By ERIC BROWN
How on earth do you describe the mini bundle of non-stop energy and aggression that was Billy Bremner? Firebrand or fighter? Clogger or genius? Warrior or wizard? Or all of the above?
For the flame-haired Scot slipped comfortably into many varied roles during a career where controversy always lurked just around the corner.
In his adopted city of Leeds he is still revered and commemorated by a statue at the Elland Road stadium where he so often intimidated opponents into submission.
There he’s remembered as a clinical ballwinner, capable of a killer pass, and with an underestimated eye for goal.
But to the rest of the country he represents the worst of 1970’s English football. Thuggery ruled the game and there were no challengers to Don Revie’s Leeds in mastery of the dark arts.
Leeds’ opponents had to win the physical battle before they could play their football. Many wilted under the assaults often led by Bremner who seemed capable of starting an argument in a telephone box.
Despite his many attributes it is sad that outside Leeds, Bremner’s legacy will be defined by three major incidents, none of them relating to his football skills. There’s the iconic picture of Bremner being hoisted off his feet by Tottenham’s Dave Mackay in a 1966 League match. Bremner’s arms are wide apart in a pleading gesture of innocence.
‘Bremner was a brilliant little player but a really dirty b******’
He had just kicked Mackay who was returning after breaking the same leg twice.
“Bremner was a brilliant little player but a really dirty b******” said Mackay. “I could have accepted it if he’d kicked the other one but he kicked the one I’d broken twice.”
The second never-to-be forgotten episode of Bremner’s career occurred in May 1972. Two days after winning the FA Cup for the first time in their history Leeds had a chance to scoop the double in a League match at Wolves.
In a complicated scenario Leeds could win the title if they avoided defeat. But a draw could allow Liverpool to sneak past them from third – but only if they won 11-0 at Arsenal. If Leeds lost, a Liverpool win would take the title to Merseyside.
If Leeds lost and Liverpool failed to win then Derby County would triumph, a scenario considered so unlikely that Brian Clough had arranged to take his Derby outfit away on a sunshine holiday.
Wolves won 2-1 to break Leeds hearts but the aftermath proved as tempestuous as the match. Midfielder Danny Hegan alleged that during the match Leeds players had tried to bribe their Wolves counterparts to lose.
Bremner, said Hegan, had offered him £1,000 if he gave away a penalty. Bremner denied the allegation and sued Hegan and The Sunday People who reported it. This time Bremner was ruled blameless as The High Court found in his favour and awarded him £100,000 damages.
The third defining moment came in a Charity Shield match against Liverpool in August 1974. Bremner seized every opportunity to leave his studmarks on Kevin Keegan. Eventually Keegan snapped, punches were aimed and the pair sent off in shirt-throwing disgrace.
The Football Association banned both players for an unprecedented 11 matches.
Yes, Bremner was indeed an astute and intelligent leader who guided Leeds to two First Division titles, a Second Division title, the Inter-City Fairs Cup, FA Cup and a European Cup Final in 1975.
Yet it is as a player who lived on the edge of football’s seamier side that he will inevitably be remembered by most. Leeds fan David Tomlinson has not shirked from including many Bremner-inspired flashpoints in his interesting new book.
The problem with having a fan as author is that objectivity can sometimes go out of the window. He includes a chapter on Leeds’ 7-0 demolition of Southampton in 1972 but there’s nothing about their 7-0 League Cup defeat at West Ham in November 1966.
Surely such a defeat would be as career defining and character building as a mighty win? A minor irritant in this match-by-match career account of one of the game’s greatest personalities.
*Billy Bremner-Fifty Defining Fixtures by Dave Tomlinson is published by Amberley Publishing and costs £12.99.
ALSO BY ERIC BROWN
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