the square ball week: rememberingBack
It’s okay for people to be forgetful, and if you’re occasionally forgotten, it’s easily forgiven. A moment’s thoughtlessness, a slack oversight, a failure to heed – eh, it’s okay. Just make sure you remember to tell me next time. I’ll give you my number again, just in case. But when you sit by the phone through another ringless night, only to get the same, “Oh yeah – sorry, we forgot,” excuses, patience wears thin. And when the same people who forgot all about you come hammering at your door demanding the fiver back you borrowed three years ago, then you know what it’s like to support Leeds United.
Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Jock Stein, Bobby Robson, Ron Greenwood, Bill Shankly, Matt Busby and Bill Nicholson were all paraded by the BBC last week as part of a video montage of managerial greats who stand with the current flavour-of-the-month (cos he’s quit, the big quitter) Alex Ferguson. You will notice that two former Leeds United managers are on that list; but you will also notice that one very significant former Leeds United manager is not. On his blog, Rob Atkinson brooked no thought of forgetfulness: this was the BBC, spitting on Don Revie’s grave.
I’d like to be more charitable and suggest that this really was just forgetfulness, or the sloppy work of a junior researcher. But the presence of Ron Greenwood on that list is like a kick in the teeth. I’m sure West Ham fans appreciate Greenwood for the three trophies he brought them in sixteen years, but a friend of mine who lived through Greenwood’s time as England manager can’t hear his name without cursing the appalling football played during Greenwood’s post-Revie reign.
The snub has come at the same time as the national media rejoiced in reliving one of Revie’s most inglorious moments – Leeds’ defeat by Sunderland in the 1973 Cup Final – and that coincidence says a lot about how The Don is remembered by the game. His achievements too often go unrecognised, but there is never any lack of willingness when it comes to dusting off his failings. Perhaps it’s paranoid to imagine that the fact Ron Greenwood followed Don Revie in to the England post, after Revie left under a cloud for the UAE, had something to do with the BBC’s selection – perhaps.
That’s the problem with worrying too much about lists like this, though – you start to feel paranoid. I’m sure there really isn’t some specialist unit at the BBC devoted to writing Leeds United’s achievement’s out of history; I’m certain that it honestly is not a parlour game of the London media to cut the section between ‘Ipswich Town’ and ‘Leicester City’ out of old football books. But when one of the game’s greatest ever managers is not considered at least on a par with the likes of Ron bloody Greenwood, it feels like something is up, and like our own Mick McCann might be right.
Rather than a conspiracy, though, the problem could simply be one of iconography: or its lack. Ron Greenwood is an icon by association with the boys what won the World Cup: he managed Moore, Hurst and Peters at West Ham, so any mention of Greenwood is accompanied by stirring footage from 1966. Bob Stokoe found a place in the nation’s heart for his memorable run on to the pitch at the final’s end, in trilby, mack and red tracksuit trousers, a moment people love to see replayed. Don Revie, though… Don didn’t seem to go in for that sort of thing. When video researchers are trawling footage for their dramatic montage, they are faced with the same thing over and over with Revie: his face, stern and anxious, watching intently to make sure a job gets done. If only he had put on a hat and run about a bit more.
In Leeds, of course, we know there was more to The Don than that, and we have our own iconography. We remember him gripping the FA Cup, and Billy Bremner, or raising the League Cup for the camera; and we have a statue now outside Elland Road. You can even find, if you look, Revie spinning round with Les Cocker in his arms, or again with Cocker, going mad in a shed. But these aren’t the images that stick in the collective mind of the nation. Indeed, to many people, Revie embracing Bremner under the words ‘Keep Fighting’ seems more like the forging of an unholy alliance than a great football image. Give ‘em 1973, instead: Don and Billy defeated, like they oughta be.
You could lose your whole life worrying about it – even Gordon Strachan seems to have turned on us now, overlooking Ross McCormack for the latest Scotland squad, while the news of El Hadji Diouf getting duffed up in Senegal has been relished by the tabloids. But if you let it stress you out too much you’d turn into a Millwall type, and nobody needs that.
It’s better, in the wake of snubs like these, to remember that the national football memory is not more important than the local one. So the Beeb went for Greenwood rather than Revie for their fawning tribute to Howard Wilkinson’s old-time fall-guy: so what. We have our own history in Leeds, and we’ll make our own art with which to record it. Whether it’s in books or in fanzines, whether it’s Instagram typography paying tribute to Ross McCormack, or the transformation of Leeds into Super Leeds, we don’t need anyone else to shape the story of our club for us. We are Leeds, and we don’t forget, and we’ll do the remembering ourselves.