27 Aug 2013
In - Football

Here's why acclaimed author and editor of The Blizzard, Jonathan Wilson, thinks Billy Bremner is the greatest Football League captain of them all…

1. Team spirit
The Leeds United side of the late 60s and early 70s was widely despised by those outside the club, but the team unit was bound ferociously tight. It may be that not all the players got on but they became exactly what Don Revie intended them to be: a family. At the head of that stood Bremner: the captain, Revie's voice in the dressing-room and a man who helped ensure the all-for-one and one-for-all spirit never fractured.

2. Personal example
There are two basic ways of leading: by words and by deeds. Bremner may not have been a great orator, capable of stirring fire in the bellies of his team-mates with fine words, but nobody ever questioned his commitment to the cause and nobody ever doubted that he expected similar levels of devotion from his colleagues. He chased and harried incessantly and was one of the game's great hard men, pathologically averse to shirking a challenge. He was simply incapable of backing down, of allowing anyone ever to best him.

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3. Playing ability
Given the stench of sulphur that still attaches itself to that Leeds side, it's often forgotten just how good they were as a footballing team. At the heart of that was Bremner, an intelligent right-half who knitted the team together with the intelligence of his passing. His volleyed equaliser in the 1965 FA Cup final - after he'd been moved to play up front in desperation - was both technically brilliant and an example of his ability to rise inspirationally to the occasion.

4. Maintainer of standards
When Leeds signed Allan Clarke from Leicester City in 1969, there was a feeling he was rather too individualistic for the collective. Similarly when Gordon McQueen signed from St Mirren in 1972 it was felt that he needed "the ego stuff", as John Giles put it, knocking out of him. Bremner was central to that, determined to ensure that everybody in the squad lived up to the standards that had already been established, that everybody pulled their weight and that nobody got above themselves.

5. Identification with the club
Bremner wasn't a one-club man: after Leeds he went on to play for Hull and Doncaster, but he spent 17 years at Elland Road, 10 of them as captain, playing 587 league games, and winning two league championships, an FA Cup, a League Cup, two Inter-Cities Fairs Cups and a Cup Winners' Cup. As such, he became more than just a player. He came to seem eternal, a perpetual figure in their midfield, and the keeper of the Leeds faith, the embodiment of Don Revie's philosophy of passing football laced with aggression and pragmatism.

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