Socrates and the Corinthian democracy

With his beard, unkempt hair and stern look, there is an aura of a revolutionary about Sócrates. In some ways he was the footballing equivalent of Che Guevara, with his political opinions backed by his activism.
To add weight to his mystique, Sócrates was one of the most elegant and gifted players to wear the yellow shirt of Brazil. He was also part of the 1982 and 1986 World Cup squads that played some of the most beautiful football ever seen at a major finals. With the likes of Falcão and Zico, it was a talented team that tore apart the opposition and scored spectacular goals like Sócrates’ equaliser against the Soviet Union. All that seemed to matter to that Brazil teams of 1982 and ‘86 was the joy that they brought to people. They were Garrincha, just a few years later.
Many Brazilians have fond memories of ‘The Doctor’, as he was nicknamed due to qualifying in medicine. Rumour had it that Socrates studied at University College Dublin but sadly was confirmed as an urban myth. He was seen as a leader of the people, who was kind and brought happiness with his football. Politics was also a passion of Sócrates, who had his eyes turned to the social injustices in his country.
Brazil during the 1960s and ’70s was a country ruled by a military junta following the 1964 Brazilian coup d’état, and culminated in the overthrow of the democratic João Goulart government. The previous regime was deemed to be a “socialist threat” by the military and the right-wing, who opposed policies such as the basic reform plan which was aimed at socialising the profits of large companies towards ensuring a better quality of life for Brazilians.
With the support of the US government, Goulart was usurped with Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco sworn in as the president. Initially the aim of the junta was to keep hold of power until 1967, when Goulart’s term would expire, but ultimately felt that they had to keep control to contain the “dissenters” within the country.
Protests against the junta were brutally put down with dissenters killed, tortured or having to flee the country. Repression and elimination of any political opposition of the state became the policy of the government. The current Brazil president Dilma Rousseff was one of those who was imprisoned and tortured on the instructions of this totalitarian regime.
The organisation and structure of football clubs were very much regimented, too – with little or no freedom to manoeuvre – which was in tune with the junta government. Players were expected to obey orders and were closely supervised; whether it was being told when they could eat or drink, or to having to be holed up in training camps days before matches.
Initially, Sócrates along with his team-mates went along with this structure. However, he felt suffocated – famously a man of peace and freedom – and with the dictatorship strangling the life out of democracy in Brazil, believed that it was a time for change.
Naturally, it was not something that Sócrates or his team-mates could openly discuss. Instead it had to be done subversively, behind the scenes and through the power of words. Many high-profile athletes in Brazil at the time were politically aware and felt that it was their duty to try to use sport to re-democratise Brazil and end the regime.
An agreement was reached with the new club president Waldemar Pires in the early-1980s which allowed Sócrates and his team-mates to have full control of the team and to establish a democratic running of the club. During a meeting in which everyone got an opportunity to speak freely, it was agreed that every decision would be decided by the collective. This would be when the squad would train, eat or, as Waldemar expressed in a documentary about the Corinthians team, “when they would stop on the coach for a toilet break”.
What made the Corinthians democracy even more unique was that voting wasn’t restricted to the playing and coaching staff; it was a model that involved everyone within the club. Whether it was the players, masseurs, coaches or cleaners, everybody had a say. In short it was ‘one person, one vote’ with everyone backing the majority verdict.
After agreeing the new structure it was first put to the test when Corinthians went on tour in Japan. Walter Gasagrande, who was 19 at the time, was heavily in love and wanted to fly back home to his girlfriend. A vote was called for with people speaking for and against Gasagrande being able to return to Brazil. It was decided that he would have to stay – and Gasagrande respected the decision.
Nothing was off-limits at discussions with it being agreed that a psychiatrist was to be hired in order to help the team. Sócrates and his colleagues had an open mind and invited people who interested them outside of football. Prominent artists, singers, and filmmakers were invited to speak on various topics.
Corinthians slowly embodied the dream of the ordinary Brazilian in removing the dictatorship, to be replaced with universal suffrage. This was markedly expressed on the back of the club shirt which had ‘Corinthians Democracy’ printed with splashes of mock red blood similar to the Coca-Cola logo.
It was a move that upset the prominent right-wing, many of whom had branded the Corinthians’ Democracy movement as “anarchists” and “bearded communists”. However, with football coming to represent the very essence of Brazil even the junta government knew that they had to tread carefully. Nonetheless, the government still warned them about interfering in politics.
Indeed, they had used the success of the 1970 World Cup for their own devices, so much so that Sócrates stated: “Our players of the 1960s and 1970s were romantic with the ball at their feet, but away from the field absolutely silent. Imagine if at the time of the political coup in Brazil a single player like Pele had spoken out against all the excesses.”
Sócrates and his team-mates were prepared to bring in a silent revolution by using football to speak out against the military junta. The first multiparty elections since 1964 were set for the May provincial elections in 1982. Despite this, the majority of Brazilians were scared of voting. Some didn’t even know whether the army would allow them to vote, while others thought it safer not to vote at all.
With the May provincial elections set for the 15, the Corinthians team decided to up the ante and to chip away at the dictatorship. They agreed that they would have ‘on the 15th, vote’ on the back of their shirts to encourage people to head to the polls.
It was a quiet voice of dissent but as a smiling Sócrates advises in an interview years later, the military junta could hardly object as the team was not backing any particular party, merely encouraging people to vote.
Corinthians’ mood was quickly picked up by Brazilians, with the military government taking a battering in the provincial elections. It now appeared that the regime was losing its grip on power. Sócrates later said: “[It was the] greatest team I ever played in because it was more than sport. My political victories are more important than my victories as a professional player. A match finishes in 90 minutes, but life goes on.”
With the thirst for democracy at its peak, Corinthians now pushed for presidential elections. The team now took to the field with ‘win or lose, always with democracy’ emblazoned on their jersey this time. It was a mood that was quickly engulfing the ordinary Brazilian, who sensed that they could push for democracy.
During this period the Timão won the 1982 and 1983 São Paulo Championship. Unsurprisingly, considering his talent, Sócrates was highly sought after by top European clubs. In 1984, he proclaimed at a large rally that if congress passed through the amendment for free presidential elections then he would stay in Brazil. A huge cheer went up but sadly the amendment fell and Sócrates moved to Fiorentina.
Brazilians, in the words of Sócrates, were beginning to realise that political change was possible. It was something that the military government couldn’t stop, and so it was in 1985 that they were defeated in the presidential elections. Finally, Corinthians had achieved their objective of returning democracy back to Brazil.
It was a dream that Sócrates and the club were proud of bringing to the fore. By using football, they had managed to get their message across and helped bring about the change that people wanted. In many ways, it is quite fitting that since football is in the bloodline of Brazil, it was the Sócrates and the Corinthians Democracy that was part of the movement that helped rid the nation of the military government.
A first class player and man, there are few footballers with the same skill and integrity of the great Doctor Sócrates. It is why, after passing away in 2011, that he was revered with a fitting tribute by Corinthians players and supporters who held their fist out in memory of their legendary brother.

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Liverpool in the 90’s – The Spice boy era

Wembley on a bright May day prior to the FA cup final can be a glorious sight.  Much was expected in the Cup final of 1996 as Liverpool took on Manchester United in what many hoped would be a classic final.

That though was marginally fractured when the Liverpool squad strolled out onto the lush green Wembley pitch in  flash Armani white suits.  It had to be said that the suits looked ridiculous with the team looking a bunch of ice cream sellers.  However the image and the nickname of ‘Spice boys,’ stuck and was seen to epitomise what was wrong with Roy Evans Liverpool.  It was a team that was perceived as all image and no substance.  More interested in partying with football coming a poor second.

Time is always a chance to put things in perspective and the criticism aimed at Roy Evans can be seen to be harsh.  Liverpool were consistently in the top four and played some of the best football around of that particular era.

Unfortunately for Roy Evans, Liverpool’s dominance was still recent when he took charge in 1994.  After all their last title was in 1990 and prior to that had plundered so many trophies from the 1960’s to 1990 that it would put a Viking haul to shame.  With detested rivals Manchester United the dominant force, the pressure was instantly on Roy Evans to put Liverpool back on its perch.

After the sacking of Graeme Souness whose two and a half years in charge were turbulent.  Due to poor signings, unrest in the dressing room, and trying to change things too quickly, time was called on Souness’s reign as manager.

The problem Liverpool had, was of who to appoint to make Liverpool the dominant force once more.  Looking at the possible candidates at that time there are none that particularly stick out.

Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing to say that Liverpool should have looked further afield to foreign shores.  It is easy to say that Liverpool could have beaten Arsenal to the punch by appointing Arsene Wenger two years before he agreed to join the Gunners.  At that time English football was insular with the possibility that someone like Wenger would have had problems getting his ideas across.  Like the Czech Jozef Venglos whose stint at Aston Villa in 1990 was short-lived there could have been a good chance that the players didn’t take to him.  Furthermore Wenger inherited a strong defence at Arsenal which would not have been the case at Liverpool.  Either way it would have been a brave move for Liverpool to have taken a chance looking at that particular period in time.

Closer to home the only names that could be considered was John Toshack.  Success at Real Madrid and Sociedad as well as having played for Liverpool would make him a serious contender.  As it was Toshack had allegedly missed his chance after turning down the job down in 1991.

