Peter Lorimer: a Leeds legend who had dynamite in his boots | Leeds United

Peter Lorimer invariably struck the ball so hard it seemed almost surprising his shots did not leave vapour trails as they flew, inexorably, towards the back of numerous nets.

During his Leeds prime the attacking midfielder, who has died aged 74, joined celebrated goalscoring counterparts of the era, most notably Bobby Charlton and Francis Lee, on a newspaper-sponsored visit to a Midlands munitions factory. The idea was to prove, conclusively, that Lorimer could hit a football harder than anyone else and the elite group duly had a series of shots tested by a machine more commonly used to measure the velocity of bullets.

Sure enough Leeds’ record goalscorer – Lorimer registered 238 in 705 appearances during two spells with the club – won comfortably. As Eddie Gray, his teammate and, until relatively recently, frequent golf companion, said: “Peter was the purest striker of a ball I’d ever seen.”

Such intensity was not mirrored off the pitch. At Elland Road, Lorimer was noted for slipping out of the home dressing room on match days to watch televised horse racing in the players’ lounge. Ten minutes before kick-off a steward would tell him to return for Don Revie’s team talk.

“I was a bit more relaxed than the others,” Lorimer said. “Playing football was something I loved but, if I lost, I didn’t take it out on the family. I’m still like that; nothing bothers me.”

That rare ability to insulate himself from pressure perhaps explain how Lorimer made his Leeds debut at the age of 15 in 1962, becoming the club’s youngest player. It would help him collect, among other trophies, two league titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup as Revie’s side became one of English’s football’s pre-eminent forces.

Peter Lorimer (third right) celebrates with his Leeds teammates after winning the FA Cup in 1972.
Peter Lorimer (third right) celebrates with his Leeds teammates after winning the FA Cup in 1972. Photograph: PA Images

Had it not been for his parents’ lack of avarice the 15-year-old Lorimer might well have joined a rather more established powerhouse. Word had spread that a youngster known, variously, as “Thunderboots”, “Hot Shot” and “Lash” had dynamite in his feet and scouts jostled for his services.

One day, a briefcase embossed with Manchester United’s club crest and containing £5,000 in used bank notes was left at the Lorimer family home. It was most definitely not the sort of thing which usually happened in Broughty Ferry, a suburb of Dundee on the north bank of the Firth of Tay.

In 1962, £5,000 represented a lot of money but competition for a player who would, in adulthood, unleash 90mph-plus shots and once dispatched a 107mph penalty proved intense.

“About 30 clubs wanted me,” Lorimer said. “But my parents had seen something in Don Revie that convinced them he was the manager for me.”

The Leeds manager’s decision to visit Broughty Ferry left such an impression that the briefcase was discreetly returned to Manchester United with a polite note declining the offer. “My parents deserved a lot of credit,” said Lorimer. “Manchester United were the power team at the time but they saw Revie had a plan and was trying to build something.”

At first glance, the international career Lorimer constructed appears unfeasibly slender for one so talented. He collected 21 Scotland caps, a tally affected by a ban from playing for his country imposed in 1971 when he skipped an international tour and spent the summer playing for Cape Town City in apartheid-era South Africa. “Probably I was naive,” he said. “But I was made to feel like a traitor; my parents were very upset.”

Lorimer was reprieved in time for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, playing in all three Scotland’s games and scoring a stunning, high-velocity volley in the 2-0 win against Zaire.

In 1979, he swapped Yorkshire for Canada and stints with Toronto Blizzard and Vancouver Whitecaps before returning to Leeds, back in England’s second tier, four years later for a final, three-year stay before a brief swan song at Israel’s Hapoel Haifa.

When he was 40, Lorimer hung up his boots but Leeds remained an integral part of his life. He combined running The Commerical, a pub in Holbeck, close to Elland Road, with local radio punditry and serving as the fans’ representative on the Leeds board.

After Lorimer retited from playing he ran a pub in Holbeck, not far from Elland Road.
After Lorimer retited from playing he ran a pub in Holbeck, not far from Elland Road. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

First-time visitors to The Commercial frequently struggled to square the extraordinarily down-to-earth figure serving behind the bar with his past as a leading artist among a Revie team not lacking enforcers.

Lorimer, though, was always comfortable in his own skin and in later life his main gripe seemed to be an inability to manipulate a golf ball with the same ease he once manoeuvred a football.

His was an extreme talent manifested by many outrageous goals but one, scored against Manchester City in October 1971, seems especially emblematic of his game. Meeting Billy Bremner’s chipped pass, he confounded two markers by flicking the ball high in the air before hammering a 25-yard volley beyond a helpless Joe Corrigan.

Elland Road contains a vast treasure trove of memories but recollections of Peter Lorimer will continue to feature particularly large.

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