Football: Spirit of Bremner is what Leeds need

The inspiration of Don Revie's 1969 and 1974 title-winners would be in his element for tomorrow's derby.
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The Independent Online
ONE WIN in 10 games, a dearth of goals and a derby match looming. If ever Leeds United needed to summon the indomitable spirit of Billy Bremner, it is now.

The tenacious, pugnacious and lavishly gifted Scot, captain of Don Revie's championship-winning sides of 1969 and '74, died suddenly from a heart attack a year ago next month. This week, after the limitations of the current Leeds team were exposed by Roma's 10 men, former team-mates gathered for the launch of his biography* and to wonder whether Elland Road will see Bremner's like again.

Peter Lorimer, Leeds' all-time leading scorer and a colleague with club and country, argues that a match like tomorrow's visit of Sheffield Wednesday would have brought the best out of the fiery midfielder. "Billy was the ultimate big-game player," he said. "The number of times he got us a goal in a final, a semi-final or whatever was incredible.

"What perhaps set him apart from other great players, though, was his fierce desire to be out there and his will to win. He'd have stitches in a gashed leg, or a swollen ankle, and you'd think `Billy won't be fit'. But sure enough he'd be there, leading us out with this wonderful `We can't be beaten' attitude."

Bremner's tendency to regard goals against Leeds as a personal affront did not always work in their favour, recalled Lorimer. "If we fell behind, Billy's automatic reaction was that only he could get us out of it. Before you knew it he was playing centre-forward, and more often than not he'd get us a goal.

"In effect, we had two leaders. Billy was the inspirational captain and Johnny Giles the organisational captain. Johnny was the brains of the team. He moved us around to cover when Billy went marauding up front. It was a lovely blend."

Lorimer's assertion that Revie's Leeds, unloved as they were beyond the West Riding, were "one of the finest club sides this country has ever seen" was endorsed at the book launch by Malcolm Allison. "They were up there with the best, no question," said the man who took Manchester City to the title in 1968.

Bremner, despite being sacked as manager of Leeds to make way for Howard Wilkinson, continued to follow their fortunes in both a professional and personal capacity. Shortly before his death he watched them win at Barnsley. "We had 15 years together at the club as players, so of course we've got a special affinity for the club," said Lorimer.

"Billy and Allan Clarke (also an ex-manager), who were great friends, were always wanting to go and see the boys. To support them, not to be moaning about how things weren't as good as in our day.

"They went hoping, like I am now, that Leeds will be successful. I want them to follow on from what we achieved. We set up something and we don't want to see it die, but to continue forever if that's possible."

The link between the Revie era and the post-George Graham regime is Eddie Gray. Newly appointed as assistant to David O'Leary, Gray preceded Bremner as manager during the dark Second Division days of the 1980s. "Eddie's worked long and hard for Leeds and it was diabolical when they sacked him," Lorimer said.

"I don't think they realise how lucky they are to have him around. But there's obviously someone up there who thought the board was out of order and is now putting things right. Think of the young players he brought through when he was in charge - Scott Sellars, Denis Irwin, Terry Phelan and so on, who all became big-money players - and now he's done it again."

Lorimer, who made his own debut in 1962 aged 15 and a half because the homesick Bremner had failed to return from a trip to Stirling, now covers Leeds' matches for local radio. He is impressed by the new generation of young players developed by Gray. Jonathon Woodgate, Stephen McPhail and Paul Robinson are in the squad to face Wednesday, and there are high hopes for Alan Smith, a local-born striker.

"It was always a very physical derby," Lorimer said, grimacing at the memory of an opponent he rated "as hard as Chopper Harris", Don Megson. "It'll be lively, that's for sure. Billy would have loved it."

Bremner's friends, added Lorimer, still can not believe he will not be there. "The day of Billy's funeral, because it was so near his birthday, I started wondering whether it was one of his practical jokes. I half- expected him to jump out of the coffin and say: `It's only a bit of fun'."

*Bremner! by Bernard Bale (Andre Deutsch Ltd, pounds 14.99).