The Story of Don Revie & “Dirty Leeds”

Don Revie’s name is rarely mentioned today.
In a thirteen-year period, he elevated Leeds United from being a small, provincial and
down on its luck club, to being one of the finest in Europe. He won six major trophies
and his accomplishments stand alongside those of contemporaries like Bill Shankly and Brian
Clough. A complex and textured man, though, history hasn’t rewarded him in nearly the
same way. Revie first arrived at Leeds United in the
winter of 1958, as an ageing and slowing forward who cost £14,000 from Sunderland. His best playing days were behind him. Just
three years before, he had been voted the FWA’s Footballer of the Year and won the
last of his six caps for England. A year after that, he had won the FA Cup with Manchester
City, but he moved to Elland Road following two desperately disappointing seasons – and
a relegation – with Sunderland. He was 31 years old. Leeds had never been a natural football town.
In fact, Leeds United only appeared in the old First Division in 1924, several decades
behind some of the game’s contemporary powers. Instead, it was a rugby heartland, with the
Leeds club one of the founder members of the breakaway Northern Union. The football club that Revie joined had never
won a major honour, save that Second Division title in 1924. At the start of the 1950s,
home attendances had averaged over 32,000. Ten years later, with Leeds suffering relegation
in 1960, they’d fallen to under 22,000 and were still on the wane. By 1962 the side were
drifting towards the bottom of Division Two and attracting, on average, just 13,340 fans
to Elland Road. In early 1961, Revie took his first steps
toward coaching by applying for the vacant player-manager’s job at Bournemouth, asking
director Harry Reynolds – a local millionaire – to write him a reference. With Bournemouth
baulking over the compensation fee, Reynolds paused for thought and, with manager Jack
Taylor having recently resigned, offered Revie the player-manager’s job at Leeds. At 33, Revie accepted a three-year contract
which would pay him £20 per week. With an inherited coaching staff of Syd Owen, Maurice
Lindley and Les Cocker, who – in turn and in time – would give Revie’s team its
legs and its mind, so began one of the most transformative periods in English football
history. Revie had been impressionable as a player,
absorbing influences from his career’s beginning. The role he played in the 1956 Cup Final,
a position we know today as the False Nine, was inspired by Nandor Hidegkuti’s performance
at Wembley in 1953, in Hungary’s famous 6-3 win over England. Real Madrid’s 7-3
win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup final would also become a definitive reference
point for Revie. After becoming Leeds manager, he made footage
of the game compulsory viewing for any young apprentice joining the club and, of course,
in the summer of 1961, replaced the club’s blue and gold kit with the white shirts, white
shorts and white socks that have been worn ever since. To some it was a transparent homage to Real
Madrid and a symbol of what Revie was aiming towards. According to other reports, however,
including the testimony of Jack Charlton, white was simply the easiest colour to identify
on the pitch. Whatever the truth, it was indicative of Leeds’ new ambition. According to descriptions in Anthony Clavane’s
Promised Land: A Northern Love Story, Revie mounted a full scale assault on the club’s
culture from Day One. He inherited structural weaknesses. A decaying stadium, rotting training
facilities and the lack of a natural fanbase. But perhaps his biggest obstacle was an under-motivated,
easily contented squad. He would purge it, ruthlessly, with 27 players
jettisoned over those first two years. His innovations also began immediately. Primitive
training methods were replaced by a new technical focus while, according to Clavane’s account,
motivational tactics were introduced, with players who performed particularly badly in
training ‘rewarded’ with a yellow jersey to wear during sessions and, in an attempt
to foster team spirit, squad trips to Bingo halls were organised. Three decades before
Arsene Wenger would take charge at Arsenal and lead a conditioning revolution, Revie
was also stressing the importance of nutrition and diet and monitoring what his players ate
before games. He was challenging the orthodoxy. Speaking years later and quoted by James Corbett
in a 2008 article for The Guardian, midfielder Peter Lorimer described an avant garde environment. “I know when we mixed with players from
other clubs at internationals, none of them were doing the things we were. It was all
new. Everything was ahead of its time and that’s probably why we enjoyed it so much.” Above all else, Revie had a strong vision
for what he wanted to create. As a club, Leeds were on the breadline, constantly flirting
with financial catastrophe. As a result, Revie had few options for improving his squad. His
solution was to draw inspiration from Matt Busby’s work at Manchester United and the
organic supply which had equipped a succession of excellent, home-grown sides. Revie wanted to homogenise the style and tactics
used by Leeds’ various teams, creating continuity and easing the transition between junior and
senior football for aspiring professionals. The rewards from the newly defined academy
were bounteous. Revie inherited centre-half Jack Charlton and future captain Billy Bremner,
but Gary Sprake, Peter Lorimer and Norman Hunter would all debut under him in 1962,
as would stalwart full-back Paul Reaney. Future England internationals Paul Madeley and Terry
Cooper would follow in 1963 and 1964 respectively, while Eddie Gray would graduate into the first-team
in 1966, with Terry Yorath joining him in 1968. Many of his changes, though, exceeded anything
tried by Busby or anyone else. Revie remains famous today for his dossiers – thick, excruciatingly
