Now, in England, as in the time of Richard III, it is the winter of discontent. Not since World War II and its aftermath have Britons been so sorely tried. But neither the energy crisis, the railroad and coal strikes nor a teeming rain deterred a crowd of 60,000 from filing into the Old Trafford soccer pitch in Manchester a fortnight ago to watch Manchester United, the last-place team in the first division of English football, play Leeds United, the first-place team.
It was the biggest crowd of the season and for good reason. Leeds had played 28 games without a loss in 1973-74. In more than 50 years no first-division team has had so long a run of success. The all-time British record, set by Burnley in the 1920-21 season, is 30 games in a row.
Leeds United, then, is the Miami Dolphins of English football. Not surprisingly, the team is managed by a man who would be very much at home coaching the Dolphins or the Washington Redskins. Don Revie, called The Boss, has George Allen's warm regard for players and blithe disregard for costs. He also has Don Shula's extraordinary talent for organization and preparation.
Revie once played for Leeds as a center forward, the spearhead of the attack in soccer. Typically, he was not a scorer. "He was a great passer," says Jason Tomas, one of the best English soccer critics. "When he was with Manchester City, they had what they called the Revie plan. Don would lag back and distribute the ball. He would analyze the defense and then pass the ball to a winger in a strategic position. He was superb."
February 24, 1974
When he came to Leeds as a player, the club was in the bottom half of the first division. Revie, it must be admitted, did little to change the situation. In fact, the team was soon relegated (or demoted) to the second division. Revie had requested his release so he could accept a manager's job at Bournemouth when the Leeds manager resigned.
Harry Reynolds, at the time the club's chairman of the board, recalls, "Don was interested in a player-manager's job and I gave him permission to apply at Bournemouth. When I was writing his reference, it occurred to me that with all these recommendations we could do with him ourselves."
Revie accepted the Leeds job with reservations. "Our average gate was down to well below 20,000 and the place was like a ghost town," he says. "No one seemed to care whether we won or lost, and I remember telling the directors, 'Don't expect miracles. If we get back into the first division in five years, we'll have done exceptionally well.' "
When Revie took over as player-manager in 1961, the club was some ¬£200,000 in debt in a city oriented more toward rugby than soccer. Leeds, 180 miles north of London, has three major league rugby teams and even though Leeds United is now considered the best side in Europe, some of the dour Yorkshiremen who inhabit the city are not sold on soccer. When recently asked what he thought about Leeds United, a cab driver nodded vaguely. "Aye," he said, "moost be a fine side, but I'm a roogby mon meself. Haven't seen the football though I hear it can be exciting, too."
The first full season under Revie, Leeds narrowly missed relegation to the third division. The next season was not much better. "We didna' have the mooney to buy players," Revie says. "So I decided I would go wi' the yoong, an' that's what I have done."
He also inaugurated the English equivalent of the American pro football scouting system, both for games and for talent. "Toward the end of the 1963-64 season I heard some good reports about a young player, so I sent Syd Owen along to run the rule over him," Revie says. "I have never before seen such a detailed breakdown of a footballer. Syd had left nothing to chance. He outlined how good the player was on his right and left side, the angles or lines along which he tended to run with the ball, the shooting positions he favored, and so on. It struck us that a report like this would be invaluable if applied to the teams we met each week and it all started from there."
Aside from Leeds' success over the past few years, one reason it does not lose players is Revie's free hand with the pound. By British standards the dressing rooms are posh, with a sauna, carpets and a players' lounge. Moreover, Leeds has the best-appointed stadium and playing fields in the country.
"When Don took over, the old pitch was a bit seedy," says Assistant Manager Maurice Lindley. "The grass was worn, the stadium run down, the dressing rooms a bit scaly. Boot he changed a' thot. He had the pitch torn up and resodded, and electric wires laid six inches below the surface to warm it in cold weather so that it wouldna' get too hard to play on. And not only on the stadium pitch—on the practice field, as well. And he wants this to be a family, so he goes to no end to make the wives happy, figuring a happy wife makes a happy player. I reckon we're the only cloob in England has Christmas parties for the players and the wives and the kiddies, with presents for all, and Don knows the birfday of every wife so he can send her a bouquet of carnations when it comes aboot. In 10 years we've had less transfers than any other cloob in England."
Johnny Giles, an Irish international who is one of Leeds' forwards, is a small, dark man with an unusual talent both for striking—scoring—and for sifting through the melee in front of the opposition's goal. One recent afternoon, sitting in a chilly pub in Leeds sipping an orange drink, he pondered the reason for the unusual success of his club. "This team have played together a long time," he said. "Maybe 10 or 12 years, ever since The Boss came. It's unusual to get so many good players to stay together so long, and The Boss did this. You see, the manager is always the most important man on any club. Don Revie has a real feeling for all of us and we know it. He had made us a family and no one wants to leave it.
