When Bremner lost his bragging rights on Tigers trip to Highbury

Steve Bruce.

FOR Billy Bremner, the fourth round draw for the League Cup represented a chance to return to a scene of many former glories.

Hull City, the club he had joined from Leeds United a little over a year earlier, had been handed a trip to Arsenal. Bremner had always relished a trip to Highbury, not least because the Gunners were always huge rivals to United in the days when Don Revie’s side were challenging for honours on an annual basis.

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The tigerish midfielder, by now 34, also boasted a decent record in N5 with his last three visits with Leeds having all resulted in away wins. The most recent had been almost two years to the day as Jimmy Armfield’s side won 2-1.

Much was made by the Press in the build-up of the potential for a fairytale return to the big stage for one of football’s most famous – and feared – warriors.

For Hull, the prize was a first appearance in the quarter-finals of the League Cup and the Second Division club’s players headed south in November, 1977, in confident mood.

Part of that belief was the presence of Bremner in midfield, the former Scottish international having brought his renowned competitive spirit along the newly built M62 to Hull with him.

He had also proved a popular figure in the Tigers’ dressing room thanks to a down-to-earth persona. Bremner also, as City’s goalkeeper of the time recalls with a laugh, proved to be a useful addition to the squad’s card school.

Jeff Wealands, who made 240 appearances in seven years with Hull, said: “Billy loved the banter, and particularly playing cards on the team bus.

“Unfortunately for him, he was probably the worst cards player in the world. What Billy didn’t realise was that whenever he had a good hand in something like three-card brag, he would give himself away with a nervous tick he had.

“The better the hand, the more pronounced it became. We picked up on it, so whenever the tick returned we would all fold straight away. Billy never cottoned on and would always end up £20 or £30 down after an away trip, which was quite a bit of money in those days.

“I don’t think we ever confessed the truth.”

Whether Bremner’s tick proved costly on the way south to Highbury is unrecorded. But there was little doubt just how much the midfielder was looking forward to the match.

Sadly, the tie went to form with Liam Brady and Graham Rix ripping the Tigers apart. Two goals from John Matthews plus strikes by Frank Stapleton, Brady and Malcolm McDonald put the Londoners firmly in charge so when Hull were awarded a late penalty, it was of little consolation to their fans in a crowd of 25,922.

That, though, did not prevent two City team-mates getting into a quarrel over who should take the resulting spot-kick.

Bruce Bannister, who spent three years with Hull after starting his career with home-town club Bradford City, said: “It was totally bizarre, Arsenal were 5-0 ahead when we were awarded a late penalty. I was the designated penalty taker but, suddenly, John Hawley picked the ball up and marched towards the spot. I said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’

“We ended up having an argument about who should take it and I just couldn’t get the ball off him.

“In the end, I let him take it but always wondered, ‘Would John have insisted taking it at 1-1 when the pressure was really on?’

“It was strange because John’s character wasn’t like that, I did complain to the management afterwards but they just said, ‘The game’s over, let it go’. It was a very, very strange incident.”

Such an unseemly end was not what anyone in Hull had wanted. It would be 36 years before City reached the fourth round of the League Cup. That is tonight and once again it will be in north London, as Steve Bruce’s men take on Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane for the second time inside four days.

The hope has to be that the current vintage fare better than their predecessors of 1977-78, who, after their cup exit, went on such a bad run that they ended the season rock bottom of Division Two.