One of British football’s greatest rivalries, by 1974 the relationship between two celebrated sons of Middlesbrough in the industrial north of England had deteriorated into a feud that drove Brian Clough into one of the most reckless and ill-fated episodes in the history of the game.
Appointed player-manager at Leeds United in 1961, Don Revie had taken the club from Second Division obscurity to the First Division title and European success with a reputation for “professionalism” and a cynical win-at-all-costs mentality that earned them the tag “Dirty Leeds.” An idealist and self-confessed “believer in fairies,” Brian Clough had beaten Revie’s Leeds to the First Division title in 1972 having lifted Derby County out of the Second Division with creative team-building and clean attacking football.
When Revie succeeded Alf Ramsey as England manager in 1974, it was against the backdrop of this clash of styles that Clough took the Leeds job. Whatever Old Big ‘Ead’s plans for United had been, they were cut short 44 days later when he was ignominiously sacked.
Brian Clough quotes about Don Revie
Brian Clough on the FA’s suspended £3,000 fine for Don Revie’s Leeds’ disciplinary record in the 1972/73 season: “Leeds United should be starting the new season in the Second Division. The FA should have instantly relegated Don Revie’s team after branding them one of the dirtiest clubs in Britain. As it is [they] have missed the most marvellous chance of cleaning up soccer in one swoop.”
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Brian Clough on his rivalry with Don Revie: “When I was a manager at Derby County […] it’s natural I didn’t get on with him because invariably they were above us. […] Having said that, I believe in a different concept of football to Don. I believe it can be played slightly different to the way Don plays it and get the same results. Now that might mean aiming for Utopia and it might mean being a little bit stupid, but that is the way I am.”
“Good players make good managers.” – Don Revie. “Good managers make good sides. There’s no such thing as a side making a manager.” – Brian Clough.
Why did Brian Clough leave Leeds United?
Results. In a famous ITV Calendar interview opposite Don Revie the same day he was sacked, Brian Clough was unrepentant yet sanguine about his dismissal. Leeds had won only one of their first six matches and already seemed out of the race to retain the title.
Clough lamented his short reign (“not long enough to find the local butchers”) and would admit to trying to make changes too quickly, also pointing to uncertainty over unsigned contracts and mischievously citing player suspensions inherited from Revie. His longstanding bitterness towards United and openly antagonistic approach towards members of his new squad lent credibility to reports of a “vote of no confidence” amongst the players.
His position was untenable. “I think it’s a very sad day for Leeds. I think it’s slightly sad for football,” Clough said of his abortive efforts to transform the club. “We had been spoiled by Don Revie,” remarked Leeds chairman Manny Cussins.
Who succeeded Brian Clough at Leeds United?
After Brian Clough’s tempestuous spell, Leeds turned to Bolton Wanderers’ Jimmy Armfield. Despite finishing ninth in the First Division, he quietly steadied the ship and led them to the 1975 European Cup final against Bayern Munich, only losing in controversial circumstances discussed to this day.
Clough’s failure at Leeds might have derailed the career of many managers but, in typical style, he was to claim it had given him the confidence to pursue projects without fear of failure.
In 1975, he took over at Second Division Nottingham Forest and by 1980 had collected back-to-back European Cups. Many remember him as “The Greatest Manager England Never Had.”