John Buckley had limited chances to shine at Leeds United, but still has a soft spot for the Elland Road club and his old Whites boss Billy Bremner. Leon Wobschall reports.
JOHN BUCKLEY saw plenty of the generosity of spirit in the late, great Billy Bremner after some of his darkest times a couple of decades ago.
King Billy signed his compatriot twice during spells in charge of Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers and also came to Buckley’s assistance in his biggest hour of need.
That arrived after he suffered a sickening head injury while playing for Rotherham United against Plymouth Argyle at the Millers’ old Millmoor home on March 13, 1993.
Buckley fractured his skull and underwent emergency surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain and spent several weeks on a life-support machine before thankfully making a full recovery.
Now 53, Buckley, signed by Bremner during his time in charge at Leeds in June 1986, can testify to the giving nature of the Whites legend, a man he adored.
His only wish is for that benevolence to have been shown when it came to picking him regularly during his time at Elland Road, with his former manager proving reticent when it came to handing him a run of first-team games in an unfulfilled United career.
Buckley, who made just 13 appearances for Leeds, said: “A lot of people say I never did it at Leeds. I accept that, but when you look back at the records, I never had a chance.
“That said, I can only speak volumes about Billy as a guy. We all loved him as a guy. But it was frustrating I didn’t play more than I did.
“I was 31 when I finished and he did quite a few of my (fund-raising) dinners for me.
“The way he spoke about me was incredible.
“His theory was that if I’d played in his era, that I’d have gone to the top.”
He added: “When I signed at Leeds and didn’t play, Billy kept saying the same thing to me all the time that ‘it’s politics’. I just said: ‘I don’t know what you mean?’
“He said that at Donny he could give me the opportunity to do what I wanted. But he said that this team was more about a work ethic.
“He said he knew that I could deliver, but that he needed people stopping other things happening.
“If I am being directly honest – although I would never say anything against him – the one thing I didn’t understand is he never really gave me a chance.
“The moments I played were brilliant. In those games, I played, I thought I did all right.
“I think back to certain games where I played well. I kept saying to Billy that even when I did well, he never kept me in. I couldn’t grasp that.”
Buckley, who joined up with former Rovers team-mates Ian Snodin and Brian Caswell when he headed up the A1 to Leeds for £35,000, believes the pressure to get results that Bremner was under to restore Leeds to their rightful place at the top table of English football ensured he erred on the side on caution when it came to electing to pick him or not.
A tricky, ball-playing winger, Buckley was handed few chances to showcase his wares to Leeds fans, yet it didn’t stop a top-flight club in Leicester City taking him on loan in March 1987 when he was not getting a regular run of games.
Playing for Leeds, however brief, still meant plenty to the one-time Celtic player and he just wishes things had worked out differently.
Buckley said: “I do think Billy was under pressure, yes.
“I remember saying how can it be that Leicester end up taking me on loan and they are in the first division? He said he knew what type of player I was, but that results were more important than performances.
“I remember after one game where I’d played well that we went to Oldham in the cup and we went on the bus and it was a case of ‘it looks like Bremner will stick with the side that finished.’ You start getting ready and it’s funny now, although it was not funny at the time.
“I was virtually ready and he came in and announced the team and I wasn’t even a sub. I didn’t then play in the first team for about two months and I’d think: ‘What is going on?’
“He spoke when I came back from Leicester and said three or four clubs wanted me. I just said: ‘I want to play’. I thought: ‘Why should I stay, I am 24, I don’t want to sit on the bench and play in the reserves.’
“When I went to speak to the other clubs, he was brilliant. I could have gone to Port Vale or Rotherham or back to Motherwell or Donny. But then he said there’s a contract here if I wanted it. But the bottom line was I wanted to be in the team.
“I left to go to Rotherham and Billy said ‘Norman Hunter will look after you.’ But I was only at Rotherham for 10 days and Norman got the sack!”
Despite his brief spell in West Yorkshire, Buckley remains saddened at the situation Leeds currently find themselves in, being as far away from the top-flight as they have been for a good, good while.
Based in Doncaster for many years, Buckley recognises that sections of the town remain a Whites’ stronghold, even now and just hopes Leeds can have their day again.
He added: “It breaks my heart to look at Leeds now, honestly.
“I think they are a club who are just waiting.
“They are a serious club to go all the way again as they will never lose their support.
“In Donny, there was that big battle and John Ryan would say: ‘Why do all these people support Leeds?’
“I would always say to John that if you are Leeds, you are Leeds through and through.
“Although Donny is a good town, it’s not a big footballing town (like Leeds).”