Peter Lorimer: 'Leeds are going back to where they belong'

A hero during the glory days at Elland Road, Peter Lorimer believes the club are on the way up. Tomorrow's Old Trafford Cup tie is a key staging post, he tells James Lawton

History may not have been kind to Leeds United, taking the club to within a day or two of oblivion and heaping upon it a fictional parody of one its first great convulsions, but it does have the funny habit of sometimes repeating itself.

Such, anyway, is the stirring of hope within Peter Lorimer, the fabled Thunderfoot of the great team of the Sixties and Seventies who now operates mostly in the back corridors of an Elland Road he believes is increasingly displaying those vital signs that came so close to being expunged.

Tomorrow he will be at Old Trafford for the third round FA Cup tie which he sees, whatever the United team Sir Alex Ferguson selects, as potentially a milestone of recovery which could well become huge.

Impossible, perhaps, for it to rival the epic semi-final collisions of 1965 and 1970, both decided by the street smart football of the late Billy Bremner, but here surely for Leeds is the first major re-enactment of a time when they and United were rarely less than first among mighty equals. "The hatred of the fans came later, I guess with a changing world,'' says Lorimer, ''but back then you felt you were at the centre of the football world.

"We have been out of it for too long, but yes, I do feel we can find our way back sooner or later. One thing I don't mind saying, without piling too much pressure on the lad, there is something about the current manager Simon Grayson that reminds me a lot of the young Don Revie.

"Hell, I know it's a lot to say, but he stands on his own two feet and makes his decisions and lives with them. That was the same with Revie. He knew what he wanted and no-one could budge him. There is no way, certainly, that I can see us going to Old Trafford with less than our best possible team performing at our very limits. This is more than a big cup-tie, which probably doesn't mean so much to most fans these days. But this is something quite different for us. It is Leeds going back to where we belong. Leeds is a big club with a big history and I think that we really do have a future now."

They certainly have a past, tomorrow's tie reminds us, which doesn't begin to be accurately defined by a haul of trophies which Ferguson could fit easily into a spare cupboard: two league titles under Revie, one FA Cup, one League and two Fairs Cups. Shortly before he died Revie opened his heart to his former field general, John Giles. He said that his greatest regret was to realise too late quite what a team he had, what quality was spread into every corner, and he sighed and said: "I know I should have let you lads off the leash years before I did."

One measure of the power and the depth of the team Revie built is the two victories they achieved over the United of Law, Charlton, Best, Crerand, Stiles, in those semi-final games. Both triumphs were the result of extraordinary effort and individual brilliance.

Lorimer was a boy at Elland Road when United were beaten in the 1965 replay at Nottingham Forest's City Ground. Bremner headed in from a Giles free kick that had the impact of a rifle shot. "The team was just growing together then, but already there was such quality, with Giles and Billy running the midfield, a master tactician and a firecracker just taking over games."

By 1970, Lorimer's ferocious shooting from wide positions was an integral strength of a team of dazzling balance. Yes, there were betrayals of great ambition, cynicism and gamesmanship which Revie carried to a fault, once filling a envelope with newspaper cuttings describing the disciplinary record of Bristol City, Cup opponents, and leaving it on the table of the referee's room.

But then it was, it is sometimes forgotten, not exactly a time of angels. Stiles was ruthless in the tackle, and Sir Bobby Charlton once remarked that a training collision with his team-mate Bill Foulkes left you hurting for a week, and if Leeds could match anyone in the business of merciless tackling with the likes of Giles, Norman Hunter and Allan Clarke, it was also true that Chelsea, the team lauded on the King's Road and Fleet Street for the style of their football, could match anyone in the assassination stakes.

Indeed, when Giles came to perform his own mea culpa for the days of "ultra professionalism", he remembered that a catalyst had been an injury sustained in a late tackle by Chelsea's Scottish defender Eddie McCreadie. Giles wondered for some time if his career was over after sustaining an Achilles tendon injury.

It was in 1970 that the story of Leeds first began to brush against sports tragedy. They played five semi-finals, three in the FA Cup against United, two in the European Cup against Celtic, in 10 days. After beating United in the second replay at Bolton, they lost to Chelsea in another replay, at Old Trafford, after dominating the first final at Wembley. Celtic were fresher, and still brilliant, and went through in the European Cup, and Leeds also failed in the league – finishing second but nine points adrift of Everton and their superb midfield axis of Alan Ball, Howard Kendall and Colin Harvey.

