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William John "Billy" Bremner (9 December 19427 December 1997) was a Scottish professional footballer, most noted for his captaincy of the Leeds United team of the 1960s and 1970s. He has since been voted Leeds United's greatest player of all time and has a statue outside the South East corner of Elland Roadmarker. He has also been included in the Football League 100 Legends and is a member of the English Football Hall of Fame. Bremner was also voted into the Scottish Football Hall of Famemarker as one of its first inductees in 2004, and is on the Scotland national football team roll of honour due to having won more than 50 caps for Scotland.

Leeds United

Going south of the border

Bremner, a diminutive but hard midfield player, was scouted by Leeds while playing schoolboy football in Scotland and signed for the Elland Roadmarker club in 1959, the day after his 17th birthday. He was brought up in the Raploch area of Stirlingmarker where he attended the Catholic junior school, St. Mary's. He had previously been rejected by Arsenal and Chelsea for being too small.

He made his first-team debut in January 1960 and was a permanent fixture on manager Don Revie's team sheet for more than 15 years thereafter unless injured or suspended. Bremner quickly established himself as an uncompromising player, tough in the tackle and often going beyond the rules to get the better of a skilled opponent - a Sunday Times headline dubbed him as "10st of barbed wire". But he could play too - he had a stamina to work from one end of the pitch to the other and could pass with precision and timing. He also weighed in with his share of goals, and had an extraordinary ability to score crucial goals in the biggest games, including winners in four major semi-finals.

The first rewards

As Leeds United began their revival in the early 1960s, Bremner was at the heart of it. In 1964 they won the Second Division title and then the following year came tantalisingly close to a "double" of League championship and FA Cup. They lost the league title to Manchester United on goal average, and needed to win at Wembleymarker to earn a trophy for the season. The match against Liverpool was exciting and action-packed but also goalless, with extra-time being necessary. Liverpool eventually won 2-1 but Bremner got his moment, scoring the equaliser with a crisp half volley which left opposing goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence stranded.

'Captain of the Crew'

In 1966, Leeds skipper Bobby Collins was injured in a Fairs Cup game against Torino and Revie gave the captaincy to Bremner. Collins never got it back. With Bremner acting as leader and mentor on the pitch, Leeds entered their halcyon period at the end of the 1960s, winning the League Cup and Fairs Cup in 1968 and the League championship in 1969. That season Leeds lost only two out of 42 league games.

The treble that never happened

In 1970, Leeds chased the historic "treble" of League championship, FA Cup and European Cup, which had not been achieved before in the English game - indeed, this was the first season when any team had come close. However, Leeds ended up with nothing - losing the League title to Everton, the FA Cup final after a particularly violent replay against Chelsea, and the European Cup semi-final to Celtic.

Bremner and Mackay

During this period, Leeds had a reputation amongst the London press for being dirty, with Bremner at the forefront alongside equally uncompromising players such as Norman Hunter.As if to emphasise the style of play for which Bremner was known, one of football's most famous photographs shows a young Bremner pleading his innocence after Derby County's bulky Scottish midfield player Dave Mackay grabbed him by the shirt and hauled him up following a late tackle by Bremner. Mackay was just back from a second broken leg. The snap was taken on 20 August 1966.

Under-achievement

For all their honours, comparatively Leeds were huge under-achievers. They won two League titles - in 1969 and 1974 - but missed out on further championships in dramatic last-game climaxes in at least three other years. Bremner played in four FA Cup finals, but only won one. They reached a European Cup Winners Cup final in 1973 but were undone by a referee who had allegedly been bribed by A.C. Milan. As a last hurrah, before the team aged and broke up, it reached a European Cup final two years later but lost controversially to Bayern Munich.

The 1970s were a decade which saw Leeds dominate but lose as much as they won. In 1971, Bremner lifted the Fairs Cup but Leeds were the victims of one of the FA Cup's biggest shocks when they lost a fifth round tie at lowly Colchester United, although Bremner did not play. They then watched helplessly as Arsenal swiped the League championship from them with a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur (prior to winning the FA Cup to complete the second "double" of the 20th century). Had the game ended in a score draw or an Arsenal defeat, the League would have gone to Leeds.

In 1972, Leeds again chased the League and FA Cup but again were left both elated and disappointed. A 1-0 victory over holders Arsenal in the FA Cup final earned Leeds their first and only success in the competition (and completed Bremner's domestic medal set) but two days later, with only a draw required to seal the "double", Leeds lost their last League game to Wolves and the title went to Derby County. In 1973 Leeds were only chasing the FA Cup and success in Europe - Liverpool were too strong in the League - but were beaten by A.C. Milan in the Cup Winners Cup final in Salonikamarker, Greece and then lost the FA Cup final to second division Sunderland. Bremner picked up more runners-up medals.

