Book Review: Billy Bremner – Fifty Defining Fixtures by Dave Tomlinson
If we tackle this question first, we can then move on to what Billy Bremner – Fifty Defining Fixtures is really about and we will find a pretty enjoyable book on the Leeds United era of ‘King Billy’ who was voted the best player ever at Leeds United and the greatest captain in the Football League’s history.
First things first, though; To judge or not to judge? that is the question. Another work by author, Dave Tomlinson, which has been reviewed on this site, Leeds United – a History is claimed in the publishers’ press release to be a ‘definitive’ history of the club. But they don’t seem able to define ‘definitive’. This is hardly surprising since the publisher and author don’t even agree on where Dave actually resides. Amberley think he lives in Leeds, whilst his own website thinks he lives in Birmingham.
We have a similar problem with this book’s title. Amberley also struggle to define ‘defining’. And is it likely there are exactly 50 ‘defining fixtures’ for him? Of course not. Does that matter? Of course not. It is a celebration of a genuinely inspirational footballer who was loved by Leeds fans and hated by almost all opposition ones who would, still, have loved him to play for them.
We have to wait till Fixture 14 when Bobby Collins suffered a terrible leg break away to Torino to find something really interesting about Bremner. It is unsurprising, given how the book is constructed, that information comes via a quote from Billy himself. Describing his feelings towards the perpetrator of the top-of-the-thigh-when-the-ball-was-ten-yards-away horror tackle, he admits to murderous intent, such was his extreme loyalty to any and every team mate.
As someone who saw him play in his prime, I am confident that he deserved the highest praise and I enjoyed reading about a defining (yes!) period in the club’s history. And yet, Dave Tomlinson struggles to capture the essence of Billy Bremner’s qualities because so much of the author’s work is cobbling together match reports. In fact, Billy seems to be barely mentioned in so many of the matches described. And the selection of 50 does miss some really important ones, like when he scored the only goal of the game in the second replay of the 1970 FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United and sent us Leeds fans at Burnden Park wild with delight. And Billy tells us himself about a match that really should be in the 50. In Fixture 20, he reflects (in You Get Nowt For Being Second) that it was the recent Fulham match which earned him a lengthy ban and forced him to finally change and calm down – a bit. It was the defining moment of his career.
The best illustration of what Bremner was truly about has to wait till Fixture 42, a match of relatively low importance against Hibernian. But, finally, Tomlinson begins to focus on Billy’s leadership qualities. And, a little earlier in sequence, the report on Fixture 36 totally fails because it, absurdly claims to be objective about allegations of match-fixing against Wolves in 1972. Bremner won substantial damages and you are not being objective by once more airing the allegations, even if Mike O’Grady did later admit to having been a go-between. Perhaps ‘objective’ need defining?
As we draw to the eventual conclusion, we are surprised to find so much of the wonderful victory in the European Cup semi-final against Cruyff’s Barcelona is diverted to the conflict between Bremner and Giles over who should manage Leeds, presumably because the author felt it should be squeezed in somewhere.
The photographs are a little puzzling. Why does the cover (at least in one edition) have Bremner in Scotland kit when the vast bulk of the ‘Fixtures’ are Leeds matches? Who is the target audience? And it is amusing to see a caption alongside the photograph of Mike England, clearly trying to restrain an angry Billy, which describes them as ‘fighting’. Those who wish to know more about Billy actually fighting on a football field might be advised to check with Kevin Keegan about that.
For all his greatness as a player, he was certainly not the best manager in the history of Leeds United. Yet he was the one who cared most passionately about the club. His famous quote amply illustrates this, “Every time Leeds concede a goal, I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the heart.” If Dave Tomlinson decides to write another book on Bremner, I hope this is the ‘King Billy’ he writes about, the player the fans loved.
(Amberley Publishing 2017 160pp)
Review by Graeme Garvey