Leeds United no longer have to look back in anger, says Dave Cohen. They have finally shed the burden of the club's great years under Don Revie
The history of Leeds United is the history of Don Revie and can be written as follows: Chapter One: Before Don Revie; Chapter Two: The Revie Years; and Chapter Three: The Revie Legacy.
Most of the action before his arrival in 1961 took place within the middle reaches of the old First Division, with occasional excursions into the Second. The legendary team the rest of the country came to know and hate, which took shape in the early 1960s, was made flesh in his image, well organised and tough, sometimes excessively so. And the two decades that followed his departure for the England job in 1974 were lived entirely in the shadow of his successes.
From our inception in 1919 until the late 1950s, the words “Leeds United” were not spat out in anger by our detractors in the way we now take for granted. Indeed, we very nearly strangled at birth. A new club was formed shortly after predecessors Leeds City had been thrown out of the League for financial shenanigans in 1919. Almost immediately, Hilton Crowther, the chairman of struggling Huddersfield Town, attempted a merger. It failed, and Crowther moved to the new Leeds United club instead. Two years later, Town employed the former Leeds City manager Herbert Chapman, and were immediately launched on a decade of trophy-laden success.
The story of Leeds might have been very different if the game of musical chairs had ended up with Chapman in charge of a new club in a bigger city with a wealthy backer. After transforming Huddersfield he turned Arsenal into the superpower of English football in the Thirties – it might have been Leeds.
Instead, they bumbled on for another 40 years before stumbling across the Svengali who would finally realise the club’s potential. In the meantime, we were not a force to be reckoned with. If I’d ever sat on my grandad’s knee to hear tales of local sporting heroics, it would have been to listen to glorious stories of Hutton and Sutcliffe. When celebrating crowds gathered in the city centre it was to hail Yorkshire CCC or the rugby league club, both based at Headingley.
Leeds was never really thought of as a football town in the way that our neighbours Sheffield and Manchester were. But nor was it likely to be satisfied with exchanging insults with Huddersfield as the two clubs yo-yoed past each other between the First and Second Divisions in the Fifties.
Don Revie was to give the club the status which the city’s size and pride demanded. True, we had had famous managers before. As well as Chapman there was the maverick Frank Buckley, previously an innovator at Wolves, and Raich Carter, a star forward in the postwar England team, who built a 1956 promotion team around the legendary, Juventus-bound John Charles.
But it was Don who took us from the relegation zone in the Second to runners-up spot in the First Division within three years. He also ditched the municipal colours of blue and gold in favour of the all-white strip, modelled on Real Madrid. The “Dirty Leeds” teams that made headway in the early Sixties were built around the midfield bite of Scottish hardman Bobby Collins and his young acolyte, Billy Bremner, but there was always space for the skills of Johnny Giles and Albert Johanneson and later the gifted ball players like Eddie Gray, Terry Cooper and Peter Lorimer.
In the Revie era the club came to represent not just the city of Leeds but Yorkshire more generally and, for southern fans, were identified as the archetypal “dirty northern bastards”. Once established as a domestic and even European power, far beyond the reach of the Sheffield clubs, let alone Bradford and Huddersfield, United’s sights were raised far beyond the confines of their local area. Their most hostile enmities in the Seventies were with Chelsea (particularly following the 1970 Cup final), Manchester United and Liverpool. In the early Eighties, struggling in the Second Division, Newcastle became another pet hate. Even now, with Bradford in the Premiership, the local derby comes a very poor second to trans-Pennine clashes.
As the Revie days came to an end, the team that had flourished together grew old together. What they lost in pace and skill they gained in tetchiness, and by the time of our second championship we were indeed a pretty nasty bunch. Revie’s departure was the signal for a period of unprecedented turmoil. One by one, his former players tried to recreate the magic. Bremner, Gray and Allan Clarke all tried their hand, but the burden was too great. Indeed, Jack Charlton apart, the biggest post-football success of that team was utility player Paul Madeley, who set up a string of successful hardware stores.
It was not until the constant harking back to players from the Revie era ended that Leeds could start to build a new identity. Howard Wilkinson briefly recreated the Revie formula for the 1992 championship team, with its raggle-taggle collection of brilliant youngsters and donkeys in their dotage, combined around the genuine class of Eric Cantona, but he was never forgiven for offloading his star to the old enemy.
Back in the Twenties, Leeds had let Herbert Chapman slip away to make Arsenal great. Finally, in the Nineties, they took revenge of a sort, recruiting first George Graham and then David O’Leary to make a new United, still hard, but with less of the cynicism. The old paternalistic style in the boardroom, exemplified by Manny Cussins, was replaced by the corporate, PR-conscious operation fronted by Peter Ridsdale.
Some of the ghosts refuse to die – the current team is still prone to brawls and onfield “incidents”. The Galatasaray horror also recalled aspects of the old Leeds we would all rather forget and the sub-Diana mania surrounding the death of Bremner three years ago suggested that, just as England seem constrained by the achievement of 1966, so Leeds are destined never entirely to escape the Revie legacy.
But the club appears to have reached something of an equilibrium. They are no longer under-achievers as they were before Revie, nor the insecure and unpopular nearly-men of his reign. With a side that manages to be physical and entertaining, plus an honourable reputation as one of the first clubs to pioneer anti-racist policies, the club is more comfortable with itself than most fans can remember. We may have finally walked away from the shadow of the man in the lucky suit.
The highs and the lows ~ West Yorkshire
“Glory” is stretching it a bit, but 1920-21 was notable as the only season when three west Yorkshire clubs played in the top division. It was Bradford PA’s last look at the First Division and Huddersfield’s first (Bradford City made up the trio). The Terriers went on to reach the Cup final four times before 1930, won the League three times in a row and finished second twice. In 1933-34, arguably the region’s best year, Town were again second, with Leeds ninth and the two Bradfords fifth and sixth in the Second Division. Huddersfield’s success was matched by Leeds in the late Sixties and early Seventies, but since the war there have only been five seasons, including the current one, when the region could claim two sides in the top division.
The late Seventies and early Eighties saw first Huddersfield and then Leeds in serious decline, while Halifax were regular applicants for re-election. Between 1982 and 1990 there were no west Yorkshire teams in the First Division and in 1986 the best of them (Bradford, for the first time since 1921) were only 13th in the Second Division. The early Sixties weren’t great either, with no one higher than Leeds (14th in the Second Division) in their last pre-Revie season, 1960-61. But arguably worst of all was 1978-79. Leeds finished sixth in the First Division, but the other three were playing derbies in the Fourth.
Leeds translated the success of the Revie era into some impressive crowds, staying among the top ten every season from 1963 to 1979. They were the third best supported club in their championship season of 1974 (38,666). Huddersfield, on the other hand, never got higher than 16th during their golden spell in the Twenties. Their third consecutive title in 1925 was watched by a feeble average of 17,670, only 20th best in the country. At the other end of the scale, Halifax plumbed the depths by finishing the worst supported club in the League for six years out of seven in the late Eighties – 1,327 in 1987 the absolute nadir.
Since the war the pattern of support has been virtually unchanged, with Leeds at the top, followed by Huddersfield, the two Bradfords swapping places until PA’s demise, and Halifax bringing up the rear (though recently City have overtaken Huddersfield). Leeds have been the biggest draw in every season since 1955, though sometimes only just, as in 1961, when they averaged only 13,433, nine more than Huddersfield. Even before the war, Leeds generally drew the largest crowds in the region. The last time Bradford City had the region’s best average was 1931 (14,195).
From WSC 165 November 2000. What was happening this month