Although hypothetical there could have been a chance of trying to bring Kenny Dalglish back to Anfield.  This might have been hard considering that he was building a Blackburn Rovers team that would eventually win the title for the 94/95 season.

That left the bootroom and as Roy Evans was literally the last man standing, was seen as the man to steady the ship and ensure that the traditions of Liverpool were kept.  Ronnie Moran another Anfield stalwart would ensure that his experience and knowledge would also be used.

Football at that particular time was at the crossroads between the old world and the new world of the Premier league.  Not just in terms of the money that was being splashed around but in terms of professionalism.  The acceptable wisdom that a few beers was okay was eventually eradicated to a regime more similar to a high-profile athlete.  Evans had to deal with that as well as re-building a football team that had high expectations from its supporters.

Added to which Evans was used to a world of where players like Souness, Dalglish, Hansen, and Case would take personal responsibility.  Being professional and having the desire to win even if that meant ruffling feathers in the changing room if teammates were not pulling their weight.

This new Liverpool did not have those characters who didn’t care whether it was the European cup final or a Sunday league match.  Winning was what it was all about and the likes of Souness, Dalglish, Case, St. John, and Smith epitomises this during their time at playing at Anfield.

Bill Shankly was certainly a tough character who stood no messing and made sure that his players knew of the high standards that he expected.  Despite looking like your favourite Uncle’s in their comfortable cardigan and flat cap, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan were as hard as nails who ruled like a Mafia Don when required.  Roy Evans though didn’t have that steel and ability of when to knock a player into line and when to shown him the door.

Ultimately it is about having respect and sadly Evans could not command that from his team.  Part of the job is knowing when to rid the club of bad influences and players who lacked professionalism.  For example Neil Ruddock should have been one of the first to be shown the door.  Aside from the pass the pound game that he was alleged to have instigated (a pound coin would be passed throughout the match and the last person with the coin after the final whistle had to buy the first round) and loud mouthed slogan ‘win, lose, or draw, first to the bar,’ Ruddock hardly looked after himself.

There were also instances of players competing to steal his car park space, not showing up for training, and general ill discipline that led to supporters that the players were not at all that serious about winning.

Some ex-players dispute the lack of discipline and state that Evans could be strict.  After all Don Hutchinson had been bombed out over a drunken indiscretion and Stan Collymore after proving too much of a disruptive influence.  The truth as they say is somewhere in the middle but it has to be said that discipline was not Evans strong point.

Despite having being tasked with re-building a team going backwards there was a nucleus of good youngsters coming through.  McManaman and Fowler through the ranks with Redknapp, Jones, and James the other youth players cited to have the potential to be top players.

Evans was shown to be a coach who wasn’t afraid to change things.  He did introduce three at the back in an attempt to not just stabilise the defence but with the two wing backs added to support the attack.  There was also the nous in the sense of pushing John Barnes into a central role after his losing his pace.  Barnes experience and passing helped keep the midfield ticking over.

Yet there was the sense that Liverpool were falling behind their rivals not just tactically but on how they trained and approached games.  The Liverpool way was always about not showing any sentiment and ensuring that they always stayed one step ahead of the opposition.

Matches and high-profile defeats such as the mist game against Ajax, Red Star Belgrade, and Watford were all instrumental in how Liverpool changed their approach and tactics.  For example the Belgrade game taught the importance of retaining the ball and led to the centre-halves being expected to be comfortable in bringing the ball out.

Liverpool in the mid nineties were still using the old and trusted methods of the past.  John Scales the former centre half talks in Simon Hughes Men in white suits ‘The wooden target boards were still used and they were rotting away. There was no tactical or technical analysis.  There were so many bad habits.’

Ironically Liverpool who had previously always prided themselves in being ahead of the game had allowed themselves to stagnate by continually sticking to old and trusted habits.  Previously the bootroom had been more than aware that the game continually evolved.

There was also complaints that Evans was too simplistic in his views.  That he didn’t have the ability to be able to change things when it wasn’t working or instructing his players what he wanted out of them.  Again times had changed and the mantra of instructing players to ‘play your own game,’ may have worked previously when the team was a well-functioning machine with players signed to play that position but not a team that was being built.

Despite all this the football was highly entertaining with some eye-catching attacking football.  With Robbie Fowler banging in the goals it seemed that if Liverpool could iron out the problems at the back and a view at the time adding a bit more steel in the midfield then Liverpool would end their wait for a nineteenth league title.

As it was Roy Evans signings fell way short of backing up the potential that was already at the club.  Players such as Phil Babb, Jason McAteer, Kennedy, Scales, Leonhardsen, Friedel, and Kvarme to name but a few failed to deliver.  Paul Ince may have been seen as being the steel Liverpool needed but he was not the player that previously excelled in the Manchester United field.

Stan Collymore was Evans high-profile signing from Nottingham Forest for £8.5 million.  Despite his talents he was still a risk after being a disruptive influence at Forest and his previous clubs Southend.

In Collymore’s first season he was productive with him and Fowler terrorising defenders and scoring goals in abundance.  Yet the problems that had dogged his career re-surfaced at Liverpool.  Collymore failed to turn up to training regularly and lacked the professionalism required.  It is only now that we know of Collymore’s battle with mental illness.  Evans unfortunately didn’t have the capacity to recognise this or the ability to deal with the issues as a result.

Success and certainly at a club like Liverpool is what a manager is judged on and Evans fell short.  There was of course optimism when Liverpool beat Bolton to win the league cup in 1995 but that was to be the only bit of silverware that Evans won in his tenure as manager.

Roy Evans despite finishing no lower than fourth in the league failed in delivering the league title.  The nearest that he came to it was in the 1996/97 season when Liverpool finished fourth in a two horse race.  During the run in when the pressure is high it is about delivering results and keeping that nerve.  Liverpool could not take advantage and despite getting themselves in a good position after beating Arsenal at Highbury they messed up by losing at home against Coventry.  As it was a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday saw Liverpool finish fourth rather than nabbing even a champions league spot.

The harsh reality as cited by Fowler and other ex-reds of that period is that the team simply were not good enough.  None of Evans signings made a lasting impression and it would be fair to say that Patrik Berger and Danny Murphy were probably his only real success.

Fowler in his autobiography believes that Liverpool were not that far behind and not in as bad a state as Gerard Houllier made out.  That is a fair point but at that stage the pressure was taking its toll on Roy Evans.  In his interviews during Evans final full season in charge looked tired and unwell as he seemed to be buckling under the pressure.  The summer of 1998 the Liverpool board should have either continued to back Evans or cut ties.  As it was David Moores fudged the issue and went with a joint manager venture of Evans and Houllier which didn’t work.  After defeat to Tottenham in the league cup in November 1998, Evans called time with Houllier now solely in charge.

The legacy of Roy Evans Liverpool is one of a team that played swashbuckling, cavalier football.  Nobody will forget the two 4-3’s against Newcastle that seemed to sum up both teams attitude at the time.

There is also the negative image of the partying, up for a laugh, not really caring, and lack of professionalism that hogged the headlines of some of the Liverpool players.  Indeed it could be argued that whilst Manchester United had Roy Keane, Liverpool had Neil Ruddock and that crucially is the difference in terms of attitudes installed in the team.

Even now some of Evans ex-players do cite a lack of discipline and leniency.  Jason McAteer says of his former manager ‘I think he found it hard to drop or discipline players.  We were all his boys.  We had some big characters there, and he found it difficult to deal with the Collymores and Ruddocks.’  Maybe Evans expected his players to be more adult and take responsibility but a manager has to quickly stamp out any indiscipline and make an instant mark.  Evans failed to do so.

Of course if some of the signings had been real quality and if they had got players like Thuram or Desailly then things might have been different.  As it was Liverpool were great in attack but brittle at the back.

Thrown into the mix was that Liverpool’s methods were still stuck too much in the past.  What had worked previously didn’t mean it still did.  In terms of tactics, training, and diet it all needed a fresh approach.  Something that ironically Liverpool had never been afraid to do in the past.

It could be argued that Evans was unlucky with injuries with Rob Jones finishing his career early and a serious injury to Redknapp whilst playing for England meant he never got the best out of some that young potential.

Evans Liverpool despite its frustrations still provides some fond memories.  The football was fun and at the beginning with the likes of Fowler and McManaman the future did seem bright.  Yet the team fell short and unfortunately it was to be the white suits and not trophies for what Evans Liverpool will be remembered for.

 

 

Why the Coutinho transfer saga is more about Liverpool’s poor recruitment strategy.

With a pocketful of cash from the Neymar deal and Barcelona needing to re-build it was slightly inevitable that the Catalan club would be linked with Liverpool’s Coutinho.  It has been a move that has been mooted for the past year especially as Barcelona are re-building and require an attacking midfielder.

Of course there is the argument that the majority of teams are selling clubs, especially when Barcelona and Real Madrid come a knocking but regardless of whether you think it is good business or not, it has shone an awkward spotlight on the transfer and scouting under the Fenway group.

The problem has now been exasperated as Coutinho has now put in a transfer request.  This has led to a few believing that he should be sold for the highest price possible.

However the quality of the Liverpool squad is not up to scratch especially as it needs to improve despite finishing fourth and qualifying for a Champions league play-off spot. There are still problems with the defence with the lack of quality of the bench very much apparent last season as there were no options when Liverpool struggled to break down defensive teams.  There were no player who you felt could change the game or change the formation to test the opposition.

