Bygones: Wave of optimism greets Revie but England reign ends in failure

AS ever, Don Revie’s actions split opinion.

THE DON: Don Revie at an England training session.

Appointed England manager in the summer of 1974, the then 47-year-old manager was keen to foster a similar spirit and bond among the Three Lions to the one that had kept Leeds United in and around the top of English football for the previous decade.

It had helped at Elland Road that most of the team that brought unprecedented success to the club had grown up together, with Revie very much as the head of the family.

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So, in an attempt to create a sense of unity and make the country’s best footballers feel part of the international set-up, Revie organised a ‘get-to-know-you’ session in Manchester for no less than 81 of England’s current and potential players.

Such a move was ground-breaking and something that the new man at the helm felt could act as the first step towards fostering the sort of ‘all for one’ camaraderie only usually seen at club sides. It was also his way of illustrating to the fringe players that, by working hard and impressing for their clubs, an England call-up was achievable.

To the players themselves, however, the Manchester get-together divided opinion with some seeing it as being an early indication of the indecision that would often later characterise Revie’s reign and others viewing it as a useful bonding exercise.

Colin Todd, then of Derby County, was firmly in the former camp, even though he admits to being a fan of Revie’s methods as a manager.

“To invite so many to what was just a get-together was odd,” says Todd. “I could understand Don wanting to get to know his squad, but to bring more than 80 along just suggested he had no idea who should be in the team.”

Countering Todd’s view about the Manchester get-together is Trevor Brooking, who earned 13 of his 29 international caps under Revie.

“As a footballer you never quite know if you are in the plans of a new manager,” he said. “So, in that respect, the gathering was meaningful. There were a lot of us there but Don made time to chat to every one of us individually.

“When it was my turn, he explained how he viewed the role of a midfielder and what he wanted from me. It was useful to hear his ideas.”

Of the 81 invited to Manchester for that get-together early in the 1974-75 season, 47 were destined never to appear for England.

Revie’s first game – the 40th anniversary of which is on Thursday this week – was against Czechoslovakia but the public got a preview of what his England set-up could be like nine days earlier at Hillsborough.

Sheffield Wednesday were the opponents for an experimental ‘England XI’ in a game that was held in honour of the hosts’ long-serving general manager Eric Taylor, who had died shortly before he had been due to retire.

Just three of the XI that started against the Czechs – Martin Dobson, Dave Watson and Frank Worthington – did the same in Sheffield but there was still plenty of quality on show in the guise of Peter Shilton, Tony Currie, Frank Lampard and Rodney Marsh.

England coasted to a 5-0 victory in what proved to be a gentle warm-up to the main event of a European Championship qualifier.

It meant there was plenty of optimism in the air at Wembley on October 30 as Revie, clad in a smart overcoat to keep out the chill of the London night, made his way round the old greyhound track that used to ring the old national stadium.

A crowd of 83,858 had arrived in optimistic mood. A summer spent watching the World Cup finals in Germany take place without England had been hard to take. So, too, had been England’s failure to qualify for the 1972 European Championships. That decline had to be reversed and Revie, fresh from lifting the Division One title for a second time, was seen as just the man.

His United may have been far from popular with football fans outside Leeds during the previous decade that had brought two titles and no finish lower than fourth in the top flight.

But Leeds, with the shackles finally taken off by their previously cautious manager, had cut a swathe through English football the previous season.

The hope for a nation that craved a fresh approach after the often functional tactics of 
Sir Alf Ramsey’s final years was that Revie would take that attack-minded approach on to the international stage.

The first big test of that would come at Wembley against the Czechs. Revie, never a man to leave anything to chance, arranged for lyric sheets to Land of Hope and Glory to be handed out at the turnstiles as part of his attempts to intimidate the young Czechs with a frenzy of patriotism.

In the end, Revie got his wish. But it was not until a double substitution shortly before the mid-point of the second half that England truly gave the Wembley crowd something to shout about.

Brooking and Dave Thomas were the pair who made the telling impact from the bench, with an inviting cross from QPR wideman Thomas just eight minutes into his debut allowing Mick Channon to break the deadlock.

Channon then turned provider twice for Colin Bell, who latched onto, first, an exquisite diagonal pass and then a floated cross.

As the final whistle blew six minutes after Bell’s second had made it 3-0, Land of Hope and Glory boomed loudly across Wembley as the claiming of two qualification points was celebrated in style.

The following day’s newspapers were equally effusive, Revie’s influence being heralded by Fleet Street in a manner that had never happened during his 13 years at Elland Road.

Revie, though, was not among those swept away on the tide of good will. “This isn’t going to work out,” he said to son Duncan in his hotel room just 12 or so hours after the Czechoslovakia win. “We haven’t got the players. There is no Bremner and no one like Giles.”

He was right. England, under the former Leeds manager, would go on to miss out on qualifying for not only the European Championships but also the 1978 World Cup.

Revie’s response was to jump before he was pushed. And, by the time the finals kicked off in Argentina, he had been banned for life after being found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute by quitting the England job to take up a lucrative post in the United Arab Emirates.

Such a draconian punishment was eventually over-turned in the High Court. But the saga was still a sad, sad way to end an England manager’s reign that had begun amid such optimism.