detailed documents tailored around the strengths and weaknesses of opponents and the minutiae
of individual refereeing tendencies – but there was nothing he wasn’t willing to try
in pursuit of an advantage. Players were given ballet lessons to improve their balance, Revie
procured new, lightweight training kit and boots, and wearing jackets and ties to and
from games became compulsory on match days. At the heart of Revie’s legacy is that,
under him, the club was a family, not just a football team, and that he was their father,
leader, tactician and agony aunt, all rolled into one. He was committed to ensuring that
every employee was valued and that a player’s life beyond the pitch was as settled as possible.
Revie wanted his young players married young and, once they were, their wives would be
invited to club social nights and have flowers sent to them on their birthdays. Progress on the pitch wasn’t initially as
dramatic. Leeds limped to 14th at the end of the Revie’s first season in 1961 and
came within a single win of relegation to Division Three in 1962. By the end of 1962-63
season, momentum had begun to build and attendances had started to rise. An average of 20,376
pushed through the turnstiles as Leeds finished fifth. The 1963-64 side was a different beast, though.
It would win promotion back to Division One, but also begin the colouring of Revie’s
coaching reputation. It began with a decisive switch. With his
form in heavy recession, Billy Bremner – to that point most often a wide player – was
repurposed as a central midfielder, to play alongside the tiny but delivish Bobby Collins.
To fill the resulting space, Revie showed just how decisive his judgement could be,
snatching the transfer-listed Johnny Giles from Manchester United for just £33,000. To accomplish promotion, though, Revie had
had to navigate the early season loss of forward Jim Storrie to injury, which left the side
reliant on its wingers, mainly the enigmatically gifted Albert Johanneson, for its goals. Alan
Peacock would be signed late in the season, but he too would prove brittle in the long
term. It left Revie dependent on a much improved defence, helmed by Charlton, and a hard-running,
physical and uncompromising style which would begin the birth of the Dirty Leeds legend. In The Unforgiven, Rob Bagchi argues – compellingly
– that they were a product of their time and their environment. That ‘they felt they
had to fight their way out of the Second Division, relying on organisation, set plays and closing
down space, utilising their superior fitness to batter the opposition into submission’. Further testimony came from Bill Shankly,
no less. “You can’t play your way out of the Second
Division”, he said, “you’ve got to claw your way out.” Regarding the issue of whether Leeds’ ‘clawing’
crossed the line, Bagchi also concludes that while there’s little evidence to support
any theory that Revie encouraged roughhousing tactics, neither is there much to suggest
he disapproved of them either. Without question, they were an extremely physical side in a
very physical age and, as the footage still available proves, played in a way which encouraged
their notoriety. Or, as Peter Lorimer remembers: “Our whole ethos was built on loyalty. We
all fight for each other, we all work for each other. If someone kicks me, he kicks
all 11 of us.” Leeds were built not to suffer any intimidation
and, from 1964 onwards, they began their struggle up the mountain. Because of their industrial roots and style,
Revie and his players were looked down upon by the southern media. They earned few new
First Division friends with an early brawl with Everton at Goodison Park, which ended
with both sets of players being temporarily taken off the field. They weren’t a popular side and, as a result,
the rest of England enjoyed their near misses over the coming years. They were beaten by
Liverpool in the notoriously drab 1965 FA Cup Final. In 1966, they finished second in
the First Division, while also losing at the semi-final stage of the Inter-City Fairs Cup,
the early incarnation of the UEFA Cup and Europa League. Prior to the second leg of that game, against
Real Zaragoza, Revie had tried to obtain an advantage by asking the local fire brigade
to flood the Elland Road pitch, reasoning that the Spaniards would struggle with boggy
conditions. It backfired: Leeds fell three goals behind inside 11 minutes and were eliminated. It’s the kind of anecdote which portrayed
how many viewed – and continue to view – Revie. As paranoid, negative and cynical. As a footballing
pessimist; someone terrified to lose. But the critical losses continued, often to
the sound of the country’s mirth and the media’s cackling schadenfreude. They would
be defeated in the FA Cup semi-final in 1967 and despite this time reaching the Fairs Cup
final, they’d lose again, over two legs, to Dinamo Zagreb. Revie’s reputation for negativity and pragmatism
– criticised again following the loss to Zagreb – formed one half of a fascinating
contradiction. On the one hand, he was detail-orientated and clearly believed in dispassionate, cold
analysis. On the other, he was a deeply superstitious man, who always wore the same blue suit on
matchday, who built curious little routines into his journeys to the ground, and once
asked a Gypsy woman from Scarborough to carry out an exorcism of Elland Road. In 1968, though, shortly after those spirits
had been chased away, Leeds broke through. In one of the dourest finals ever played at
Wembley, they beat Arsenal with a single Terry Cooper goal to win the league cup. A few months
later, in a final delayed until the following September by fixture congestion and political
tension, United completed their journey in the Fairs Cup, at last capturing the trophy
after – typically – a one-goal win over two-legs against Hungarian side Ferencvaros. In 1969, the Division One title finally followed.