"I love football," Giles said. "I guess we all do. There's a great satisfaction in doing well what you can do when you're on the pitch. Don is a bit of a sentimental man, but we are not a sentimental team. We won't be excited about the game Saturday with Manchester United, even if we have won 28 in a row. You get ready automatically for a game like this, because Manchester is a traditional foe. But as a pro, you know there are going to be days when you're not geared up. So then you gear yourself up falsely." He thought about that for a moment, looking out the window to the rain pelting Leeds. "I've learned a lot from golf," he said. "You know what you have to do and you can't depend upon emotion for it. You depend upon what you have done and what you know you can do. When I'm playing golf I know if I hit the ball correctly it'll go where I want it to go. So if I make a pass with confidence playing football I know it'll go where it should. I gear myself up by knowing that and thinking that. It doesn't do to get yourself too excited about one game. If you are too high, you fall too low."
Revie shares Giles' preoccupation with golf as it relates to soccer. He is a good golfer, playing to an eight handicap, and spends most of his time on the course during the off-season. His wife is a former Scottish women's champion.
The Leeds team traveled the 50-odd miles to Manchester by bus on the Friday before the Saturday afternoon game with Manchester United. After having dinner together at the Midland Hotel, the players went to their rooms to watch the telly or play cards. In the morning they gathered for the pregame meal at 11, then met with Revie for a briefing—the English equivalent of going over a game plan. Revie had dictated the three-page plan to his secretary the previous evening.
It was a result of an Owen scouting report and was not nearly as detailed as an American pro football game plan. It dealt with tendencies, not plays, since there are no set plays in soccer, a much more fluid game. For an earlier game against Liverpool, Owen had written: "Liverpool took the field first and proceeded toward the Spion Kop end. This being the end they prefer to defend in the first half, an advantage may be gained by getting out first when we play there. Use the right-hand goal for warming up and, should we win the toss, elect to stay as you are at kickoff. Shankly [Liverpool's manager] has devised his team tactics to cover some deficiencies in his playing strength. Both fullbacks lack pace and our wingers must seek the ball behind them."
Revie imparted much the same kind of information about Manchester to his players in some 45 minutes before they took the bus to Old Trafford. After the meeting he sat in the lounge, cheerfully signing autographs and talking to members of the board of directors and to friends. Before the team meeting he had trotted back to the hotel through the rain, carrying a shopping bag and sweating despite the chill. "A bit of shopping for the wife," he said apologetically. "She didna' come, and I thought I should get her a present, you know."
He did not seem particularly concerned about the upcoming match. Instead, he wanted to talk about one of the most exciting moments of his life. "During the British Open I sat just this far as I am from you from Jack Nicklaus," he said. "I wanted to introduce meself to him, but I did not want to be so forceful. And twice I rode up in the elevator with him."
He shook his head in memory of his good fortune. "I use the Big Bear as an example to the team now and then," he said. "We have been on top for a long time now and all the other teams seem to have a glint in their eyes when they play us. And so will Manchester United this afternoon, I reckon. But I tell them that the Big Bear has been on top all these years and he doesna' need their money now, I'm sure, but he plays for pride and because he has discipline and dedication. And I think this team does the same thing, you know. He has learned to live with pressure and so have this cloob. I'm sure when Nicklaus or Palmer or Trevino are going well, they enjoy practice. It's the same with the team. Oh, psychology plays a part and sometimes I moost be hard with them and sometimes I moost pick them right off the floor, but I always relate our football team to Jack Nicklaus. Although they've got the money, they've got the pride, too."
It was still raining heavily when Leeds United left for the stadium, but the rain stopped soon after they arrived. By the time they took the field the sun was making brief appearances. The field had drained nicely; rain is a way of life in Manchester and the soccer pitch was built with that in mind.
The Leeds team did not look much like Jack Nicklaus or, for that matter, Leeds, in the first half. Manchester United, fighting doggedly to avoid being relegated to the second division, played a strong, gambling game and David Harvey, Leeds' magnificent goalie, had to make two diving saves to avoid scores.
"We are an attacking team," Revie had said before the game. "We will not be a dull team. I think the game needs attack and that's what we shall do, no matter the circumstances."
Twice in the second half Leeds attacked with all the nimble flair of which it is capable. A Manchester winger stumbled deep in Leeds territory and Paul Madeley, one of Leeds' world-class players, nobbled onto the ball immediately. He passed, two more Leeds players switched the ball back and forth between them and Madeley, who had run some 80 yards at full speed without the ball, took the penultimate pass behind the Manchester defense. He flicked the ball deftly into the path of Forward Mick Jones, who had come up the middle, and Jones slammed it into the goal.
Near the end of the game, a similar move freed Forward Joe Jordan in front of the Manchester goal. He gave the goalie two fakes, then squibbed the ball gently past him into the net as casually as a Tuesday morning soccer player enjoying five-a-side in Hyde Park, and Leeds had won 2-0 for No. 29.
Maybe even the cabbie, the roogby man, will be seduced by this club. It can be exciting.