From a footballing point of view it does not make sense to sell Coutinho no matter the fee offered.  I imagine there might be a few people scoffing at that notion, after all every player has his price.  However Liverpool do not have the time to get an adequate replacement and will be to the detriment of the club’s progress this season.

It is a team that needs building for Liverpool to be challenging for the major honours.  Losing your best players is going to make that harder as well as questioning the ambition of the club.  After all it has been five years since Liverpool won a major trophy and even then that was the league club.

Although the years have been lean Liverpool due to its history and large support still has some stature in the footballing world.  It needs more than ever to start proving that the last few years have temporary or very soon be just a famous name from the past.

Liverpool’s first game of the new season away to Watford which ended 3-3 has shown the same old problems of the last year.  A poor defence and the inability to hold onto a winning lead with only a few minutes remaining on the clock.  The club is great in attack but there is always the sense that they are only a moment away from a mistake in defence which will wilt so easily.

These are problems that should have been rectified prior to the season beginning but swift action is needed otherwise it will be a groundhog season for 2017-18.  Regarding the transfer request from Coutinho it would probably be better if Liverpool could reach an agreement that they will let him go next season. This though would be on the proviso that the fee is acceptable and that Liverpool find a suitable replacement.

A club can only be successful if its recruitment and scouting is good.  Take Atletico Madrid for example.  They have consistently obtained quality players for decent fees and have been consistent challengers in La Liga and European football which has seen them win major honours.

Fenway appear to have a business strategy with regards as to how Liverpool sign players.  Namely signing young potential players who they hope will live up to their reputation and then selling them on for a vast profit whilst bringing in a new batch to keep Liverpool competitive.  The only problem with that is that you have to ensure that you have the right recruitment and scouting in place.  If that was the case then there would be no real resistance to Coutinho being sold to Barcelona.  The quality in the squad would already be there to cope with a loss.  Added to which there would be the confidence the scouting system would provide a more than adequate replacement.

Unfortunately the reality has been very different to the business theory of the Fenway group.  The likes of Downing, Carroll, Charlie Adam, Coates, Borini, Markovic, and Balotelli to name but a few have failed to live up to expectations and have been poor.  Even the likes of Jordan Henderson, Lovren, and Mignolet have been average and not been good enough to take Liverpool up to the next level.

The successes can be counted on one hand with only Suarez, Mane, and Coutinho being the players who have shown the quality required if you wish to compete at the highest level.  Fenway’s money has been spent on mediocrity.    It could be argued that when non-footballing individuals or people with self-interest are involved then problems are going to arise which has been the case with Liverpool.

It seems that the problem isn’t so much about Coutinho being sold to Barcelona it really is about Fenway’s scouting and recruitment strategy for Liverpool and the next direction that they take. 

Roger Nouveau – the modern fan of the Premier league era

 

There was a time when the football season ended in May and certainly in the odd year when there wasn’t a World Cup or European championship then that would be that until August.  Granted there would be a little bit of transfer speculation but it felt like a proper break away from football that come late August you would embrace it like a glass of cold water after hiking across the Sahara desert.

Now the coverage is constant that you almost wonder if the season has ever really ended.  Every day during the summer months there is the endless constant speculation of who is moving where that at times it matches the political intrigue of Macbeth.

That though is the circus that is the Premier league.  It needs to feed the hype and speculation in order to keep selling its product which is how it and let’s be honest football clubs see supporters as customers.

The money that is not only being pumped into football through television deals but spent on players is mind-blowing.  With the average player going for thirty million pounds the sense of any true value has been lost.  For Sky the billions spent on securing the rights to screening Premier league football is not just about securing the survival of the channel but about the clubs spending big so that supporters world-wide will continue to watch.  Hence the continuation of subscriptions and now in the age of streaming the reliance on overseas television rights.

Consequently it is important to keep generating the speculation about talks of Bale going to Manchester United for example or Ronaldo returning back to the UK.  With huge sums of money being spent it is meant to convince people that the Premier league is the one to watch and that Sky can provide this exclusive access.

The drama of deadline day is now something that is part of football.  At times it represents as though it is a life changing moment such as the Berlin wall coming down.  If it was watched twenty-five years ago people would wonder if it was a spoof as the coverage at times resembled Chris’ Morris’s Day to Day.  Who for example could forget the hapless reporter who had a purple dildo waved in his ear outside Everton’s Finch farm?

Football now is about marketing and rather than being a fan of the sport is more about being seen at the event.  It is more about construing an image rather than participating as a supporter.   Everything now is all about presentation so that for example Liverpool v Burnley on a cold February afternoon is a unique game to remember.  From the naff Premier league anthem, the presentation tops that both sides wear as they shake hands to the referee picking the ball up from the podium.  Gone are the days when both teams ran out and prior to kick off a firm hand shake from both Captains before tossing a coin to decide who would kick off from which half.  Half and half scarves which are wrong on so many levels are now souvenirs for the tourist who visits and will most likely not return again.

Packages are sold for tourists to sample ‘the real passionate white-hot heat of the Kop,’ that has helped Liverpool win major games over the years.  Ironically those type of supporters who are used for the posters have been priced out.  For those that have remained they are now well into middle-age and less inclined to be noisy as they once were in their youth.

The sound of seats clanking up as Crystal Palace took the lead against Liverpool in the last ten minutes was louder than the cries of encouragement than Liverpool fans as a large majority slunked off.  Previously there would be a stunned pause and a loud roar, snarling, and willing Liverpool to equalise and even grab a winner.  Now those type of supporters who throw in the towel are the first into their cars to moan about how Klopp doesn’t know what he is doing whilst incredibly questioning the players passion.

Radio phone ins and social media keep the interest and drama of the product alive.  Everybody can be an expert and whereas a similar incident from thirty years ago would barely generate a headline now a dodgy penalty is given the coverage of JFK being shot.  A soundbite or controversial comment from the manager is used to keep the hysteria and if a club is having a bad run of results well then the hysteria hits meltdown.  Rumours of losing the dressing room and the dreaded vote of confidence are mooted.

This of course encourages the expert fan who never goes the game but watches from his armchair who gets on the blower to say something incredibly stupid.  Once on the air they will preach their ignorance which of course ignites another load of angry calls which feeds the frenzy rather than any genuine debate and discussion about the game.   In other words its click bait with newspaper distributing articles or tweets knowing full well they will get hits and replies.

Part of the hype has brought a sense of entitlement amongst this new elite of supporters.  Unless their team is two-nil up within ten minutes they are screaming and slamming their prized hampers with frustration.  Of course nobody likes to get beat or drop points in vital games but if the players have given everything then at least accept they have done everything.  Besides moaning is not going to help and only makes the players more nervous.

The problem in this Sky era of football is that it has made supporters accountants who believe the Premier league is the be all and end all.  It is a remarkable achievement by Sky and the Premier league that a season of mediocrity is more acceptable than getting to a Cup final.

Getting into the top four is seen as a trophy with the money that a spot in the Champions league generates.  The money though doesn’t go into the pocket of supporters and nor does it mean extra money to bolster that squad.  A budget has been set regardless and players although ambitious will move where the money is regardless of whether the team is in the Champions league or not.  Yet supporters believe this spin that has been spun and would put a top four finish above winning the FA cup and a trip to Wembley.

Football is now increasingly about the hype and making as much money as possible from this new world-wide fan base.  That’s why clubs fly over to Australia, the far east, even the USA because there is money to be made and not because it will help pre-season training.

The International Champions cup which is currently a pre-season tournament can be seen as a future replacement or rival with the UEFA champions league.  With the money that it generated (incredibly ticket prices for the Madrid v Barcelona game in Miami  went for $5,500) it wouldn’t be a surprise if this happened.

Of course this would be by invitation only and not by earning a place.  After all despite AC Milan being a pale shadow of the team that they once were they have a global appeal and therefore can sell.  These games would not be played in the home cities but various stadiums across the globe to generate more cash and global appeal.  In turn these clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, and AC Milan would in effect be the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globe Trotters.

This is why the controversial thirty-nine Premier league game was mooted.  Forget about upsetting the balance of fairness of the competition there is more money to be had from sales abroad and the television deals that would be made as a result.  Although dropped the idea still lurks like Jaws stalking Amity Island.

The £198 million deal for Neymar wasn’t just about signing a top player or even a signal of intent of winning the Champions league but about putting PSG as a major force in the global market.  Of course it is an intent to win the major honours but the price gets publicity, courts new supporters from across the world, and therefore increases the television deals.  Added to which is the marketing appeal that Neymar brings not just in terms of shirt sales but other promotions in the interest of PSG.

Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and any other big names spend big simply to boost their global appeal as well as improving the team.  Signing the top players keeps that interest and makes supporters excited that the latest big name has joined their club.

Increasingly football is moving away from its community and identity that clubs had.  Slogans such as ‘more than a club,’ ‘you’ll never walk alone,’ are increasingly sounding more like a brand rather than ‘the real thing,’ that it once had.  Even St. Pauli who view themselves as very much to the left in their ideals find that the skull and bones flag once flown as a symbol of defiance, has now been marketed.  Indeed you could argue that St. Pauli has now been sold as a ‘kult club,’ for people wanting something different.

