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Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly / No. 213: May 1969

Leeds Utd – a special on the Northern giants

By on 9 May 2019

Interesting article about Leeds United leading up to their first ever English title, taken from Charles Buchan Football Monthly May 1969 (iss no. 213). Whilst it is full of admiration for the club, players and management, it hints at the later criticisms that were leveled over that period about Don Revie’s Leeds United.

Historically, Leeds were an underachieving club based in a strong Rugby League area. However, Don Revie turned the club around in the early 60’s, but they were renowned as the ‘nearly men’, having narrowly failed to win honours in successive years. Finally, two trophies were won in 1968, the League Cup and Fairs’ Cup, which initiated a period of domination that the honours roll scarcely reflects. From 1968 to 1974, Leeds were the team to beat both here and in Europe.

Leeds Utd – Keep Fighting T-Shirt

As I write, it is a shade early to acclaim Leeds United as Football League champions. By the time this is read, however, I believe they will at least be champions elect, within breathing range of football’s most commendable achievement.

Now in their fifth year in the First Division, Leeds have never been out of the top four clubs, have won the Football League Cup (1968) and the European Fairs Cup (also 1968). It has been a triumph of skilled, dedicated management, efficient scouting and coaching and the gritty, ambitious approach so characteristic of Yorkshire and what that means to sport.

To build up this cast-iron side of ruthless teamwork plus individual flair and ability, so long unrecognised by southern critics, manager Don Revie has spent only £163,000 on three players of proven ability — Mike O’Grady, Johnny Giles and Mick Jones, the latter accounting for £100,000 on his move from Sheffield United last season. The remainder, Bremner, Reaney, Cooper, Sprake, Madeley, Hunter, Lorimer and Jack Charlton, among others, have been home produced. Bremner has developed over the years into one of Europe’s most inspiring half-backs and has captained Scotland.

Norman Hunter, an unknown two or three years ago, has become a full England international. Terry Cooper, once discarded by Wolves but born in nearby Pontefract, a one time useful winger, has switched with convincing success to left back and made a splendid England debut against France in March.

Paul Reaney, London-born, but taken by Leeds as a schoolboy, has also graduated into Sir Alf Ramsey’s England squad. Gary Sprake, Wales’s first choice as goalkeeper, with Leeds since 1961 as a lad, is yet another player the Elland Road staff have helped make into an international. So too, of course, is Jack Charlton, elder of the elite Charlton brothers, who found fame late in his career, but owes everything to Leeds and their faith in him.

 These are some of the outstanding products of a system which has welded United into the hardest, most respected team in England, and which will undoubtedly keep them in the top flight for several seasons to come if Don Revie and his coaches, Syd Owen and Les Cocker, have anything to do with it.

 It all stems from Revie, but Revie, himself, surely the new Busby of English football, says, humbly enough: “I owe a debt of gratitude to Leeds and to the then chairman, Mr Harry Reynolds, who gave me the chance to become a manager.”

 Revie, a distinguished playing career behind him with Leicester, Hull, Manchester City, Sunderland and finally Leeds, had won six caps and played in two Wembley finals. Starting as an inside forward of outstanding talent, he had, with Manchester City, helped to pioneer the deep-lying centre-forward role in this country.

 The very difficult switch from the Elland Road dressing room to manager’s office was, he admits, “a lucky break”. That was in March, 1961. Leeds relegated in 1960, were bent on restoring the club’s pride and creating a new successful image in the West Riding where Rugby League has always been a formidable contender for public affection.

 “Even then we had dreams and ambitions” recalls Revie. “My first move, in fact, was to change the club’s colours from blue and gold to the all-white of Real Madrid. I reasoned: ‘think small and you’ll stay small’.”

Leeds dressing room CB Iss no: 213 May 69And there was the example of Matt Busby to look to across the Pennines. “I am not ashamed to admit that I modelled my ideas on managership on those of Matt and Manchester United,” he says.

After three years of reorganisation and massive effort by everyone, with Harry Reynolds leading the great drive to success, Leeds won promotion to the First Division and began the task of finishing what they had set out to do … achieving national and then international acclaim.

 lt was now that their far-flung scouting network began to prove its worth as youngsters on whom the club had expended time, money and limitless patience began to “come good”.

