Obituary: Billy Bremner
Monday 08 December 1997
Billy Bremner was one of Britain's most fiery, skilful and industrious footballers of the post-war years. An essential cog in the pragmatic, often over-robust yet frequently wonderfully entertaining Leeds United team of the Sixties and Seventies, he was also the red-haired dynamo in Scotland's inter- national side, winning 54 caps.
He was only 5ft 5in tall yet his stature, at a time when football was more physical than it is today, allowed him to become not only the inspiration and captain of the championship, Fairs' Cup, FA Cup and League Cup winning Leeds side that Don Revie produced, but also the driving force in the 1974 Scottish World Cup side that was among the best that country has raised.
Leeds saw his footballing potential when he was a schoolboy in his home- town of Stirling, where he played for Gowanhill Juniors. He was only 17 when he made the first of his 585 appearances over 16 years for Leeds. When he arrived at Elland Road Revie was himself still on the playing staff and took him under his wing. At first Bremner seemed a natural inside right but over the years he developed into one of the toughest and most constructive goalscoring half-backs in the country. With Johnny Giles and Bremner, Leeds had a magnificent midfield.
As with many players of his time, he mixed a hard, enthusiastic attitude to the game with an almost equally dedicated approach to enjoying the pleasures that comparative riches brought, yet he remained astonishingly fit into his mid-thirties.
As an international, he won his first cap in 1965, not long before England won the 1966 World Cup. He took enormous pleasure in playing his part in beating the world champions at Wembley the following year.
After several disappointments, Leeds finally won a European competition (the Fairs' Cup) in 1968, which was also the year Bremner guided them to League Cup success. The following season he won an elusive championship medal. By then Revie's team had the reputation for being cynical and over- professional. It was a criticism that too often ignored the skills of Bremner and his colleagues and cost them a lot of sympathy when further major honours slipped from their grasp - until they won the championship again in 1974, beating a fine Liverpool side by five points.
In the World Cup of that year in Germany Scotland were Britain's only representatives and Bremner, then 32, had to deal with a lot of behind- the-scenes arguing over payments. He disliked the responsibility and after bad-tempered exchanges with the Scottish officials there was even a threat that he and the controversial winger Jimmy Johnstone would be sent home. He not only stayed but led the Scots to a draw with Brazil. Scotland were unfortunately eliminated without losing a match and Pele was full of praise for Bremner, who nevertheless began the following season with an incident that put a shadow over his career.
In the Charity Shield at Wembley he and Liverpool's Kevin Keegan were centre-stage in a foul-laden match seen on television. They exchanged punches and, rightly, were sent off. Had that been an end to the matter it would not have been so bad but both petulantly threw away their shirts. A spectator tried to have both players charged with breach of the peace. No civil action was taken but both missed 11 matches through the ensuing suspension.
Bremner's international career ended in unfortunate circumstances in 1975, when he and four other internationals were banned for life from playing for Scotland after being accused of unruly behaviour at a Copenhagen night-club and in the team's hotel. Bremner denied the allegations but Leeds too warned him about his future conduct. His illustrious career at the club ended a year later when he moved on to captain Hull City.
In the early Eighties he led Doncaster Rovers out of the fourth division, then returned to Leeds in 1985, where he had three years as manager before again returning to Doncaster.
Charlie Nicholas, a contemporary player, accurately embraced Bremner's contribution to football by saying: "His determination and love of the game made him such a difficult opponent. He could tackle, score goals and spray passes all over. That Leeds team would play 30 or 40 passes without an opponent touching the ball. Billy Bremner was some player."
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