Football is far removed from the working class game that it once was.  Certainly amongst the big clubs they are a brand that can be consumed as easily as a can of coke.  Hype and money keeps it ticking over with the global fan base proving ever more lucrative.  Just don’t surprised when the only connection that a football club has with its community is the name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the player-manager was in vogue

The 1980’s invokes images of big hair, shoulder pads, crap but catchy pop tunes, blockbuster movies that were original and a time when there was only four TV channels to choose from.  It was also the period that the player manager became fashionable after Liverpool led the trend by appointing Kenny Dalglish as player manager who promptly led the reds to the double in his first season in charge.

Prior to 1985 the view was pretty much the same as now.  A manager needed to be experienced to manage at the top-level.  Furthermore a manager needed to take a detached view to assess the play and make changes when required.  Being on the pitch would limit that opportunity whilst also making the relationship with players slightly difficult.  The role of manager also means responsibilities off the pitch such as contracts, scouting, discussions with the coaching staff, and media work.  Something which can distract from concentrating on your game.

The only time that a player became a coach was either in a moment of instability such as the manager being dismissed.  In other circumstances it would be due to a lack of numbers such as when Don Revie had to name himself as a player when he first took charge of Leeds.  A player manager was never intended to be a long-term prospect.  That of course belonged to the comic pages of Roy of the Rovers.

One of the greatest players in the club’s illustrious history Kenny Dalglish could quite easily have hung up his boots and still have been a Liverpool legend.  As it was Kenny Dalglish was to become an icon for his achievements and statesman like support for the city.

There are no specific reasons as to why the Liverpool board decided to appoint Dalglish as manager.  With Fagan being the last of the original boot room staff perhaps they felt it was time for a new generation to lead Liverpool forward.  They may also have felt with the likes of Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans as part of the backroom staff it would make the transition easier whilst Dalglish learned the ropes.  For extra support Bob Paisley was to provide assistance and advice when required.

With the aftermath of Heysel which led to English clubs being banned from Europe after Liverpool fans were responsible for the death of thirty-nine mainly Juventus supporters it was in some respects a season of uncertainty for the 1985-86 season.

Everton were very much in the ascendency whilst Manchester United’s ten straight wins to the season saw them viewed as genuine title contenders.  It seemed that this was to be a season of transition as Dalglish got to grips with management.  Alan Hansen would later complain to his friend and manager that it was the worst Liverpool team that he had played in.

That was something else that Kenny Dalglish had to get to grips with and that was the relationship between being a player and now being their boss.  It meant distancing himself away from his teammates and not allowing himself to be involved with the jokes of the changing room.  Now it was his responsibility not just to install discipline but ensure that there was no favouritism.  Players would have to be dropped even sold whilst Dalglish picked what he thought would be his best eleven. That incidentally also meant dropping himself if appropiate.

Despite all these problems Liverpool still managed to keep themselves within distance as Manchester United faltered.  However a 2-0 defeat at home against Merseyside rivals Everton in February saw many believing that the title would be staying at Goodison.

This though was when it started to resemble a story from Roy of the Rovers as Liverpool went on a twelve game unbeaten run gaining thirty-four points.  The turning point had been when Everton had unexpectedly lost 1-0 away to Oxford whilst Liverpool beat Leicester at Filbert street.  It meant that the title was no longer in Everton’s hands with Liverpool needing to beat Chelsea to clinch their sixteenth championship.

It was to be a spectacular goal from the player manager Kenny Dalglish as he carefully chested the ball with his upper body before rifling the ball into the Chelsea net.  No manager had single-handedly won the title but that goal by Dalglish did.

 

A week later Liverpool had the chance of becoming only the fifth club to win the ‘Double.’  Standing in Liverpool’s way was Everton who had narrowly missed out on winning the title.

Once again the story of the match resembled something out of the pages of Roy of the Rovers.  Everton started off well and took the lead courtesy of a Gary Lineker goal as they led at half-time.

The second half was to be Liverpool although a bust up between Bruce Grobbelaar and Jim Beglin after a mix seemed to galvanise the team.  It was to be the finger tip save over the bar from Grobbelaar from a Graham Sharp header that was to be turning point.

By now Jan Molby was running the midfield and played the ball through for Everton’s kryptonite Ian Rush to equalise.  It was Molby again who set up Craig Johnston before Rush secured the cup and broke the camera as it hit the back of the net.

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Wearing a large red hat and a beaming smile Kenny Dalglish had led Liverpool to an unexpected double.  Both on and off the pitch he had been influential in adding a new chapter of continued success for Liverpool.

The next season was to see Liverpool end the season empty-handed finishing runner-up to Everton in the league and being beaten by Arsenal 2-1 in the Littlewoods league cup final.

Although Dalglish had tried to restrict his presence on the pitch Liverpool still missed his influence.  Conscious that the team couldn’t rely on his presence on the pitch forever he aimed at bringing in players to remedy this concern.  Spending some of the money as Ian Rush had been sold to Juventus it was to lead to one of the most exciting Liverpool teams as Dalglish signed John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge, and Ray Houghton.

For the 1987-88 season Dalglish’s influence was now from the dug out as the reds ran away with the title going twenty nine games unbeaten.  A FA cup win the following season followed although that season would be remembered for the ninety-six lives lost at the semi-final at Hillsborough through the gross negligence of the Police and authorities responsible for hosting the venue.  Kenny Dalglish was to be a statesman and support for the club and the city of Liverpool during this traumatic time.

The club retained the title in 1990 with Kenny Dalglish to make his final bow as a player coming on as a substitute against Derby County on the 5th May when Liverpool had clinched their eighteenth league title.  A year later Kenny Dalglish had left Liverpool after the 4-4 all draw against Everton in the FA cup final.  The pressure and Hillsborough had caused a massive strain on Dalglish who for the sake of his health stepped down.

Due to the success of Kenny Dalglish there was a spate of player-managers.  Glasgow Rangers had decided to follow Liverpool’s lead and appointed Dalglish’s former team-mate Graeme Souness in 1986.  Prior to taking charge, Rangers had last won the league in 1978 with the only recent success coming in the Scottish league cup.  Aberdeen under Alex Ferguson prior to taking charge of Manchester United had knocked Rangers into the shade to become the dominant force in Scottish football.  With Celtic winning the title in 1986 Rangers felt that swift action was required to ensure that they did not stagnate further.

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As a player Souness was a proven winner as he won numerous league championships and European cups with Liverpool.  Sampdoria had also brought success with a Coppa Italia and he was still very much a formidable player at thirty-three.  With money to spend Souness signed the top stars of the English game.  The likes of Chris Woods, Terry Butcher, and Graham Roberts were signed.  Other English stars to follow were  Mark Walters, Gary Stevens, Trevor Stevens Ray Wilkins, and Trevor Francis.

It was to have an instant impact even though Graeme Souness was to mark his tenure on his debut by being sent off in the 34th minute for two straight yellows against Hibernian.  The second yellow could quite easily have been a red for what was a nasty challenge on George McCluskey.  Despite this Rangers won the Scottish Premier league and league cup beating Celtic in the final of Souness’s first season in charge.

During his time in Scotland Souness was constantly at loggerheads with the SFA with Souness admitting years later that he ‘was obnoxious and difficult to deal with.’  One touch-line ban saw Souness provocatively get round it by naming himself as a substitute.

Some viewed Souness’s time as manager of Rangers as a revolution and he certainly built the foundations for the Gers dominance and nine in a row Premier league titles.  Souness also has to be given credit for ending the club’s sectarian view on not signing Catholic players.  Of course there was controversy when Souness signed Mo Johnston in the summer of 1989.  To add fuel to the fire Johnston had reneged on agreeing to re-join his former club Celtic meaning he received from both sides.

Souness was unperturbed and simply stated that he signed players purely on their footballing ability and not the religion of the footballer.

Following Dalglish’s shock resignation from Liverpool it was Souness who promptly accepted the offer to join his former club in April 1991.  That though was not to be successful.  Apart from an FA cup, Souness was unable to bring the success that Liverpool had become accustomed to.

Other clubs seeing the success that Dalglish and Souness had brought to Liverpool and Rangers felt it was the way forward.  One of the reasons was that a big name could attract the best players.  Seeing a renowned player manager gave the impression that the club had ambition.  Furthermore it also meant having an experienced head on the field and with the likes of Glenn Hoddle who was in the autumn of his career could still be influential on the pitch for Swindon Town and Chelsea respectively.

Hoddle became the second-player manager to lead Chelsea to the FA cup final against Manchester United.  Naming himself as a substitute and coming on in the sixty-eighth minute for Craig Burley there was no inspired come back as Chelsea were soundly thrashed by Manchester United to claim their first double.

The former Everton star midfielder Peter Reid became Player-Manager of Manchester City after Howard Kendall returned to his former love and club Everton in November 1990.  It didn’t bring Manchester City any silverware but brought stability and whilst Reid was in charge a hope that they were building towards something long-term.

After Lennie Lawrence had failed to get Middlesbrough promoted straight back to the Premier League the club’s chairman Steve Gibson turned to Manchester United’s Bryan Robson who became player manager in the summer of 1994.  It was seen as a mutual arrangement for both parties.  For Bryan Robson it was a chance to cut his teeth in management away from the harsh glare of Old Trafford as well as a chance to keep on playing.  Of course Robson saw it is a learning curve with the ambition at the time to replace Alex Ferguson when he decided to retire or to take the England job.  With Middlesbrough promising the financial backing it was a job that Robson felt was hard to refuse.