Bremner played magnificently as Leeds finally put the near-misses aside over the previous six seasons and won the 1974 League championship at a canter, setting a record of 29 unbeaten games to start the season which was only beaten by Arsenal in 2004. Looking back years later, in August 1995 for the Match of the Seventies TV programme, Bremner considered the superb 1973-74 Leeds team as strong as any British team since WWII. As champions, Leeds contested the 1974 Charity Shield curtain raiser game against FA Cup winners Liverpool at Wembley - and Bremner was sent off for a clash with Kevin Keegan, which also saw the Liverpool striker dismissed. Both players removed their shirts on departure to express their shame.

The following year, Leeds were not in contention for domestic honours but reached the European Cup final, which they lost in more controversial circumstances to Bayern Munich. Leeds were denied what seemed a certain penalty, had a goal disallowed (after the referee decided that Bremner was offside) and Bremner suffered his own personal nightmare when Sepp Maier produced an astonishing point-blank save from just six yards.

From Elland Road to Doncaster

Revie had quit Leeds a year earlier to take over the England job from Alf Ramsey and the team started to break up. Bremner finally left Leeds United in September 1976 to join Hull City. He had played 772 games for Leeds, putting him second behind Jack Charlton in the club's all-time list.

Hull City

Bremner's arrival at Hull was big news locally and he scored on his debut for the club. Though winding down his career, Bremner emerged as a big success at Hull over two years before he joined Doncaster Rovers, managing an admirable four seasons there before retiring at the age of 39.

Wins libel action

On February 3 1982 Bremner won £100,000 libel damages, along with legal costs, after he sued a Sunday Newspaper for publishing an article in September 1977 that alleged he tried to fix football matches, including the May 1972 game at Wolves, which was two days after Leeds United had won the FA Cup. Leeds lost the game 2-1 and Derby County became champions for the first time in their history. Danny Hegan, Frank Munro and Gary Sprake each claimed that Bremner was guilty of bribery. Jack Charlton, Allan Clarke, Johnny Giles and Derek Dougan all spoke up for Bremner and said the claims were nonsense.

Scotland

As an international, Bremner was at the forefront of Scottish football's rise in the 1970s after years in the wilderness. He made his Scotland debut in 1965 against Spain, played in the famous 3-2 victory against world champions England at Wembley in 1967 and captained his country at the World Cup in West Germany in 1974. His last cap came against Denmark in September 1975 - an incident in Copenhagenmarker after the game led to a lifetime ban from international football along with four other players, Willie Young, Joe Harper, Pat McCluskey and Arthur Graham. The five allegedly were ejected from a night-club for rowdy behaviour. This was after breaking a 1am curfew to indulge in a bout of heavy drinking. Then, an SFA official was none too pleased when he entered the room of Bremner and McCluskey to find them turning a bed upside down in a drunken prank. Ronald McKenzie, the Scottish team trainer, resigned his post as he admitted to being involved as well. The ban was lifted in 1976 but Bremner never played international football again. He won 54 caps in total, scoring three goals, and is in the Scotland hall of famemarker.

Doncaster Rovers

In 1978, Bremner became manager of Doncaster Rovers, where he stayed for seven years. Under his management, Doncaster managed promotion to the Third Division in 1981 where they remained for two seasons, and again in 1984 before making way for Dave Cusack, who would go on to guide Doncaster to its most successful spell in the third tier until recent times. He returned to manage Doncaster in 1989, staving off relegation to the Conference in his first season in charge before a major improvement in the 1990-91 season, in which Rovers were promotion contenders for much of the season before finishing 11th. He left Doncaster the following season.

Manager of Leeds

Bremner's life after playing was mainly notable for his topsy-turvy spell as manager of Leeds, following in the footsteps of old team-mates Allan Clarke and Eddie Gray to try to restore happier days to the club after their relegation in 1982. They never regained promotion under Bremner but came close, losing a play-off final to Charlton Athletic in 1987 and reaching the FA Cup semi-finals in the same season, losing to eventual winners Coventry City.

Bremner was sacked in September 1988 to make way for Howard Wilkinson who would within four years not just achieve promotion but would bring the League championship back to Elland Road in April 1992. In July 1989 Bremner went back to Doncastermarker as manager, ironically succeeding Dave MacKay, but left in November 1991. This was the last position Bremner held in football.

Later years

Bremner settled into the columnist and after-dinner circuit adorned by many high-profile ex-footballers during the final years of his life. Despite his uncompromising nature (both vocally and in the tackle) on the pitch, he emerged as a dignified and grateful figure, claiming that despite not winning as many honours as he could have, his memories would be the envy of many players.

