Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Billy Bremner Legend

William John "Billy" Bremner (9 December 1942 – 7 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 Road. He has also been included in theFootball League 100 Legends and is a member of the English Football Hall of Fame. Bremner was also voted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame 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.Bremner, a diminutive but hard midfield player, was scouted by Leeds while playing schoolboy football in Scotland and signed for the Elland Road club in 1959, the day after his 17th birthday. He was brought up in the Raploch area of Stirling where he attended the Catholic junior school, St. Mary's. He had previously been rejected by Arsenal and Chelsea for being too small, as he was only 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) tall.

He made his first-team debut in January 1960 and was a permanent fixture on the team sheet for more than 16 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.
As Leeds United began their rise 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 Wembley 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.
In 1966, Leeds skipper Bobby Collins was injured in a Fairs Cup game against Torino and manager Don 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.

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.

During this period, Leeds had a reputation 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 Tottenham Hotspur'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.

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 lost. 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 was 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 Salonika, 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 1973-74 Leeds team as tough 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.
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.
Revie had quit Leeds a year earlier to take over the England job from Alf Ramsey. Brian Clough took control 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.
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.
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 Doncaster as manager, ironically succeeding Dave MacKay, but left in November 1991. This was the last position Bremner held in football.
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.
At the beginning of December 1997, he was rushed to hospital after suffering from pneumonia, but suffered a suspected heart attack at his Doncaster home in the small village of Clifton, South Yorkshire and died two days before his 55th birthday. Just about every major figure from Scottish football, past and present, attended his funeral in Edlington 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. Also for long parts of the match singing " Billy Bremners barmy army"
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 vsDerby 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 Road.
In 1998, the Football League, as part of its centenary season celebrations, included Bremner on its list of100 League Legends. Bremner was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2004 in recognition of his impact on the game.

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