Book Review: Soccer’s Happy Wanderer by Don Revie
It’s amazing what a wander around old book shops can turn up. Whilst in Alnwick, Northumberland, I came across a slim volume titled “Soccer’s Happy Wanderer” written by Don Revie. I have to be honest and say that I knew nothing of his playing career and was surprised to learn of his details:
This book isn’t as one might expect written at the end of his playing days, but in 1955 during his spell at Maine Road. One of the first things to say and stands out is that he book is very short and divided up into numerous chapters which are in many cases 2 to 3 pages long and rather frustratingly, left me wanting to know more. Overall, the language does have a dated feel about it, as illustrated when Revie talks about the “chaps”. But life was so much different then and so was the English language and you have to realise that this was written over half a century ago.
Interesting though is the use of the term “soccer”, in that here in England, we blame the USA for the use of the term. However, it appears in the title of this book, and is used consistently throughout in preference to the word football. So are our American cousins really to blame? The answer is “No”, as soccer is allegedly the abbreviation of Association Football. Anyway, back to the book…..
If I’m brutally honest it is hard to describe “Soccer’s Happy Wanderer” as a genuine autobiography, in that much of the tome is devoted to “…the Revie Plan…” (based on the principle of a deep lying centre forward) with some reference to Revie growing up and his career at Leicester and Hull, prior to Manchester City. What is remarkable for me is the tactical detail and diagrams contained in this volume. You’d be hard pushed to think of any autobiography by the current crop of Premier League “stars” that would show such insight and interest in the machinations of the game. However, is that because as a reading public we are not interested? Is it the publisher doesn’t think it would sell? Or do the players of today not have any view or input to team tactics? However, this book does show the seeds of Revie’s belief (expressed later as a manager) in the principles of the basics around ball control, accurate passing, teamwork and tactical know-how. The idea of being prepared through practice is evident in this book and provides an early pointer at the legendary dossiers that Revie used with great success at Elland Road.
Throughout the book, Don Revie shows himself as a very modest man and gives credit for any success to his team-mates and managers rather than himself. However, he must have been doing something right, in that the style of play introduced at Maine Road in the fifties carried Don’s name, in 1954/55 he was named “Footballer of the Year” and he also played for England.
There are however, times that you feel that Revie’s career was cursed (up to the time this book was written). Major injuries, the missing of the FA Cup Final in 1949, the 1955 FA Cup Final loss and regrets over some of the clubs he played for, are features of his story. And although as a player he won a FA Cup medal in 1956, the aspect of Revie being unlucky does have a symmetry when you look at some of the misfortune that Leeds United suffered under his leadership.
Away from the tactics, there are some nuggets of facts. For instance, Revie overcame some serious injuries, one of which nearly killed him. Whilst playing for Leicester City, he suffered a nose injury which caused severe blood loss and resulted in Revie missing the 1949 FA Cup Final. The blood loss was so bad that he ended up in hospital for life saving transfusions. Another little gem, is that Don nearly signed for Arsenal, but ultimately didn’t because he believed he wasn’t good enough for the Gunners. Lastly, one which seems very odd, some 55 years later, is his view about the use of substitutes and comes about as a result of Manchester City having to play the 1955 FA Cup Final with 10 men (due to injury) for the last hour of the game. Revie claims that he supported not having substitutes, as teams might abuse it by bringing on fresh players for people who weren’t even injured.
Reading Don’s words some 55 years on was quite strange in some ways. As generally with an autobiography the reader is sharing the full career with the writer, in this case I knew what life had in store for Don Revie. He had no idea what the future held. In 1955 he knew nothing of the seven more years of playing (at Sunderland and Leeds United FC) he had to come, the glory of his Elland Road years as manager, the controversy of his England and UAE travails and the tragedy of the illness that cruelly disabilitated and eventually killed him. A player and manager that was a visionary, but yet someone who didn’t get the credit he deserved. I’m intrigued to know why this is, I want to fill in the gaps from those innocent days of 1955 and life as “Soccer’s Happy Wanderer”.
Soccer’s Happy Wanderer
Pre ISBN (Published 1955)
Museum Press Limited
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