THE goal you deem the greatest-ever at the age of 14 doesn’t leave you very easily, which explains why I’m standing in a pot-holed road in a bedraggled corner of Leeds.
Behind me is a factory which has had every one of its windows well and truly tanned. In front is the pub, the Commercial Inn, which perversely flies the Norwegian flag, although Peter Lorimer will offer up no such confusion, speaking broad Yorkshire throughout our chat and only switching to pure Dundonian for the last half-hour.
He’s mine host at the pub and the scorer of that goal. Possibly because he saw my taxi arrive – maybe something of a rarity round here – he’s already standing at the door and filling the frame, a bit stockier than when he was the No 7 in the all-white livery whose trademark celebration was the overhead handclap. He’s wearing comfy slippers, which is a bit disappointing for your correspondent, who, though no longer 14, was still hoping to glimpse football boots designed in a rocket factory, the only pair of their kind, a gift hand-delivered by Herr Adidas himself, renewed every year in perpetuity.
The wonder goal came in 1971. “Lash” Lorimer’s Leeds United and Manchester City were battling for the old First Division title. City were modelling their away strip of AC Milan red-and-black stripes but could do nothing to stop our man’s outrageous, thunderous 30-yard volley. Latching onto a Billy Bremner through ball, he first knocked it 30 feet into the air, and you swear you could see the comic-book vapor trail as it whooshed into the top right-hand corner of the net. Party piece? Scientific experiment? It astonished everyone watching, including David Coleman. “Jones in support ... ” he’d said, referring to Mick Jones – possibly the three most superfluous words ever uttered in commentary. The goal was quickly inserted in the Match of the Day titles so English viewers could re-live it every week. Denied this pleasure, Scots were left to regret that the player had been spirited over the border at 15.
Maybe I’ll get the story of that goal later for Lorimer wants to tell me the story of his pub. “It goes way back to the horse-and-carriage days on the route between England and Scotland. In a room up the back, the Aslef rail union was founded a century ago. When I took the place over at the age of 42, two years after I quit playing, the factory was Kay’s Catalogues employing 3,000 people and every pay-day I’d be blown off my feet by the sheer force of humanity trying to buy drink.”
He apologises for the sad state of the neighbourhood. “Look at that billboard – ‘The Village is taking shape’. Maybe that’d be true if Beirut was the model. A few years ago the factory was going to be turned into 1,000 flats but then the recession happened.” Lorimer, now 66, is therefore able to talk pretty much undisturbed by bar duties. “That’s Dick over there, nursing his hangover. Fred’ll be in soon and he’ll want to watch Loose Women and I mustn’t forget to heat up the sausages for Susan’s dad’s sandwich. We’re quiet in here now.”
Quiet, but he’s in good fettle. He gets up to Tayside often, most recently for the Dundee Scottish Cup derby. “Sadly I lost my mum and brother recently and I dread a phonecall from Broughty Ferry because it might be another old schoolpal who’s gone. But there are still a few of us left and I’ve often thought I might end up back at the Ferry permanently because I’ve missed the sea air and the special light on the water from the day I left.” He also loves landlocked Leeds, though, and it’s been his home for half a century.
“Me and Eddie [Gray] can’t wait for the weather to get better because we normally play golf three times a week. We’re always the first two on his course at 6.30am. His wife Linda and Susan – my second; we’ve been together 25 years – wonder what we’d do without our golf. It’s always a battle and we always play to win.” You wouldn’t expect anything less from two players schooled in winning as an absolute by Don Revie at hard, hard Leeds United. Others in that great but controversial team did the heavy-lifting (Jackie Charlton and the Pauls, Reaney and Madeley) or earned the comedy bad-guy nicknames (Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter) or tackled ferociously in inverse proportion to their size (Bremner, Johnny Giles), but the Scots on the wings had to sign up to the charter. “Five-a-sides at training, you had to win,” says Lorimer. “You had to win at everything. Even now, I play dominoes to win, I play pool to win, and people who don’t have that attitude annoy me.” After the Revie era was over the hard, hard men of Leeds would, if required, sack each other. Bremner did it to Lorimer, finishing the latter’s second spell as a player, then Lorimer, when he helped save the club and became a director, had to do it to Gray the interim manager. “At football dinners Eddie always jokes about that,” his friend smiles.
