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:

Years Club Appearances Goals
1944-1949 Leicester City 96 25
1949-1951 Hull City 76 12
1951-1956 Manchester City 162 37
1956-1958 Sunderland 64 15
1958-1962 Leeds United 76 11
TOTAL 474 100
International Career
1954-1955 England 6 4

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”.

Book details

Soccer’s Happy Wanderer

Don Revie

Pre ISBN (Published 1955)

Museum Press Limited

Click below to buy:

Soccer’s Happy Wanderer

Kicking and Screaming

25th January 1995. Football fans will remember the date due to a certain Frenchman, the once-upon-a-time Leeds favourite Eric Cantona, demonstrating his appreciation of Jackie Chan movies to the front row fans at Selhurst Park. In snowbound Leeds, there was kicking and screaming of a different kind as my son Liam joined the biggest team of all, Human Race FC.

I must be honest and say that my son’s football allegiance didn’t immediately spring to mind as I tearfully held him for the first time. However, the fact is that wherever Liam finds himself in later life, he’ll always be a Leeds lad and therefore a Leeds United fan. It’s his birthright.

My philosophy is that you support your local team. My dad is an Arsenal fan, but he never tried to make them my team, even on the occasional trips to Highbury with him. I was born in Parsons Green in Fulham and therefore the men in white from Craven Cottage are my team. Liam, Leeds born, now has his own team in white to follow. Like my early days watching Fulham, Liam has seen the early years of his support dogged by relegation and to his credit has remained loyal which is not always easy when he is bombarded by the hyper-inflated Sky ideal that no football exists outside the world of the Premier League.

What of loyalty? In Leeds last Premier League season, whilst Liam desperately asked each week, “…are we going down dad?…”, an icon of Leeds at the time, the badge kissing Alan Smith, stole across the Pennines, like Cantona before him. Despite his young years, Liam knew this to be an act of disloyalty and so down came the Smith posters, as did his previously prized possession of a timesheet signed “…To Liam, Best Wishes, Alan Smith…”. Liam echoed the words of so many others with memorabilia from the departed No:17, when he asked, “…What shall I do with this now?…”

Through his time as a Leeds supporter this will no doubt happen again. He shouldn’t be surprised, because he’ll remember he was born the day another player lacking loyalty kicked up a fuss.

Leeds United: A non one-eyed look at promotion

The people of Leeds and indeed Leeds United fans across the world can go about their business this week with a smile on their faces after the dramatic events of Saturday afternoon. As the hangovers clear and the details of the day become merely records in the passing of another season, there are hard questions to consider and some facts to face. It’s not that I’m trying to dispel the glow of joy from around Elland Road so soon, but the reality is that the new season is only three months away. Therefore:

  • Is this squad strong enough for the Championship?
  • If not, how many players will be needed?
  • What is the plan for the 2010/11 season? Consolidation, play-off’s or automatic promotion?
  • Will the necessary investment be made by the Chairman?

I would assume (and hope) that all these questions have been considered by the Management since the start of this season and that the necessary planning and preparation is in place. I would have expected various scenarios with the following options; A – which covered automatic promotion, B – promotion via the play-off’s, C – remaining in League One and (heaven forbid) D – relegation to League Two, to have been drawn up. It’s simply good business practice and would hope Option A is already under way. However, how many football clubs been run effectively along sound business lines? Leeds current plight is down to such disregard for good practice and errant management.

Wouldn’t it be great to think that as I write, Mr Bates and Mr Harvey are preparing a statement for the Club website that is actually straight, honest and realistic about the plans for the coming season?

Yes Leeds are back on the path back to the Premier League, enjoy the moment, but also think to a year ahead and how you want to feel……….

Leeds United: If it’s stressful watching, what it’s like playing?

72 hours and counting. Leeds United fans will be counting down the hours to kick-off and “that” game on Saturday. The week won’t pass quick enough till three o’clock comes round. Scenarios and opinions mulled over a million times….

