Tag Archives: World Cup 2014

The Day We Lost Billy Bremner, a Superstar to Eclipse Any Today – by Rob Atkinson

The more I see of football these days, with all of its allegedly “world class” stars, the more I think of the guy who scored the first goal I ever saw Leeds United score – in the flesh, so to speak. His hair was red and fuzzy and his body black and blue, and his name was Billy Bremner. God alone knows what he’d be worth today – sadly, he hasn’t been around since that awful time, 21 years ago exactly, when football was deprived of a legend and Leeds United began to come to terms with the loss of a man who embodied everything that the Last Champions were all about, at their very, very best.

On the 7th December 1997, two days short of his 55th birthday, our greatest captain Billy Bremner died following a heart attack after a bout of pneumonia. The Leeds United world was plunged into shock and mourning at the death of a true hero, and the game’s great and good attended his funeral in Edlington. The tiny church, packed to the rafters with household names, was resounding testimony to the respect in which the wee man was held by all who knew the legend. Old comrades and old foes alike were there to say goodbye to an icon who had left us tragically young, but who had emblazoned his name across an era not wanting for stars.

Image Scoring for Leeds

Billy Bremner was quite simply a phenomenon. From the earliest days of his Leeds United career, once he had recovered from a bout of home-sickness for his native Stirling in Scotland, he was an automatic selection for the first team, unless injury or suspension ruled him out. He was a warrior, despite his diminutive size, but he was blessed with all the other attributes needed for a central midfielder on the battlegrounds of the English First Division. Skill, courage, “workrate” – as it’s known these days – were combined with sheer guts, tenacity, will to win – and that indefinable x-factor that ultimately set him apart from other gifted performers. A ball-winner, a talented user of the ball once won, a relentless harrier of the opposition for the full ninety minutes plus of each gruelling game – and a scorer of great goals too. Bremner was a big occasion man, a serial winner of semi-finals (Man U being his favourite victims), a man who unfailingly stepped up to the mark when his team-mates and fans needed him. He was utterly self-effacing in the interests of what was best for the team. Side before self, every time was his motto, and he lived up to those words for as long as he was involved in football.

Some called him dirty. And he was as capable as most other combative central midfielders of a bit of feisty skullduggery – but to define him by his occasional sins would be short-sighted in the extreme and would display, moreover, a lack of awareness of exactly what his game was all about. A consummate passer of the ball – with the neat reverse pass a speciality, flummoxing and wrong-footing many an international-class opponent – Bremner was the epitome of Don Revie‘s Leeds United, a team who said “If you want to play, we’ll out-play you; if you want to battle, we’ll out-battle you.” They usually out-thought and out-psyched the opposition as well. Many a visiting player was artfully allowed a glimpse as they passed by of the sign on the home team dressing room wall at Elland Road. “Keep Fighting”, it said – which was what Leeds United, guided by Don Revie off the field and Billy Bremner on it, did – and they did it better than just about anybody else.

Image Leeds United hero

The Sunday Times perhaps summed-up Billy Bremner as well and as succinctly as anyone. “Ten stone of barbed wire” they called him – the image of a spiky, perilous bundle of energy conjured up in five telling words. I saw an old clip on YouTube recently, grainy black and white footage of some or other game back in the day, and there had been an incident that set the players en masse at each other’s throats. Bremner – unusually – must have been some way off when the flashpoint occurred, for he was nowhere to be seen with the melée already well established. And then, from the right-hand margin of the screen, came this white-clad, unmistakable figure, tiny but fierce, hurtling towards the centre of the conflict with the desire to weigh in on behalf of the team writ large in every line of his being. He was a frenetic mixture of Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil, plunging into the fray like some one-man whirlwind, wreaking his own inimitable brand of havoc. Bremner was famous, even notorious, for this – for his battle-cry of “cut one of us, and we all bleed.” Billy shed blood in the United cause – usually, it must be said, not his own. But a thug he was not, and any team, any time, anywhere in the world would break the bank to have a Billy Bremner in his prime among their number. Fortunately for Leeds United, he loved the club and served it for sixteen years, becoming synonymous with the famous Whites of Elland Road. As Leeds fans, we could nominate no better candidate for the honorific title of “Mr. Leeds United”. Only the great John Charles, operating in a much less successful era at Leeds and destined to win his medals on foreign fields, could come anywhere near.

My second match as a Leeds United supporter was the European Cup semi-final, first leg against CF Barcelona, Johann Cruyff, Johann Neeskens and all. Those two Dutch masters, with all the other glitterati of the Catalans’ world-class line-up were expected to have too much for a United side on the cusp of just dipping over the hill.  The previous Saturday, I’d made my first visit to Elland Road and had seen us lose to Liverpool. I was all agog at the atmosphere, and didn’t really care about the result – I just wanted more.

