Billy Bremner

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Billy Bremner
Billy Bremner cropped.jpg
Bremner playing for Scotland at the 1974 World Cup
Personal information
Full name William John Bremner
Date of birth (1942-12-09)9 December 1942
Place of birth Stirling, Scotland
Date of death 7 December 1997(1997-12-07) (aged 54)
Place of death Doncaster, England
Playing position Midfielder
Youth career
1959-1960 Leeds United
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1959–1976 Leeds United 587 (90)
1976–1979 Hull City 61 (6)
1979–1981 Doncaster Rovers 5 (0)
Total 653 (96)
National team
1965–1976 Scotland 54 (3)
Teams managed
1978–1985 Doncaster Rovers
1985–1988 Leeds United
1989–1991 Doncaster Rovers
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).

William John "Billy" Bremner (9 December 1942 – 7 December 1997) was a Scottish professional footballer, most noted for his captaincy of the Leeds United team of the 1960s and 1970s. He has since been voted Leeds United's greatest player of all time and has a statue outside the South East corner of Elland Road. He has also been included in the Football League 100 Legends and is a member of the English Football Hall of Fame.

Bremner was voted Footballer Of the Year in 1970, and was also voted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame as one of its first inductees in 2004.[1] He is on the Scotland national football team roll of honour due to having won more than 50 caps for Scotland.

Leeds United[edit]

Going south of the border[edit]

Bremner, a diminutive but tough midfield player, was scouted by Leeds United while playing schoolboy football in Scotland for Gowanhill Juniors,[2] and signed for the Elland Road club in 1959, the day after his 17th birthday. He was brought up in the Raploch area of Stirling where he attended the Catholic junior school, St. Mary's. He had previously been rejected by Arsenal and Chelsea for being too small, as he was only 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) tall.

He made his first-team debut in January 1960 and was a permanent fixture on the team sheet for more than 16 years thereafter 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 – a Sunday Times headline dubbed him as "10st of barbed wire".[3] But he was a skilled player, too, with great endurance – he had a stamina to work from one end of the pitch to the other and could pass with precision and excellent timing. He also weighed in with his share of goals, and had an extraordinary ability to score crucial goals in the biggest games, including winners in four major semi-finals.

The first rewards[edit]

As Leeds United began their rise in the early 1960s, Bremner was at the heart of it. In 1964 they won the Second Division title and then the following year came tantalisingly close to a "double" of League championship and FA Cup. They lost the league title to Manchester United on goal average, and lost the FA Cup Final at Wembley to Liverpool despite Bremner scoring an equalizer in extra time.

'Captain of the Crew'[edit]

In 1966, Leeds skipper Bobby Collins was injured in a Fairs Cup game against Torino and manager Don Revie gave the captaincy to Bremner. Collins never got it back. With Bremner acting as leader and mentor on the pitch, Leeds entered their halcyon period at the end of the 1960s, winning the League Cup and Fairs Cup in 1968 and the League championship in 1969. That season Leeds lost only two out of 42 league games.

The treble that never happened[edit]

In 1970, Leeds chased the historic "treble" of League championship, FA Cup and European Cup, which had not been achieved before in the English game – indeed, this was the first season when any team had come close. However, Leeds ended up with nothing – losing the League title to Everton, the FA Cup final after a particularly violent replay against Chelsea, and the European Cup semi-final to Celtic.

Bremner and Mackay[edit]

Bremner and Tottenham Hotspur's Dave Mackay

During this period, Leeds had a reputation for being dirty, with Bremner at the forefront alongside equally uncompromising players such as Norman Hunter. As if to emphasise the style of play for which Bremner was known, one of football's most famous photographs shows a young Bremner pleading his innocence after Tottenham Hotspur's bulky Scottish midfield player Dave Mackay grabbed him by the shirt and hauled him up following a late tackle by Bremner. Mackay was just back from a second broken leg. The snap was taken on 20 August 1966.


For all their honours, comparatively Leeds were huge under-achievers. They won two League titles – in 1969 and 1974 – but missed out on further championships in dramatic last-game climaxes in at least three other years, primarily due to fixture congestion and inflexibility by the FA. Bremner played in four FA Cup finals, but only won one. They won two Fairs Cups, and lost another final; Leeds also reached a European Cup Winners Cup final in 1973 but allegedly lost due to a bribed referee. As a last hurrah, before the team aged and broke up, it reached a European Cup final two years later but lost controversially to Bayern Munich.

