Now, in England, as in the time of Richard III, it is the winter of discontent. Not since World War II and its aftermath have Britons been so sorely tried. But neither the energy crisis, the railroad and coal strikes nor a teeming rain deterred a crowd of 60,000 from filing into the Old Trafford soccer pitch in Manchester a fortnight ago to watch Manchester United, the last-place team in the first division of English football, play Leeds United, the first-place team.
It was the biggest crowd of the season and for good reason. Leeds had played 28 games without a loss in 1973-74. In more than 50 years no first-division team has had so long a run of success. The all-time British record, set by Burnley in the 1920-21 season, is 30 games in a row.
Leeds United, then, is the Miami Dolphins of English football. Not surprisingly, the team is managed by a man who would be very much at home coaching the Dolphins or the Washington Redskins. Don Revie, called The Boss, has George Allen's warm regard for players and blithe disregard for costs. He also has Don Shula's extraordinary talent for organization and preparation.
Revie once played for Leeds as a center forward, the spearhead of the attack in soccer. Typically, he was not a scorer. "He was a great passer," says Jason Tomas, one of the best English soccer critics. "When he was with Manchester City, they had what they called the Revie plan. Don would lag back and distribute the ball. He would analyze the defense and then pass the ball to a winger in a strategic position. He was superb."
When he came to Leeds as a player, the club was in the bottom half of the first division. Revie, it must be admitted, did little to change the situation. In fact, the team was soon relegated (or demoted) to the second division. Revie had requested his release so he could accept a manager's job at Bournemouth when the Leeds manager resigned.
Harry Reynolds, at the time the club's chairman of the board, recalls, "Don was interested in a player-manager's job and I gave him permission to apply at Bournemouth. When I was writing his reference, it occurred to me that with all these recommendations we could do with him ourselves."
Revie accepted the Leeds job with reservations. "Our average gate was down to well below 20,000 and the place was like a ghost town," he says. "No one seemed to care whether we won or lost, and I remember telling the directors, 'Don't expect miracles. If we get back into the first division in five years, we'll have done exceptionally well.' "
When Revie took over as player-manager in 1961, the club was some �200,000 in debt in a city oriented more toward rugby than soccer. Leeds, 180 miles north of London, has three major league rugby teams and even though Leeds United is now considered the best side in Europe, some of the dour Yorkshiremen who inhabit the city are not sold on soccer. When recently asked what he thought about Leeds United, a cab driver nodded vaguely. "Aye," he said, "moost be a fine side, but I'm a roogby mon meself. Haven't seen the football though I hear it can be exciting, too."
The first full season under Revie, Leeds narrowly missed relegation to the third division. The next season was not much better. "We didna' have the mooney to buy players," Revie says. "So I decided I would go wi' the yoong, an' that's what I have done."
He also inaugurated the English equivalent of the American pro football scouting system, both for games and for talent. "Toward the end of the 1963-64 season I heard some good reports about a young player, so I sent Syd Owen along to run the rule over him," Revie says. "I have never before seen such a detailed breakdown of a footballer. Syd had left nothing to chance. He outlined how good the player was on his right and left side, the angles or lines along which he tended to run with the ball, the shooting positions he favored, and so on. It struck us that a report like this would be invaluable if applied to the teams we met each week and it all started from there."