In true Revie fashion, it was campaign built on defensive rigidity. Leeds kept 24 clean-sheets
in the league alone and were confirmed as champions after grinding out a goalless draw
at Anfield, against Liverpool. Revie’s Leeds were a play in several different
acts, though. The reputation that holds to this day, which depicts them as a dour, defensive
football team, ignores their reinvention after the turn of the decade. It also forgets that
much of their success in the late 1960s had been achieved without a reliably available
centre-forward. Revie was hesitant in the transfer-market,
too. Unlike Brian Clough, with whom he remains entwined, he was a cautious spender. Mick
Jones and Allan Clarke were signed in 1967 and 1969 respectively, but – prior to that
– an early theme had been the rotating cast of imperfect or physically fragile centre-forwards.
What is often portrayed as negativity from Revie could, by some, be interpreted as creative
problem solving. By the early 70s, though, Leeds had begun
to play with considerable ego. They had the talent to do so. With Bremner and Giles, who
were tigerish and often terrifying, but also technically brilliant. With the swaggering,
self-assured Clarke up front, the tricky and elusive Eddie Gray on the left, and Peter
Lorimer launching his bombs from distance, authoring some of the finest goals of the
decade. Still, the machine-gun criticism from the
press bothered Revie a great deal. As did his team’s tenuous relationship with their
town’s public and Elland Road’s fluctuating attendances. In response and in conjunction
with Peter Trevillion – the famous illustrator, then at the beginning of his career – Revie
began a marketing campaign of sorts. It was strange and gimmicky, but memorable. Leeds
players would kick plastic footballs into the crowd before kick-off, wear their names
on their tracksuit tops, and give away their numbered sock-tags at full-time. It was slightly clumsy and a bit forced, but
it showed an openness to original thinking. Or at least a willingness to engage those
who could think differently on his behalf. In 1971, Juventus were beaten as Leeds won
the Fairs Cup for the second time. In 1972, Revie would finally capture the FA Cup, beating
Arsenal in the final with a team which still included seven homegrown players. And they
would return to the final in 1973, only to lose dismally to Second Division Sunderland. Revie and his players might have had a consolation,
though, in the Cup Winners’ Cup final played two weeks later. They would lose 1-0 to AC
Milan, however, in a game riddled with scarcely believable decisions. Referee Christos Michas,
who failed to award three clear penalties, was subsequently condemned by an investigation
and banned from football for life. But Revie’s Leeds would get still get their
curtain call. In 1974, they would win their second league title, again finishing ahead
of Shankly’s Liverpool and conceding just thirteen goals away from home in the process. It would be Revie’s last season with Leeds.
At the end of 1973-74, he was appointed by the Football Association to succeed Alf Ramsey
as England manager. Tellingly, the man who would replace him – Brian Clough – would
spend more on transfers during his 44 days in charge than Revie had in 13 years. Revie, though, would not be a success at Lancaster
Gate. Fundamentally, Leeds’ progress had been
derived from creating an internal culture and constructing a sense of community around
the club, neither of which was possible with England. At international level, many of his
techniques – the dossiers included – weren’t received well. England failed to qualify for the 1976 European
Championship and, with their qualification for the 1978 World Cup unlikely, Revie announced
in the Daily Mail in July 1977 that he was resigning his position to coach – of all
sides – the UAE national team. The FA were livid, the public were incredulous
and the press were absolutely vicious. Revie was denounced in the strongest possible terms,
as a traitor and a turncoat, and with his decision described as an act of treason. It was not, however, an unambiguous situation.
The FA, reportedly, had been preparing to sack him anyway, with an approach supposedly
already made to Bobby Robson. Additionally, while Revie cited the pressures of the job
and intrusion on his family’s personal life as being behind his decision, there remains
conjecture that he had decided to leave the country as rumours about his managerial practices
were reaching critical mass. None of those stories have ever been proven,
but neither have they ever been properly dismissed. In 1978, former goalkeeper Gary Sprake made
allegations of match-fixing as part of an investigation by the Daily Mirror. It should
be noted that Sprake made his accusations in return for a very large fee, but he claimed
that Revie had repeatedly tried to bribe opposition players and fix matches. No charges were ever
filed against Revie and Sprake would become a parriah with his former teammates for the
rest of his life, but he maintained his version of events until he passed away in 2016. Revie would never return to working in England.
Following three years with the UAE, he would spend his final five years in management in
the Middle East, with Al Nasr in Dubai and Al Ahly in Egypt, before retiring to Scotland.
In 1989, after a two-year battle with Motor Neuron Disease, Don Revie died at the age
of 61. In 1994, the north stand at Elland Road was
renamed in his honour, while in 2012 a statue of Revie was unveiled outside the ground.
Today, it’s a symbol of everything he achieved with Leeds United and the status he endowed
upon them. His legacy, however, remains a fierce debating point in English football
history. An innovator or a cynic. A messiah or a heretic.
Fiercely loyal or enslaved to ambitions of wealth. Revie is one of the most opaque figures
the game has ever known.

