Leeds United Change

Leeds United John Cave

Everybody Loves a Promotion Race – Part 2

Season 1963-64 Revisited

The manner of Don Revies’ appointment as manager of Leeds United has, over the years, been well documented, as has the exploits of his all conquering squad that he eventually put together. What is probably less well understood are the first years of his management time at Elland Road, culminating in promotion to the Holy Grail of the old 1st Division in 1964.

When Don was given the job by Chairman Harry Reynolds the Leeds United first team was in a real sorry mess. After years of being propped up by John Charles goals, his departure to Juventus in 1957 eventually ensured relegation to second division football, yet again, would only be a matter of time; thus maintaining the widely held belief amongst the resigned fans that the second tier of English football was the best we could ever hope for and our natural level in the game as it were. Revie being at the club would be our eventual salvation, but him being there in the first place was initially part of the problem. He was signed at the age of 31, as one of a series of older players who were looking to eke out their careers in the game. He was a skilful, but faded ex international, injury prone, with his best days long behind him, when he came to the club. Other players with their best days long behind them who were on the books when Revie took over were the likes of Colin Grainger and Eric Smith, and they would shortly be joined by a returning John Charles who’s second spell was a disaster for both the club and Charles himself. Initially Revie compounded the average age problem when 2 of his early signings – keeper Tommy Younger and full back Cliff Mason - were both towards the end of their careers. The remainder of the first team squad were, in the most part, journeyman pros., many from the lower leagues that were never going to really advance far in the game. Only a young Billy Bremner and the outstanding talent that was Albert Johanneson, provided a glimmer of any hope for the future.

So when in March 1961 Revie was appointed manager, he inherited in the main a mixture of old has-beens and never-will -be’s. I am writing this as the debacle at Eastlands is unfolding and the comparisons between the relative merits of our two teams, very nearly 50 years apart, is really scary.

In the first 12 months of Revies tenure at Elland Road little changed, the has-beens had continued to struggle and indeed on the 17th of March 1962 after a 4-1 drubbing at Southampton, we were stranded equal bottom of the old second division with relegation looking a certainty after 33 games. However the signing of Bobby Collins, despite being 31, proved inspired as the last 9 games of the season returned 3 wins and 6 draws; just sufficient for us to struggle out of the drop zone. The last game, away at Newcastle, was an eye catching and bookie busting 3-0 win!!

The 1962-1963season started in a similar fashion to most of the previous ones, with inconsistency, until that is the 8th of September 1962. That day is one of the most important in the history of our club; because through a combination of circumstances, the manager was forced to include Gary Sprake, Paul Reaney, Norman Hunter and Rod Johnson in a 2-0 win at Swansea. His gamble paid off and the first 3 – all around 17 years old – would eventually become the cornerstones and permanent fixtures in the Leeds United renaissance. Given the travails of the previous seasons a 5th place finish was exceptional as a settled side started to gel, became difficult to beat, especially at home, and had developed a combative ‘edge’, much to the disgust of the media and opposition fans.

In 63-64 United proved even harder to beat; indeed they were unbeaten at home all season and only lost to promotion rivals Sunderland, Preston and Manchester City on their travels. The young players were given their opportunity by an enlightened manager and had begun to gain experience, particularly in defence, where we only conceded 34 goals throughout the entire 42 game league campaign. Our hard working strikers – Jim Storrie, Don Weston, Ian Lawson and the late arrival of Alan Peacock - ensured just sufficient goals without ever being world beaters. Although the enigmatic Storrie has remained one of my personal favourite all time Leeds players with his ability to make you both laugh and cry all in the same move!!!

From October until March Leeds swapped the leadership of the league with Sunderland, almost on a weekly basis, and it wasn’t until a run of 4 wins in March did we finally take a firm grip on the top spot, from which we were never then headed. In many respects the promotion run in was nowhere as exciting as our charge through the ranks in 1956. I suspect that all of us – the fans and team alike – had expected that there was little to stop the juggernaut that Revie had put together. Following a mid week defeat to a Peter Thompson-inspired Preston side at Deepdale; full with 35,000 plus fans, Leeds won 8 and drew 2 of the remaining 10 games. (Thompson would prove to be a thorn in our side for several seasons as he was soon to leave North End for Liverpool.)

Promotion was assured in a 3-0 win at The Vetch Field against a struggling Swansea side. In addition to the result, the match stands out for 3 other reasons. Firstly I met a local Swansea man, Mr. Jack Pickard, an elderly gentleman who introduced himself prior to the game as being responsible for scouting John Charles for Leeds in the late 1940’s, and secondly for our astute club Chairman, Harry Reynolds. After the game both the fans and the team were in a mood to celebrate. The Chairman came out of the dressing rooms and said that he would bring the team into a nearby pub and they would celebrate properly with the travelling supporters. True to his word he came in, with the team, put a large roll of notes on the bar and told the bar manager to come and tell him when he wanted more!!! One of the lasting memories of my 65 seasons of following our club is being stood at that bar, pint in hand – bought by the club chairman – with Johnny Giles on my left and Don Weston on my right, celebrating a wonderful promotion. What would the chances be of that being repeated with our current Chairman? Finally the good folk of Swansea made our fans that had stayed on to party in the town really welcome and our bus did not leave for Leeds until after the pubs had shut!! I wonder how the hell we persuaded the driver to stay so late!!!

Those last few away games were quite unforgettable for the number of fans we took with us. ‘Ends’ were just becoming fashionable and despite 2 of these games being in the capital (Leyton Orient and Charlton – the latter where the title would be decided) the team did not lack for support. The massed hoards of us Leeds fans where loud and proud – records show that remarkably we drew over 30,000 to Brisbane Road in a typical 2-1 away win– and the Charlton game was a Leeds United master-class in not giving the opposition a sniff of a chance and converting those that came your way. We celebrated our title all the way back into London on the train. Although why Ronnie Hilton – singer who had recorded Leeds United Calypso - should have been on the opposite platform at the station in Charlton remains a mystery? However he seemed delighted by our recognition as he joined us with a chorus of our battle hymn.

So the 1st Division beckoned and this time we felt that we had the right set up to hold our own although I suspect that few of us expected the success and excitement that the following dozen years or so would bring.

A lasting testament of that promotion team is the template that Don Revie provided that would be largely copied by Howard Wilkinson 20 years on and, although not for a promotion push, by David O’Leary a further few seasons later. That template is very simple and one that is so obvious it beggars belief that a succession of Leeds United managers in the past 10 years have not copied it, despite having had, in abundance, the young talent to do so.


- Develop, and then trust in a core of young players from our own Academy.

- Bring in a 2 or 3 experienced, quality older heads

- Ensure that the squad have tremendous ‘all for one’ team spirit and play with a style that perhaps need not be for the purist, but gets results.

- and finally make them the fittest team in the league

It‘s not rocket science is it?


John Cave

Our thanks to John Cave & The Square Ball, where this article first appeared



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Don Revie (Copyright Mirrorpix)Don Revie (Copyright Mirrorpix)