Bygones - Don Revie's parting gift caps a brilliant Leeds United season
Revie did not know April 27, 1974 would his final match in charge of his beloved club, but it was the culmination of what he saw as the best achievement of 13 seasons at Elland Road.
The legendary manager had actually thought things were drawing to a close 12 months earlier.
When Johnny Giles heard rumours in the build-up to the 1973 European Cup Winners' Cup final against AC Milan that Revie was talking with Everton about a move, he got the confirmation he was fearing.
“We appreciated his honesty,” said Giles. “Don said that the only reason he hadn’t told us already was that he hadn’t wanted to upset the players before the game. He had planned to tell us afterwards.”
In the end, Revie had a change of heart, telling the Yorkshire Evening Post: "After 12 years as a manager with a club like ours it would be terribly difficult to break away, and I'm certainly staying at Elland Road."
It would not be his only significant rethink that summer. After losing cup finals to Sunderland and Milan eight days apart, Revie decided to do things differently in 1973-74. The perennial bridesmaids, third in the league that year, would jilt the cups to focus on the title.
It was the season Leeds adopted their “smiley face” badge and with a suspended £3,000 FA misconduct charge, Revie wanted better discipline from his players. When it came to football the shackles were off.
“Don asked, 'Can we get through the whole campaign unbeaten?'” Trevor Cherry recalled in Richard Sutcliffe's Revie: Revered and Reviled. “We all just looked at each other as if to say, "Did he really just say that?" But, soon, he had us believing it was possible and we were determined to give it a good go.”
A decade later, Revie said: “I should have realised the talent they possessed much earlier.”
The first seven games were all won, scoring 19 goals. After the last of them, John Arlott wrote: “It was all so controlled, so amiable... so free of the aura of violence they used to generate.”
Leeds went top on September 1 and stayed there all season.
Often long-serving managers leave behind an ageing squad but Revie was rebuilding. The average age was just over 26 and only Giles and Billy Bremner were over 30. Gordon McQueen had been signed in 1972 as Jack Charlton's replacement but it was only in the summer of 1973 the World Cup winner retired. Injuries to Mick Jones and Allan Clarke meant Joe Jordan established himself too. Cherry and Frank Gray were developing, and Terry Yorath stepped up when injury restricted Giles to starting only 19 of 54 games. In September, Gary Sprake was sold for a world-record £100,000 for a goalkeeper – not bad for Leeds's second choice.
The first defeat came at Ipswich Town in the League Cup in October, but that was almost part of the plan. Players were rested in a UEFA Cup campaign which only lasted to the last-16 stage. Revie experimented with Bremner and Frank Gray at sweeper and told his players to take their golf clubs to Vitoria Setubal.
“That definitely wasn't him,” said Peter Lorimer. “We were even out on the course the day before the game. Personally, I wish he had done it sooner as I am sure we would have won more trophies."
By Christmas Leeds were 21 games unbeaten and seven points clear at the top of the First Division.
The Guardian's Paul Fitzpatrick urged: "If you get the opportunity to watch (Leeds) do not waste it. They really are something special."
Jeremy Bugler in the Observer wrote, Leeds “are playing today with persistent brilliance.”
Revie called the last 15 minutes of a 3-0 win over Coventry City “sheer poetry, and the third goal (a flowing team move) was one of the finest I have seen.”
Referee Roger Kirkpatrick made a point after the win at Tottenham Hotspur of praising Leeds's behaviour. Vernon Stokes, chairman of the FA Disciplinary Committee, said: "You are setting a wonderful example to everyone connected with English football."
When the 100 per cent league run ended, it was ailing Manchester United the Yorkshire Evening Post accused of “ultra-defensive tactics which can only turn people away from soccer.”
Jordan's retaliatory tackle on Brian Kidd made him the first Leeds player booked all season.
With the back of their title challenge broken, the unbeaten ambition became a bit of an albatross, making the team not want to lose rather than win, and the second half of the season did not hit the heights of the first.
After 29 leagues games undefeated – still a club record – four of the next seven were lost. The first came on the back of an FA Cup fifth-round replay at Bristol City, perhaps proving Revie's point about how the cups handicapped his squad over the years. Leeds were 2-0 up to Stoke City, but lost 3-2.
After the next defeat came at title rivals Liverpool, brilliant at Anfield that season, Revie sent his team to Scarborough to clear their heads. Liverpool, who won the FA Cup that year, eventually ran out of steam, but not before the encouragement of Burnley and West Ham United beating Leeds.
A tackle by PFA players' player of the year Norman Hunter on Frank Casper ended the Burnley striker's career.
Revie later admitted, “I thought we had lost it,” but they regained their composure, winning six points out of eight over Easter as Liverpool faltered.
When Ray Kennedy scored the winner for Arsenal against the Reds, Les Cocker rang Revie – out for a meal – to tell him his side were champions.
“It has been a grand week for Don - the championship, a great match last Saturday, (appearing on) This Is Your Life, and he even beat Val Doonican at golf,” said the trainer.
Revie exclaimed: "I feel as though someone had lifted six tons of coal off my back.
"Now on Saturday they can go out at Queens Park Rangers with no pressures on them and show the country they are worthy champions.”
There were 7,000 away fans in a crowd of 35,353 – destined to be the Loftus Road record forever – and QPR were gracious hosts, presenting the Leeds players with champagne and giving them a guard of honour.
"Leeds set off as though they were going to run away with the game in the first 15 minutes but once Rangers settled down it was their exciting attack that took the initiative,” Barry Foster wrote in The Yorkshire Post. “Harvey was brilliant at times, saving well-hit close range efforts from (Stan) Bowles, (Gerry) Francis and (Terry) Mancini.”
Bremner hit a post from close range at a corner just before the break, and despite Harvey's workload, his side took the lead.
“Under severe pressure at one moment, they suddenly turned the tables,” wrote The Times. “From Bremner the ball flowed swiftly downfield by way of Giles to Jordan. The centre-forward held his hand cleverly until he saw Clarke streaming clear through the middle between Mancini and (Ian) Gillard. The central pass was perfectly timed; Clarke took it in his stride and the next second it was in the back of the net. That was football as it should be played."
Leeds fans invaded the pitch at full-time and cheered the players onto their train at King's Cross. Around 600 more were waiting for them at Elland Road.
Revie was talking about another crack at the European Cup, saying: “It is my biggest ambition to see Leeds United win the greatest of the European trophies."
His team reached the 1975 final, only to be robbed in it, but the landscape changed dramatically as soon as England's decision to sack Alf Ramsey, made on April 19, 1974, was announced on May 1.
Revie was approached by former Leeds captain-turned-journalist Tom Holley to ask if he would be interested in the job. He would, and agreed a five-year contract.
Revie recommended Bobby Robson, who declined, and Giles, as his replacement but once the board knew Bremner was interested too, they feared appointing one or the other would split the camp, so went for Brian Clough instead, uniting the squad against their divisive manager.
The greatest manager in Leeds history had left, but his final season was a heck of a parting gift.
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