But how do the players feel? I’ve never played professional football (although still harbour an absurd dream that at 47 I’ll be drafted in for my League debut!!!), but have played years at a reasonable amateur level and know what it is like to play in crucial games. For the Leeds squad it must be a weird feeling knowing that a win on Saturday and the job is done. Holidays can be sorted and feet up with a few beers watching the World Cup before pre-season training. They’ll also have in mind that it could drag on for another three games that could ultimately bring promotion but equally that crushing despair that losing brings.

As a player I had a gut feeling how the day was going to go once I stepped out on the pitch. As a keeper that warm-up was crucial. I knew that if I felt sharp, the handling would be sure and you felt invincible. That carried into the game and once that first save was made or cross taken cleanly, then I was going to have a good day. However, even though you might have had a blinder, you could sense or see that this didn’t always extend to the rest of the team. They simply didn’t share the confidence you had. You have to be in it together – you have to all believe. Equally, I can honestly say I have experienced “freezing” in the “big game”. It was Cup Final and I was as nervous as hell. Getting on the coach going to the game, I was flat and quiet. The sense of occasion simply got to me. No matter what I did in the warm-up, I just couldn’t get going. The feeling was akin to paralysis. I barked my orders to my back four throughout the game as usual, but it lacked conviction and my movements were stilted. The anticipation in reacting was lacking – “should I come for that cross? Should I stay on my line?” What was supposed to be a memorable day turned into a tortuous 1 nil defeat. Pressure, expectation and nerves are a monstrous concoction that can destroy any player whatever your level.

It also brings to mind watching the FA Cup Final build-up on BBC back in the 70’s and 80’s. There were always cameras in the team hotels and on the coaches to Wembley. It was intriguing to see which teams were more relaxed and whether this translated to the pitch and ultimately a winning performance. A calm team is a winning team.

So at around 2.45pm on Saturday, imagine how if feels coming out of the tunnel. Is the body and mind giving out the right signals? Inspired or insipid performance to come? Believe that there is only 90 minutes left in this season. GOING UP! GOING UP! GOING UP! GOING UP! GOING UP!

Sharing the Love: From Fulham to Leeds

 There are times when your faith in what football is all about is restored. What we are talking about is that 90 minutes of activity that takes place on the pitch. Forget all the hype, the punditry………just solid focus……….22 men………the right result………out there, in front of you. For that duration all the issues surrounding your club are put to one side. You can just focus as the events unfold before your eyes……..the raw emotion. That time was last night. Fulham FC v Hamburg SV…The biggest game in the clubs history. A capacity crowd, vociferous away fans and a palpable tension. The nervousness of the home fans seemed to translate to the players, or was it the other way round? Movement and noise……..missed tackles……close shaves…….great saves. The ebb and flow is ceaseless, and then time stands still….you suddenly look up at the scoreboard…..where did that first 22 minutes go. They get a free kick; you just know they are going to score. You and the rest of the home crowd hold their breath……….and your worst fear is confirmed. You see the ball bulge in the net…… explosion of sound from the away fans………your losing and your dream is shattered. The home team and fans respond……..but it is all too brief……..a lull develops……’s half-time.

The break reduces noise levels to a hum………an uneasy, restless sound. Conversations exchanged about what the manager should do…….some nod, others disagree.

And so it’s “shit or bust” as the second half begins. “Stand up if you still believe” rings out amongst the home faithful. The first challenge of the second half leaves the home leading goal scorer limping… fear the worst. On 57 minutes the inevitable happens and he has to be substituted… seems to have no impact. Nervous glances at the scoreboard clock become more frequent……..and like drifting sand, time is slipping ever quicker away. Whispers start to surface that perhaps there is no escape this time……the last 20 minutes looms. Just when the belief is on the wane……a flick, a turn, a shot……’s one all……….the tension bursts…. “Stand up if you still believe” is the refrain once more. Can we do this? Can we really? Suddenly the bouncing, buoyant away fans are silent and still. Do they feel it? Do they know what is coming? And it does……….just seven minutes later…….a scrappy goalmouth melee and then suddenly there’s a chance and it’s in……2-1! Pandemonium…….delirious, riotous joy. Is time now friend or foe? 14 minutes and you’ve done it. But you know another goal for them and it’s all over again……that’s how fragile that your dream is. And so you live every second of that last 14 minutes. It is a blur, but you sense the frantic events of the away team as they desperately try to claw their way back. Three minutes of added time…….the agony is extended. Wasted possession……..loose passes………just steady it!

