In this final part of the review of Don Revie’s career in football, we will look at the scarcely believable events that brought a dramatic end to his time as England manager, and then at how he fared in the Middle East, before wrapping up by looking at his immense legacy to English football. If you have missed it, I have made a detailed review of Revie’s career, right from his earliest days as a striker at Leicester City, starting here. It is well worth your time, believe me!
A bitter divorce to an unhappy marriage
Don Revie resigned as manager of the England team on 12 July 1977 – in spectacular fashion. His decision to quit his post was given a further degree of “spice” that it probably didn’t need by an event somewhat outside Revie’s control. That event was that his resignation letter to the Football Association (FA) was not delivered to Lancaster Gate until after closing time on 11 July.
As such, FA Secretary Ted Croker was taken totally ‘off guard’ by journalists the following morning. They were calling him, wanting to know if Daily Mail writer Jeff Powell’s headline ‘scoop’ on Revie resigning was true. It was. Apparently, Revie had ‘sold’ his story to the Mail for £20,000, so only Powell had the news.
What no-one knew until the following day, 13 July (when Powell again performed the role of ‘messenger’) was that Revie had already agreed a lucrative deal to take charge of the United Arab Emirates national team. That revelation brought a tidal wave of criticism, anger and abuse for the former Leeds United boss, not least because the ‘dirty deal’ had clearly been formulated, thrashed out and agreed while Revie was still England manager.
Revie didn’t care. By then, he had plans in place to head for Dubai, where he would begin a six-year contract worth £340,000, tax-free. The English press led the ‘charge’, giving him the label “Don Readies”, calling him out as a money-greedy traitor who had chosen personal gain over his duty to his own national side.
‘Jump’ before ‘push’?
In Revie’s defence, and what may not have been widely known at the time, was that the FA were almost certainly making moves by then to have him replaced as England manager anyway. Put simply, Don had ‘jumped’ before he was ‘pushed’.
Revie’s relationship with many of the most influential figures at the FA, including chairman Sir Harold Thompson, was one of open hostility, nearly all civility long since eroded away. Once the results on the pitch started to take a nosedive (as they had for the preceding 6-8 months), there was only likely to be one outcome, and the word on Fleet Street was that the patrons at Lancaster Gate had been making discreet enquiries to Ipswich Town regarding the availability of their young manager, Bobby Robson.
The inhabitants of Lancaster Gate were appalled by what they viewed as treachery by Revie. That sentiment was made worse by losing him to a footballing nonentity like the United Arab Emirates. They sought to impose a total ban on any involvement with English football for the next 10 years on the former Leeds United boss. That action was eventually overturned in court by Revie’s legal team, the judge ruling that the FA had overstepped their authority and did not have the power to impose such a ban.
In the Middle East
In reality, it wouldn’t have mattered. At that time, Revie had no intention of returning to England. However, his time in the Middle East didn’t bring any drastic improvements in results for the UAE team. What he has been subsequently credited with is work to help improve the facilities for players in the country, and the Emirates did eventually qualify for World Cup 1990 in Italy.
Devoid of any players having anything like the technical ability of those he had coached in England, Revie stayed for three years in Dubai, before moving to Saudi Arabia to take charge of top club Al Nassr. There, back in club management, he led the side to a league and cup double in 1981 but was sacked in 1983, despite the club sitting third in the table.
He then spent a year in Egypt, coaching top Cairo side Al Ahly to the Egyptian league and cup double. Despite the on-field success, the Revie family didn’t settle in Cairo and returned to England just over a year later.
Back home… to terrible news
Upon his return to England, apparently there was some interest shown by Queen’s Park Rangers in having Revie installed as manager to replace Alan Mullery, but nothing came of it.
Don Revie had promised his Scottish wife Elsie that the pair would retire north of Hadrian’s Wall once his career in football came to a close. In springtime 1986 that is what they did. However, they had been living in Kinross no more than a year before Don received the fateful news that he had contracted motor neurone disease, an incurable wasting condition with no known cure.
Elland Road, for the final time
His final public appearance came at his beloved Elland Road, on 11 May 1988. On that occasion, a host of his former players, and indeed players from other clubs, gathered to play a charity game to raise money for research into motor neurone disease. By then, Revie was confined to a wheelchair and cut a frail figure. Long gone was the strong bull of a man who had terrorised top division defenders during the 1940s and 1950s.
Death comes calling, far too soon
Don Revie died in Murrayfield Hospital, Edinburgh on 26 May 1989. He was just 61 years of age. Later that evening, Michael Thomas of Arsenal scored an injury-time goal to break Liverpool hearts and take the league championship to Highbury on the basis of the Gunners having scored more goals than their Merseyside rivals during the campaign.
Predictably, the events at Anfield totally dominated the following day’s newspapers. Even in death, Don Revie, one of English football’s greatest managers, was overshadowed by events elsewhere.