For the Teessiders it was a signal of intent and that the club were ambitious in not just getting back into the Premier league but to be a footballing force.  With a shiny new stadium far removed from the dilapidated and tired Ayresome park it meant that with Bryan Robson in charge that they could show how serious the club was in trying to attract the best talent.

It certainly worked with Robson leading Boro to promotion to the Premier league as Champions.  This was to be an exciting period for Middlesbrough with the club living up to its ambitions.  Juninho was in many respects a shock signing as Robson signed the Brazilian from São Paulo for £4.75 million in October 1995.  Seen as one of the best young Brazilian prospects not many expected Juninho to sign for a newly promoted club that had been in many respects been a yo-yo club between the divisions.

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The signings didn’t stop there with Ravanelli and Emerson also purchased in the summer of 1996.  It was a season in some respects to rival Sky’s football soap Dream Team that also began in that year.  Middlesbrough suffered a three-point deduction for not fulfilling a league game against Blackburn Rovers.  Robson cited a bug that had hit the squad but the FA felt that it was too late notice and that Boro could have fielded a team hence the points deduction.  Ironically the three points was the difference between staying in the Premier league and were relegated as a result.

However the drama didn’t stop there as Middlesbrough reached two cup finals for the first time in their history.  Both were to end unhappily as Boro lost to Leicester in a league cup final replay 1-0 after drawing the first game at Wembley 1-1.  The FA cup final was to end in defeat as Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0.  Ironically Chelsea’s manager Ruud Gullit was also a player as was Gianluca Vialli when Chelsea again beat Boro 2-0 in the 1998 league cup final.  Neither Robson who had played his last game as a footballer in January 1997 against Arsenal or Gullit would play in the respective final.

That though was to be the height of Robson’s managerial career.  Although they won promotion back to the flight at the first attempt that was about as good as it got.  Middlesbrough still signed the top stars such Boksic, Ince, and Karembeu but Robson was unable to win the club silverware.  He resigned as manager in 2001 with his replacement Steve McClaren winning Boro’s first trophy the league cup after beating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 at Cardiff’s Millennium stadium.

Chelsea seemed to think that the player-manager was still in vogue with Ruud Gullit being appointed player-manager.  Although sacked nine months later after winning the FA cup he would later describe his time at Chelsea as the ‘happiest time in his career.’

Gianluca Vialli was Gullit’s replacement and again he was also player-manager in 1998.  This though was to be the last time time that a player-manager would be appointed full time with a top flight club.

Success also came Vialli’s way as he led and played in the 1998 Cup Winners Cup final with Chelsea beating Stuttgart 1-0 courtesy of a Zola goal.  Vialli also played the full ninety minutes of the final although did not start or name himself for the League cup final when Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0.

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That though was to be the Indian summer for the player-manager as the big clubs gravitated back to the experienced coaches.  Now the criteria was a manager’s past success and whether he was tactically astute.  A footballing legend as player-manager is no longer a pull of ambition to attract the top stars.

Of course there are other reasons why the player-manager has fallen by the wayside.  As previously stated the role has become much bigger in terms of dealing with off the pitch activities expected of a manager.  This can vary from dealing with contracts, agents, scout players and the opposition as well as having to constantly deal with media demands.  Managing full time can be a tough and lonely job without the added worry of your current form as a player to contend with.

A Premier league manager is now expected to hold a UEFA pro licence which again means a player finding the time to complete and pass prior to a football club offering a manager’s job.

There still has been player-managers in recent years but these have been more of an emergency due to the manager being sacked.  Garry Monk for example was interim manager after Brian Laudrup was sacked in 2014, whilst Ryan Giggs was an interim manager for Manchester United in 2014 after David Moyes was dismissed.

With expectations and the pressure to succeed so high football clubs are now reluctant to take a chance with a young player manager.  There is also less job security as a football manager with clubs getting itchy as soon as the team hits a bad patch of form.  Consequently most clubs would rather now go for experience believing it to have a higher chance of success rather than pitching into the unknown.

Nevertheless there is a certain bit of magic and drama of having a player-manager in charge of your football club especially if he scores the winner that clinches the league title.    After all isn’t that part of the charm of football that it brings unreal magic and stories that would make the editor of Roy of the Rovers think twice as a story line?

Liverpool 2016/17 season review

Expectations are always high at the beginning of the season.  This was especially so after Klopp had led Liverpool to the League  and Europa cup finals in the 2015/16 season.

The omens also looked good.  At the beginning of the 1987/88 season Liverpool played Arsenal away on the opening day and just like that year there was a delay.  This time it was due to the completion of the new main stand rather than a collapsed sewer under the Kop.  Nevertheless it could be seen as a positive omen.

Being a season ticket holder in the new main stand it certainly lived up to expectations.  Although high up the view was excellent especially as the seat is on the half way line.  It gave the advantage of being able to see better the teams shape and build up than my previous seat in the Kop.  There was also the novelty of leg room and the acoustics of the stand was spot on as the noise can carry when the fans are in full voice.

Without European football for that season it was wondered whether the benefit of playing no mid-week games would have the same effect as it did for the 2013/14 season.  Liverpool of course narrowly missing out on the league to Manchester City.  Certainly Liverpool got off to a flier beating Arsenal 4-3 a dramatic game whilst the first home game of the season a 5.30pm kickoff against Leicester saw the champions thrashed 4-1.

The football was a game of intense high pressing with teams unable to cope against Liverpool’s attack.  Mane the new signing from Southampton looked scintillating in attack whilst the likes of Lallana and Firmino came on in leaps and bounds.  Previously they had been inconsistent and only showed flashes of what they could do achieve.  This season they were not only consistent but players that Liverpool relied on.

A brief surge to the top made fans dream but unlike the 87/88 team the defence and overall quality was not as good and consistent that it needs to be.  With injuries to key players at certain points in the season and Mane unavailable due to the African cup of nations there was not the depth in squad to cover.  Furthermore the opposition had learnt to stifle Liverpool by playing deep, restricting space and making use of Liverpool’s vulnerability at set-pieces to score.  The bench also offered no real options in terms of changing things tactically on the pitch.

Indeed Liverpool’s record against the other top six clubs was impressive.  Mainly because with the likes of Spurs and Arsenal who were more open benefitted Liverpool who with their pressing game were able to exploit the spaces left open.

The realistic hope of course was that Liverpool would win one of the domestic trophies and finish within the top four.  Liverpool disappointingly were beaten 2-1 at home against  Wolves in the fourth round of the FA cup.  It appeared that Klopp had overestimated the quality of the overall squad as they struggled to get the better of the Championship side.  In the league cup Southampton beat Liverpool 2-0 over both legs which just left the pursuit for a top four spot.

Despite a few stumbles Liverpool managed to make it over the line although if they had not dropped points against the likes of Southampton, Palace, and Bournemouth they may have just finished third and avoid the Champions league qualifier.

Nevertheless for a fourth placed finish it was still achieved with a high points total of seventy-six that would have won Liverpool the league twenty years ago.  Although not spectacular it is an improvement in the league.   Prior to the season you would expect Liverpool to finish between fourth and six if you were judging on what was spent.

There have been highlights namely the back to back wins against Arsenal, beating Leicester, and Everton.  Then of course there is Emre Can’s spectacular goal against Watford.

Mane has deservedly won the Liverpool player of the year and has been sorely missed when he has been absent.  It is also worth noting that Simon Mignolet has improved significantly this season after temporally being dislodged by Karius.  Unless a keeper of the quality of Pepe Reina becomes available then a goalkeeper is no longer the priority that it once was last year.

The only negatives this season from me has been the atmosphere at games.  It is unfortunately one of the changing facets of football that the ordinary fan is being priced out.  There are more corporate tickets and with the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal it is more being seen at the event rather than love for the team or even the sport.

When you have the likes of two middle-aged men in front of you more intent on showing each other pictures on their mobiles than watching Liverpool play Manchester City it is going to affect the atmosphere.  Then there is the panic if Liverpool are not one up within ten minutes that shows up the sense of entitlement some fans feel.  Silly comments are thrown about before going down to get a pint five minutes before half time and then sodding off in the 85th minute.

Of course you want Liverpool to win but there has to be a sense of realism.  This after all is not 1984 even if the outside world seems to portray Orwell’s dystopian novel.  Getting behind the team is crucial and again can help the team to snatch a result.  The sound of seats slamming as Palace scored the second rather than the sound of Liverpool fans roaring the team to grab an equalizer in the last ten minutes is galling.

Unbelievably there were a few idiots that booed after the draw against Southampton.  Was it frustrating?  Of course it was but the team had given everything and it just didn’t happen on the day.  We had a limited squad with a lack of options on the bench.  You can only do so much and Klopp has got the best out of the team.

For next season and certainly with European football the squad does have to be strengthened.  The defence certainly needs to be improved.  At times they seem shaky and certainly at set pieces seem more vulnerable in conceding a goal.  The team does need to learn to defend as it breeds that confidence with a solid defence.  A centre-half and left back are certainly required.

Another midfielder preferably someone with a bit of pace and guile, and another forward have to be priorities.  Besides this we also need more options to choose from the bench especially when it is difficult breaking teams down.