Then it happens…………..the final whistle. Joy, so much joy. Tears, hugs, handshakes, clapping, screaming, waving, chanting……disbelief, relief. A collective orgasm of satisfaction. A warm feeling that leaves you smiling.

It’s what we all dream of from our 90 minutes each week. I hope that this sensation applies to the games that Leeds have to come. Unless you’re a fan, you just don’t get it…………it’s our games, our team, our passion and our love. Are you listening Ken?

Leeds United: Destiny and Pudsey

Sunday – the day of rest – getting up late, a bacon butty and coffee in bed. What more can a man want? How does going round an Antique Fair in Pudsey sound? Not convinced? Well the thing is you just never know. As I wandered aimlessly past the stalls, I found a folder labelled ‘football programmes’. I have to come clean and say football programmes are a weakness of mine. The house is groaning under the weight of my collection from 38 years of watching football. So it was with some excitement that I flicked through the binder. There were only probably 20 to 25 programmes contained and most were Cup Finals and International programmes that I already possess. However, I came across one in particular that I was drawn to.

“The Football Association of Wales, INTERMEDIATE INTERNATIONAL MATCH, Wales v Scotland, Wednesday 30th November 1966, Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, Kick off 7-15pm, Official Programme – Price Sixpence” .

I have to be honest and say that I didn’t know what an “…Intermediate…” match alluded to, but on looking at the editorial inside it explained it was an Under 23 fixture. The programme itself was nothing exceptional, an 8 page white programme with bold black print, containing the editorial, team line-ups and pen pictures of the two teams. In looking at the classic 2-3-5 team lay out, I noticed that there were two Leeds United players in opposition. Number 9 for Wales was D. Hawkins and number 6 for Scotland was E.Gray. The pen pictures provided the following information:

DENNIS HAWKINS (Leeds United) – Centre Forward; Like team-mate Gary Sprake is Swansea-born; it would appear Leeds have a liking for this part of the Principality since they signed John Charles straight from a Swansea school! Only one first team appearance to date but is well thought of by manager Don Revie. Welsh Schoolboy International. Has a younger brother who plays in the current Swansea Schoolboy team.

EDWIN GRAY (Leeds United) – Left Half; From Glasgow schools football to Leeds three years ago. Players inside forward and on the left wing as well as wing half. Skilful dribbler.

I was intrigued as to who Dennis Hawkins was, so promptly paid a pound for this little gem of a programme. Once home, straight onto the PC to discover more about this player. Thanks to the internet I discovered the following. Dennis Hawkins was a Welsh inside forward who played professionally in the sixties and early seventies, and won six caps for his country’s Under 23 side. After developing in the youth team at Leeds United, and realising that his first team chances within such a strong squad would be limited, he left to join Shrewsbury Town. In all he made 58 appearances for the Gay Meadow club. During this period he was loaned to both Chester and Workington. He finished his league career at Newport.

Dennis played for Leeds United on only two occasions and in a career from 1966 to 1972 played in just 92 games scoring 12 goals. Eddie Gray on the other hand turned out to be a Leeds legend with 577 appearances and 68 goals. Where does all this lead? If you were at that game, or indeed were Dennis or Eddie at the time, you had no idea what the future held. That game was about that moment in time, two men from the same club on opposite sides, both representing their country at Under 23 level. Did they ponder what the future held for them, did the crowd that day have the same thoughts? These two players with similar paths were to have very different destinies and so for Leeds United fans, only one of these two men will be remembered. Fate dictated that Eddie Gray became a Leeds Legend, a man still involved with the club today. Dennis unfortunately never became one of the greats of the Revie era.

So as you watch Leeds United in these last two remaining League games, consider what fate has in store. Will history recall that this was the team that blew automatic promotion and then collapsed in the Play-Offs or had the character to clinch promotion at last. What of the Leeds players themselves? Is this their chance at fame or infamy? Eddie Gray and David Hawkins, two players, one club – two very different outcomes.