“WHEN is it polite to pretend to be a racist in order not to offend your hosts?” That was the question Matthew Parris asked halfway through a tribute to the late Billy Bremner on Radio 4’s Great Lives on Tuesday.

The Leeds United captain had been nominated by Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London. Given that Menon grew up an Asian football fan in the 1970s when racism was rife in and out of the game, it was something he was inevitably confronted with.

In 1979 he was taken by a friend’s parents to see Leeds play Nottingham Forest during which Viv Anderson was greeted by a chorus of monkey chants from Leeds fans. Menon, to answer Parris’s question, didn’t join in (though he did wonder if he was being rude).

A brisk half hour covered the story of how Bremner, a son of Stirling, captained the Leeds team during its glory years when United were a mixture of brilliance and brutality (with Bremner holding his own when it came to the latter).

But the more interesting story was how sport and identity mix for someone like Menon who had to walk past people selling the National Front newspaper if he ever ventured to Elland Road.

“Being a Leeds fan and being south Asian presented you with certain dilemmas back then,” he admitted.

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Bremner emerged as something of an anti-racist himself. He signed black players to the club when he became manager and supported the campaign group Leeds Fans against Fascism and Racism.

And when South African player Albert Johanneson, the first black player to play in the FA Cup final, joined Leeds, it was Bremner who went out of his way to support him on and off the field.

He would even seek out players on the pitch who had called his team mate names and retaliate. “I confess I have over the years delivered physical hurt and retribution to many of those who so damaged Albert.”