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billy bremner voted greatest ever captain

billy bremner voted greatest ever captain


It is, of course, the only sane outcome from a poll like this: Billy Bremner has been named the Football League’s greatest ever captain, in a vote organised by Prostate Cancer UK.

He beat Bolton’s Nat Lofthouse, Ipswich’s Mick Mills, Paul Robinson of Millwall and Archie Gibson of Scunthorpe, in a ballot restricted to captains of current Football League clubs; however, if the field had been expanded to include the Premier League, you would expect Billy to win that as well.

Bremner was the perfect captain, as outlined in the article by Jonathan Wilson that put his case to the Prostate Cancer UK voters. He was an exceptional player who led by example; he kept incredibly high standards throughout a long career, and became intrinsically linked with the club he captained; and he had a working relationship with Don Revie that was more father-son than manager-captain. 

In these days of millionaire players acting like sulky teenagers, what manager doesn’t long for a Billy Bremner? Someone who will commit themselves to the cause and to the manager, who will do the work on the pitch that Revie, Les Cocker and Syd Owen wanted done from the sidelines.

The award to Billy does throw up a paradox, though. His philosophy, the one that made him such an inspirational captain, would possibly preclude him from accepting an award as greatest ever captain. 

‘Side Before Self, Every Time’ was the motto that made Bremner the captain he was, a motto that he was able to impress on his teammates and used to forge a team that gave everything for the collective glory of Leeds United, and not for individual gain. A captain these days is seen as a leader, someone who stands apart; to Billy Bremner, being captain meant it was his job to make sure nobody stood apart, that no individual – including himself – was bigger than the team. 

It was no coincidence that the great players of the Revie era all stayed with the club until their bodies would no longer allow them to compete at the top level of football. Once you became a Leeds United player – and once you became a Billy Bremner player – there was nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. You were Leeds, and everything you did was Leeds.

Celebrating that with an individual award to Billy, then, would seem counter to what made him great as a captain. In a way, the award should be a recognition not just of Bremner himself but of all the players from that time: the Prostate Cancer UK Award for the Greatest Display of Collective Captaincy, perhaps.

Then again, one of Billy’s other mottos was ‘You get nowt for being second’; so once this vote was organised – and it’s for a good cause, too, to raise awareness of the dangers of prostate cancer – the only option was that Billy Bremner would win. 

Eddie Gray has said today that, “The club was his life. He lived for Leeds United and he was an inspiration.” I suspect that if Billy Bremner were still with us to accept it, this award would be going in the Leeds United trophy cabinet, alongside all the others Billy helped us win.

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