Age was no barrier for Peter Lorimer, as Phil Hay reports.
In 1962, Peter Lorimer was sweeping the terraces at Elland Road when a summons from Don Revie reached him. Nods and winks among Leeds United’s coaching staff implied that his first-team debut had arrived.
Lorimer was 77 days short of his 16th birthday and became United’s youngest-ever player the following afternoon, on September 29. It is one of two club records he expects to hold indefinitely. “I honestly didn’t feel any nerves,” Lorimer said. “My immediate thought was ‘what took you so bloody long?’.”
The young winger was Revie’s answer to a problem with Billy Bremner. While United’s manager prepared for a league game against Southampton, an unhappy Bremner sat in Scotland contemplating his future and the possibility of a permanent return north of the border. Revie valued Lorimer’s attributes and paid no heed to his age. The 15-year-old duly dispensed with his broom and left Elland Road with Syd Owen, Revie’s coach.
“Without being big-headed, I thought Don was right to give me a go,” Lorimer said. “I’d watched the first team many times and nothing I saw made me doubt myself. You might call that over-confidence but I saw it as self-belief. It’s a basic attribute of any good footballer.
“A mark of all the top Leeds players of that era was total belief. Without it you were nothing. Don had faith in me, his coaches had faith in me and my mum and dad had faith in me. Rather than feeling worried, I backed myself to go out there and do the business.
“I was sweeping the stands on a Friday afternoon, which is what the younger lads did in those days, when I was called in to see Don. Syd Owen whisked me off to his house and I stayed there overnight, just to keep me out of the way and out of the reach of the press. A 15-year-old playing for a club like Leeds was a fairly big story, as it would be now.
“But you’d never see it happening today. Kids aren’t allowed to leave school until they reach the age of 16. My record’s never been beaten and I don’t think it ever will be.”
The home fixture in question was not an entirely straightforward occasion. United centre-back Jack Charlton broke his nose after 10 minutes and, in the absence of any substitutes, Lorimer contributed to a 10-man effort which forced a 1-1 draw.
The speed of his debut was remarkable but not at all unusual by the standards of Elland Road. Good enough was old enough in Revie’s book, and Lorimer recalls no special fuss in the hours beforehand.
“It really was a case of ‘you’ll be playing tomorrow so get yourself ready’,” Lorimer said. “Don was in a bit of a pickle because Billy hadn’t come back from Scotland and the situation was a bit of an emergency. It wasn’t like he’d been building me up to a debut for days on end. There wasn’t enough time to get nervous.
“I felt confident and, for obvious reasons, I’ve always taken the view that good players are good players regardless of their age. The cream rises to the top. The crucial thing at that time was to take your chance and make the most of it. That’s why self-belief was so important.
“A good comparison was a lad from Bradford called Barrie Wright. He came to Leeds and was captain of England Schoolboys – if I remember correctly, a player who’d been captain more times than anyone else. He had a big reputation and loads of talent but he was gone from Elland Road after three or four years. It never quite happened for him.
“Whether that was down to bad luck or a lack of confidence, I’m not sure, but time waited for no man under Don. If you got a look-in you either took it with both hands or you went on your way. I’m sure we were all a bit cocky and a bit arrogant but frankly you needed to be.”
James Milner came as close as any player to eclipsing Lorimer’s longest-standing record when he made his Leeds debut in 2002 at the age of 16 years and 309 days. The goalscoring mark established by Lorimer during two separate periods at Elland Road – 238 claimed in 17 years between 1962 and 1985 – also remains untouched by a huge distance. Revie never had cause to repent his decision to blood Lorimer in haste.
“It’s nice to be able to say that you were Leeds United’s youngest player,” Lorimer said. “But I think you take the most satisfaction from what you achieved over the course of your whole career.
“The goals I scored and the 700-odd appearances I made are the things that stand out. They tell me that I was part of something very special at Leeds. Players lived for the football club in those days and I was no different. Our passion and our ambition shone though every minute of every day.”
HOW YOU VOTED:
Peter Lorimer: 57%
Gordon Strachan: 37%
Lee Bowyer: 3%
James Milner: 2%
Mike O’Grady: 1%
Eric Kerfoot: 0%
Davie Cochrane: 0%
Carl Harris: 0%