1) Billy Bremner (1959-1976)
Country: Scotland | DOB: 09/12/1942 | Position: Midfielder | Apps: 771 | Goals: 115
The core of Don Revie's great Leeds sides was the midfield blend of Billy Bremner's commitment and Johnny Giles' skill. The diminutive Bremner though, was also skilful and his passing, leadership, never-say die attitude and eye for goal made him one of the games greatest midfielders. Raised in Stirling he played for St. Modan's High School and Gowanhill Juniors. After being rejected by Arsenal and Chelsea for being 'too small', he joined Leeds in December 1959. He was the most successful skipper in the club's history, leading United to two League championships, an FA Cup, a League Cup Trophy and two Inter-Cities Fairs Cup triumphs. He won the 1970 Footballer of the Year award as United narrowly missed a unique treble of League, FA Cup and European Cup.
After progressing through the Leeds Juniors, within a year he made his first-team debut on 23rd January 1960 at Chelsea, at outside-right, under the careful guardianship of his captain and initial mentor, Don Revie, who played at inside-right. He became a permanent fixture on the Leeds team sheet for more than sixteen years, 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. But that was not the true story, he also became an extremely skilful midfielder who could pass with precision and timing and had the stamina to cover every inch of the pitch for the full ninety minutes. He also scored more than his fair share of goals, and had the extraordinary ability of scoring crucial goals in the biggest games, scoring winners in four major semi-finals.
Bremner was at the vanguard of Leeds United's march to success in the mid 1960s. They won the Second Division title in the 1963-64 season and then the following year came tantalisingly close to a ‘double’ of League championship and FA Cup. Since his arrival in March 1962, Bobby Collins had always been the United Captain, setting the standards and leading the fight, but in United's second Inter Cities Fairs game at Torino in October 1965, he broke his thigh, Jack Charlton took the mantle for a while after which Bremner was given the Captaincy which he kept until he left the club in September 1976. Then came the unprecedented success as the Trophies started to come. From then until the end of the 1960s, they won the League Cup and Fairs Cup in 1968 and the ‘Holy Grail’ of the League Championship in 1968-69 as United only lost two games.
It was not all plain sailing. There were the seasons when United failed to achieve what they deserved, as fatigue set in after chasing too many trophies and there was the lack of appreciation from the football world, particularly the Southern Press, who questioned United's methods and labelled them ‘Dirty Leeds’. The notion was epitomised by one of football's most famous photographs taken on 20th August 1966, showing a young Bremner pleading his innocence after Tottenham Hotspur's burly Scots ‘Hardman’, Dave Mackay, grabbed him by the shirt and hauled him up following a late tackle by Bremner.
People say that Leeds under-achieved. Leeds won two League titles, in 1968-69 and 1973-74, 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. Finally, before the team aged and broke up, it reached a European Cup final two years later but lost controversially to Bayern Munich. In the 1970's Leeds dominated every competition they entered, although in some years under the Manager's instructions or team selection it was apparent that they had their priorities set on one or more goal at the expense of others. There were exceptions, and those were their classic under-achievements.
In June 1971 Bremner lifted the Fairs Cup for the second time, as they beat Juventus on the away goal rule but in February 1971 they had gone down to Colchester United in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup, although Bremner had missed that game. Then after beating Arsenal 1-0 in their penultimate League game they watched helplessly as the Gunners, with Leeds only needing Spurs to get a score draw or win, won 1-0 and to rub it in won the FA Cup too to become only the second team to achieve ‘The Double’ in modern times. 1971-72 saw United win the FA Cup for the first time, beating arch-rivals Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley, and giving Bremner both domestic cup medals. Mick Jones was injured in the win and two days later they were forced to play Wolves at Molineux, needing only to draw to complete ‘The Double’. Bremner scored, but it was little consolation as Leeds went down 1-2 and had to concede the title to chief detractor, Brian Clough and his Derby County team.
1972-73 saw Leeds never in the race for the title as Liverpool were too good, but fell to Second Division Sunderland, when odds-on favourites to retain the FA Cup and were ‘robbed’ in Salonika, by a referee who was later banned by FIFA, for his biased running of the European Cup Winners Cup Final, which United lost 1-0 to AC Milan. Two more runners-up medals for Bremner! In 1973-74 Bremner played magnificently as Leeds finally put six seasons of near-misses aside and won the League championship, for the second time, with ease, setting a record of twenty-nine unbeaten games from the start the season. A record which stood until beaten in 2004 by Arsenal.
As champions, Leeds contested the 1974 Charity Shield against FA Cup winners Liverpool at Wembley. Bremner was sent off for a clash with Kevin Keegan, which also saw the Liverpool striker dismissed. He received an eleven game suspension, which severely impacted on the Leeds 1974-75 League campaign, and would not have helped Brian Clough, who was without Bremner's services for the rest of his term as Manager. With Leeds out of contention for domestic honours, they were able to concentrate on the European Cup. They reached the Final, which they lost in controversial circumstances to Bayern Munich. Leeds were denied a certain penalty, then had a goal disallowed, after it appeared that Peter Lorimer had given Leeds the lead with one of his specials. Finally, Bremner was denied when Sepp Maier produced an astonishing point-blank save from just six yards.
Bremner finally left Leeds and moved to Hull City in September 1976 for £35,000. He had played 772 games for Leeds, including one as a substitute, putting him marginally second behind Jack Charlton in the club's all-time list. While his one hundred and fifteen goals placed him in fifth spot on the all-time goal scorers chart, behind only Peter Lorimer, John Charles, Allan Clarke and Tom Jennings. In November 1978, Bremner effectively ended his brilliant playing career when he left Hull City to take over as Manager of Doncaster Rovers. In October 1985 Bremner was appointed manager of Leeds United, succeeding the loyal Eddie Gray. On the field, Bremner had led Leeds to their greatest triumphs and now he aimed to do the same from the dug-out.
United took time to adjust to the demands of his preferred style of play. He used a five man defence in front of goalkeeper Mervyn Day, but a series of disappointing displays saw them slip briefly into the relegation zone before playing their way out of trouble. The following season Bremner steered his beloved United to the brink of double glory. They came within twenty minutes of reaching the 1987 FA Cup Final and ten minutes of gaining promotion to Division One. A late surge took Leeds into the promotion Play-offs but they fell at the final hurdle in a replay against battling Charlton going down 2-1 to two late extra-time goals. United's FA Cup run was an unexpected bonus, but again they came a cropper losing 3-2 to Coventry City after extra-time in one of the most thrilling semi-finals Hillsborough had ever staged.
Bremner's reward was an extended contract but in 1987-88 Leeds appeared to go backwards and failed to live up to their billing as promotion favourites. Poor results at the start of the next season saw Leeds lingering near the foot of the table and Bremner was axed in late September 1988. Bremner’s devotion to the club he served so well could not be doubted. He died of a heart attack on Dec 7th 1997. He has since been voted Leeds United's greatest player of all time and is honoured by a commemorative statue outside the South East corner of Elland Road and by "Billy's Bar" in the South Stand. He was inducted into the English Hall of Fame in 2004.
100 Greatest LUFC Players - No.1 Billy Bremner