'People have been knighted for less' - MP hopes to help Leeds United legend Don Revie take rightful place in English football - YEP 10/11/21

Don Revie has been denied his rightful place in English football, according to the author of a new biography of the Leeds United legend.

By Graham Smyth

Chris Evans, the Member of Parliament for Islwyn and the Shadow Minister for Defence Procurement, grew up in the valleys of South Wales, far from Elland Road and a football club that took his fascination, despite Division Two status.

“Everywhere you looked it was Manchester United and Liverpool,” he told the YEP.

“Either you were in a Manchester United gang or a Liverpool gang. Even our street had a gang. I remember clear as day that Leeds United drew Coventry City in the 1987 cup semi-final and ITV put this montage together to Get It On by T. Rex.

“There was this team in white ripping apart Manchester United and Liverpool, with Billy Bremner lifting the 1972 FA Cup and Don Revie with the 1974 league championship. I had never heard of Leeds United before and I was really excited by them.”

Revie in particular piqued Evans’ interest.

“I’ve always been interested in controversial characters and mysteries and Don, to me, was a mystery,” he said.

“I was fascinated by his story. By ’74 he was a pioneer, by 1977 he was a pariah. In my young mind he shone so brightly for a short space of time then disappeared.

“The other day they repeated the 1989 league decider and they never mentioned Don, even though he died that night.

“I was always very interested in finding out how he arrived at a stage where he was the pariah of English football.”

For his book, Don Revie: The Biography, Evans spent time in conversation with Leeds idols Johnny Giles, Norman Hunter, Eddie Gray and Allan Clarke.

What they said about their boss contrasted with the views of others.

“Talking to all his players, what I was amazed at was how strongly loyal they were,” he said.

“You talked to those who weren’t in the Leeds United side and they didn’t have a good word to say about him. I found that amazing.

“What was really important was going back in time with the British Newspaper Archive, the Yorkshire Evening Post, getting a sense of how he was in his time.”

What Evans learned fostered in him admiration and affection for Revie the man.

“He could have been anything he wanted to be,” said Evans.

“If he had gone into politics he would have been the leader of the Labour Party. He was a winner, that man was always going to the top.

“He lost his mother at 11, at 17 he’s never been further than Redcar and he’s jumping on a train to Leicester. One of his mates was picked up from Middlesbrough Swifts, by Leicester and couldn’t make the journey because he was too scared but Don did it.

“One thing I think has been lost is how kind he was. There were so many instances of players saying how he looked after them and their families. He was very ambitious but never too big to look after those less fortunate. His wife Elsie said towards the end of his life that he was a great humanitarian and I think he was.”

Revie’s meticulous approach is no secret, nor is his willingness to engage with the media – former YEP writer Don Warters sat in the manager’s office at Elland Road on a near daily basis to ensure Leeds remained on the back page.

Evans believes Revie was a pioneer and well ahead of his time.

“Don left no stone unturned,” he said.

“He would make sure they knew everything about those players and he would not let them go out on that pitch unless they were 100 per cent prepared. He was the template for the modern day manager, the Jurgen Klopps and Pep Guardiolas.

“He was always very accessible to the media in a way that Busby and Shanky probably weren’t. He was good at PR. Sitting down with journalists like Don Warters was part of this PR exercise to get more people through the gates, so there was more money to improve the team.

“He talked about sponsors names being written across the front of shirts as early as 1969, he realised football was a business as well and he always said you have to make money through the gates, merchandise, to make the team successful.”

Revie’s methods brought a level of success to Leeds that underpins the club’s modern-day stature. He won the Second Division, the First Division twice, the FA Cup, the League Cup and a pair of Fairs Cups.

It would have been more than enough to guarantee legendary status not only in Leeds but in English footballing history, had it not been for what came next.

Evans insists the accusations of financial misconduct carried by sections of the national press, and the FA’s treatment of Revie, amounted to a ‘witch-hunt.’

“You have to look at that down a different lens,” said Evans.

“He was destroyed from resigning from a job he didn’t like. He walked out on the England job and no one could understand that.

“After Revie walked away, the FA and the press went after him and went digging. Remember he was never charged with anything, never charged with a criminal offence, never charged by the FA for throwing games, so there was never any evidence. It was a witchhunt led by people upset that he resigned from that job.”

That, and Revie’s impact on the game, led Evans to conclude the subject of his book has not been given his fair recognition.

“People forget he was a great footballer, Footballer of the Year,” he said.

“You look around and there’s Sir Stanley Matthews, Sir Kenny Dalglish, Sir Bobby Charlton. I think when you see his contribution to the game, that you still see so much that can be related back to his service to the game, people have been knighted for less. I know you can’t have posthumous knighthoods but I feel he should be more celebrated by the game. We need to add Revie to the list of greats with Ferguson, Shankly, Paisley, Busby. He had more of an influence in many respects.

“It’s not just a piece of PR blurb, I hope he can take his rightful place. I want people not just in Leeds to finally recognise him as one of the greatest, if not the greatest manager this country has ever seen.”

Don Revie: The Biography by Christopher Evans (Bloomsbury, £20) is available to buy now.

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