100 thoughts on “The Story of Don Revie & “Dirty Leeds”

  1. There's a difference between playing hard and the playing dirty. Leeds played dirty, deliberately trying to injure, hacking down the oppositions best players or roughing them up. It was pretty terrible. Not to mention it's been documented that DR tried to pay off managers of other teams to lose — source for that gem was Match of the 70s. Thats why he's been forgotten, as well as the disaster that was his England management career and the fact he just quit and went chasing money in the middle east.

  2. One romantic story. I'm plunging through the English football history and never came across this one. This video really absorbs you! Great work.

  3. His problem was being overshadowed by Clough. Not just that they were around at the same time, but their personal rivalry and how openly Clough criticised him has made Revie seem less like a manager in his own right that a side character in the story of Brian Clough.

    And I think Clough was a better manager, even if he buggered up his stint at leeds, crucially he had more charisma though, that's why he overshadowed Revie so much

  4. I never thought there was so much more to don revie other than just thinking that matt busby and bill shankly were visionaries on their own. Great video guys!

  5. I would recommend everyone to watch "THE DAMNED UNITED(2009)" movie
    If you are a football lover then you can't miss this movie

  6. I never understood why Leeds always had such great outfield units with a such awful, awful goal keepers behind them. Sprake and Harvey were third raters. With almost any other first division keeper, in that era of great keepers, and Leeds would have been untouchable.

  7. Wow, a referee banned for life, yet, henning Ovrebo was allowed to continue refereeing after his ridiculous amount of ‘mistakes’ against Chelsea. Sounds like UEFAlona to me.

  8. Having briefly mentioned Brian Clough, people say he was the best manager to never take on the England job. Would you agree?

  9. Barry Sprake? That error prone keeper who couldn't even get his own name right. Gary Spark, who replaced him, was more reliable.

  10. Leeds when they decided to play football were as good as any side I’ve ever seen. The cynical side of their game hurt them far more than the opposition.

    Chelsea cup final was a testament to that.

  11. This video fails to ask an intriguing question: "Would Leeds have won even more had they ditched the 'Dirty Leeds' style?" In the 1973-4 season, Leeds decided to clean up their act and just play football. They easily won the league.

    Younger viewers probably do not understand just how competitive English football was in the era when Leeds showed stunning consistency in finishing 1st or 2nd seven times in 10 years. Each season 7 or 8 teams started the season with reasonable aspirations to win the league. However, the proof of how good a footballing team Leeds were was shown not so much in England as in Europe. Including the 1975 European Cup Final, played by the team Revie built but after his departure, Leeds played in 5 European finals in 9 years.

