Leeds United Series: Don Revie and His Dirty Football

“Before match against Real Zaragoza, Don Revie had asked the local fire brigade to flood the Elland Road Pitch to make the Spaniards struggle with boggy conditions

In the long history of Leeds United, there was a classic tale about Don Revie and his dirty approach to playing football. This era has brought remarkable glorious moments for the club and also a disgraceful legacy that will never be forgotten.

The story began in the early 1961, Jack Taylor resigned as Leeds United manager and Don Revie, at 33 years of age, took over the job with a £20 per week contract as a player-manager. His career in Leeds United started far behind his best days as a footballer. With inherited coaching staff from his predecessor, Don Revie began one of the most transformative periods in British football history.

His managerial career with Leeds United has marked a revolutionary time in the history of British football. He is the one who started the present management style by the detail-orientated and believed in the dispassionate, cold analysis. His teams played with flair and skill, not to mention a large helping of passion.

Leeds United early success under Don Revie was built on niggling gamesmanship and hard tackling ferocity, but they later perfected a style of flowing football which carried all before it in the early 1970’s. The reputation that ‘dirty Leeds’ won in Revie’s first four years stayed with him and tarnished his name.

The Don Revie controversy was also captured in 1966 European Fair Cup’s semi-final against Real Zaragoza. Prior to the second leg against Real Zaragoza, Revie had tried to obtain an advantage by asking the local fire brigade to flood the Elland Road Pitch, reasoning the Spaniards would struggle with boggy conditions. It backfired; Leeds United fell three goals behind inside 11 minutes and was eliminated from the tournament. Don Revie’s reputation for negativity and pragmatism has also been criticized, and the peak of it occurred on the European cup loss against Dinamo Zagreb.

Another storm for Don Revie reputation came in 1978, the former goalkeeper Gary Sprake accused him of match-fixing as a part of an investigation by daily mail. Sprake said that Revie repeatedly tried to bribe the opposition players. Meanwhile, no solid evidence was filed against Revie.

Away from Elland Road, the lasting memory of Revie is the distasteful and infamous manner of his departure from the job of England manager. Don Revie excited passionate emotions in football people, and in many corners of the country his name is reviled.

In May 1987 specialists diagnosed Revie as suffering with the incurable motor neurone disease, which causes gradual muscle wastage. Faced with the possibility of imminent death, Revie was admirably defiant: “I aim to do all I can to raise as much as I can for research into the disease. It’s not all doom and gloom”. That same indomitable spirit was conveyed in a message from Billy Bremner who urged his gaffer to keep fighting, “just like you told the players to in our great days together”

Don Revie enjoyed memorable, yet ultimately disappointing, careers as a manager. He earned respect and success, but any praise was grudgingly given. His legacy, however, remains a force debating point in English football history. An innovator or a cynic. A messiah or a heretic. Fiercely loyal or enslaved to ambitions of wealth. He is one of the most opaque figures the British game has ever known.

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