Don Revie benefited as a player from studying role models and learned at the feet of willing mentors after developing skills and techniques in the back streets of his native North East with a ball made from rags, as the romantics would have you believe.
He caught the eye with stylish displays for Leicester City and Hull City, before blossoming with Manchester City and breaking through into the full England side in 1954 after years as a nearly man. However his first three seasons with City saw the team struggle and, according to several friends, Revie felt he had made the wrong decision. He believed he was being moved from wing half to inside forward and back again without much thought, and detested the perennial relegation battles that plagued City in the early 50ies. He decided that the 1954/55 season was to be his make-or-break year. Together with Manager Les McDowall started to perfect a new tactic of playing a deep Centre Forward based on the Hungerian approach Despite a few early failures, it was a revelation and quickly became known as the "Revie Plan", although Revie was the first to admit it had not been his idea to begin with.
It was a tragedy that Revie won only six England caps and enjoyed such a limited time at the very top of the game. However, he won the Footballer of the Year award in 1955, when he took Manchester City to the verge of the Twentieth Century's first League and Cup double, and had the most celebrated game of his life a year later when he was recalled to the City side that won the FA Cup. He enjoyed a pivotal role as the Revie Plan brought home the bacon.
Revie lost his way as a footballer after that triumph, winning his sixth and final England cap in October 1956 and shuffling sideways offstage with Sunderland and then humble Leeds United before finally retiring from playing in 1963. For a time he had combined playing with managing, but his final onfield contribution was in March 1962 as Leeds battled to avoid relegation to the Third Division.
Opinion is divided about Don Revie the player, with many commenting on a surprising inflexibility, and a need for the rest of the team to play his way. Sunderland inside-right Charlie Fleming played alongside Revie in his latter days and is a critic: "The trouble is, there was only one way Don could play but there were ten other players on the field. We had to start off trying to get him into the game. He did a lot of things foreign to us and we could have frozen him out ... For instance, Don would centre the ball and then disappear. He was always caught behind. I found that Don's system was alright in Manchester but everybody knew about it when he came to Sunderland, and how to play against it. Don couldn't change himself."
Others from his Roker days were more generous. Half back George Aitken: "He was a great player ... he was forever trying to make the rest of the team play. Don took the game very seriously ... and he would try to help people and give a bit of advice." Billy Simmons, life-long Sunderland supporter and club historian, was similarly positive: "He played plain, clean football and could find holes in defences. The reason why he was not a success at Roker was that the players could not keep up with his football brain."
Revie won new admirers after his move to Elland Road. His favourite son at the club, Billy Bremner: "What impressed me more than anything else was his vision on a football park ... it was tremendous. And after he had struck the ball, he would pose, as if for a photograph." Jack Charlton is direct in his summing up: "Good striker of the ball, good passer, was Don - though he couldn't tackle to save his life."
Renowned as he was as a player, however, it was when Don Revie hung up his boots and concentrated on management that he achieved his greatest fame - and notoriety. History will always remember Revie more for his controversial resignation from the England manager's job than his highly successful near 20-year playing career. So unlike his peers - Busby, Shankly, and Mercer - he was unable to enjoy a period of "elder statesmanship". He was never sought by the media for his views on 1980ies football, or of the leading personalities. Instead any mention of Revie was in connection with Leeds' negativity of the 70ies.
The late 80ies saw him suffer from motor neurone disease, and Revie died
in Edinburgh on 26th of May 1989. He was only 61.