    The antipathy towards Leeds came not just from London but probably even more so from Lancashire. The rivalry with Man Utd was especially intense. As the video suggests, Revie's reputation was tarnished by his failure at managing England and his hurried departure, possibly because he was fearing imminent arrest in the UK. Revie also liked money and Malcolm MacDonald has a story that illuminates why journalists didn't like Revie.

  12. Revie was a swindler and a crook, Leeds cheated whenever possible and they paid off opponents to lose. The likes of Giles and Bremner had talent but they were also cheating thugs. The Dirty Leeds tag is very apt as it describes both their style of play and their ethics.

  13. Brilliant video!!! Loved the extended lenght and within your style of presentation worked masterfully, would like to see more story time videos like this one on more excentric characters in football history, sir bobby robson would be a good one!! Brian Clough and Peter Taylor as well! Much success to you lads, just magnificent work

  14. I am Liverpool all the way but i was close to being Leeds when Eric Cantona was there. That TV debate with Clough is infamous

  15. It's interesting how similar the history of Leeds and Revie is to the one of Gladbach and Weisweiler in Germany. They both took over pretty uninspired and negligible teams in the 2nd divison (Revie 1961, Weisweiler 1964), they both completely changed the culture surrounding the club and implemented a "footballing DNA", they both gained promotion (Leeds 1964, Gladbach 1965), they both went on to win several league titles (Leeds 1969 and 1974, Gladbach 1970, 1971 and 1975), their national cup competition (Leeds 1972, Gladbach 1973), and european silverware (Leeds 1968 and 1971, Gladbach 1975). And interestingly, both Revie and Weisweiler had already left when the teams they built played and lost their only European cup final (Leeds 1975, Gladbach 1977).

  16. Hey TIFO, thanks for this video. love from India. People don't know but if come to Goa in India you'll still find people with Leeds shirt on And they haven't even played in the PL for 16 years. There are more Leeds fan in India than some of the current PL teams. I HOPE this is our year but even if it doesn't happen we're gonna give the boys a hand. Marching on together.

  17. In terms of European final appearances, Leeds must have been up there with any other British club of the time. I didn't know they had been in that many.

  18. The man who brought me Leeds United while all around me shouted for Man U or Liverpool. Its been eventful to say the least. ALAW MOT

  19. The most arrogant team ever to play football. Nasty with it. Ultimately that was why they fell apart when Revie left – they thought they were bigger than the club (and Clough).

  20. Hi Joe, could you make a video about the transition between football as being a second or weekend job for proffesionals to beig a job in itself, thanks

  21. Fun fact: As a player, Revie has a system named after him called the Revie Plan. It was inspired by Hungary's tactics during their famous 6-3 victory over England in 1953. It involved Revie, who had the most important role in the system, coming to the centre of the field to receive the ball when attacks commenced, drawing the opposing centre half out of position. Using the system, Manchester City, the club Revie was at when it was used, lost their first game 5-0 (though their reserve team had used it and gone unbeaten for 26 games) but then improved and reached the FA Cup final, losing to Newcastle in what has been NUFC's last major trophy. Still using the system, City won the FA Cup in 1956 in the famous Trautmann final, in which German City keeper Bert Trautmann carried on playing despite a broken neck (and the injuries footballers complain of now!) Revie was tactically important even before management.

  22. Hahahaha fuck me he went to manage the UAE not join Al quida 🤣

    If they couldn't prove anything then I'm hardly going to believe because they wernt entirely dismissed 🤣 it up to whoever is accusing to prove their story end off.

  23. 1. Giles was one of the best passers of the ball in Europe at the time.
    2. Eddie Gray was second only the Best as a dribbler during this era.
    3. Allan Clarke was one of the most composed finishers in the league for many years.

    Hardly just a "strong running" team.

  24. Don Revie was a grate manager and very under appreciated, I did not realise how far he took Leeds from were he first found them. Your videos are excellent bye the way Tifo

  25. The most exciting time at Leeds…. how the southern bums loved to hate us and still do they couldn’t stand how successful we had become…. they all were envious of our success and would not give Leeds any credit what so ever. The mighty Leeds made me a proud Leeds United Supporter and Don Revie and his team will never be forgotten it’s in the History Books 😁 they can’t take that away from us.

  26. Joe and team is always going over beyond and above I salute this team …. joe just kills me coz I am always curious how he is going to start the next video

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