"Nothing in my life has worried me more than Jock Stein leaving Elland Road, not even the Brian Clough affair" – Manny Cussins, chairman of Leeds United, October 3, 1978
EDDIE GRAY was at home when he heard the news. Second week of August, 1978. A voice comes over the wireless bringing news from Elland Road, news of Jimmy Armfield's replacement as manager. "Our sources indicate that Leeds chairman Manny Cussins is in talks with a big name."
Gray's ears pricked up. Go on, then. Name names. Out with it.
"It is understood that the man in question is currently heading for Elland Road to agree terms."
Gray's captivated. Around the city, a celebrity audience in thrall. Peter Lorimer, Frank Gray, David Harvey, Arthur Graham, Tony Currie, Paul Madeley, little Brian Flynn, big Paul Hart. Who is it then? Stop messin' about...
"We can confidently predict that the new manager of Leeds United is none other than... Jock Stein."
Currie: "Well pleased."
Hart: "Thrilled and daunted."
Eddie Gray is still at home listening to the news. He is chuffed and excited and pleased and thrilled and daunted but he is also uncertain. What's Big Jock doing coming down here, he asks himself. He's never been down here. He's never shown any interest in managing in England. He gets bumped by Celtic and now he's coming down here. In the back of Gray's mind, right from the very start, is one simple and prophetic question: "Does he really want this job?"
Leeds have been on the slide since Don Revie left, since Brian Clough stormed in and told Revie's champions they were all a bunch of cheats who should chuck all their medals and all their caps and all their pots and all their pans into the biggest dustbin they could find. Clough lasted 44 days. Leeds finished 9th that season, then 5th, then 10th, then 9th. Bremner had gone, Giles had gone, Hunter and Clarke had gone, Jordan and McQueen had gone. A team had moved on.
Armfield had gone, too. Results weren't good enough. Not for Leeds. Cussins wanted Lawrie McMenemy to replace him but McMenemy didn't want to know. Cussins put forward John Giles's name but the board didn't want to know. Stalemate. Cussins hit on Stein. Wooed him. Met him in Newcastle on the afternoon of Thursday, August 17 and offered him 30 grand a year to take over. Stein said it wasn't about the money. And that was a fact. It wasn't about Leeds either, though. Not completely. Not as much as it should have been. Forty-four days he lasted. Forty-four doubtful and lonely days. Same as Clough. Same but different.
Big Jock travelled south without his wife, Jean. He travelled alone. Travelled in anger and resentment at what had become of him at Celtic. A salesman, that's what they thought of him. After all those years and all those trophies, after putting Celtic on the European map the best they could do for him was a job selling pools tickets camouflaged as something better, disguised as an important job for an important man when in actual fact it was an insult.
It was crass but to Stein it was more than that. In his mind he always thought that there was an influential element at the club that had a problem with his Protestant background. "If the supporters knew how I had been treated they would have burnt the place down," he told his friend Tony McGuinness.
At Leeds he found the respect that was lacking at Celtic. "Jock Stein is the finest man in the business," said Cussins. "We need him here." Everybody agreed. The board, the players, the supporters were all fired-up by the arrival of a legend.
"Jock came and met us on the Tuesday and made a great speech," says Lorimer. "He's come in and said 'right boys, only a few seasons ago this was the best club in England and we will be again'. We loved hearing that. He filled us with confidence, absolutely got us floating on air. I'm coming out and I look at big Madeley and I say, 'bit different from Cloughie, eh?' And Madeley goes, 'not half!'"
Stein holed-up in a hotel in town. He said in 10 days he'd be in a house and he'd be settled and then he'd really feel part of the scene. "I am actively involved in football again and nothing can beat that," he said.
Eddie Gray still wasn't sure. "I was excited and the respect he got from the players was huge. There was an aura about him for sure. But in the back of my mind I'm thinking, 'all is not right here'. I'm not being wise after the event. I'm really thinking Jock wants to be manager of Scotland and this is a way of forcing the SFA's hand."
On the night of Wednesday, August 23, Leeds United play their first match under Stein, at home against Manchester United. There is euphoria at the manager's introduction and bedlam at the sight of Jordan and McQueen. Making their return to Elland Road after their move to Old Trafford the previous season, the Scots are abused by the Leeds heavies, from first kick to last. Man United win 3-2. McQueen scores, Jordan provides an assist for number two. Jock is circumspect, Cussins is upbeat. "We can already see improvements. This was much better than all of last season."
