Straight-talking as ever, Bill promptly told his bosses something they had scarcely dared to dream: he expected to win the Southern League title in his first full season, repeat the trick in his second and, in doing so, gain election to the Football League.
He was as good as his word. Two Southern League championships (plus a Southern League Cup) were followed by the battering down of the Football League’s doors and election to the 92 in place of Bradford Park Avenue – and all this within the space of three years, as predicted.
United had had enterprising, results-driven managers before – the pioneering Bill Whittaker and the shrewd, highly popular Alan Moore, to name but two – but the heights of ambition Bill brought to the Abbey Stadium were something new. His policy was to aim for the stars and, by dint of honest, unrelenting hard work, overshoot them.
No one should underestimate the size of the task facing non-League outfits seeking to join the Football League in the late 1960s. There was no automatic promotion to the fourth tier from the ranks below, as there is today.
Entry to this exclusive gentlemen’s club was controlled by an old boys’ network of plutocrats who disdained any change to the status quo – the last election of new blood had been in 1962, when Oxford United profited from the resignation of Accrington Stanley – and the League’s bottom four clubs could almost always rely on a closing of the ranks to guarantee their survival.
United under Bill Leivers gatecrashed this private, old school tie party and then, as if to rub their elders’ and betters’ noses in this upsetting of the natural order, achieved promotion to the Third Division – again within a three-year timespan.
Bill brought a gruff touch of northern grit to the task of managing United through the biggest upturn in its short history. Thirty-two years old, he arrived fresh from a short stint as gaffer at Workington following a promising player-managerial spell at Doncaster.
This had followed a distinguished playing career at Chesterfield and, most famously, Manchester City, where he made the right full back slot his own – despite preferring centre-half duties – and captained the team through the latter years of his stay. He is the last surviving member of the famous City side of 1956 that won the FA Cup with goalkeeper Bert Trautmann breaking his neck but playing on.
At the Abbey he assembled an honest, hard-working team in his own image, buying and selling astutely and drawing the crowds with a plethora of goals.
Shooting from the hip, he told anyone who would listen what his teams would achieve, and then set out to fulfil his promises. Job done.