PRE-MATCH training drills, autographed sock tags and flashy tracksuit tops: what Paul Trevillion prescribed to Don Revie’s Leeds United in 1972 looked like gimmicks back then but now seem to be an embryonic stage, the beginning of modern football. Not everything was a hit with the players or the fans but this was the game taking its first exploratory steps into the world of entertainment. In this concluding part of the interview, Paul reflects for a moment on the modern game before returning to the subject of his remarkable life as an artist, innovator and raconteur.
“What those 11 players did,” Paul says, “is change football. I asked Bill Nicholson: ‘What did you think at Elland Road when they came out?’ He said ‘I thought my bloody watch had stopped! I looked up and thought it’s only quarter to, for god’s sake. What’s happened? They were out, and we weren’t even changed.’
“No one came out 15 minutes early,” Trevillion insists. “Those lads changed football. No other manager would’ve done it – not even Clough. But Revie did, and that’s how brave he was. They went out, and they played for The Man. And not one of them will say one bad word about him. The Man is the The Man, they loved him. He was a father to them. Even now, they talk about him as though he’s still here. That’s how much respect they’ve got for him. No manager’s got that. Not now.”
Through his long-running cartoon strip, You are the Ref, and his work on Roy of the Rovers and in Match magazine (remember DJ Bear, football’s Panda of Peace? That was The Beaver inside the bear suit) Trevillion’s involvement with football extends over 50 years. Consequently, he’s well-positioned to assess the evolution of the game, both in terms of sport and popular culture.
“I go to games now,” he says, “and they’re screaming, ‘Give him a card! Give him a card!’ It’s the biggest change in football since I started watching it. It’s like having paid all your money to see Frank Sinatra and as soon as he comes on you go: ‘Get him off!’ I go to see players. Tottenham’s my team, but I support football.
“The sad thing is, you look at the Man Citys and the Man Uniteds and there’s such a difference, it’s become like the Scottish League. They’ve got 11, not internationals, but world class players and then you’ve got teams which just have players, 11 players. They’ll give them a game and run around but it’s so unfair.
“When that Leeds team played, every bloody team in that league could play. You had Derby kicking you to death, you had Liverpool kicking you to death, you had Tottenham kicking you to death, you had bloody Arsenal kicking you to death. Bloody great teams, all with bloody great players.
“We all had a dream then. At the start of the season you thought you could win the title. Now, you know that when the season starts, if you’re a Wigan supporter, hard luck. If you’re a Wolves fan, hard luck. Everton, hard luck. You’re never gonna win it. It’s gone, the dream’s gone.
“I can talk about the old teams and run through all the great players, but now I say to youngsters, ‘Can you name me the Sunderland team?’ and they say ‘Eh? No.’ ‘Can you tell me who plays for Wigan?’ ‘No.’ ‘Who plays for Wolves?’ ‘I dunno.’
“Once you get out of the top five – even with Liverpool they struggle – they don’t know the players. And you think, what’s going on? And they can’t name any players in the Championship. They’re not stars, they’re nobodies. It wasn’t like that in my day, you could name them all. You’d wanna see these players, that’s why you went!
“The frightening thing is, if you talk to kids they can name all the bloody managers. Any kid you talk to, they know them all! ‘Who plays for Fulham?’ ‘ Dunno, but I like Martin Jol ‘cos he looks like Shrek!’”
Fittingly for an artist, and in keeping with his own exploits, Trevillion believes that we exist in a picture world: one of images, icons and heroes. He seems to have met most of his during a career which has known no bounds.
“In the war,” he says, “the American soldiers, the GIs, used to give my dad comics and inside them was Batman and Superman. I thought they were brilliant. I thought they were real, they were drawn so well. Artists, great artists. I was brought up on that, and that’s what I do: comic art realism.
“You have to have direction in life, and you’ve got to be lucky. If you find out what you’re blessed with early, then you do it all your life. You become successful at it. It’s what you do.
“Muhammad Ali said to me: ‘There are probably 100 people out there who would’ve beaten me, but they didn’t realise that they could.’ I met Frank Sinatra and he said the same thing: ‘Every time I sing there are half a dozen people in the audience who can probably sing better than me but have never tried.’”
“Everyone’s got talent of some sort. I do art workshops to encourage the kids, and every one I meet always says the same thing. ‘I’m not going to make a living out of drawing, am I? I’ve got to get a proper job.’ I don’t know why parents knock these kids back; you’ve got to listen to them. If you want to do it, do it.
“That’s what I did. I wanted to work with Norman Wisdom, and I did. I wanted to write a book, and I’ve written 20 books. I wanted to work in newspapers, so I worked in newspapers. I wanted to get a split-hand putting method out, I thought I could beat everyone at putting, and I did, and I went to America. You can be whatever you want to be. Don’t tell me you can’t do it. If I can do it, you can do it.
“I’ve done what I wanted to do. I wanted to play the Palladium, so I did and that’s the end of the story. DJ Bear went to every club he wanted to go to and didn’t go to another. I’ve played all the top golf clubs in America and I didn’t want to go round and do them again. I’ve done all that. You can’t repeat it; you don’t draw the same drawing twice. That’s the penalty of being an artist, that’s why I’ve had so many short careers.
“I asked Bob Hope, “Do you ever regret not winning an Oscar?’ and he said, ‘No, because I know people who’ve won an Oscar and didn’t do another film. They were finished when they were 40; I’m 80 and I’m still working.’ It’s not for peers or other people to judge, it’s the public. The ones who pay the money, who buy the papers: they’re the judge, nobody else. ‘If you’re still working when you’re my age,’ Hope said, ‘then you’ve got something.’ And I’m almost there. A few years to go and I can say, ‘Bob, I’ve caught you up, mate.’”
Trevillion started his working life selling local newspapers on the streets of London, and it wasn’t long before he was gracing the pages of the nationals himself. His is a life spent very much in print. Be it with the strokes of his pen or the cut of his jib, for him, print is a match made in heaven.
“When I started out,” he recalls, “I decided I would work in pen and ink. That was the only medium you could use in newspaper print, and it produces an immediacy in your work you cannot correct. I haven’t the luxury of putting ink on and saying, ‘that’s not quite right, I’ll change that.’ I can’t. I’ve always worked in ink. People say, ‘But you can’t do portraits in ink!’ I can. And I do.
“They talk about my art, but I’ve always believed I’m a wasted talent. I paint in inks when I should be painting in oils. I can’t. But I am the Master of Movement, and if I was to paint in oils I could take out Degas, I really could. I’d be up there with Rembrandt!
“I draw for the football fan. I don’t draw for the art dealers. I want to draw footballers and boxers and cricketers, I want to draw for the fan. That’s my audience. So I’m a wasted talent. I didn’t do what I could do, I didn’t pick up the oils and say, ‘I’m taking out Rembrandt! I’m gonna beat up Degas!’”
“I know I can. Every day I promise myself I’m gonna take up oil painting, but that’s not what I am. Winston Churchill picked up my drawing of him and said ‘This should be in the National Gallery, not the one done by Graham Sutherland!’ He said, ‘That’s where you’re going to finish up!’
“I didn’t, so that’s what I am: a wasted talent. I’m Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. I coulda been a contender!”
At Elland Road, though, Trevillion’s radical re-imagining of Revie’s Leeds will always guarantee that The Beaver’s work has pride of place on the wall of every Leeds United supporter’s gallery.
“That team were unbelievable, the envy of everybody. They changed football, they changed it in lots and lots of ways. If you want to know what everyone in football aspires to be, it’s Leeds.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issues of The Square Ball and, translated into Norwegian, The Peacock News.