The statue erected at the corner of Elland Road may have been commissioned to commemorate a man who had passed away, but it stands in honour of one who — even had he lived — would have deserved such a monument as the greatest part of Leeds United’s greatest ever team.
Inspirational captain, tireless leader, world-class midfielder. Bremner was all of these at the same time and so much more. From his fiery red hair to the toes of his boots he was a complete footballer whose frame was packed with more than enough commitment to belie his five-foot-five stature.
Bremner’s Leeds career suggests some kind of destiny — had he been taller he might have played for Arsenal or Chelsea (who both rejected him). Had he not had a manager like Don Revie he might have left Leeds, homesick for Scotland, to play for Hibernian (who couldn’t afford the then-exorbitant £45,000 fee Revie put on him). And had Bobby Collins not been injured in Torino, he might never have been made captain — and instead drifted eventually to Celtic (where he was also idolised). But everything steered Bremner to Leeds for whom only Jack Charlton has played more games, and only four others — all full-time strikers save John Charles — have scored more goals.
Having debuted for manager Jack Taylor (alongside Don Revie the player) he endured relegation and, after scoring two goals in a 3-2 defeat at Norwich in October 1960, only ever missing a Leeds game if injured or suspended until sold to Hull City in 1976.
Collins’ injury in October 1966, Bremner, built very much in Collins’ image, thrived in his new role and led Leeds on an unprecedented trial of honours — League Cup and Fairs Cup (1968), League Championship and Charity Shield (1969), Fairs Cup (1971), FA Cup (1972), League Championship (1974).
In that time he also captained Scotland, most notably through the 1974 World Cup — although his 54-cap career ended after a night out in Copenhagen in 1975. Controversy occurred at club level, too — with full-blooded tackling, and an infamous tussle and joint sending-off with Liverpool’s Kevin Keegan in the Charity Shield showpiece in 1974. But nothing like that should overshadow his legacy, or the memory of Bremner in full flight, a pained expression on his face urging his team-mates to the same levels of effort as his own.
When he later returned to manage Leeds (1985-88) he famously said that he felt every goal conceded was like a bullet to his heart. He played like that, too. The greatest, no question.