Thursday, 1 December 2016

Don Revie - Portrait of a Footballing Enigma - Andrew Mourant

Whilst sifting through some of my books recently, I came across Don Revie - Portrait of a Footballing Enigma, a biography of the former Leeds United and England football manager.

This book's value to me lies primarily in its focus on the periods both before and after his tenure at Leeds United. The nature of his background and upbringing give clues as to the evolution of his character and temperament, and also the way that his footballing philosophy was to develop.  It also serves as a snapshot of professional football as it was between the end of the Second World War and the arrival of big money.

Some of the characteristics of that football scene seem mildly bizarre now.  The meagre, hand-to-mouth finances of many clubs, the spectacle of players from outside the top flight regularly featuring in the England national team, and the prevalence of injuries and fixture congestion.

The reminiscences of associates, acquaintances and colleagues form a large part of this telling of the Revie story, and they help to give the book its balance and flavour, and to explain the origins of the personality traits which became well-known;caution, superstition, thoroughness and insecurity.

Detractors might grumble, but Revie was on balance a progressive and innovative football thinker. I might be biased, but his Leeds teams played outstanding and compelling football, and had flair in abundance. Allied to their famed attributes of resilience and a fierce will to win, they were a formidable unit.  They did not win the number of trophies which they should have done, and the book seeks to explain why this was the case. The solution to the question is as complex and elusive as the subject of the book himself.

The concept or notion of blending brains with brawn has always appealed to me as a sporting world-view. Think, but work hard. This was what made football in the four decades after World War Two so compelling, absorbing and popular, and it was a hallmark of many of Revie's teams.

It is noteworthy that Revie in his pre-Leeds footballing endeavours seemed restless, until he arrived at Elland Road, where he finally found his niche, and a place where he could put what he had learned, or taught himself, to good and constructive use.

I found the chapters dealing with Revie's early days at Leeds quite illuminating, especially the methods employed to recruit and motivate young players. The "family atmosphere", and some of Revie's man-management methods, seem quaint and even bizarre from the vantage point of 2016, but they worked at the time, and still induce a smile and twinge of regret and nostalgia that those days are now gone forever.

The book also goes into Revie's turbulent and unhappy spell as the England team manager, and his controversial departure from the post, as well as his final years. I think that there is a balanced and realistic assessment of some of the contentious aspects of his career, and there are lots of good anecdotes and quotes.

The book might appear concise, but in the latter stages the analysis of Revie's character and motives becomes quite intensive and nuanced.

If hardly definitive, this is a good, satisfying read, and leaves one concluding that the man was indeed an enigma.

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