Three days later, Leeds beat Wolves 3-0, a week later they stick another three on Chelsea. "Jock was working us out," says Lorimer. "He was making his mind up about us, very quietly, not like Cloughie, who decided we were all crap on day one. He reminded me of Revie. Reminded a few of the old stagers of Revie actually. He had Don's quiet authority. Didn't need to shout and roar. All he needed to do was say something once and you bloody well did it. You did it out of respect."
Leeds' confidence was paper-thin, though. They drew 0-0 in the League Cup with West Brom, drew 0-0 again in the replay. They lost two in a row in the league, 3-0 at Man City, 2-1 at home to Spurs. Stein wanted a midfield player and got in touch with Tommy Docherty at Derby. Stein offered 300,000 for Gerry Daly. The Doc said no, 400,000 or nothing. Stein dug his heels in. The Doc would not budge. Exasperated, Stein issued a statement. "Nothing further will be done about Gerry Daly. The matter is finished."
The frustration screamed off the page.
In September some big things happened. Cloughie's Nottingham Forest beat holders Liverpool 2-0 in the first round of the European Cup and sent an electric shock through the English game. Rangers beat Juventus and captured the headlines in Scotland.
The national team travelled to Austria for their first game since the debacle at the World Cup. All of Scotland focused on Ally MacLeod and nobody else. He was a man under pressure, a man in desperate need of a win to save his job. Scotland were ragged beyond words and fell three goals behind before rallying to a 3-2 defeat. The country convulsed at the state of its football. Meanwhile, Jock Stein's Leeds drew 0-0 with Coventry.
"You got more of a sense as the days went on that Jock's heart wasn't really in it," says Gray. "He was trying hard and I felt the team was improving, but there was quietness about him that made you wonder. Made me wonder anyway. Some of the lads never noticed a change in him. I did."
The impression was that Stein missed the big time, missed the pressure of big European nights and must-win games, missed being at the heart of football. He was down in struggling Leeds, in charge of a team that meant an awful lot to Leeds people, but they were not his people, not his city, not his country. He was alone. He was lonely. "He missed home for sure," says Gray. "He missed his wife, he missed Celtic, he missed being the man, I suppose. The Big Man. In Scotland he was a giant figure and, yeah, down south, too. But not at a giant club. We were once, but not then."
The weary MacLeod resigned on September 26. Four days later Leeds beat Birmingham 3-0. Less than 24,000 people turned up. A week on, they finally beat West Brom in the League Cup. Barely 8,000 were there to see it. That was Stein's 10th and final match in charge of Leeds United.
One morning in late September the broadcaster Archie Macpherson got word that Stein wanted to talk to him. In his biography of Stein, Macpherson writes of a tired man on the other end of the phone line, "morose, slowly spoken, husky." Stein said that the journalist would be best advised to ring his bosses in London and advise them of a breaking story. "Tell London that you can say something about the Scotland job and me," said Stein.
"You could go on to say something to the effect that you believe I would be interested in going back to Scotland... You can't say you've been talking to me. Just play it like you're confident I would take the job. Make it sound like the SFA are being a bit slow on this."
Macpherson did as he was asked and soon the Stein For Scotland juggernaut was up and running.
Cussins was appalled at the prospect of losing his manager. He refused the SFA permission to talk to Stein. In the dressing room, though, the players were already resigned to him leaving. "We knew," said Gray. "As soon as Ally MacLeod went the last bit of doubt in my mind vanished. I said to Lorimer and Harvey 'he's gone' and they said 'aye, Manny can say what he likes, but the Big Man's away'."
At a Leeds hotel, Cussins tried everything to persuade Stein to stay. He offered him more money, he would buy him a house, he would do anything to avoid him walking through the door as Clough had done. This was day 43 of Stein's reign. The Scot came out to meet the press. "It's the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my football life," he said. "This is one of the worst moments of my life."
It was the guilt of walking out on Cussins that got to Stein, but he needed to go. He needed to belong again. Needed to be among his own kind, to be important, to be in a job that had an impact on the lives of people he knew and cared about. Cussins could offer him his undying loyalty but he could never offer him a sense of place. All his millions couldn't change what was inside Stein's soul.
On day 44, Cussins admitted defeat and the deal was done with the SFA. "I feel I have let people down here," said Stein. "I am heartbroken," said Cussins. The two parted as friends. A picture appeared on the front page of the Scottish newspapers the following morning of Cussins shaking Stein's hand, a resigned smile on the face of the chairman met with a sheepish expression from the manager.
After 44 days there was none of the bitterness and resentment that had marked Clough's exit four years earlier. Instead, there was just sadness and regret.