Obituary: Scotland lose Bremner the braveheart

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The Independent Online
Love him or hate him, Billy Bremner, who passed away yesterday at the age of 54, left an indelible mark on British football. Phil Shaw hears some of the tributes paid to the archetypal Scottish midfield firebrand by those who knew him best of all.

Shocked former colleagues led the tributes last night to Billy Bremner, the inspirational former captain of Leeds United and Scotland who died yesterday of a suspected heart attack in a Doncaster hospital, two days before his 55th birthday.

Eddie Gray, whom Bremner played alongside for club and country, said: "Allan Clarke phoned on Friday to say Billy had suffered a slight heart scare, but this has come as a terrible blow. He had such vitality. He was one of the greats, and a true friend."

Denis Law, a Scotland team-mate, described Bremner as "a great player and an excellent captain - I loved his company on and off the field." Another of Elland Road's Scots, Peter Lorimer, said: "Billy was fit and lived life to the full. I can't believe this has happened."

Terry Cooper, Leeds' left-back under Don Revie, said: "When I had troubles two years ago, Billy was the first to ring and ask if I was all right. He was also one of the all-time great British players."

Craig Brown, the Scotland manager, added: "Everyone in this country loved Billy Bremner. He typified the Scottish wing-half, a battler with marvellous skill."

The abiding image of Bremner will be of a midfielder as fiery as his flame-coloured curls - 10st of barbed wire, one pundit memorably called him - but it was as a 5ft 5in teenager with a cherubic face that the schoolboy wing-half from Stirling first came to prominence.

Bremner played against England schools at Wembley in 1958, in opposition to Terry Venables. Arsenal and Chelsea said he was too small, but Leeds snapped him up 38 years ago tomorrow. A month later came his debut at Chelsea - where, coincidentally, Leeds play on Saturday - alongside the man who became his mentor.

Revie was Bremner's room-mate on that trip. On being named manager, he persuaded the homesick Scot to stay. Similar efforts went into getting Jack Charlton to commit himself. With a few judicious recruits, notably Bobby Collins and John Giles, Leeds' largely home-grown team were soon pushing for honours.

To say they were not a popular side would be an understatement. Bremner was always in the thick of disputes - famously provoking Spurs' Dave Mackay to grab him by the shirt and raise a clenched fist as his compatriot protested innocence - and came to personify what many saw as Revie's cynical, win- at-all-costs mentality.

Volatile and ferocious as Bremner could be, however, he was also an exquisitely gifted foil to first Collins and later Giles.

He could do everything: win the ball, spray it long, work one-twos, dribble like a winger and outjump towering defenders. Most significantly, he had genuine scoring flair, hitting the winner in three FA Cup semi-finals as well striking an extraordinary goal against his boyhood heroes, Celtic, in the European Cup.

In 1968, a year after he skippered the Scots to a stunning Wembley victory over England, the world champions, Revie made him captain. He led Leeds to two championships. They also won both domestic cups and came close to a unique treble of League, FA Cup and European Cup in 1970, when he was voted Footballer of the Year.

But in 1974, with Revie gone and Brian Clough as Leeds' manager, Bremner was sent off for a fracas with Kevin Keegan in the FA Charity Shield. Both players threw their shirts down, earning yet another suspension and a fine.

A year later he was involved in "incidents" in a night-club after winning his 54th cap in Denmark. The "Copenhagen Five" were banned from representing their country again.

After 771 games and 115 goals for Leeds, Bremner joined Hull in 1976. He retired two years later, but, after becoming manager of Doncaster, made four cameo appearances as sweeper. In 1985 he was recalled to Leeds, the last of the Revie men to try to recapture lost glories.

Despite steering the hard-up club to the FA Cup's last four and a promotion play-off in 1987, he gave way to Howard Wilkinson a year later. His sadness at being sacked by Leeds did not diminish his pride when they regained the title in 1992.

Before the decisive match, at Sheffield United, Bremner and Norman Hunter had the gathering hacks in gales of laughter with tales of how Jack Charlton and Gary Sprake would row furiously at half-time over whose mistake had cost a particular goal.

The gift of the gab meant Bremner was in demand on the after-dinner circuit. He also worked as a radio summariser, a role which qualified him for the dubious privilege of partnering myself in a media "international" during Euro 92.

A heavy smoker, Bremner shuffled on to the park still puffing away. Ten minutes and several trademark reverse passes later, he made way for a young turk. Such was his balance that the cigarette ash was still intact, and almost as long as his little finger.

BILLY BREMNER FACT FILE

1942: Born Stirling, Scotland, December 9.

1959: Turns professional with Leeds.

1960: Makes League debut against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

1965: Capped for the first time by Scotland, against Spain at Hampden Park.

1967: Plays in Scotland's famous victory over World Cup winners England at Wembley.

1968: Wins League Cup and European Fairs Cup with Leeds.

1969: Captains Leeds to their first League championship.

1970: Voted Footballer of the Year.

1971: Leeds win European Fairs Cup again, beating Juventus in final on away goals.

1972: Wins FA Cup with Leeds.

1974: Wins another League championship winners' medal.

1975: Wins 54th and last Scotland cap against Denmark in Copenhagen.

1976: Moves to Hull for pounds 35,000 after 585 League appearances for Leeds, scoring on his debut in 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest.

1978: Becomes player-manager of Doncaster after 61 appearances for Hull.

1985: Succeeds Eddie Gray as Leeds manager.

1987: Guides Leeds to FA Cup semi-final.

1988: Sacked by Leeds after failing to secure promotion back to the top flight.

1989: Second spell as manager of Doncaster.

1992: Leaves Doncaster and starts successful after-dinner speaking tour with old team-mate Norman Hunter.

1997: December 7: dies in hospital, aged 54.

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