Yet in that spring you saw the resilience and the fierce competitive spirit that had been absorbed by a club who five years later lost their only European Cup final, with terrible injustice many would always believe, against Bayern Munich in Paris.

In the second FA Cup semi-final replay, at Villa Park, George Best had committed one of his increasing number of pratfalls, being caught in bed with a girl in the team hotel on the afternoon before the game. Leeds were merciless in their goading of Best, asking him repeatedly, "What kind of professional are you?"

United faltered under such examination and Stiles recalls: "George was a great lad but this was one he hadn't thought through. Leeds knew that in any circumstances George could be devastating, so they played every card available to them. It might not have been nice but it was the way it was in the professional game, and, I suppose, always will be."

After finally winning the FA Cup in 1972, a year later Leeds again felt the coldest breath of disappointment, losing to Second Division Sunderland in the final – largely because of a near miraculous goalkeeping performance by Jim Montgomery – and then losing the European Cup Winners Cup final to Milan soon afterwards in a match marred by controversial refereeing.

Joe Jordan, who some years later would leave for Manchester United, recalls that there were tears in the eyes of the manager when he spoke to his team at the post-game banquet. "You have played so hard, and shown so much character, I know how you will respond next season. You will win the title."

Leeds did that with a burst of 29 unbeaten games in a superb restatement of their extraordinary standing in the game, win or lose the ultimate prizes. Jordan, now coach of an impressively emerging Tottenham team, says that quite a lot of his heart will return to Old Trafford tomorrow.

"It was a great privilege to play for both clubs and with it being a Cup tie I suppose there is a real sense of turning back the years. Of course you can't do that but what you can say is that for Leeds the game must have huge significance. It is a reminder of what they lost when they slipped out of the top division – and what they are fighting so hard to regain."

It is, perhaps more than anything, a kind of homecoming. Few clubs, surely, have ever had such a desire not to look out of place.

When two tribes go to war: Previous cross-Pennine encounters

*27 January 1951 (fourth round): Man Utd 4 Leeds 0

A hat-trick from Stan Pearson, the first treble in a Roses fixture, and a Jack Rowly strike eased United through at Old Trafford. Matt Busby's side went on to beat Arsenal before losing to Birmingham at the sixth-round stage.

*27, 31 March 1965 (semi-final): Man Utd 0 Leeds 0; Leeds 1 Man Utd 0

A goalless 120 minutes in front of 65,000 at Hillsborough was enlivened by Jack Charlton and Denis Law punching and wrestling one another to the ground – "both sides behaved like a pack of dogs snapping and snarling at each other over a bone" reported the Yorkshire Post. The teams reconvened at the City Ground four days later, with Billy Bremner scoring a minute from time to put Leeds into the final. United took the league title on goal difference from Leeds, who also lost the final, their first, 2-1 to Liverpool.

*14, 23, 26 March 1970 (semi-final): Man Utd 0 Leeds 0; Leeds 0 Man Utd 0; Man United 0 Leeds 1

Billy Bremner was again the bane of the Red Devils as Don Revie's Leeds reached a second final in six seasons. The original game again took place at Hillsborough and again saw not a lot of action, before a further stalemate at Villa Park a week later. Burnden Park hosted the third meeting, as attendances totalled over 170,000. Leeds again lost in the final, in another replay – 2-1 to Chelsea after a 2-2 draw in the original tie.

*23 April 1977 (semi-final): Man Utd 2 Leeds 1

Played at Hillsborough, the teams met at the semi-final stage for a third time in 13 seasons with Manchester United fans vastly outnumbering their Leeds counterparts. Steve Coppell and Jimmy Greenhoff gave United a 2-0 lead before Allan Clarke's goal for Jimmy Armfield's side. Tommy Docherty's men overcame Liverpool 2-1 in the final.

*15 January 1992 (third round): Leeds 0 Man Utd 1

Welsh midfielder Mark Hughes scored the only goal of the game to take the visitors through at Elland Road. Alex Ferguson's side ended up losing the title to Howard Wilkinson's Leeds by four points.

*19 February 1995 (fifth round): Man Utd 3 Leeds 1

Steve Bruce, Brian McClair and Hughes struck for the home side, with Ghanaian Tony Yeboah scoring a consolation for the visitors. United lost to Everton in the final, and lost out on the title to Blackburn. Leeds scrambled into the last Uefa Cup slot, finishing a point above Newcastle.

James Mariner

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