An Interview with Peter Lorimer
by Duncan Thorne (archived interview from 2010)
Leeds’ stunning FA Cup victory over arch-rivals Manchester United in January brought back memories of the glory days Whites fans used to enjoy on a regular basis when the likes of Bremner, Giles and Clarke took on Best, Law and Charlton. So who better to speak to about all things Elland Road than fans’ favourite, United Ambassador and genuine living legend, Peter Lorimer.
Arranging to meet him exemplifies exactly how different modern football is in comparison to Lorimer’s heydays of the sixties and seventies. Instead of going through layers of management, press officers and overly-fussy agents, he is just a call away. He answers the phone at his own pub, not far from Elland Road.
If he had his time again and was playing today his ferocious shooting and the number of goals he used to bang in season after season would have made him one of the most sought-after players in the world, commanding millions of pounds from an array of Europe’s best suitors. And how Scotland could do with someone of his ability now!
We meet in sub-zero temperatures, just over a week after Simon Grayson’s men pulled off their great win at Old Trafford and wrote the latest chapter in the club’s colourful history. Spirited wins at their cross Pennine rivals were par for the course under Don Revie in the 1960s and 70s, of course, with Lorimer’s goals and creative play an instrumental part in the Club’s golden period of success.
“Revie didn’t just run the football team but the whole club”
It’s well documented that Revie created a family-like feel to the club, from the tea lady through to first team captain, Billy Bremner. It’s clear his legacy runs on when Lorimer reflects on his playing days.
“Before the gaffer (Revie) came, Leeds were a yo-yo club. But he came in and took them by the scruff of the neck and totally transformed the club. He takes us from a club that no-one knew to a world name and a brand name that we still have today,” says Lorimer.
“He didn’t just run the football team but the whole club. Even the women who washed the kit had to go to him to ask for a pay rise. He made everyone feel part of it. When you’ve got that spirit, it helps because everyone works extremely hard for success. Really, he was ahead of his time with his ideas. He was one of the first managers to take the team away in advance of our away matches, so we got the best preparation. He even had us on special diets and although they weren’t as technical or advanced as they are now, he was going down those lines where he wanted to know we were getting the right food and plenty of rest.
“It was hard because we’d often be away from home for five days at a time. But we thoroughly enjoyed being together because we were like a family and that’s how Don wanted it. The major thing from the Revie era is how friendly all the players still are. We have a great respect for each other and enjoy each other’s company.
“All of us play golf together whenever we can. When you think it’s 40-years ago now it just shows how special our relationship is. When I speak to other clubs they don’t have that. They have the odd one who’s still a pal with another but as a mass we are still very friendly. We’re like brothers. We never had any prima donnas. We had massive characters but they weren’t allowed to be, really, because of the way the club was run. Alan Clarke came from Leicester with the reputation of being a bit of a loner. But when he came to Leeds he was one of the boys within a week.”
The famous Leeds spirit, which Revie prided himself o,n and galvanised over the years was in stark contrast to the man who took over his job, Old Big ‘Ed, Brian Clough. The recent portrayal of Clough’s tempestuous time in charge at Elland Road in the book and subsequent film, The Damned United serves only to pour more fuel on the fire for many ardent Leeds fans who might feel Revie’s name has been tarnished. But what is Lorimer’s view?
“We were happy it came out because a lot of people blamed us players for getting him the sack. But when they watched the film a load of people came to us and said ‘if he’d have spoken to me the way he spoke to you lads…’ well, the action wouldn’t have been positive. Brian admits in his book he made mistakes at Leeds. I think it was because for the first time he didn’t have Peter Taylor with him. Brian was an explosive sort of a guy buy Peter kept his feet on the ground.
“The way Clough did it was wrong”
“The first thing he did when he left Leeds was to get Peter back with him. So I think he knew it didn’t work and that said a lot. The club asked the old players to a meeting with the guys doing the film. Shaun Harvey, the Chief Executive, said if we weren’t happy with the plans they weren’t prepared to give them access to the ground because they didn’t want to upset us. After talking to them about how it was going to be portrayed we were happy it should go ahead. Because, in our mind, it has laid to rest the part behind Brian leaving after such a short period of time.
“The way he did it was wrong, coming in insulting everyone, insulting Don Revie and insulting the football club. I think it was professional jealousy. We’d always beaten Derby County when we played them. He and Don were both from Middlesbrough, were the same age, I think there was a lot of local and personal rivalry between the two of them. The part in the film about when he was at Leeds was very, very accurate. Although I’m not sure about the burning of Don’s furniture in front of everybody on the training ground – I never saw that. But the way he did things and spoke to us was very accurate.”
Lorimer talks with genuine heart-felt passion of the period and how it upset him.