The early 1970s saw Leeds dominate but lose as much as they won. In 1971, Bremner lifted the Fairs Cup but Leeds were the victims of one of the FA Cup's biggest shocks when they lost a fifth round tie at lowly Colchester United, although Bremner did not play. They then watched helplessly as Arsenal took the League championship from them with a 1–0 win over Tottenham Hotspur (prior to winning the FA Cup to complete the second "double" of the 20th century). Had the game ended in a score draw or an Arsenal defeat, the League would have gone to Leeds.

In 1972, Leeds again chased the League and FA Cup double but again were left both elated and disappointed. A 1–0 victory over holders Arsenal in the FA Cup final earned Leeds their first and only success in the competition (and completed Bremner's domestic medal set) but two days later, with only a draw required to seal the "double", Leeds lost their last League game to Wolves and the title went to Derby County. In 1973 Leeds were only chasing the FA Cup and success in Europe – Liverpool were too strong in the League – but were beaten by A.C. Milan in the Cup Winners Cup final in Thessaloniki, Greece and then lost the FA Cup final to second division Sunderland. Bremner picked up more runners-up medals.

Bremner played magnificently as Leeds finally put the near-misses aside over the previous six seasons and won the 1974 League championship at a canter, setting a record of 29 unbeaten games to start the season which was only beaten by Arsenal in 2004. Looking back years later, in August 1995 for the Match of the Seventies TV programme, Bremner considered the 1973–74 Leeds team as good any British team since the Second World War. As champions, Leeds contested the 1974 Charity Shield curtain raiser game against FA Cup winners Liverpool at Wembley – and Bremner was sent off for a clash with Kevin Keegan, which also saw the Liverpool striker dismissed.

The following year, Leeds were not in contention for domestic honours but reached the European Cup final, which they lost in more controversial circumstances to Bayern Munich. Leeds were denied what seemed a certain penalty, had a goal disallowed (after the referee decided that Bremner was offside) and Bremner suffered his own personal nightmare when Sepp Maier produced an astonishing point-blank save from just six yards.

From Elland Road to Doncaster[edit]

Revie had quit Leeds a year earlier to take over the England job from caretaker boss Joe Mercer, who had assumed the post after the dismissal of World Cup winning boss Sir Alf Ramsey. Brian Clough took control and the team started to break up. Bremner finally left Leeds United on 24 September 1976 to join Hull City. He had played 772 games for Leeds, putting him second behind Jack Charlton in the club's all-time list.

Hull City and Doncaster Rovers[edit]

Bremner's arrival at Hull was big news locally and he scored on his debut for the club. Bremner played at Hull for two years before he joined Doncaster Rovers, managing an admirable four seasons there before retiring as a player at the age of 39.

Wins libel action[edit]

On 3 February 1982, Bremner won £100,000 libel damages, along with legal costs, after he sued the Sunday People newspaper for publishing an article on 11 September 1977 that alleged he tried to fix football matches, including the May 1972 game at Wolves, which was two days after Leeds United had won the FA Cup. Leeds lost the game 2–1 and Derby County became champions for the first time in their history. Wolves mid-fielder Danny Hegan said Bremner tried to bribe him £1,000. Frank Munro, and Leeds United goalkeeper Gary Sprake and former Leeds player Billy McAdams also claimed in a newspaper article that Bremner was involved in an attempt to bribe Wolves to lose the match.

Former team mates Jack Charlton, Allan Clarke and Johnny Giles all spoke up for Bremner, as did Wolves player Derek Dougan, who had scored against Leeds in the match in question. Dougan testified that no attempt was made to bribe Wolves and that the claims were nonsense. Others who spoke up on Bremner's behalf included Frederick Lawson and Doug Fraser and the match referee who said he saw nothing untoward. Oddhams newspapers, who published the article and Hegan, who repeated the allegations in court, were both ordered to pay the costs of the seven day hearing, estimated at £60,000.[4]


As an international, Bremner was at the forefront of Scottish football's rise in the 1970s after years in the wilderness. He made his Scotland debut in 1965 against Spain, played in the famous 3–2 victory against world champions England at Wembley in 1967 and captained his country at the World Cup in West Germany in 1974. After beating Zaire 2-0 and drawing 0-0 with Brazil a 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia saw Scotland eliminated on goal difference.