The pair had similar trajectories and you can see how they ended up great pals. In Glasgow’s Castlemilk 35 senior clubs pursued Gray. In Broughty Ferry after Lorimer scored twice in a Scotland-England schoolboys international – “Eddie was at that game and is kind enough to mention one of them, a shot from far out, when we meet young fans who just think of us as these old geezers” – the tailback of big cars in his parents’ street stretched to 30. In both cases, the Old Firm weren’t proactive enough. “Their view was: kids should be thrilled to sign for Celtic or Rangers.” A Manchester United briefcase containing £5,000 was left behind in Broughty Ferry but Lorimer’s mum and dad returned it, going instead with the first club to show interest in the laddie with dynamite in his boots. For the £2,000 Leeds gave his folks, the club got a footballer who would be good for 703 games and 238 goals, who Tommy Docherty at one point rated the world’s greatest – who even Brian Clough, when he wasn’t slagging him off, conceded was “as good a footballer as I’ve seen”.
The wingmen did stand apart. Gray was never booked; Lorimer occasionally found Elland Road too mad-eyed in its intensity. “I didn’t like the dressing room before games. Some guys would turn psycho, others would be physically sick and the goalie Gary Sprake got himself in a terrible state – his eyes actually started blinking on the Tuesday. Then there was Don with all his superstitions: lucky mohair suit with the arse falling out of the trousers, twice round his lucky lamp-post, a final comb of the hair in the mirror. I’d take myself off to the players’ lounge to watch the racing then at ten to three Don would send along one of the groundstaff: ‘Tell Peter we’re ready to go.’” Once out on the pitch, Lorimer wanted to win like the rest, although his diffidence was noted. “There was a doubt in the rest of the team as to whether I was fully committed – I definitely detected that in Billy [Bremner]. On a tour of supporters’ clubs in Ireland last year Johnny [Giles] said to me: ‘We thought you didn’t give a f***.’ But he admitted: ‘It got too crazy, didn’t it? You probably had the right attitude. The rest of us took things too seriously.’”
Scotland duty was a bit different. “Don never let you out of his sight, checking with the landladies what time you got to bed as apprentices, posting spies in the pubs, locking us in a hotel for three nights even for domestic matches. With Scotland, though, the management couldn’t keep a hold of the players, who were very difficult. Bobby Brown was weak and Willie Ormond – a lovely guy – would sometimes end up drinking with the team.” Lorimer recalls Alan Gilzean running across the table-tops to interrupt a speech by the SFA secretary Willie Allan, nicknamed “Pickwick” for being such an enthusiastic book-keeper – but this was a mere warm-up for the malarkey of the 1974 World Cup preparations: Jimmy Johnstone’s boating expedition, an over-merry flight from Brussels to Oslo, Jinky and Bremner threatening a walk-out. Meanwhile, up ahead in the old West Germany, anti-terrorist helicopters buzzed the skies.
Lorimer is a quiz question: who’s the only Scot to represent his country at all levels – schoolboy, youth, amateur, under-23, full? But a life ban, later lifted at the insistence of Tommy Docherty, restricted him to 21 caps. “In the summer of 1969, me and Johnny [Giles] and Franny Lee went on a playing/coaching holiday to South Africa, not thinking this would clash with a Scotland tour because I’d only had 20 minutes as a sub, but then I got called up. Don covered for me and said I was injured. I didn’t feel I could break the South African contract and didn’t think, despite apartheid, that I was doing anything wrong – but probably I was naive. I was made to feel like a traitor and my parents were very upset.”
