky) 2-1 win over a strong Northern Irish side who were now under the managerial guidance of legendary Tottenham Hotspur skipper Danny Blanchflower. Revie had had his squad weakened by the enforced absence of Liverpool players, who had featured in the European Cup Final just three days earlier. That didn’t serve as any plausible excuse for Sir Harold Thompson, who apparently bluntly told Revie afterwards that his team’s display had been “a load of rubbish”. Their relationship was now one of open hostility.

However, Revie’s luck wouldn’t hold. Three days later, a strong looking side took the pitch at a half-full Wembley for the visit of Wales. The Welsh had never won at the famous old stadium before, but on the day they were the better side and won 1-0 with a Leighton James penalty just before half-time.

Afterwards, the calls for Revie’s head were deafening. The manager himself looked lost, bereft of any of the bluster and bravado that had been his hallmarks during his glory days at Elland Road. The rumours around Fleet Street were that Revie was ready to resign. His players increasingly looked like they didn’t want to receive a call-up to the England squad.

Sunk by the Scots…

It was into this sorry scene for Don Revie that Scotland came calling for the closing game of the Championship. The Scots, defending their British crown, were a much more formidable side in 1977 than many younger readers of this epitaph will ever recall them being in the intervening decades since. On a warm June day, the navy-shirted warriors were easily the better side on a heavy Wembley pitch.

They underlined their superiority with a goal in each half from Gordon McQueen (ironically one of Revie’s former charges at Leeds) and star striker Kenny Dalglish. A late penalty from Mick Channon was no consolation at all for the home side. As the England fans jeered and cat-called to their beleaguered manager and his sorry troops at the final whistle, the tartan-clad hordes from north of the border invaded the Wembley pitch, famously breaking the crossbars and ripping out pieces of the turf as they celebrated a famous victory.

Don Revie and his players wouldn’t be around to see the clean-up work taking place at Wembley following the Scottish invasion on 4 June; they were off to South America for a three-match tour against Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

This is the end, my friend…

However, what no-one beyond Revie’s close family members would have been aware of was that the ‘King of Leeds’ was now actively seeking a way out of his current position. The source of his “escape” would not only be highly unusual, but would lead to claims that Revie was only ever really interested in one thing: money.

After returning from South America, where his side had drawn all three of their friendlies with that continent’s major footballing countries, Don Revie was ostensibly going to be spending the summer making preparations for England’s final World Cup qualifying games with Luxembourg and Italy.

Then the storm broke with full fury: late in the day of 11 July 1977, Don Revie resigned from his post as manager of the England team.

The news screamed from the front-page headline in the Daily Mail the following morning: “Revie Quits Over Aggro”. However, instead of informing his employers at the F.A. of his decision to resign his position before anyone else, Revie had confided in Mail journalist Jeff Powell. When F.A. Secretary Ted Croker starting receiving calls from journalists at other newspapers, wanting to know if there was any truth in the story that the Daily Mail were leading with the following morning (12 July), he had no idea what they were talking about!

Revie’s resignation letter arrived at Lancaster Gate AFTER the newspapers telling of his decision to quit his post had already gone on sale to the startled football public. It was a final “screw you” from Revie to Sir Harold Thompson and his high-brow cronies at the F.A.

Sympathy? No, the devil!

Initially, there was some sympathy from the sporting nation towards Don Revie, as he revealed how he felt the job “was no longer worth the aggravation” and “was bringing too much heartache to those nearest to him and wife Elsie”. Revie added that “nearly everyone in the country wants me out, so I am giving them what they want.”

However, that sympathy quickly evaporated, to be replaced with anger and derision when it came to light on 13 July that Revie had already negotiated a very lucrative contract to take over as manager of the United Arab Emirates national team. That that deal had clearly been worked out while Revie was still England boss deepened the anger directed towards the former Leeds United manager, as did allegations that he had missed the friendly with Brazil the previous month because he was in Dubai finalising his ‘dirty deal’ with the U.A.E., despite publicly claiming to have been scouting at the Italy-Finland game.

F.A.= Forever. Angered.

For their part, the F.A. were determined that Revie would pay a heavy price for (at least as far as they were concerned) double-crossing them and making them look utterly foolish to a watching football nation. They immediately sought to totally ban Revie from English football for ten years. That declaration was the subject of a legal battle between the football authority and Don Revie’s lawyers in court, a battle that Revie eventually ‘won’, having the ruling overturned. The court deemed that the F.A. had over-reached its powers, and didn’t have the legal right to enact such a ban on Revie. However, the public perception of the former Leeds boss as a greedy, conniving man, obsessed with money, was firmly “set in stone” everywhere outside of West Yorkshire, where inevitably he was still regarded as royalty.

It was a messy ‘divorce’ to what had, in reality, been a sham of a ‘marriage’. The divisions between English football’s ruling body and Don Revie would linger until well after his untimely death from complications of motor neurone disease in May 1989. At Revie’s funeral, ‘everyone who was anyone’ in British football was in attendance- except for the Football Association, who effectively performed one final snub to their former team manager by not sending any representation at all.

Don Revie had given the best years of his life to his one true love: Leeds United. Like many men, he learned the hard way that his biggest mistake in life was leaving her side when another “girl” fluttered her eyes in his direction. His heart could only ever belong to Leeds.

Join me again next time, as we briefly look at Don Revie’s time in the Middle East, before summing up his life and substantial legacy in football.