Bremner's last cap came against Denmark in September 1975 – an incident in Copenhagen after the game led to a lifetime ban from international football along with four other players, Willie Young, Joe Harper, Pat McCluskey and Arthur Graham. The five allegedly were ejected from a night-club for rowdy behaviour. This was after breaking a 1am curfew to indulge in a bout of heavy drinking. Then, an SFA official was none too pleased when he entered the room of Bremner and McCluskey to find them turning a bed upside down in a drunken prank. Ronald McKenzie, the Scottish team trainer, resigned his post as he admitted to being involved as well. The ban was lifted in 1976 but Bremner never played international football again. He won 54 caps in total, scoring three goals, and is in the Scotland hall of fame.

Doncaster Rovers[edit]

In 1978, Bremner became manager of Doncaster Rovers, where he stayed for seven years. Under his management, Doncaster managed promotion to the Third Division in 1981 where they remained for two seasons before being relegated in 1983. The following year Bremner again led the team to promotion before making way in October 1985 for Dave Cusack, who would go on to guide Doncaster to its most successful spell in the third tier until recent times.

Manager of Leeds[edit]

Bremner's life after playing was mainly notable for his topsy-turvy spell as manager of Leeds, following in the footsteps of old team-mates Allan Clarke and Eddie Gray to try to restore happier days to the club after their relegation in 1982. As manager he quickly reinstated Don Revie's philosophy and his little traditions, for example he reinstated the sessions of carpet bowls on Friday evenings.[5] They never regained promotion under Bremner but came close, losing a play-off final to Charlton Athletic in 1987 and reaching the FA Cup semi-finals in the same season, losing to eventual winners Coventry City.

In June 1986, interim Scotland manager Alex Ferguson rejected the offer to manage the national side on a permanent basis (having been in charge since the sudden death of Jock Stein nine months earlier) and Bremner's name was linked with the job, but it went to long-serving coaching staff member Andy Roxburgh instead.[6]

Bremner was sacked on 28 September 1988 to make way for Howard Wilkinson who would within three and a half years not just achieve promotion but would bring the League championship back to Elland Road in late April 1992.

Return to Doncaster Rovers[edit]

In July 1989 Bremner went back to Doncaster as manager, coincidentally succeeding Dave MacKay. He staved off relegation to the Conference in his first season in charge before a major improvement in the 1990–91 season, in which Rovers were promotion contenders for much of the season before finishing 11th. Despite being 47 and 48 years of age at the time, he still turned out for the Doncaster reserve XI on several occasions. He left Doncaster the following season, on 2 November 1991. This was the final position Bremner held in football.

Later years[edit]

Bremner settled into the columnist and after-dinner circuit adorned by many high-profile ex-footballers during the final years of his life. Despite his uncompromising nature (both vocally and in the tackle) on the pitch, he emerged as a dignified and grateful figure, claiming that despite not winning as many honours as he could have, his memories would be the envy of many players.


Billy Bremner statue in celebratory stance outside Leeds United's ground Elland Road

At the beginning of December 1997, Bremner was rushed to hospital after suffering from pneumonia, but suffered a suspected heart attack at his Doncaster home in the small village of Clifton and died two days before his 55th birthday. His former Leeds United team-mates Allan Clarke, who read the lesson at the service, Bobby Collins, Norman Hunter, Eddie Gray, Trevor Cherry, Duncan McKenzie, Paul Reaney, Mick Jones, Joe Jordan, Terry Cooper, Paul Madeley and Gordon McQueen went to his funeral in Edlington, along with Nobby Stiles, Asa Hartford, and many of the major figures from Scottish football, past and present, Dave Mackay, his best friend Alex Smith, Denis Law and Alex Ferguson among them. There was city-wide mourning in Leeds due to the very high esteem in which he is held by Leeds United fans.

On 13 December 1997, Leeds United played away at Chelsea. In a typically bruising encounter between the two clubs, Leeds were down to nine men at half time (Alfie Haaland and Gary Kelly had been ordered off). Acknowledging that this was the type of game in which Bremner would have excelled, the travelling fans sang "We've got nine men and Billy!", also for long parts of the match singing "Billy Bremner's barmy army." Leeds held out for a 0–0 draw.

A statue by sculptor Frances Segelman[7] of Bremner in celebratory pose was erected outside Elland Road as a tribute to the club's greatest captain and, according to an official poll of supporters via the club website, the club's greatest ever player.[8] On 9 December 2006, which would have been Bremner's 64th birthday, at the Leeds United vs Derby County match his eternal popularity amongst Leeds' fans was heard as the Leeds fans sang "There's only one Billy Bremner" as a tribute to Bremner was displayed on the big screen at Elland Road.