“Johnny Giles was the one who organised us on the field”
“I was disappointed how quickly the club went down because we still had a lot of quality around the place. Don not only left a championship winning side but also a very healthy bank balance. There was a couple of million pounds in the pot. It was a hell of a lot of money in those days. All the players were absolutely shocked.”
It is clear when Lorimer talks about the Clough episode how much Revie meant to him and the rest of the players. He quickly moves on to discuss Revie’s influence and the more positive side of his career as a central figure in a Leeds team that became a major force in England and Europe. Many have commented on who was the best in Revie’s side that was littered with top class performers. But Lorimer is perhaps best placed to judge who was the most important cog in the well-oiled wheel.
“There were lots of stars. The way Eddie (Gray) would glide round people, Billy Bremner’s passion and spirit and big Jack (Charlton) and Norman (Hunter) at the back. But I would say Johnny Giles. As well as being a fantastic player with two great feet and brilliant passing he was the one who organised us on the field. If things weren’t going right he would change things and move you around a bit. Don gave him the freedom to do it.
“We were just a group of players who were exceptionally good”
“Billy was different. He would do it through sheer endeavour. Rolling his sleeves up and firing into tackles. But he didn’t have the organisational skills Johnny had. So I would say he was the most vital. He was a bit calmer than Billy. But when you are talking about the two of them you really are splitting hairs because they were both great players.
Years spent together playing at the highest level with a team bonded like brothers must also have provided some fun moments too as the man nicknamed Hot Shot for his powerful shooting recalls.
“We had great fun together. But really, we were just a group of players who were exceptionally good. At the time we probably didn’t realise how good a side we were. I remember when we beat Southampton by seven and their manager at the time, Ted Bates, was a good friend of Don’s. When we were five up Don signalled to us to ease off a bit and just keep possession. The problem was we ended up passing it forty odd times to each other and it just highlighted how good we were, probably more than the goals we’d scored. But it got to the stage where the lads were in front of the goal and we had to score!
“We weren’t being cocky or taking the piss. It was just Don told us to ease up and to have that kind of quality. Well you can imagine how pleasurable it was to play in a side like that.”
So what about the current side that has given fans a renewed air of optimism. There is a top of the table campaign so far promising promotion to the Championship and impressive displays in the cup competitions against Liverpool and Sir Alex Ferguson’s men?
“They have been excellent so far right from the start of the season. They have performed well in the cups and it’s pleasing for the fans who have had a few dodgy last few years to say the least,” adds Peter. “I think it fires out the message to everybody that the club’s on its way back. Everything is very positive. The chairman has done a fantastic job and has transformed the club from one that was totally debt-ridden to one that, for the last three years, has shown a trading profit. Which in football is an amazing thing.
“We’ve got a good side and a big squad of players. We’ve come a long, long way and the main priority is to get back to the Premiership as soon as possible. But we don’t want to go down that path again where we are over-playing players and running into problems. Transfers are Simon’s (Grayson) decisions. But we beat both Crystal Palace and Watford quite comfortably and competed well against Liverpool and beat Manchester United. I don’t think it was a fluke. We played well and fully deserved the result. So I don’t think there’s need for major surgery and I think most of the players are capable of playing in the Championship.”
“You can’t be lucky all of the time”
Lorimer has also clearly been very impressed with United boss Simon Grayson, especially the way he’s got Leeds playing some attractive football. he compares him to his old boss and mentor.
“When I first joined the club in the early sixties Don Revie had just taken over and Leeds were in a similar position. Don was a young manager too when he started here and Simon has a lot of similar traits in that he’s own man, makes his own decisions, stands by them, has a lot of respect from the players and is a cool head.
“He doesn’t say reckless things. Usually when he makes a statement it’s very beneficial to what he’s trying to achieve. So far this season, whenever he’s made a decision when things aren’t going right on the field, they’ve been successful. Sometimes you could say there’s a bit of luck to it. But you can’t be lucky all of the time. So it makes me think he knows exactly what he’s doing and looking for. That’s something not many managers show, especially at his age. He’s the one person we don’t want leaving the club.”
The victory at Manchester United is the perfect start to the new decade. It gives the United faithful a taster of what could be in store if Leeds can get back to the Premiership.
“The reaction I got from people at Old Trafford and in general is that we are missed in the Premiership. I think the Premiership needs Leeds. With no disrespect to some of the clubs in the Premiership, they are capable of getting 20,000 people watching but we are capable of getting 40 to 50,000 fans. The Premiership needs the big clubs with the big support. It’s great credit to the fans who have been so loyal and they deserve us to be in the top flight.”
Pictures: Steve Stenson
Editor’s Update: On 20th March 2021, Leeds United announced that Peter Lorimer had died following a long illness