Certainly Lorimer played his part in the heroic failure of ’74, on and off the pitch. He talked Bremner down from the trees, a semi-official duty. “Billy was a strange guy, very Jekyll & Hyde, reasonably well behaved in Leeds but often quite wild in Scotland and Don entrusted me with getting him up and back in one piece. I remember once he borrowed my car, got pissed in Stirling and forgot to swing by Glasgow to collect me. ‘Sorry, Lash,’ he said in his phonecall, ‘I’m at Scotch Corner already, still trying to sober up.’” Then, with the captain restored for the group games, Lorimer scored with a casually-struck howitzer against Zaire and contributed boomer after boomer in the 0-0 annihilation of Brazil. The current Scotland play Serbia on Tuesday; 39 years ago in Frankfurt it was all of the former Yugoslavia in a showdown for the quarter-finals.
He says: “I’m biased but I think we were the best Scotland team to play a World Cup. It was unfortunate we got Zaire first when they were full of running and not disheartened. We weren’t scared of Brazil and should have beaten them. The Yugoslavia game was so frustrating as we really pummelled their goal, too. They scored late in a breakaway but they still couldn’t beat us [Joe Jordan equalising]. They were good but we were better.” Between Brazil and Yugoslavia, some of the players indulged in downtime definitely not from the Revie manual in the company of an over-friendly German visitor to their hotel, name of Helga.
“Ah, yes,” says a sheepish Lorimer when I mention it. “There were forays and funny incidents. There was a lack of discipline but that was how football was back then. It was a tremendous pleasure to have been part of that team and that tournament. We could have won the World Cup, you know. Maybe if West Germany had turned up at our training they’d have thought: ‘Who are these idiots?’ But they’d already started to worry about us and so had Holland.”
I’d been keen to interview Lorimer ever since Eddie Gray told me how he used to warm up for charity kickabouts in his later years: “The purest striker of a ball I’ve ever seen, he’d just blooter it into an empty net. None of your stretching nonsense for Peter.” How could anyone with such great gifts be so nonchalant? That’s Lorimer, though. “You probably appreciate by now that I was a bit more relaxed about my football than others. Playing was something I loved but if I lost I didn’t take it out on the family. I’m still like that now: nothing bothers me.”
Lorimer has much to thank Revie for and this he does but when he talks about that “overpowering” reign, you sense he might have been better suited to life under Brian Clough who, as Frank Gray confirmed, would break off from training to lead his players on a meadow walk to a nice pub. “Maybe,” he says. “I don’t think [the David Peace book] The Damned United was very fair to Brian. Some of the guys were unhappy they were portrayed as having got him the sack from Leeds but, really, we did.”
Underplaying to the last, he says super-shooting came naturally to him. Yes, he can just about remember the goal against Man City, how he lifted it over Willie Donnachie, but he never practised. There was a competition, newspaper-sponsored, for the hardest-hit shot and Bobby Charlton, Franny Lee, David Herd and others trooped along to a munitions factory in the Midlands to be tested by a machine for measuring the velocity of bullets. Lorimer won. “Aye well,” he says, “it’s quite irritating to me, having apparently been able to hit a football 300 yards, that I can’t do this to a golf ball.”
Never mind, I say, and get him to autograph the programme for an epic Uefa Cup tie in 1973 when Leeds eventually overcame my team Hibs on penalties. Great game – shame about the result. “Ah,” he says, “there’s a story to that one. Leeds always over-committed, didn’t win as many competitions as they should, so Don decided to let that one go and sent up Billy and me and some reserves. Us two had a bet on Hibs winning, but the young Scots lad in goal, John Shaw, who wasn’t in on it, saved everything. And I’m afraid your lot still couldn’t beat us.”
Aged 14, Peter Lorimer was a hero of mine and I’m really glad to have met him (I think).