In 1988, the Football League, as part of its centenary season celebrations, included Bremner on its list of 100 League Legends. Bremner was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2004 in recognition of his impact on the game. In 2013, Bremner was voted the Football League's greatest ever captain, beating off competition from 72 other Football League clubs in a poll by Prostate Cancer UK. Bremner's teammate and fellow Leeds legend Eddie Gray inducted the late Scotsman, who won the poll with over 35% of the vote.[9]


England Leeds United

(player and manager)

Europe European Cup

Europe European Cup Winners' Cup

Europe Inter-Cities Fairs Cup

England Football League First Division

England Football League Second Division

England FA Cup

England Football League Cup

England FA Charity Shield


Footballer of the Year

PFA Team of the Year



A Leeds United club song, Glory Glory Leeds United, contains the following verse which summed up Bremner's role at the club:

Little Billy Bremner is the captain of the crew

For the sake of Leeds United he would break himself in two
His hair is red and fuzzy and his body's black and blue

But Leeds go marching on.

The Ballad of Billy Bremner

There's a tale I'm goin' to tell you

All about a brave young man
Who was born in bonny Scotland
That's where history began

He once cheered the Glasgow Celtic
Just the soon as he could talk
And he'd kick a paper football
Just the soon as he could walk

And his name is Billy Bremner
We will never forget his deeds
He was made to play for Scotland
Now he captains United of Leeds

So he came to Leeds United
And they made Don Revie the boss
All the Elland Road fans were excited
and wor gain was Celtic's loss

Many giants have tried to slay him
When he fights for every ball
But he knows the famous saying
When they're big the harder they fall

And his name is Billy Bremner
We will never forget his deeds
He was made to play for Scotland
Now he captains United of Leeds

When they talk of Matthews and Pele
Of Lawton and Finney and James
Like a whisky in your belly
He will glow amongst those names

He will lead our lads to glory
He will lead our lads to fame
When they sing United's story
You will always hear the name

And his name is Billy Bremner
We will never forget his deeds
He was made to play for Scotland
Now he captains United of Leeds

And his name is Billy Bremner
We will never forget his deeds
He was made to play for Scotland

Now he captains United of Leeds


Career statistics[edit]


Club performance League Cup League Cup Continental Total
Season Club League Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
England League FA Cup League Cup Europe Total
1959–60 Leeds United First Division 11 2
1960–61 Second Division 31 9
1961–62 39 11
1962–63 24 10
1963–64 39 2
1964–65 First Division 40 6
1965–66 41 8
1966–67 37 2
1967–68 36 2
1968–69 42 6
1969–70 35 4
1970–71 26 3
1971–72 41 5
1972–73 38 4 7 1 5 0 7 0 57 5
1973–74 42 10
1974–75 27 1
1975–76 34 5
1976–77 4 0
1976–77 Hull City Second Division 30 2
1977–78 31 4
Total England 648 96
Career total 772 115

Managerial stats[edit]

Team Nat From To Record
G W L D Win %
Doncaster Rovers England 25 November 1978 1 October 1985 319 121 105 83 37.93%
Leeds United England 11 October 1985 28 September 1988 143 63 52 28 44.05%
Doncaster Rovers England 3 July 1989 2 November 1991 115 33 54 28 28.69%

External links[edit]


  1. ^ 2004 Inductees, Scottish Football Hall of Fame.
  2. ^ Soccer Who's Who compiled by Maurice Golesworthy The Sportsmans Book Club 1965
  3. ^ Murphy, Alex (7 August 2007). "Football's 50 greatest hard men". London: [1]. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  4. ^ The Guardian - 4 February 1982
  5. ^ Swan, Peter; Collomosse, Andrew (2008), Swanny: Confessions of a Lower-League Legend, John Blake, ISBN 978-1-84454-660-2 
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ "Meet the sculptor behind Leeds United’s Billy Bremner statue". 21 February 2011. Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  8. ^ "Still Greatly Missed". 11 December 2006. Retrieved 11 December 2006. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Smart, Gordon (24 May 2008). "Top boy Stevie gets Billy gig". The Sun. Retrieved 24 May 2008. 
  11. ^ Billy Bremner at
Autobiography: "You get nowt for being second" by Billy Bremner. Hardcover 126 pages (September 1969). Publisher: Souvenir Press Ltd., ISBN 0-285-50264-6