BBC Commentary, Leeds Utd v Barcelona 9.4.75

So it was that my first ever Leeds United goal came to be scored by Billy Bremner himself, the greatest player in the greatest team United ever had. A long ball from Johnny Giles, headed down by Joe Jordan, found King Billy in enough space on the edge of the area at the South Stand end. He measured the situation, took aim and rifled the ball superbly, well wide of the helpless keeper, into the top left-hand corner. The din was deafening, like nothing I’d ever heard before, and rarely since. “Elland Road erupts” intoned David Coleman for the BBC, when he could make himself heard. The image of the small, red-headed giant belting that ball home will live with me to my last day. I’ve always been proud that my first goal was scored by King Billy. I feel as though, in a funny way, I own that goal.

Image of the significance of the occasion. “Nine men and Billy….we’ve got nine men and Billy!“, they sang, loud, proud and raucous. “Billy Bremner’s barmy army” got many a refrain as well. The fans had said farewell to the Captain of the Crew in a manner hugely identifiable with the man himself and with the fighting traditions of the great side he led with such distinction. As far as these things can be, it was deeply fitting, and those who remembered Billy gave a knowing nod of appreciation.

RIP  Billy Bremner. Departed far too soon, and greatly missed still. It’s unlikely we’ll ever have another quite like you.

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Former Leeds Man Sabella Outwits Man Utd Boss van Gaal in World Cup – by Rob Atkinson

Alejandro Sabella - formerly of Elland Road parish

Alejandro Sabella – formerly of Elland Road parish

So we are to be spared a rerun of the 1974 World Cup Final, when a technically superior Holland contrived somehow to lose to those pesky, arrogant Deutschers. Instead, it will be a best of three decider as Argentina and Germany, tied after the tournaments of 1986 and 1990 at one head-to-head World Cup apiece, do battle in Brazil for the title of ultimate Champions 2014 style.

In truth, all that will be decided is who is the best of an indifferent bunch at this over-hyped, over-rated tournament. Germany booked their Final place on Tuesday, beating a Brazil side of whom their angry fans could with justification sing “It’s just like watching Barnsley”. The Germans had nowt to beat, as we say in God’s Own Country, but they will find Argentina a much tougher proposition. To Messi and his men falls the responsibility of preserving South American infallibility where tournaments held in the Americas are concerned. No European side has ever won the World Cup over there – can a good but by no means brilliant Germany really be the first?

The second semi-final saw Holland keep up their own 100% record of World Cup failure. Having confirmed his position of World’s Best Coach, in the eyes of the Man U-obsessed British press at least, by a quirky goal-keeping substitution against Costa Rica, Pride of Devon manager-elect van Gaal then brilliantly decided to stick with his number one No. 1 Cillessen for this shoot-out. Predictably, his confidence affected by that bizarre substitution, the poor lad didn’t get near most of the Argentinean penalties, as erstwhile super-sub Krul sat despondent and abandoned on the bench. So Holland are out, their Manchester-bound coach out-foxed by honorary Yorkshireman Alejandro Sabella, once of the Sheffield Blades and, more pertinently, the Whites of Leeds United.

Who, then, will emerge victorious now? Germany will be on a high after their candy-from-a-baby beating of the Worst Brazil Side Ever. But they’re not anywhere near as good as the hosts made them look – and, if Messi can put in just one truly Messi-esque performance, Europe will be left waiting for its first Americas Cup. That’s the prediction of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. Argentina to win, without the need for extra time or a penalty lottery – Germany to be left reflecting that you get nowt for being second, as the Greatest Club Captain of all once said. It’s going to be World Cup glory for ex-Leeds Man Sabella – and with an enviable pedigree like that, will it really be a surprise?

Karma for the Kaiser as FIFA Ban Beckenbauer (39 Years Too Late) – by Rob Atkinson

Image

Der Kaiser – justice delayed is justice denied

The news that FIFA has imposed a temporary ban from all football activities on “der KaiserFranz Beckenbauer will come as pretty cold comfort to Leeds United fans of a certain age.  They will remember all too well the massive effect that Beckenbauer, now 69 years old, had on the 1975 European Cup Final at the Parc des Princes, Paris.  Beckenbauer, then as now, was a massively-influential figure in the game, having captained West Germany to World Cup success only the summer before.  He certainly seemed to have an intimidating effect on French referee Michel Kitabdjian, who failed to give two seemingly clear-cut penalties to Leeds in the first half, and then quailed before the furious protests of der Kaiser – and, after a short delay, his Bayern Munich team-mates – having initially seemed to allow a Peter Lorimer volley in the 67th minute.

The rest, sadly for United – who had completely outplayed the defending European Champions up to that point – was history.  Leeds, demoralised and feeling cheated of an advantage which would have been well-merited, subsided to two goals from Roth and Muller, putting an end to their dreams of being top dogs in Europe.  It was difficult to overlook the undue influence that Beckenbauer had wielded over the course of the match, and the Leeds fans who remember the occasion still feel that the German’s standing in the game made it far too easy for him to alter the course of events in Bayern’s favour.