I am certainly not expecting a marquee signing as this isn’t the way the Fenway group do business but I certainly expect some activity as the defence and size of the squad were issues that became apparent during the season.

This season has seen Liverpool move in the right direction.  If they can keep hold of Coutinho and get Emre Can to extend his contract then it will be beneficial.  Can of course holds divisive opinions but I would say that he does has the ability to be one of the top midfielders in the game.  Critics seem to forget that he is only young.  He can at times be sloppy but he never hides and always tries to make the correct pass or make something happen.  If Can leaves Liverpool I certainly don’t want to regret watching his talent benefit another club.

With European football back and hopefully champions league it will be an exciting season which will hopefully see Liverpool win a trophy.  Above all though I want to enjoy the thrill that the likes of last season’s Europa cup run, the title tilt of 2013/14 and certainly wouldn’t say no to a similar season in the Champions league of 2004/05.

Football can be frustrating and bring despair.  At times you question your own sanity watching a dull 0-0 on a cold January night but games like Istanbul and last season’s game against Dortmund make it all worth while.  Sometimes you have to suffer a bit of misery to appreciate the joy.  That is after all what football is to the majority of supporters.

Above all though I just want to enjoy watching the mighty reds and hopefully experience another rollercoaster journey that Liverpool are good at doing.

The countdown begins to the 2017/18 season!

 

 

 

 

The quiet Don – Revie’s legacy to football

‘When Eddie Gray plays on snow, he doesn’t leave any footprints,’ Don Revie once declared of his Leeds winger.  In some respects and with hindsight he could have been talking about how his achievements in football have been criminally overlooked.

 Despite the years passing there are still books, articles, and documentaries that fondly wax lyrically about the success and legacy of Bill Shankly, Matt Busby, Jock Stein, and Brian Clough.

Yet despite the success of Leeds and being the man who put the Yorkshire club on the map Revie’s achievements are now in the shadows.  Even when Revie’s name is mentioned it has negative connotations that gloss over his talents.

When Don Revie took charge as player-manager in March 1961 of a struggling Leeds United side there was no indication or apparent ambition for the success that was to come.  Rugby league and even cricket were the main sports of West Yorkshire with football not even coming into the equation.  By the end of the decade this was to change with Leeds becoming one of the most feared and dominant sides of English football.

Don Revie was born in Middlesbrough although his playing career came with  Leicester City with stints at Hull City, Manchester City, and Sunderland.  He was by all accounts a gifted footballer with his successful years at Manchester City winning the FA cup in 1956 against Birmingham City.  Revie’s performance earned him the man of the match whilst the year before he was named the football writers of the year award.

It was Bill Lambton the then Leeds Manager in 1958 that signed Revie but under the new manager Jack Taylor was part of the side that was relegated in 1960.  A year later the job was offered to Revie.  Not because they had seen something special with Revie simply because nobody was attracted to the job due to the financial problems of the club.  Furthermore Don Revie was cheap although if Bournemouth had been prepared to pay the £6000 to sign Revie as player-manager then the history of Leeds could quite easily have been different.

One of the first things that Revie brought about was to bring about a family spirit with everyone from the cleaners to the club directors all pulling together.  He personally ensured that he knew everybody’s name whilst having a daily chat.

The referee Jack Taylor once noted that Revie gave money to the cleaners to put on the horses.  If they won they were twice as happy and even if they lost they were still happy at the gesture.  It was something that Revie succeeded at as it made everybody feel part and proud of the club.  Furthermore it brought a sense of togetherness and for Revie it was to bring about a family feeling to the place.

Another change that Revie instigated was that all players be it the first team, reserves, or B sides would all play the same system.  Revie told the Yorkshire Post that ‘any players moving from one team to another will know just what is wanted.’

Bill Shankly’s Liverpool and Guardiola’s Barcelona operated a similar system in the belief it would be easy for players to step up when required.

Revie was left with a very poor side and a club that was in financial difficulties.  Most of the side was compromised of journeymen footballers with the only players of exception being Billy Bremner who at seventeen had just broke into the first team, John McCole whose goals were important to Leeds and Jack Charlton.  The latter was seen as more trouble than he was worth whose surliness and open objection to anything that annoyed him made supporters wonder if he would be the first to go.

The only other notable legacy from Jack Taylor’s time as manager was his backroom staff of Syd Owens and Les Cocker.  Under Revie they would help Leeds to become one of the fittest teams in the league as well as analysing young players and helping them to improve.  Both were hard task masters but the likes of Bremner and Eddie Gray would later appreciate their efforts.

Revie that year managed to keep Leeds up but it was still going to be another two tough years before the Yorkshire club would start to make any improvement.  Even Revie admitted that towards the end of his first full season in charge that he half expected to be sacked.

With funds limited Revie was restricted with the players that he could bring in.  Two of the most notable signings was Bobby Collins from Everton for £25,000 and Albert Johannsen.  The latter was signed on the recommendation of a South African school teacher with Revie only having to pay his fare from Johannesburg.

Although Johannsen was to be inconsistent during his time at Leeds he did bring a touch of glamour and skill in those early days.  Bobby Collins though was to be very influential.  His dogged determination in never giving up or accepting second best seeped amongst Collins younger more impressionable teammates.  It was to be this determination that would become part of Revie’s Leeds DNA.

There was no instant Midas touch with Revie even experimenting by using Jack Charlton as a centre-forward.  It was more a case of hoping lightning would strike twice as the club legend John Charles had swapped defence for attack which had led to him being one of the most feared forwards in Europe.  However Charlton was no Charles and although he scored twelve goals in twenty games he was quietly put back in defence by Christmas 1961.  Most of the goals came from set-pieces but more importantly Charlton was like a fish out of water and didn’t know what he was doing.

One of the influences on Revie was Matt Busby who had advised that if possible to give youth a chance.  It wasn’t just because coming through the ranks that they would show more loyalty and affinity (especially if they were from the local area) but that at a young age they would be more impressionable.  Unlike seasoned pro’s they would be willing to listen, less likely to question, and not pick up bad habits from previous clubs.

The likes of Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer, Norman Hunter, Gary Sprake,  Rod Johnson, and Paul Reaney to name but a few all came through the ranks and all were to play a major part in the future for Leeds.  With Johnny Giles signed from Manchester United for £33,000 Leeds United were to become quite formidable.

Don Revie brought about another subtle difference to Leeds United by throwing a pre-season party with directors, staff, players, and wives.  Aware of his wife Elsie’s and his own isolation as a player he sought again to bring everyone together and made them feel involved.  Above all he wanted a family feeling about the place as he spoke of their importance to the club.  Revie was aware that domestic harmony could help a player feel more settled and not disrupt his form if his house was an unhappy one.

Over the years Don Revie would in some respects become a Father figure.  He would even make visits, give birthday and Christmas cards, flowers presents to the wives and children.  All of this was appreciated and as they too were made to feel part of the club their devotion to Revie also grew.  In many ways he was like the Godfather’s Vito Corleone.  A man who showed and expected loyalty but equally be tough if required.

To show that this was a new Leeds United and one that would be very much moulded in Don Revie’s image he decided to ditch the yellow and blue strip with Leeds to play in an all white strip.  That there was no dissent from supporters or the board about the change of colours showed the lack of interest within the West Yorkshire area.  Nevertheless it was the start of Revie building Leeds to what we know now.

Although Leeds might have looked similar to Real Madrid that was as close as they got to the Spanish giants in Revie’s first two full seasons in charge.  Slowly though things started to change especially as the youngsters like Bremner, Gray, Lorimer, and Norman Hunter started to shine.  Also the 1963-64 season that they clinched promotion the signing of Manchester United Johnny Giles gave them that edge with the brutal determination of Bobby Collins.

There was also a different to approach with how Revie selected youngsters.  Unlike other managers the size of a player did not bother him.  So long as they had the ability, desire, and willingness to work then they would be given a chance.

Revie also had an eye to get the best out of players by changing their positions.  Terry Cooper was converted from a winger to a left back, Eddie Gray from central midfielder to winger, with Bremner and Giles converting from wingers to central midfielders.

It was now a different Leeds in terms of talent, attitude, professionalism, and desire to be the best.  Johnny Giles observed in Eamon Dunphy’s ‘A strange kind of glory,’ that ‘people were consciously thinking about the game, small things like throw-ins, free-kicks, and corner-kicks were discussed and planned.  People were intent on doing something.  Nothing was ever left to chance.’

Critics at the time may have derided and even mocked the infamous dossiers that Revie had drawn up about the opposition but he was ahead of his time.  The reports drawn by Cocker, Owen, and Lindley were so meticulous that they would observe whether the goalkeeper was a flapper or a catcher or whether the right half could accurately pass the ball across his body to the left-wing whilst running right.

On the Friday the reserves would copy the style and formation of the opposition that Leeds were due to play on the Saturday.  By the end of the session the selected XI would know by heart the movement and as a result be able to anticipate the moves of the opposition for real on match day.

In football today that is nothing new with the endless stats and coaching geared towards dealing with the opposition at the weekend that it would be expected at any professional club.  Back in the 60’s it was more about putting out your XI and letting your rival worry about you.

