Leeds United, Don Revie and a 40-Year Old Slur

Even as Elland Road celebrated the 50th anniversary of Don Revie’s appointment as Leeds United manager, the cheating jibe still rears its ugly head...
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Even as Elland Road celebrated the 50th anniversary of Don Revie’s appointment as Leeds United manager, the cheating jibe still rears its ugly head...

Even as Elland Road celebrated the 50th anniversary of Don Revie’s appointment as Leeds United manager, the cheating jibe still rears its ugly head...

Some people just won’t let it go. Some 22 years after his death, and 37 after he left his post as manager of Leeds United, the merest mention of Don Revie has some people reaching for the thesaurus in search of synonyms for the word “cheat”. From Fleet Street to FourFourTwo, the club’s decade of dominance in the late 60s and early 70s is still shrouded in accusations of on-field brutality and off-field bribery. Don Revie, they continue to argue, disgraced the game by fixing matches.

For instance, former Mirror journalist Roy Greenslade chose to mark the 50th anniversary of his appointment as Leeds manager in March by warming over the accusations for the Guardian. He cited the existence of a 315-page dossier of Revie’s dodgy dealings compiled by former colleague Richard Stott and then rehashed claims that cash incentives were offered to the Wolves team before the final game of the 1971/72 season, when a point would have secured Leeds a League and Cup double.

Despite the fact that such accusations have been repeatedly debunked, once in front of a judge, it is necessary for Leeds fans to keep debunking them. After all, the man who succumbed to motor neurone disease at the age of 61 is no longer able to do it himself.

It was The Sunday People that first aired the charges in 1972, suggesting Wolves players had been offered £1,000 to back off a Leeds side still recovering from their FA Cup triumph over Arsenal just 48 hours earlier. The article prompted investigations by both the FA and the police, but neither found Revie had a case to answer. The fact that Wolves had actually won the game 2-1 – with key witness Frank Munro scoring the first goal – seemed to confirm the charges had little substance.

Sprake makes a particularly unreliable witness. Not only did his memory mysteriously desert him when under oath, his biography admits he was upset that that a testimonial promised when he was transferred to Birmingham in 1973 never happened

Five years later, as Revie walked out on the England job and headed for Dubai, sister paper The Mirror repeated the claims, adding United’s goalkeeper Gary Sprake as a star witness and widening the charges to five matches going back to 1962. Frank Munro and Danny Hegen insisted they’d been offered money to give away penalties at Molineux, while Bob Stokoe said that Revie, at the very beginning of his managerial career, had offered him cash so his Bury side would “go easy” in a Second Division relegation scrap.

Revie reportedly considered suing, but cushioned by his tax-free challenge in the sunshine he instead focused his legal efforts on overturning the FA’s 10-year ban. In early 1982, though, there would be a court case. When The Sunday People aired the accusations a third time, now claiming that Billy Bremner tried to tap up Hegen from his pre-match hotel, the pugnacious former Leeds skipper finally brought a libel suit. For those hoping for definitive proof of Revie’s corruption, the trial didn’t go well.

During the Old Bailey battle, Bremner vs Oldhams Newspapers and Danny Hegen, the latter, an alcoholic, was deemed unfit to give evidence, Sprake declared he couldn’t remember his original claims, and Derek Dougan, Wolves widely respected captain, asserted that he never heard any mention of bribes. On February 3rd, the jury took just two hours to find in Bremner’s favour and award near-record damages of £100,000.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Oldhams Newspapers never produced the famed dossier, supposedly authored by one of their senior employers, and nor was it mentioned when Revie successfully sued the FA to overturn his ban. The FA continues to deny that such a dossier ever actually existed.

Indeed, a trial that was supposed to reveal Revie’s venality merely underlined the sleazy world of newspaper exclusives. It emerged that Frank Munro only agreed to give evidence after The People had forked out £4,000 to fly him and his family over from Australia, and that quotes from both Danny Hegen, by then scraping a living as a Butlin’s Redcoat in Coatbridge, and Gary Sprake had clearly been teased out by cash incentives – £7,500 in the case of the Leeds keeper.

Despite the fact that such accusations have been repeatedly debunked, once in front of a judge, it is necessary for Leeds fans to keep debunking them. After all, the man who succumbed to motor neurone disease at the age of 61 is no longer able to do it himself.

Sprake makes a particularly unreliable witness. Not only did his memory mysteriously desert him when under oath, his biography admits he was upset that that a testimonial promised when he was transferred to Birmingham in 1973 never happened– a costly breach of trust for any footballer in the 1970s.

In the same book, he also asserts that any attempts at bribery were “doomed to fail” because it riled the opposition. Well, exactly. Leeds lost the notorious Wolves game, were hammered 4-1 by Southampton in another supposed fixed game in 1962, and drew twice against Stokoe’s fellow strugglers Bury in the same season. So, not only did the notorious match-fixer not actually fix any matches, Sprake is asking us to believe that the meticulous Revie would keep pursuing a tactic that never once succeeded.

Indeed, considering Leeds kept coming second – five times in the league in eight seasons, three times in the FA Cup and twice in Europe – the club didn’t seem to have financially-induced fate on its side. And if the charges are true, two league titles, two European trophies, an FA Cup and League Cup would require bribing more than a solitary Black Country drunk. So why haven’t they appeared?

The unending irony for Leeds fans, of course, is that amid the 40-year mud slinging, the one genuine case of bribery involving the club is always omitted – when AC Milan bought the ref in the 1973 European Cup Winners’ Cup final.

Why don’t Roy Greenslade and his ilk ever write about that?

A longer version of this article appeared in the Leeds United fanzine, The Square Ball

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