The night of Wednesday November 25th 1953 changed football forever in Manchester.
England, Olympic champions and top of the world rankings, were beaten 6-3 by Hungary.
In fact, they weren’t just beaten – they were taken apart. Hungary outclassed them all over the pitch.
And at Wembley too.
The result sent shock-waves round the football world. England had only been beaten once before at home in their entire playing history.
But they’d grown complacent. Their tactics and training methods were out-dated. Hungary were fitter and faster – and already playing the precursor of the Total Football perfected by Holland two decades later.
In Manchester, trail-blazing United manager Matt Busby immediately grasped the impact. He knew European success would be vital to his team.
Over at Maine Road, it was the role of Hungary’s deep-lying centre-forward Nandor Hidegkuti that caught City’s eye.
The Blues built their own strategy round the concept – and named it after the player who’d take the lead role in the new formation.
It became known, quite simply, as the Revie plan.
Centre forward Don Revie had joined City from Hull for £25,000 in October 1951. The deal included a part exchange for defender Ernie Phillips, who was valued at £12,000.
Revie’s problem was a lack of pace, which often left him isolated from the rest of the team.
After two mediocre seasons in 1952 and 53, things had to change. City only just scraped clear of relegation.
The deep-lying centre-forward system was first employed by City’s reserve team, who went unbeaten for the final 26 games of the 1953-4 season.
Manager Les McDowall had seen enough. He called the first team back into training two weeks early at the start of the 1954-5 season to try out the new formation.
The deep-lying role suited Revie’s passing game. He started attacks by coming into the centre of the field to receive the ball, drawing the opposition centre-half out of position.
City’s first match playing the system did not go well. They lost 5-0 away at Preston North End.
Ken Barnes replaced John McTavish at inside forward and results started to improve as the players got used to the new tactics.
City beat Sheffield United 5-2 at Maine Road and then defeated Arsenal 2-1 before Christmas.
The Blues did the triple over Manchester rivals United, trouncing them 5-0 in the league clash at Maine Road and 3-2 at Old Trafford. They also beat United 2-0 in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup.
City’s league challenge eventually fell away, but they reached the 1955 FA Cup Final only to lose 3-1 to Newcastle United.
The Blues were disrupted when full-back Jimmy Meadows was stretchered off in the first half at Wembley. Substitutes were not allowed at the time, so City played the rest of the match with only 10 men.
Revie ended the season being named as the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year. He also won six caps for England.
The Revie plan misfired at the start of the 1955-6 season. McDowall was forced to fine his centre-forward £27 for missing two weeks of training to go on a family holiday to Blackpool.
Revie explained that he’d received permission from trainer Laurie Barnett to be absent and had promised to train while he was away.
The excuse cut no ice with McDowall, who dropped Revie in favour of Scottish international Bobby Johnstone.
Revie was only reinstated for the FA Cup Final against Birmingham City with Johnstone being moved to the wing.
He provided the pass for Joe Hayes’ opening goal in the third minute, but clashed with half-back Ken Barnes at the interval after Birmingham had equalised.
Revie wanted Barnes to move further forward and ignore manager McDowall’s orders to play defensively. Barnes agreed with Revie and City were far more dominant in the second half.
City’s pressure paid off, scoring two more goals through Johnstone and Jack Dyson in the 62nd and 64th minute.
The Blues won 3-1 and Revie was named Man of the Match, even though Bert Trautmann had performed heroics in the City goal. He made a string of fine saves and played on after breaking a bone in his neck.
Revie’s rift with McDowall led to him being played at right-half in the 1956-7 season. He sought a move away from Maine Road and joined Sunderland in October.
The Revie plan remained ingrained on his psyche though. He devoted no less than 20 pages to it in his autobiography Soccer’s Happy Wanderer.