If the English club concerned had played in red, the protests from home might have been more vehement.  As it was, the focus was more on the subsequent actions of disgruntled Leeds fans than on any perceived injustice.  Beckenbauer had got away with two penalty claims, and he’d seemingly managed to sway an incompetent – at best – ref.  It’s little wonder that the very mention of his name gives Leeds United supporters the conniptions to this day.

The fact that Beckenbauer is now in some bother with World Football’s governing body might give rise to a few quiet nods of satisfaction in LS11 and considerably further afield – although of course those old wounds will remain raw until the last Leeds fan to remember that night is long past caring.  The current issue is nothing to do with the 1975 Final – it’s a different matter and it’s thirty-nine years too late anyway.  It’s just that, when someone seems to have got away with such a blatant buggering-up of justice for so long, it’s nice to see them called to account for anything at all. You’re almost reminded of Al Capone’s notorious career, bloodstained and terror-strewn – when he finally went down it was for the white-collar crime of tax evasion.  Hardly reflective of his undoubted crimes, but still.  Justice – of a sort.

So we Leeds fans will hope that Beckenbauer’s current problems don’t go away any time soon.  The man himself doesn’t seem unduly concerned though – and his continuing influence will more than likely see him walk out from under yet again.  He wasn’t the first footballer to get away with on-field dodginess, and he won’t be the last – but the injury he helped inflict on Leeds that night bit deep and it took us a long, long time to recover – while Bayern continued to flourish.

Justice?  It’s a gag, we all know that.  But for a while at least, we might hope and dream that it’s finally caught up with der Kaiser.

England 2-0 Poland

So there we go – all that fuss over nothing. England made us sweat a bit, and Poland played their part – but it was the incentive of qualification that made the difference against a team with only (national) pride to play for. Now Woy’s Army march on to Bwazil – and a probable exit before the knockout phase.

Come on, Engerland!!

International Break is as Important for Leeds as it is for England – by Rob Atkinson

....or divided we fall

….or divided we shall most certainly fall

It’s no exaggeration to say that the next couple of weeks might very well make or break Leeds United’s season.  It’s as serious as that.  Not for any reasons of points or league placings, but to nip in the bud the deadly, creeping disease of apathy that can seize hold of a club’s supporter base and throttle all hope out of it.  Don’t get me wrong; the international break is clearly important for England too.  But all they have to do is win a couple of games at Wembley, with everything going for them and the cream of the country’s talent (such as it is) at their disposal.  Easy peasy.  Leeds United have no such simple task.  Leeds United must somehow conjure up a whole new philosophy, advance further down the road of securing significant investment and cheer up a moribund fan-base to the point where they can inspire the team again, instead of reducing it to nervy inefficiency.  No pressure, then.

Conflicting noises have come out of Elland Road this last week or so.  First we’re told that new players are on their way, but the existing squad should have won in the most hostile of Lions’ Dens.  Then there were glad tidings of “investment to take us to the next level”, but with the same breath we were told it was hard to secure such investment and that promotion was “a harsh target”.  Neither was the tantalising concept of “the next level” defined.  The next level of what?  Angry Birds?  Surely, they couldn’t have meant the next level up the league ladders, better known as the Premier League.  That is, after all, a harsh target. None of these pronouncements have come from the football side of the club, though you might be forgiven for thinking they had, what with learned opinions being offered about the capabilities of the existing squad vis-a-vis Millwall.  So confusion reigns, and the sickly stench of discouragement and resignation begins to drift among the fans in their expensive seats.  If promotion is a harsh target, they muse, aren’t these seat prices slightly harsh then?  What are we being invited to hope for, and at premium prices too?

Maybe, a mere two weeks hence, things will look better.  Perhaps, after we’ve sat and watched England cruise to qualification for Brazil 2014, we can turn our attentions back to Leeds United in a more positive frame of mind.  Will we have new faces to slot into our supporters’ team formations and post on Twitter? (Do I go traditional 4-4-2 or should I stick with the diamond? What about wing backs either side of a three in defence, eh? Hmmmm. Complicated, ain’t it.)  A couple of new faces could do a lot for morale out here, among all the armchair coaches and strategists, not to mention the galvanising effect on the team and its performances under the man who matters, Mr McDermott. And maybe there’ll be rumours of money coming into the club. There certainly should be, we’ve rarely been without them this past two years.  Rumours we have aplenty; pounds sterling, dollars or even shekels have been in somewhat shorter supply.  But you never know.  There’s no football for Leeds United for two long weeks. Surely something will happen in that time.  Perhaps even … something wonderful??

It’s to be hoped so.  The present mood out here is not positive, and the people responsible for those conflicting statements – and for what amounts to defeatist talk, dammit all – must hold their hands up for that.  If nothing else happens in the next fortnight while England’s millionaire playboys are poncing about at Wembley, it would at least be nice to see a more unified Leeds United emerge at the end of that time, singing the same song, or at least avoiding such excruciating discords.  A couple of high-class loans would do us all the power of good and maybe – just maybe – we could then go Marching On Together into the January market with a bit more hope than seems likely right now.  After all, we’re all Leeds, aren’t we?  Of course we bloody are. Fingers crossed it stays that way.