 For Revie, then rapidly establishing himself as an up-and-coming manager, the necessity to appoint new staff had not arisen. Already, he had the services of Owen and Cocker under whom he had trained as a player and, together, these three worked in harmony to consolidate and expand what Leeds had already won.

 Seven years of hard graft, of working with a Board of Directors who let Revie manage, of adhering to the club’s maxim of helping and being honest with each other and of producing players of character, brought the results.

 But until March, 1968, Leeds could not actually win anything as tangible evidence of their efforts. Twice runners-up in the First Division; twice in fourth place, runners-up to Liverpool in the 1965 F.A. Cup Final — seemingly always the bridesmaid and never the bride.

 It was Syd Owen who perhaps put that Football League Cup victory into its proper perspective when he told me: “O.K . , I know it wasn’t a good match to watch and we shut up shop after we scored. But you must understand, we simply HAD to win something to keep faith with our supporters.”

 As Chief Coach, Syd, former England and Luton centre-half, is largely responsible for all the coaching at Elland Road. Les Cocker trains the League side (he has also been in charge of England’s Under 23 side and has attended full England training sessions).

 In the old days, Leeds recruited many of their best players from the Yorkshire coalfield — Wilf Copping was an outstanding example. They don’t take so many now although nine of their current playing staff are Yorkshire-born — from Doncaster, Castleford, Eighton Banks, Bradford and Leeds, itself.

 Owen maintains that Scotland and the North East are still the most productive areas with, correspondingly, greater competition from other clubs. But Leeds have also struck it rich in South Wales.

Leeds, among other clubs, have paid particular attention to the welfare and spirit of their young players. As Revie put it: “I tell them … what you put into the game you’ll Don Revie in the office Iss no: 213 May 69take out, otherwise there will be no returns. You can earn a lot of money in 10 or 15 years and at 33 be secure for life if you are prepared to work hard. This is common sense.”

Refuting arguments that Leeds are just a powerhouse team with no individuals, Revie says: “Our young players already had these inherent kills when we first took them. Now they have matured. People seem to forget that we have seven full internationals and four Under 23 internationals here. That doesn’t happen by accident.”

 These Leeds discoveries have formed the basis of the currently successful side. In this respect, Leeds have proved themselves a better-run club than either Tottenham Hotspur or Manchester United. Spurs are the biggest spenders in the game and United have also had to pay big money to get the key men they wanted.

 Not the least important factor in the Leeds success story has been the surprising versatility of players like Paul Madeley, Rod Belfitt, Peter Lorimer, Eddie Gray and Cooper. Madeley, especially, can operate efficiently in almost any position. Bremner and Giles, along with Charlton, the most experienced men in the side, have tremendous ball-playing skills.

 To suggest that Leeds have no outstanding individuals is really nonsensical, This season Leeds have expanded their style, have been seen frequently as a determined attacking side rather than as a dour defensively-minded, although efficient, unit.

 The game, of course, goes in cycles, but Revie considers that, barring injuries, an unusual run of bad luck or loss of form by his stars at the same time then Leeds will be a good side for the next four or five years. Young professionals today, he believes, are more skilful, more imaginative, more dedicated and more flexible than in his playing days. His views are also those of Syd Owen who stresses the higher standards of physical fitness.

 In his early days with Leeds — they were then almost at the foot of the Second Division ­ — Revie was enduring crowds of a little over 9,000 for Elland Road home games. Now the average is something like 35,000. Last season it was 38,810.

 A new double-decker stand has been erected behind one goal in place of the old open mound and the Elland Road ground capacity now stands at 50,000. One hundred members of the exclusive luxury Vice Presidents club have paid 100 guineas entrance fee and 35 guineas subscription each season for the privilege and there is a long waiting list among the city’s wealthy industrialists and businessmen.

 But most evocative of all this wonderful new spirit at Leeds was the comment by chairman Ald. P. A. Woodward when he told me: “I am the proudest man in the land to be chairman of the country’s leading club. We’ve been lucky to have a manager of Don Revie’s ability and he’s been lucky to have players who have given him 150 per cent all the time.”

 Aye, it’s a champion road for Leeds to follow and it will make a change for the centre of League power to shift over from Lancashire to Yorkshire where they don’t much hold with lakin’ at anything which carries an ounce of county pride.