It’s difficult to look at old footage of Gordon McQueen’s Wembley header against England and not wince
Both our heroes are ailing. Lorimer, it was confirmed on Friday, is in a hospice fighting long-term illness. McQueen, we learned two days before that, has been diagnosed with dementia.
What did you feel when you heard McQueen’s brother Iain question the validity of the greatest header of them all? “Gordon scored about 40 goals in his career and the bulk of them were headers,” he said. “But when you think of the Wembley game now you say to yourself: ‘Was it worth it?’”
The Twin Towers, 1977, and Asa Hartford fires over a free-kick from out wide that only one player was ever going to reach. If Scotland’s tower hadn’t been on the park that day the ball would have sailed out of play on the far side and we’d have thought: “Ach, what a waste.” But Hartford knew what he was doing, knew that if McQueen could achieve vertical take-off in the England box, a goal would most likely result.
But, being aware of how often he headed the ball and how hard - not quite as hard as Lorimer’s siege-gun strikes, admittedly - is our gratitude for a famous victory now tinged with guilt? We did not know about the risks of dementia in ’77, no one did. It is very difficult today, however, to look back at the old footage and not wince when, from somewhere underneath that big, blond mane, McQueen makes such a perfect, brutal connection - or indeed to wish that the ball had never reached him.
It is even more difficult if you’ve met the man - to have been welcomed into his home in Hutton Rudby, North Yorks at breakfast-time despite him only having had three hours’ kip following a Spanish holiday - and been able to revel in the tall tales of a true patriot.
In the blown-up photograph of the header on his study wall he’s hovering three foot above Ray Kennedy, the nearest Englishman. “That’s actually me on the way back down,” he laughed. “And I don’t know how Ray Clemence had the cheek to dive for the ball. It was bouncing back off the net and out of his goal before he’d even moved!”
It was no less of a thrill meeting Lorimer even though he greeted me at the door of his Leeds pub in slippers, but then probably he could have played in baffies with little or no reduction in the ferocity of his shooting. The ferocity, he told me, was in marked contrast to his general laidbackness: “On match-days I’d take myself off to the lounge to watch the racing then at ten to three Don [Revie, Leeds’ manager] would send along one of the groundstaff: ‘Tell Peter we’re ready to go.’”
“The best in the world,” Tommy Docherty once called him and Brian Clough more or less seconded that. The hardest and the highest - two Scotland greats.
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