The work on Leeds fitness was to also have an impact especially as Revie had them playing a high tempo pressing game.  In the ‘Unforgiven,’ by Bagchi and Rogerson they quote Bremner saying how Collins would dictate the game by making ‘them go like bombs for a ten minute spell.  Then he would tell them to tighten up again before going at them again.’

With teams not as fit and being unable to cope it was no surprise that Revie had managed to ensure that Leeds finally gained promotion in the 1963-64 season.  As the good work started to pay dividends it was to be start of the glory years for Leeds United.

Leeds first season in the top flight unerringly summed up the Revie era in terms of being so close but yet so far.  The West Yorkshire side almost won what would have been an incredible double but lost out to Manchester United who won the league due to having a superior goal difference to Leeds.  A week later they lost 2-1 in extra time to Bill Shankly’s Liverpool who won the FA cup for the first time in their history.  Nevertheless it was a fantastic season for a team that had spent most of its history in the doldrums.

It was though a season that Leeds started to earn their reputation as being ‘cynical cheats,’ who fouled, harassed the referee, and looked to gain any advantage by hook or by crook.  George Best recalled walking down the tunnel at Old Trafford ‘I felt a terrific pain in my right calf as someone kicked me with brute force.  I turned.  It was Bobby Collins.  ‘And that’s just for starters Bestie.’  He snarled.

Earlier that season brutal challenges by the likes of Giles and Hunter caused outrage at Goodison that led to the Everton crowd making a pitch invasion.  The crowd was cleared with Leeds winning 1-0 which later led to the Yorkshire Post’s Ian Guild description of the match as ‘a disgrace to football.’

The question and indeed suspicion was on whether Don Revie instructed his players to try to win at any cost even it meant fouling or cheating.  There probably is some truth that Leeds pushed the rules with Johnny Giles admitting ‘I have certainly done things on the football pitch that I am embarrassed about now.’  But as he then stated ‘one has to put them into the football climate that existed then.’

Certainly in that period in the 1960s and 1970s it was a more brutal game.  Going in hard and trying to intimidate your opponent was seen as fair game.  Nearly every team had an enforcer whether it was Manchester United’s Nobby Stiles, Anfield Iron’s Tommy Smith who threatened to ‘break player’s backs,’ or Chelsea’s Ron ‘Chopper,’ Harris.

Despite the notoriety of these players they in many ways gained cult and legendary status of when football ‘was a man’s game.’  Yet with Norman ‘bites yer legs,’ Hunter and Leeds they were viewed as the villains of football.

In some respects there was always a suspicion that Don Revie embraced the dark arts a bit too much.  That he was like a grand wizard who became bad in his pursuit of glory.  From hiring a gypsy to eradicate an alleged curse that had been placed on Elland road to wearing his blue suit that became so threadbare that his underwear could be seen in bright light.

Revie himself openly admitted to being superstitious and following a routine that involved the ‘same lucky tie, one or two lucky charms in my pocket. I walk to the traffic lights every morning, turn round and walk back to the hotel.’

There was of course the famous bird phobia that saw Revie remove the club’s owl badge to the familiar LUFC, having three puffs on a cigar,  before sucking on a mint for one minute, and then chewing gum for ten.

Again superstition although ridiculous is very much part of football.  Being an unpredictable game it gives the person a feeling of control that by following a certain ritual that they will gain some good luck which may win the game.

However the dark shadow or the smearing of Revie’s achievements is that he was alleged to have offered bribes for teams to go easy.  Bob Stokoe who managed Sunderland to a FA cup shock in 1973 against Leeds told the Daily Mirror that during his time as Bury manager in 1962 that Revie had offered him £500 to throw the match.

None of this has ever been proven and as Bagchi and Rogerson point out in the ‘Unforgiven,’ how did Revie on £38 a week with a club that was struggling financially find that amount?  Furthermore why did Stokoe wait fourteen years to tell his story and then for the princely sum of £14,000?

The accusations didn’t stop there with Wolves Mike O’Grady claiming that he had been paid as a fixer in 1973 to offer his teammates £1000 a man to throw their game against Leeds and ensure that they won the title.  Again none of this was substantiated with Revie being cleared by the Police and Bremner winning a libel case when accused of offering the bribes.

Again it all added to the media trying to paint Revie as some kind of super villain.  Leeds achievements would be tarnished because of this despite being one of the best footballing sides in the mid-seventies.

Maybe it was because Leeds were insular with Revie encouraging ‘us against the world,’ mentality.  This was no different to the tactics that Alex Ferguson encouraged at Manchester United.  It brought a sense of unity and loyalty as well as a determination to knock their critic’s noses out of joint and enjoy the discomfort of the critics having to acknowledge that they were the best.  Yet whereas Ferguson is lauded it is seen as another stick to beat Leeds with.

Revie’s man management was also second to none.  He knew when to put an arm around a player and when they needed a proverbial kick up the backside.  Nothing was left to chance as Revie ensured that he knew the character of all his players.  Furthermore he only wanted players who would fit into the work ethic of the club.

Europe was another learning curve for Revie who quickly realised that discipline and organisation was a key to being successful.  During the Inter Cities Fairs cup Leeds used their strength to hit teams on the break and in turn to be able to absorb the pressure.  Their mental strength was also second to none with the Italian press admiring their character and not letting the awful leg break of Bobby Collins by Torino’s Poletti to affect them by seeing the game through and winning the tie.

Breaking your duck in winning your first trophy is always the hardest but despite a turgid match Leeds beat Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley to win the League cup.  In a sense it gave Leeds a taste of victory and the belief that they could achieve more.  Revie was more than aware of this as he showed a rare expression of delight by joining his celebrating team on the pitch.

More success was to come as Leeds went a step further by clinching the Inter City Fairs cup by beating the Hungarian Ferencvaros 1-0 over two legs.  There was a significant delay due to the Warsaw pact invasion of Czechoslovakia with the possibility of the game being called off.  Again the professionalism and organisation was enough to see Leeds through against a team whom Shankly and Busby viewed as one of the best teams in Europe.

The league championship with its long, arduous season that decided the best team in England now sauntered into view for Leeds.  They had finished runners-up to Liverpool in the 1965-66 season but wanted to go that one step further.  By now Leeds had firmly established themselves as a difficult team but needed a title to show that they were not pretenders.

It was to the 1968-69 season when Revie’s Leeds would clinch the clubs first championship in their history.   The team was now maturing with the average age of the squad being around twenty-five.  Besides which Leeds with the two cup wins now had a taste for trophies.  Something that Revie wanted to encourage.

Billy Bremner recalls how Don Revie ensured that the desire and fire to keep winning trophies and not to rest on their laurels was to continually set new challenges.  That was to win the league.  ‘When you haven’t won anything, you’re delighted to win something; but as soon as a new challenge is offered, you have to climb higher.  And so we climbed that bit higher in going for the league.’

It was to be a culmination of Leeds gaining experience and knowing how each other played.  There was in some respects a communal style to Leeds play.  For example Hunter, Cooper, and Gray formed the left side, working the ball in triangles and quadrilaterals between them before seizing on any space given to initiate an attack.  Charlton, Reaney, Bremner, and O’Grady replicated this on the right.

Bremner and Giles having the ability to hit the killer pass once the opposition had committed themselves too far forward.

All season Leeds had stretched the opposition and with their superior fitness that the West Yorkshire side were easily the best side in the league that season.

The title was clinched at Anfield after a 0-0 draw against Liverpool.  It was to be a night were Leeds also felt that they had finally achieved the recognition that they deserved.

Revie had instructed his team that if they won the league on the night then they were to go forward and acknowledge the Kop.  Bremner was unsure but duly led his players towards the goal with the crowd becoming silent.  There was a slight pause before the crowd chanted ‘Champions,’ and applauded the Leeds team for their achievements for that season.

With Shankly declaring them worthy champions it felt for Leeds that they were finally being recognised for their footballing abilities.  After so many years of being branded villains they were now being hailed for their football.

The following season Leeds didn’t let their laurels slip as Leeds chased a unique treble of the league, European, and FA cup.  Bagchi and Rogerson in ‘the unforgiven,’ believe fixture congestion and the lack of help from the league authorities in terms of re-arranging fixtures meant that Revie had to prioritize which trophies they wanted to go for.

In what seems strange in this Premier league obsessed era, Leeds had made winning the European and FA cup more of a priority as these were not only trophies that they had never won but were also equally prestigious.

Leeds with seven games remaining was top of the league but decided that in order to boost their chances of success had to rest players.  For the remaining six games the Leeds team were a mixture of reserves and experienced players which earned the club a five thousand pound fine from the football league.

Sadly for the West Yorkshire club they were to fall short.  It didn’t help that it took three games to beat Manchester United to reach the 1970 FA cup final in order to play Chelsea.  The semi-final against Celtic was to see Leeds comprehensively beaten 3-0 over two legs with the Glaswegian side to later lose 2-1 to Feyenoord in extra time in the final.

That was to be a fate that Leeds would suffer in a replay at Old Trafford as Webb snatched the winner to lift the cup for Chelsea.  It was to be a final remembered for two things.  A poor pitch due to allowing the horse of the year show prior to the final and the brutal tackling and fouling from both sides.

Due to picking up only three points from the final six games the league had duly been surrendered to Everton who were proclaimed the football league champions for the 1969-70 season.

It was a disappointing season but Leeds maturity and confidence in their own abilities as Revie allowed the shackles off showed that Leeds were one of the top footballing sides who would be favourites for all the major honours in the years to come.