Death

At the beginning of December 1997, he suffered a heart attack at his Doncaster home in the small village of Clifton, South Yorkshiremarker and was rushed to hospital, but died two days before his 55th birthday. Just about every major figure from Scottish football, past and present, attended his funeral in Edlingtonmarker and there was citywide mourning in Leeds due to the extremely high esteem in which he is held by Leeds United fans.

On 13 December, 1997, Leeds United played away at Chelsea. In a typically bruising encounter between the two clubs, Leeds were down to 9 men at half time (Alfie Haaland and Gary Kelly had been ordered off). Acknowledging that this was the type of game in which Billy Bremner would have excelled, the travelling fans sang "We've got nine men and Billy!" Leeds held out for a 0-0 draw.

A statue of Bremner in celebratory pose was erected outside Elland Road as a tribute to the club's greatest captain and, according to an official poll of supporters via the club website, the club's greatest ever player. On 9 December 2006, which would have been Billy's 64th birthday, at the Leeds United vs Derby County match his eternal popularity amongst Leeds' fans was heard as the Leeds fans sang "There's only one Billy Bremner" as a tribute to Billy was displayed on the big screen at Elland Roadmarker.

In 1998, the Football League, as part of its centenary season celebrations, included Bremner on its list of 100 League Legends. Bremner was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2004 in recognition of his impact on the game.

Honours

(player and manager)

 European Cup


 European Cup Winners' Cup


 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup


 Football League First Division
  • Champion: 1969, 1974
  • Runner-up: 1965, 1966, 1970, 1971, 1972


 Football League Second Division
  • Champion: 1964
  • Play-offs: 1987 runners-up


 FA Cup


 Football League Cup


 FA Community Shield


Legacy

Song

A Leeds United club song, Glory Glory Leeds United, contains the following verse which summed up Bremner's role at the club:

Little Billy Bremner is the captain of the crew

For the sake of Leeds United he would break himself in two

His hair is red and fuzzy and his body's black and blue

But Leeds go marching on.The Ballad of Billy Bremner
There's a tale I'm goin' to tell you

All about a brave young man

Who was born in bonny Scotland

That's where history began


He once cheered the Glasgow Celtic

Just the soon as he could talk

And he'd kick a paper football

Just the soon as he could walk


And his name is Billy Bremner

We will never forget his deeds

He was made to play for Scotland

Now he captains United of Leeds


So he came to Leeds United

And they made Don Revie the boss

All the Elland Road fans were excited

and wor gain was Celtic's loss


Many giants have tried to slay him

When he fights for every ball

But he knows the famous saying

When they're big the harder they fall and only one man was hard enough though he played in at later time and that was Elliott Muncie


And his name is Billy Bremner

We will never forget his deeds

He was made to play for Scotland

Now he captains United of Leeds


When they talk of Mathews and Pele

Of Lawton and Finney and James

Like a whiskey in your belly

He will glow amongst those names


He will lead our lads to glory

He will lead our lads to fame

When they sing Uniteds story

You will always hear the name


And his name is Billy Bremner

We will never forget his deeds

He was made to play for Scotland

Now he captains United of Leeds


And his name is Billy Bremner

We will never forget his deeds

He was made to play for Scotland

Now he captains United of Leeds

Portrayals



Career statistics



Managerial stats



External links



References

  1. 2004 Inductees, Scottish Football Hall of Fame.
  2. :: National Football Teams ::.. Player - Billy Bremner
Autobiography: "You get nowt for being second" by Billy Bremner. Hardcover 126 pages (September 1969). Publisher: Souvenir Press Ltd., ISBN 0-285-50264-6


1959-60 Leeds United First Division 11 2
1960-61 Second Division 31 9
1961-62 39 11
1962-63 24 10
1963-64 39 2
1964-65 First Division 40 6
1965-66 41 8
1966-67 37 2
1967-68 36 2
1968-69 42 6
1969-70 35 4
1970-71 26 3
1971-72 41 5
1972-73 38 4
1973-74 42 10
1974-75 27 1
1975-76 34 5
1976-77 4 0
1976-77 Hull City Second Division 30 2
1977-78 31 4
648||96||||||||||||||||
648||96||||||||||||||||
Team
Nat
From
To
Record
G W L D Win %
Doncaster Rovers
25 November 1978
1 October 1985
319 115 121 83 36.05
Leeds United
11 October 1985
28 September 1988
143 59 52 32 41.25
Doncaster Rovers
3 July 1989
2 November 1991
115 33 54 28 28.69

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