Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. It’s a cliché usually used as a mantra for someone hoping to skip a rung or two up the corporate ladder, but that’s pretty much how Leeds United FC came to wear the immaculate all white kit that has glistened under the Elland Road floodlights for more than 50 years.
To be precise, it was 1961 that Leeds, at the behest of manager Don Revie, decided to make the switch from royal blue.
Revie, a former Leeds player, was appointed to save the club from relegation to Division Three in March of that year, and he did so by virtue of a win on the last day of the season.
Ahead of his first full season at the helm, Revie determined that a change of kit was necessary to inspire his side to greater achievements.
At that time, and, to some extent, still today, Real Madrid were the envy of European football: the likes of Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano had guided Los Blancos to five consecutive European Cups between 1955 and 1960. The Leeds coach, imbued with a lofty sense of ambition, chose to emulate the Spanish giants by replicating their matchday attire.
They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and Leeds certainly did their best to imitate the success achieved by the Spanish side. Under Revie’s guidance, they climbed back up to the top tier of English football and finished runners-up in the First Division in 1965 and ’66, before claiming their first title in the 1968/69 season, a triumph they would repeat five years later
They also won the League Cup in 1968, the FA Cup in 1972, and the Fairs Cup – a precursor the UEFA Cup, which has since been rebranded as the Europa League – in 1968 and ’71.
Revie left Leeds at the end of the title-winning 1973-74 campaign to become the England national team manager and, despite reaching the European Cup final the following season, the West Yorkshire side were unable to repeat their domestic success for almost two decades – white shirts or no white shirts.
Although Revie’s switch from royal blue to all white was drastic, Leeds were already used to changing the colors of their jerseys.
Rising from the ashes of the disbanded Leeds City, Leeds United was founded in 1919. Upon the new team’s inception, they received a £35,000 loan from Dan Crowther, the chairman of fellow Yorkshire side Huddersfield United.
It was determined that the new Leeds team should wear blue and white vertical stripes with white shorts and blue socks, just like Huddersfield, as Crowther supposedly intended to merge the two clubs at some stage.
The merger never materialised, and Crowther ended up leaving his post at Huddersfield to assume the reigns at Elland Road.
In 1934, Leeds changed their shirt colors, with the stripes thrown out, and a half yellow, half blue design introduced. Just a year later another minor change was made, with the yellow half, which had been on the left of the jersey as you look at it, swapping sides with the blue on the right.
This configuration remained in place until the 1948/49 season brought a change to yellow shirts with blue sleeves. But, just seven years later, it was decided that United should sport the colors worn by their predecessors, Leeds City, so blue shirts with gold collars were introduced.
That was how they remained until Revie’s idea to copy Real Madrid at the beginning of the 1960s.
Although they never quite reached the heights of the eleven-time champions of Europe, Leeds collected more trophies while wearing white than they had done in any of their previous color combinations, so perhaps there was some sound psychological reasoning behind Revie’s brainwave.
Or, maybe his coaching and motivational skills were much more of a determining factor in Leeds’ success with him at the helm. After all, England were already wearing white when the Middlesbrough-born manager took charge of the Three Lions, and reigning world champions to boot, but that didn’t seem to help him any; Revie’s controversial and, at best, mediocre reign in English football’s top job ended when he resigned after three years.
Although the pillars of success that Revie built at Leeds have long-since been eroded, with the club now in England’s second tier, his bold decision to breathe life into the team by kitting his players out in dazzling pure white has remained in place ever since.