Peter Lorimer, who has died aged 74 after a long-term illness, was a linchpin of the great Leeds United side that won the English First Division in 1968-69 and 1973-74. Renowned for his ferocious shooting from long distance, he remains the club’s top goalscorer, even though he was not actually a striker.
At outside-right Lorimer had the precise dribbling skills and crossing ability associated with any outstanding winger. But his all-round talent also allowed him to come inside as a playmaker and goal hunter, and, as the possessor of one of the hardest shots ever seen in football, he was an excellent taker of firmly driven penalties. He scored 238 times in 705 games for Leeds, a tally that leaves him more than 80 ahead of the next best in the club’s history, John Charles.
All Lorimer’s medals – for two League Championships, an FA Cup, a League Cup and two Fair Cups – came from 1968 to 1974 under the management of Don Revie, whom he greatly admired. With players such as Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Eddie Gray and Norman Hunter, the hard-nosed but skilful Leeds side of which he was such a prominent member is generally acknowledged – if sometimes grudgingly – as one of the best English teams of all time.
At international level, Lorimer was also part of a well-regarded Scotland side that not only qualified for the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany but made a decent fist of things when they got there. After retiring from the game in 1985 he flirted briefly with football management, but quickly switched to a successful career in hospitality and the media.
Born in Dundee to Janet (nee Duncan), a nurse, and Peter Lorimer, a fisherman, the young Peter was raised with his older brother, Joe, in the fishing village of Broughty Ferry on the edge of the city. So clear was his talent at Stobswell boys’ school that by 12 he was attracting the attention of the biggest clubs in Britain. Second Division Leeds showed a particular interest, and their chief scout, John Quinn, visited the Lorimer household each weekend with a fiver for the father’s drinking fund, 10 shillings for the boy himself, and a dozen eggs to help fill out his skinny frame.
When he scored twice for Scotland schoolboys against England at Ibrox as a 13-year-old, First Division Manchester United turned up with £5,000 as an illicit signing-on fee. But Leeds had done their groundwork diligently, and the youngster opted for the club he knew best. He moved south into lodgings, and at 15 years and 289 days Revie made him Leeds’s youngest ever debutant, against Southampton in 1962.
A cracked bone in his leg kept him out for six months of that first season, but in any case Revie was determined to manage his early appearances carefully. It was not until the 1965-66 campaign, with Leeds now a force in the First Division, that Lorimer became a regular. He played his first game in Europe – in the Fairs Cup (a forerunner of the Uefa Cup) as an 18-year-old – and was the club’s joint top scorer in the league with 13 goals as they finished runners-up to Liverpool.
In 1968 he was in the winning League Cup final team against Arsenal as well as the side that won the Fairs Cup final against Ferencváros of Budapest in the same year – Revie’s first big trophies. He was top scorer in the league with 16 goals in the 1967-68 season, and was an influential figure in his customary No 7 shirt as Leeds went on to win their first League Championship in 1968-69.
A further winners’ medal followed in the Fairs Cup in 1971 with victory against Juventus, and in 1972 he won an FA Cup winners’ medal against Arsenal. One of the most cultured players in an abrasive side, supremely fit and rarely injured, Lorimer regularly appeared in around 50 matches per season in the Leeds glory period. When they won the league title again in 1973-74 he played in 37 of the 42 league games and scored 12 goals – only one less than the centre-forward Allan Clarke.
Lorimer won his first cap for Scotland against Austria in 1969, but ran into trouble when he declared himself unfit for a 1970 summer tour with the national side. It turned out that he was not injured at all, and had instead agreed to play a series of lucrative matches in apartheid South Africa over the same period.
The result was a lifetime ban from representing his country, but when Tommy Docherty became Scotland manager in 1971 the punishment was lifted. Lorimer came back almost immediately and eventually helped Scotland to qualify for the 1974 World Cup finals under Docherty’s successor, Willie Ormond. In the finals he scored with a typically crisp 16-yard volley in the opening 2-0 win against Zaire, which was followed by draws against Brazil and Yugoslavia – a creditable performance but not enough to get Scotland out of the group stages. The last of his 21 international appearances came against Romania in 1975.
By that time Revie had left Elland Road to manage England, and the Leeds team he had assembled was beginning to break up. Under Jimmy Armfield their swansong was to reach the 1975 European Cup final in Paris against Bayern Munich, in which Lorimer thundered home a volley from just inside the penalty box after 62 minutes. But the goal, which would have put Leeds 1-0 up, was disallowed on the basis of a dubious offside decision, and Bayern Munich went on to win 2-0.
Without the firm hand of Revie and with his best years now behind him, Lorimer, by his own admission, took his foot off the pedal. When Jimmy Adamson took over as manager in 1978 he was dropped from the side, and at the end of the season, aged 33, he decided to move to Toronto Blizzards in the North American Soccer League. During the NASL’s close season he kept fit by playing a number of games for York City in the Fourth Division, before joining Vancouver Whitecaps in 1981 as assistant player manager to his former Leeds colleague Johnny Giles.
As financial problems hit the NASL in 1983, Lorimer returned to Leeds, who were by now in the Second Division. Aged 37, he played on a monthly contract and enjoyed his role as an old pro in a young, inexperienced side. Two years later he retired as a player and become manager of Hapoel Haifa in Israel on a six-month deal, turning down an offer of a three-year contract extension in favour of a return to England to run the Trafalgar drinking club in Leeds.
When the owners of the Trafalgar pulled the plug in 1987, Lorimer went into business himself, buying the Commercial Inn on Elland Road, which he maintained as a successful pub for many years. He was also a matchday host and board director at Leeds, a football analyst for BBC Radio Five Live and BBC Radio Leeds, and a columnist for the Yorkshire Evening Post.
He is survived by his second wife, Susan, and by two sons, Simon and Jamie, from his first marriage to Gillian (nee Price), which ended in divorce.
• Peter Patrick Lorimer, footballer, born 14 December 1946; died 20 March 2021