Johnny Giles knows a thing or two about football management. His first boss, at the age of 15 when he came over from Ireland to join Manchester United, was Matt Busby. Then came Don Revie at Leeds and he even played for Brian Clough, albeit only for 44 days during Old Big ‘Ead’s most infamous job.
Now, having managed the Republic of Ireland and West Brom, that seems a vanished age of goodness. Okay, Revie and Clough were never shy in courting controversy — the former walked out on England while the latter was so outspoken the Football Association never trusted him with the national team.
But Giles believes some of the game’s biggest names today have demeaned the role with the way, he thinks, they try to manipulate matters.
“Modern managers lack dignity,” sighs the 70-year-old, who is now a football pundit on Irish television. “Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger play mind games. And Jose Mourinho. Terrible behaviour. Mind games didn’t make Ferguson a great manager. The mind games are just bully-boy tactics meant to influence the referees. Ferguson is probably better than anybody else if you call it better.”
This may sound rich coming from a man whose Leeds team of the 60s and 70s were branded the dirtiest in the land. Giles’s defence, though, is that players in that era were upfront about the brutal nature of the game and accepted it.
“That was the culture but players did not con referees,” he says. “Honestly. I didn’t con referees on penalties. I’m not saying it didn’t happen occasionally but it wasn’t a regular culture, as now. In our day, people were not feigning injury. Now you see diving all the time, even the English players are doing it. The managers complain about it but do not take responsibility.”
Giles won most of his honours at Leeds — two League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and two Fairs Cups — and is aggrieved that their uncompromising style overshadowed their achievements.
He says: “I agree we overstepped the mark. What is unfair is that people put our success down to bullying the opposition. Or they say to me, You were a dirty little sod’. I don’t mind them saying that, as long as they qualify it by saying, But he could play’. They leave out that part.”
Giles’s decision to be a hard man started the day he was tackled by Eddie McCreadie at Stamford Bridge. “I had passed the ball and watched Norman Hunter shoot at goal when Eddie tackled me and did my knee ligaments. I thought, I can’t go on like this,” says the former midfielder. “This is my living and I’m in the jungle. I decided, if I’m going to survive in the jungle, I’m going to be a lion rather than a lamb.”
George Best, never a team-mate of Giles at Old Trafford, found himself on the end of his rough treatment during the 1970 FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park. However, it wasn’t matters on the pitch which fuelled Giles’s desire to teach the Manchester United star a very painful lesson.
“When we got to the ground, we found Georgie had been caught with one of the maids in the bedroom,” he says.
“This really infuriated me. George was the best, absolute genius. His womanising was to our benefit. But I thought Georgie was really letting down the game. I was raging with Georgie so I tried to kick him and said, You’re supposed to be a f***ing professional’. And, of course, Georgie being Georgie misunderstood it and rubbed his fingers together as if to say, I have loads of money’. This made me madder still and so I really kicked him this time, ripping his socks and leaving him on the ground.”
But, by then, the Dublin boy had become a football man able to appreciate what makes managers great. Busby’s willingness to give young talent a chance impressed him greatly.
Giles says: “Matt had the foresight to bring the pick of the best under-15s from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to Old Trafford. Nobody before him had done that. More than that, he had the courage to put these young players in the team, hence we had the Busby Babes. But Matt was not as good on the game technically as Jock Stein or Don Revie. He did not do a lot of coaching. What Matt did have was a bigness about him. He told us very little before a match. All he would say was, Go and enjoy it’. He gave us freedom.”
Giles’s United career finished in 1963, although he says the beginning of the end for him at Old Trafford came during the FA Cup semi-final against Spurs the previous year.
“I got the flu and shouldn’t have played but I did,” he says. “Matt never said, How are you?’ It was just, You’re playing’. I was only 21, playing as the main midfield man against Blanchflower, Mackay and White, the great Spurs team. They were brilliant.
“We lost three-one, I had a nightmare. I needed somebody to say, Look, it happens. You had a bad game’. But Matt never said a word to me. And after that he wrote me off.” Busby later admitted that selling him to Leeds “was his greatest mistake in football” and Giles thrived under Revie at Elland Road, staying 12 years.
“Don took over a Second Division club,” he says. “By then, all the clubs were copying Matt and Don didn’t have great youngsters. He had Norman Hunter, Paul Reaney, Paul Madeley and Terry Cooper. When I went to Old Trafford in 1956, these lads wouldn’t have got inside the door there on natural ability. Don had to tell them what to do. What Don did was, he actually coached them — brilliantly. Don made the
hungry lads into great players … Don didn’t have Matt’s bigness but Matt couldn’t have done what Don did.”
Revie was succeeded by Clough in 1974 and Giles’s view of the Leeds nightmare under the former Derby boss was that the truth was more damning than any fiction. Indeed when David Peace attempted fiction with his novel, The Damned Utd, Giles successfully sued for libel.
“I got them to withdraw what I objected to,” says Giles, whose own autobiography has just been published. “There were loads of things in The Damned Utd book about me that were totally inaccurate. The author said this was not the truth but his interpretation of what happened. He wasn’t there, he never spoke to me.”
The film does not have much of Giles but he says: “It is even worse. Brian Clough is shown as a right lunatic, breaking up Don’s desk and drinking and smoking, which he didn’t. It was a dreadful portrayal, very, very unfair.
“The Leeds directors could’ve kept Don. But they didn’t want him. When a young manager takes over a club, the directors give him a very hard time. I know from my own experience at West Brom. Then the manager becomes more successful, more powerful but never forgets the bad taste. So, as Don became more successful, he was rude to the directors. He could treat them with contempt. They came to resent Don.”
So when England came calling for Revie, says Giles, “their attitude was, glad to get rid of you’. The next sequence is Don recommends me as the next manager. The last person who was going to get the job is Don’s recommendation. And who is the first? The man Don hated: Cloughie. He had written dreadful stuff about Leeds for years.”
It did not help, says Giles, that “Brian was very insecure. He was convinced that I wanted the job and would plot against him. But I didn’t.”
Years later as Giles reflected on events, he came to accept that Clough was right on one point. “Cloughie made sure all his players accepted the referee’s decisions,” he says.
“He was unique in that and he was right, good discipline leads to good results.”
John Giles, A Football Man, Hodder and Stoughton, £19.99