Yet they would become more known for choking at the crucial moments.  Some of it was down to appalling decisions made against Leeds whilst other times the West Yorkshire failed to play to their ability.

A fifth round tie away to fourth division Colchester should have not really posed any problems for Leeds.  Instead they found themselves three-nil down and despite pulling two goals were unable to snatch an equaliser.  Sprake was held responsible for the three goals and indeed was seen as the weak link of the team.

Despite the shock cup exit the league was still on.  However another infamous game against West Bromwich Albion with the referee Ray Tinkler’s poor performance to have repercussions’ on Leeds title challenge.  Albion’s Colin Suggett was quite clearly offside with Brown looking for the decision only to continue and square the ball to Astle who put the ball into the back of the net and winning the two points for West Brom.

Barry Davies the match of the day commentator was incredulous and declared that ‘Leeds will go mad and they have every right to be.’  It provoked a reaction from the Leeds players which also ignited crowd trouble who were outraged at the decision.

Arsenal would go on to clinch the league by one point with Ray Kennedy netting the winner against Spurs at White Hart lane.  Again Leeds would be the bridesmaid in terms of the league although they didn’t end that season empty ended as they won the Inter Cities fairs cup on away goals after drawing 3-3 on aggregate but crucially drew 2-2 away in Turin.

It was becoming a familiar occurrence as Leeds once again blew the chance of winning the double in the 71-72 season.  They played some scintillating that year with the highlight being Leeds torturing Southampton with keep ball after being 7-0 up.  As Barry Davies said in admiration it was ‘cruel,’ but at the same time it was breath-taking football with the flicks and back heels as Leeds played a match version of ‘piggy in the middle,’ by keeping hold of the ball.

Leeds it seemed was head and shoulders above everyone else.  The FA cup was lifted for the first time in their history as they beat Arsenal 1-0 who hoped to retain the trophy.  The double it seemed was a certainty as Leeds only needed a point away to Wolves.  However two days after the cup final Leeds were to be denied and frustrated by the referee yet again.  There were three penalty shouts with a blatant handball to deny Allan Clarke.  Wolves won the game 2-1 and with Liverpool failing to beat Arsenal at Highbury with a Toshack goal ruled out for offside, Brian Clough’s Derby County won the league whilst on the beach in Majorca.

Heartache seemed to be the Leeds way and the 1972-73 season was to be no different.  Although they were not in any contention to win the league that season Leeds again reached the FA cup final against second division Sunderland and the European Cup Winners Cup against AC Milan.

Critics assumed that Sunderland had no chance and that Leeds would triumph over the North East side.  It was a case of how many would Leeds would win by.  Instead Leeds failed to deal with the corner with Porterfield gaining legendary status by striking the ball into the back of the net.

Leeds would put the pressure on Sunderland with Cherry’s diving header which was parried away by Montgomery straight to Lorimer who almost equalised only to be thwarted by Montgomery who parried it against the crossbar.  Yet again it was not be Leeds day and to be remembered for all the wrong reasons as David beat the unpopular Goliath.

A 1-0 defeat to AC Milan in the Cup Winners Cup final meant that Leeds ended the season empty-handed.  There was a feeling that Leeds had been cheated following the Greek referee Christos Michas being suspended by UEFA and his own federation due to some dubious decisions against Leeds.

There are numerous theories as to why Leeds United kept falling short at the crucial moments.  Some cited poor refereeing decisions and Hardaker of the football league who was believed to have disliked Leeds due to their reputation.  With fixtures piling up due to replays or poor weather and the football league refused to accommodate or assist Leeds in order to give them enough recovery time between games.

At times with the matches piling up there were key players who were injured and in the case of the Wolves game both Clarke and Giles had pain killing injections certainly couldn’t have helped.  With so many irons in the fire so to speak it meant that the Leeds players were on their last legs and just couldn’t carry themselves over the line when required.

Some even questioned whether Revie thought too much about the opposition and whether that anxiety transmitted to the players.  Dave Watson the Sunderland centre-half stated that he thought the Leeds players were very subdued in their interviews prior to the Cup final.  It could also be said that at times Revie brought the squad for big matches too early and rather than be distracted by every day life were left to brood on the game.

Perhaps it was a mix of all and more than likely being involved in so many big competitions stretched the squad to their limit.  Revie certainly knew his players and he had managed to channel that comradeship amongst the team and supporters.

The 1973-74 season was to be Revie’s last as he left Leeds to take the job of England manager.  However Leeds ended it as champions after going twenty-nine games unbeaten.

Some wondered if Revie took the England job on as he couldn’t bear to break up his ageing Leeds team.  The fact of the matter is that Revie had already got itchy feet and had got caught going for possible talks to become the Everton manager in 1973 when he had got lost and had to ask directions.  Money was another insecurity of Revie with the attraction of more money at Everton whetting his initial interest before deciding to stay at Leeds.

The England job was not to be a success as he was unable to replicate the team and family spirit that he harnessed at Leeds United.  Some players mocked his carpet bowls and ideas.  Revie himself seemed uncomfortable in dealing with the politics of International football and seemed to miss the day-to-day coaching that club football brought.

With England performing poorly and unlikely to qualify for the world cup qualifiers Don Revie decided to quit the job and took up a post offered by the UAE.  Despite the FA having approached Bobby Robson in order to replace Revie they suspended him for ten years.  Although Revie won on a Court appeal he was never to work in English football again with only coaching stints at other middle-east countries.

Due to the manner of Revie’s England resignation and the money being offered to manage the UAE national side he was branded a mercenary with his reputation never Don_Revie_and_Billy_Bremnerrecovering.

Leeds too was never to be the same side that they were under Revie.  In what was a bizarre decision they appointed Revie’s arch critic and nemesis Brian Clough to re-build the team.  With Clough’s brash manner and telling the players ‘to put all their medals in the bin as they had won them through cheating,’ it was never going to end well.  After forty-four days in charge Brian Clough was sacked as manager.

It was to be an end of an era despite reaching the European cup final in 1975 and losing to Bayern Munich.  Again there was to be much controversy and crowd trouble after the referee disallowed a Lorimer goal after initially pointing to the centre circle to indicate that a goal had been given.

As the years go by the achievements of Don Revie seem to fade into the background.  Nothing is mentioned of Don Revie physically building the Leeds United that we all know of now even if the past ten years or so have seen them back in the second tier.  It was Revie with hardly any resources that dragged and moulded Leeds United to be one of the most feared teams in English football.  Prior to his appointment Leeds were seen as a joke and in the shadow of rugby league.  Even Leeds current all white strip is down to Revie who decided to change the colours.

In terms of coaching and preparation Don Revie was ahead of his peers.  In today’s game in-depth analysis and preparation is all part of the game.  Revie in his dossiers and gearing training towards the opposition was so way ahead that at the time it was mocked by others within the English game.

Ironically in this day and age of mass marketing Revie was to be a pioneer by agreeing that Leeds became commercially involved with Paul Trevillion an illustrator more known for you are the ref.  There were track suits with player’s names, sock tags, and the Leeds wave as the players ran out two minutes early before kickoff and wave to each part of the ground who would shower them in applause and cheers.

Revie also encouraged youth and brought a collective spirit right throughout the club.  Everybody was part of this inner family that in turn brought about that resilience required to dig in and snatch a result no matter how badly they were playing.  In short everybody looked after each other.

Of course there was the cynicism and the intimidation that Revie’s Leeds did dish out.  There is no question that they rubbed up the opposition but other teams could just be as physical.  Leeds did push it to extremes and cynicism can be seen in the game today from the little clip, dive, time-wasting or harassing the referee.  Not that it makes it right but from a professional point of view it is about testing the boundaries in order to gain an advantage.

Maybe it’s because Revie didn’t have the statesman like aura of Matt Busby and Jock Stein or the charisma of Bill Shankly.  Neither did he have the soundbites of Brian Clough that the media lapped up.

In front of the cameras Revie always looked uneasy and seemingly shifty.  With the physical approach of Leeds it was easy to throw mud at Leeds with the unsubstantiated claims by Stokoe of offering bribes to go easy casting more dirt.  Revie with his superstition was all too easily cast as dabbling in the black arts of football.

It could be argued that there was an element of snobbery with Leeds not having the glamour of a London team or a charismatic star like Manchester United’s George Best.  They also equally refused to be in awe of anyone’s reputation and gave as good as they got.  Revie certainly showed this from a story given in the Unforgiven.  At an official FA dinner in 1976 Revie objected to the pompous Sir Harold Thompson referring to him by his surname.  Thompson haughtily replied ‘when I get to know you better Revie, I shall you call Don.  Quick as a flash Revie’s response was ‘when I get to know you better Thompson, I shall call you Sir Harold.’

Despite all the knocks and whether you think Don Revie’s reputation is deserved or not Revie’s Leeds United played attractive football.  Yes they could dish it out but they could play with aggression, skill, and pace which many teams of the time couldn’t cope with.  It was Revie who installed that discipline and ideas onto his team in the belief that it would get results.

Don Revie made and was Leeds United that even now his legacy still exists.  Furthermore he was also a pioneer and forward thinker who knew how to build and get the best out of his team.  It is for these reasons that Don Revie should be remembered alongside the greats of Shankly, Stein, and Busby.