On 30 May his remains were cremated after a funeral service. That service was attended by a myriad of famous figures from the football world, included Kevin Keegan, Alex Ferguson, Brian Moore, Denis Law and most of his former players from Leeds United. However, in a final snub to a man they had never forgiven, the Football Association neither sent condolences nor any representative to the funeral. Personally, I think that was a shameful, petty, vindictive thing for any organisation to do. Don Revie deserved much better for what he had achieved both in, and for, the game in England.
Don Revie: a lasting legacy
By contrast, and especially since that day, Revie has been revered in West Yorkshire in the manner you would normally associate with royalty. He forged an empire at Leeds United, a club that had been nothing more than a run-of-the-mill Second Division outfit when he arrived as a player in 1958. His statue now looks upon all arriving at Elland Road’s main entrance. The club also renamed the North Stand in his honour.
In 13 years at Leeds United, Don Revie won every major honour in football at least once, with the notable exception of the European Cup. Ironically, another legend of the English game, Jimmy Armfield, took Revie’s team to the final of that competition the season after Revie had left to manage England (1974-75). The Whites lost the game 2-0 to Bayern Munich in Paris in hugely controversial circumstances. Well, with Leeds United, it was never anything else!
However, in truth, the number of trophies Leeds should have won under Revie’s guidance is probably at least double what they managed. As well as claiming two league titles (in 1969 and 1974), they were Division One runners-up no less than FIVE times! They won the FA Cup in 1972, but lost out in three other trips to Wembley, most astonishingly to huge underdogs Sunderland in 1973.
The list of players who owe Revie a debt of gratitude for furthering their careers in the game is a long one indeed. The names are like a “who’s who” of 1960s and 70s English football: Bremner, Charlton, Giles, Lorimer, Jones, Madeley, Cooper, Clarke, Gray, Greenhoff, Hunter, Reaney, Sprake, Cherry, Yorath, McQueen, Jordan, Harvey, Keegan, Channon, Francis…
Controversies… never far away
Of course, not everyone held Revie in such high esteem. There were allegations of financial impropriety levelled against him, going back as far as the early 1960s. It was claimed that Revie had tried to arrange a bribe through his captain Billy Bremner, for Wolves to ‘throw’ the vital final league game of the season against Leeds United in 1971-72. Indeed, both Wolves midfielder Danny Hegan and Leeds keeper Gary Sprake were subsequently quoted in newspapers, verifying that such a bribe attempt had taken place. However, neither man was prepared to repeat those allegations under oath in court. Wolves had won the game 2-1 in any case, which threw further doubt on the claims.
For his part in all of this, Sprake managed to ostracise himself not only from Revie’s good graces but that of the vast majority of Leeds United supporters. Thereafter he was viewed as a traitor, someone who had broken the unspoken ‘circle of trust’ that existed between Revie and his former players.
Alan Ball, famously a World Cup winner with England as a young midfielder in July 1966, claimed that Revie and Leeds United had attempted to hijack his proposed transfer from Blackpool to Everton in late summer of 1966. According to Ball, the Yorkshire outfit had sent him a ‘bung’ of £300 as a ‘carrot’ to sign for Leeds instead. Revie and his club, not surprisingly, fervently denied that any such approach had ever taken place. Both Revie and Ball were charged by the FA with bringing the game into disrepute and fined over the affair.
Revie: an undeniable impact on football
However, it would be both churlish and nonsense to allow these allegations to detract from Don Revie’s legacy in football. The man had nothing less than a sensational career and was certainly one of the pioneering men of that age, along with luminaries such as Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Brian Clough, Jock Stein and Alf Ramsey. His attention to detail when it came to preparing his teams for games was second to none. Opponents were studied, and their key players’ strengths and weaknesses assessed, such that by the time Revie’s men took to the pitch they knew their opposition inside-out. It’s a template that has been copied by top managers all around the world ever since.
Revie created one of the most close-knit, ‘family’ atmospheres that has ever existed at a professional football club, and then used that sense of ‘togetherness’ to further the club’s aim of being successful on the park. Johnny Giles once quipped: ‘if you kicked one Leeds player, you’d kicked all of us…’.
That’s exactly the mentality that Revie wanted to foster, and it made his teams even harder to play against. Getting professional players to regard the men with whom they were competing on a daily basis for a shirt in the club’s starting XI as ‘mates’ (for whom you would ‘go into battle’ on the pitch) is no easy thing to achieve.
Young sportsmen and women are raised into ultra-competitive environments where there is usually only one victor and many losers. When you add in the diverse personalities found in any club dressing-room, it is a testament to Don Revie’s man-management abilities that he successfully created such a tightly-bonded group for such a long period of time. Only a handful of men have done similar in British football and produced consistently productive teams like Revie did.
Don Revie was a great man, a giant of the game. Despite being a life-long, die-hard fan of one of his club’s most bitter rivals, Manchester United, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing this series on his life in football. It was one heck of a life! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it.
Love him or loathe him, Don Revie’s impact on English football was immense and cannot be ignored, even today, 30 years after his untimely passing.