SOCCER'S HAPPY WANDERER
TITLE Soccer's Happy Wanderer AUTHOR Don Revie PUBLISHER Museum Press Limited, 26 Old Brompton Rd., London SW7 England ISBN No None, predates ISBN system PRICE Out of print
I obviously spoke too soon when I said that Mike Doyle's autobiography was a little lightweight at 173 pages as this one is a mere 110! The format is A5-ish and in hardback. There may have been a dustcover with the book originally but my copy (cost £8.50, secondhand, May '95) doesn't have one. Complementing the text are 24 black and white photos and some diagrams of moves to illustrate aspects of the Revie Plan.
Although this book masquerades as an autobiography, it's really the story of the Revie Plan fleshed out with something about his early years. There is a foreword from Raich Carter who played alongside Revie at Hull City and who was one of Revie's mentors. In his opinion the Plan wasn't new but was really a return to an old style of play with the emphasis on passing and ball control rather than technically gifted individuals. He tries to give the rather modest Revie his dues, saying that City could not have adopted the plan so successfully without him and that the plan was a much-needed shot in the arm for English soccer. Yes, that word 'soccer' again! Recently, it's become fashionable to rush for the garlic and a crucifix whenever the word is mentioned. Anyone who cares to research it a little will see that its origins go right back to the beginning of the game and it's used continually in this book, which is now 40 years old (1955).
Revie intoduces the book by way of a description of the revelation which hit England in '53 & '54 in the form of the Hungarians with their deep lying centre forward (Nandor Hidegkuti) and his two inside forwards (Sandor Koscis & Ferenc Puskas). City were almost relegated at the end of the 53/54 season and were ordered to report back for the following season two weeks early where they learned that they were going to play the Hungarian system! The press dubbed them 'The Deep Revie Boys'.
Revie was born in Middlesbrough in the middle of the depression and learned his football with a ball of rags. He stresses the absence of coaching and how he concentrated on ball skills, something which is fairly topical today. After playing in local leagues, he was signed by Leicester City where he was taken under the care of Sep Smith, one of the old school of hard taskmasters. At 19 he was rated as an excellent England prospect but subsequently broke his ankle badly (career-threatening) and then had a difficult rehabilitation, becoming the target for the boo boys and finally missing the 1949 F.A. Cup final through injury. He then asked for a transfer and ended up at Hull City after turning down approaches from Arsenal and Maine Road. He never really settled though and the departure of the influential Raich Carter meant that he too soon left, this time to Maine Road.
Here he found himself in a team of talented misfits who despite the presence of such mercurial talents as Ivor Broadis, just never seemed to click. He became close friends with Johnny Williamson who was a striker in the reserves. During one match, Williamson lay deep behind the other four forwards and ended up causing havoc. Fred Tilson (reserve team trainer) and the manager, Les McDowell, immediately saw the possibilities this opened up and the reserves adopted the system and spent their last 26 games of the season undefeated. Revie, however, remained sceptical.
By this time Revie was fairly disenchanted with City and in particular the manager's constant switching of his position. However, at the start of the 54/55 season, Revie was still prepared to give the club a further chance. They started training 2 weeks early and began the first match of the season away at Preston North End with the new plan. The result was a 5-0 thrashing... of City! Fortunately, McDowell was determined to persevere and made a key decision in its success by introducing the relatively unknown Ken Barnes (father of Peter) at wing half, a player of immense stamina.
Revie explains several moves with the aid of diagrams which show how he came deep to receive the ball which he would immediately control and pass on to Barnes, with Revie moving on again to receive the ball back and continue the attack. The basic principle was of a mobile striker who came deep to start moves (often from a Trautmann throw out) and everything hinged on running into space, good ball control and fast, accurate passing. Success arrived and City started to hand out some beatings and became the side to watch. An off day saw them beaten at Cardiff 3-1 when the home team employed the tactic of man-marking Revie. Many opposition and press people saw this as the key to breaking the system and its downfall was widely heralded. City however, devised a counter measure which consisted of Revie moving up-field and standing opposite the right back which meant in effect, that two players were now marking him thus leaving the right back's man, usually Roy Clarke, free. Even if teams managed to eliminate Revie he was still pulling their defences all over the place, a fact which could only be to their detriment. These new tactics meant that teams worried about City and desperately tried to adapt their game, whilst City were left to play exactly as they wanted. A development of the plan was the novel introduction of two centre halfs, Ewing and Roy Paul. They also worked on the wingers, getting them to come to meet the ball (something Mike Summerbee was to do with great effect later on) rather than the prevailing style which was to belt the ball over the back of the defenders with the winger running onto it. It was with this plan that City equalled their record 1926 margin of victory over the Rags at Old Trafford, running out 5-0 winners (against the Busby Babes)!
City were still to remain unlucky, failing to win the league (they eventually finished seventh) and picking up injuries to Johnny Hart and Roy Clark before the F.A. Cup final against Newcastle United. To cap it all, Jimmy Meadows was carried off in the first half which reduced the Blues to 10 men, a hopeless task against Newcastle at Wembley. They eventually ran out 3-1 losers but at least Revie had the consolation of being named Footballer of the Year for 54/55. He ends by giving a quite amusing (seen from the 1990s) justification for the 'no substitutes' rule, saying that teams might abuse it by bringing on fresh players for people who weren't even injured!
The book is very short and is curiously divided up into chapters of only 2-3 sides, perhaps something which was the 'norm' in the fifties for a sporting biography? It is however, a very good and first-hand description of events which seized the imagination of the whole of England during that season and I can recommend it to anyone wanting to find out more about those years. Furthermore, lots of the things Revie says about the game, which was in crisis at the time, ring true today. Accurate passing, ball control, tactics, etc. are all lauded, he talks a lot of sense, even if some ideas are a little dated. I remained however, unconvinced when he champions this style of play over teams who relied on gifted individuals doing their tricks. Surely the game has a place for the latter as well as the Colin Bells of this world?
One thing that still isn't clear though is whose idea it was for Williamson to play deep. Did Williamson do it deliberately, was it an accident or did McDowell tell him to? Clearly Revie was the key player but he wasn't the initiator of the plan.