Alan Peacock was a prolific striker before he signed for Leeds United where injuries wrecked his career.
But he tells Leon Wobschall he still has fond memories of the club.
MENTION the name of Alan Peacock to seasoned Leeds United supporters of a certain age and chances are they will utter just one solitary word. Unlucky.
The affable Teessider, whose career was savaged by several crippling knee injuries, had cause to curse missing out on perhaps the biggest prize of all – leading the line for England’s World Cup winning line-up of 1966 – while Wembley also provided the bitterest memory of his club career in the all-white jersey of United in the FA Cup final of the previous year.
While Peacock was plagued with ill-fortune following his move from hometown club Middlesbrough to Leeds for a club record £55,000 in February 1964, the lanky centre-forward – whose prodigious aerial ability was rated alongside that of John Charles, Nat Lofthouse and Tommy Taylor – still recalls his time in the West Riding with genuine fondness.
This despite everything he went through, which was enough to make most footballers weep.
Some highs did arrive, such as scoring on his Whites debut at Norwich City, netting on his return to Ayresome Park with Leeds and firing doubles in the spring victories at Swansea and Charlton Athletic, which clinched promotion and the Division Two championship respectively at the end of the 1963-64 campaign.
But a serious injury to his right knee during United’s tour of the former East Germany that summer ultimately proved the beginning of the end for Peacock, who had to wait until February 1965 to feature in the top-flight with United, with his losing final medal after the 2-1 loss to Liverpool that May putting the tin lid on a dispiriting season.
Tantalisingly, a return of nine goals in 16 games at the start of the 1965-66 campaign – accompanied by an international recall and his third goal in six games for his country – hinted at a lasting renaissance.
Yet it proved a cruel delusion with more ligament damage to his right knee in the second half of the season torpedoing his World Cup dreams – Geoff Hurst famously going onto spearhead England’s successful tilt at glory – and all but finish his United career.
Despite his hugely frustrating spell at Leeds, Peacock – who eventually joined Plymouth Argyle for a brief stint in October 1967 before retiring at the age of 30 after fighting a losing battle with injury – proved massively popular with staff and team-mates alike after quickly embracing the family ethos at Elland Road and has no regrets at making the move.
Although a liberal sprinkling of luck would have been welcome.
On his time at Leeds, where he scored 27 goals in 54 appearances, Peacock, now 73, said: “What I remember more than anything else are all the injuries!
“I got injured on a pre-season tour in Berlin and never really recovered. By the time I’d got back to Leeds, the blood had congealed and they couldn’t really operate. And from there on, it was one long battle all the way.
“I got back, but wasn’t really near the fitness I should have been.
“At the back of my mind as well, was the fact that if I’d not been injured, I’d have possibly been playing for England, with a World Cup coming on. But I was never the same after the injury.
“I remember the FA Cup final, obviously. I was never fit to play. There were a couple of us who weren’t really fit and I certainly wasn’t. If we’d had a squad team like today, I don’t think I’d have played. The day was just a big disappointment and we’d also get pipped for the (First Division) championship as well.”
“But I have to say they were a great set of lads at Leeds. I remember playing against Big Jack and Norman (Hunter) at Middlesbrough and used to think: ‘I’d rather play with them than against them!’. Bobby Collins was also there and he was the architect of everything at the start, then Billy and John Giles came through. Tremendous players and their vision was phenomenal, with the strength of the lads at the back and the young lads like Peter Lorimer and Eddie Gray coming through.
Don set it up right and you have got to give them the accolades they deserved.
“The atmosphere was great, you did your job and there were no arguments or nothing.
“It was a different kettle of fish (to Middlesbrough). I was brought up at Middlesbrough through the youth team, but I’d never had the involvement with the backroom staff that they had at Leeds.
When you look at successful teams, they are the ones who look after the backroom staff and all the people there. That was a big plus, all the good teams have it, the likes of Liverpool under Bill Shankly were brought up with the family atmosphere.
“Don said it was like a family atmosphere and it certainly was, right down to the girls in the laundry room.
“I still keep in touch with Big Jack and Norman comes down for the golf day I have in the north-east and I occasionally see Peter.”
On his decision to plump for Leeds and Revie and rebuff the advances of several other managers who also went onto become bona fide legends, he added: “I went to Leeds because of Don – I didn’t go for the money.
“With knowing Don so well – I used to play with him on golf days – once I decided to move, I knew where I was going.
“(Bill) Shankly was after me at Liverpool as was (Bill) Nicholson from Tottenham. Spurs were doing well at the time, but I didn’t want to go down there because I didn’t like London, although Greavsie (Jimmy Greaves) was a big pal of mine. Harry Catterick was also looking for us at Everton.
“Along with Don, all those four managers are legends.
“But with Don coming in and me knowing him so well and him being from Middlesbrough, I came to Leeds.
Obviously, Leeds wasn’t so far from Middlesbrough, although they were in the second division, while I also had a little girl who was terminally ill at the time and I didn’t want to move too far away.
“But I really liked Don’s ideas and he more or less sold it to me.
“He had ideas I’d never come across.
“When I was at the Boro, you just went out and played!
“At Leeds, Don said: ‘I want you to do this and that.’ I remember once playing against Torino when I was played out of position and went to mark their sweeper. I’d think: ‘What’s this for?’ But then I realised, once the ball was played up to me, it was one-against-one or I’d take someone else out of his position. He was certainly ahead of his time.”
After ending his football career, Peacock ran a newsagents for many years back in his native Middlesbrough with the prolific ex-Boro striker, an idol in his goal-laden days at Ayresome Park, made an honorary life member by then-boss Bryan Robson in the 1990s alongside fellow club legends Wilf Mannion, Harold Shepherdson and George Hardwick.
Peacock worked as a match-day host at the Riverside and went onto found the Middlesbrough Players Association and is still held in massive esteem by Boro supporters across Teesside.
Testimony to his likeability in the game was that the greatest of footballing enemies and both sons of Middlesbrough – Revie and Brian Clough – both thought the world of him, with Peacock forging a formidably destructive goal-scoring double act with the latter.
The pair smashed a colossal 262 goals between them in their ravenous years together at Boro in the late 50s and early 60s with the respect between them still obvious many years later.
Peacock, whose exploits at Boro earned him a England call-up and debut in the World Cup in Chile in 1962, said: “I was playing part-time and only ever met Cloughie on a Saturday.
I actually worked in the steelworks until I was 21 and then went into the army and didn’t sign professional until I was 23.
“Everyone used to say: ‘He’s this and he’s that’, but I got on quite well with him.
He was always ok with me and when I took over the hosting at Middlesbrough, Cloughie was my first guest. They said: ‘Oh, he won’t come!’ But I said he’d come for me and he did.”
A legacy of Peacock’s much-chronicled knee problems in his playing days is still apparent now – he is booked to see a specialist next month, although he ‘still manages to get about a bit.’
The appointment is close to the meeting of the two clubs closest to his heart, Boro and Leeds who lock horns at Elland Road on August 13 with Peacock hoping to win that particular fitness race to attend, all being well.
Peacock, who has been invited to a tribute dinner for former boss Revie in United’s banqueting suite in October, said: “I hope to make that one, although I’m in a funny situation with my knee and I’ve a lot on – although I’d like to go.”