Denis Law, footballer
Denis Law, known as 'the King' to his fans at Manchester United, is Scotland's joint leading all-time scorer and was one of the football's stars of the 1960s.
The son of a fisherman from Aberdeen,
Law grew up in Aberdeen, living in a house full of women, as his father was often out at sea having bestowed him with a handul of elder sisters. A slight figure when growing up, who required spectacles due to squint, Law was nonetheless a successful schoolboy footballer, but due to his weak physical appearance, his hometown club Aberdeen, declined to offer him a trial. Luckily his talent was spotted by the brother of the Huddersfield Town manager, Andy Beattie and Law was offered a trial. He excelled and made his first team debut in the English Second Division at the age of 16.
Played for his country when only eighteen,
Beattie left Huddersfield, and was replaced by Bill Shankly, another Scotsman on his way to far bigger things. Law developed into a fine centre forward and goal poacher. At 5'10" the blonde Law was never the largest man on the pitch, but had an athletic salmon-like leap that made him a dangerous aerial threat, and was a brave and selfless player who would not shirk the physical side of the game, although his penchant for seeking retaliation against defenders occasionally landed him in trouble with the referee.
His football magic is a sight to see,
Law made his international debut for Scotland in 1958, scoring against Wales, the first of 30 goals in a record he still shares with Kenny Dalglish. His goal-scoring at Huddersfield also attracted the attention of bigger clubs, and in the summer of 1960 he was signed by Manchester City for a then British record of £55,000. Law only stayed at City for one season, but in that time he scored 21 goals in 44 games. The tally could have been a lot more, he had scored 6 in a single cup-tie against Luton Town before the game was abandoned due to bad weather. Salt was rubbed into the wound when Luton defeated City in the rescheduled fixture.
As he leads United on to victory,
At the time Italian clubs were able to offer players much higher wages then they could obtain in Britain, and in 1961, encouraged by the success of John Charles at rivals Juventus, the Italian side Torino, paid £100,000 for Law's services, smashing the record amount paid for a footballer. Law did not settle in Italy, finding the culture and language unsettling and the diet of pasta bewildering. Law shared a flat with Joe Baker, who had been signed from Hibernian at the same time and the two became firm friends. But neither found the slow, cagey defensive catenaccio of football to their liking, and their boredom and isolation led to hi-jinks that nearly ended in tragedy. Driving home after a night out, Law wrote off the car he was driving and Baker was seriously injured in the resulting crash.
Denis, Denis Law,
King of the Football League.
Baker eventually recovered, and Law finished the season with a not unrespectable total of 10 goals in 27 games. But that summer Law was on his way back to England, after falling out with his Torino bosses when he was refused leave to play in an international game for Scotland. The destination was Manchester, but Law was not returning to Maine Road, he was off to Old Trafford, to join up with Matt Busby's Manchester United. Torino were also happy as United paid £15,000 more for Law's services than they had paid one year earlier.
He left Torino in '63,
It was at United were Law's star truly blossomed, and the forward partnership be built with Bobby Charlton and George Best is one of the games all-time great attacks. Law settled in quickly, scoring after only 6 minutes on his debut. He would score 23 times in that first season, but United would disappoint in the league, finishing a lowly 19th. A brighter spot was the FA Cup, which United won, their first trophyware since the Munich disaster, and Law fittingly scored in the final.
The next season the 17 year old Ulsterman George Best broke into the team. The Manchester United team suddenly clicked and Law scored an astonishing 30 goals in 30 games that season, a total that was limited due to injuries picked up as part of his never say die technique. Law was a chaser after lost causes, and had an anticipation and ability to read the game coupled with reflexes that allowed him to convert the faintish opportunity into a goal. Manchester United finished runners-up in the league to Liverpool that year, who were now managed by Law's early boss, Shankly. To cap the year off Law won the European Footballer of the Year award in 1964, and he remains the only Scottish player to have achieved this accolade.
Signed by Matt Busby for a record fee,
1965 saw yet more goals from the boots and head of Law, this time bringing United the league title. Each Law strike would be celebrated with a trademark one-armed salute in the air, Alan Shearer, in many ways Law's modern day equivalent also salutes his goals in this fashion. Law was always a distinctive figure on the pitch, wearing his jersey untucked and his sleeves clenched into his fists, for many Law was a popular fan's player. Unlike Bobby Charlton who was respected but aloof, and George Best whose genius, celebrity and eventual waywardness saw him drifting from the game, Law was the passionate player who the fans saw as one of their own.
United reached the semi-finals of both the European Cup and FA Cup in 1966, but only came second in the league. United would win the Championship again in 1967. That summer also saw Law starring in the 3-2 defeat of World Cup winners England at Wembley, a result that has led many one-eyed Scots to claim since that this meant they were the true world champions. For Law it was simply revenge for the humiliating 6 -3 defeat inflicted in 1963.
He joined Man United and became our King,
In 1968, United would finally achieve Matt Busby's ambition of lifting the European Cup. Injuries had again been disrupting Law's game and he was forced to miss the European Cup final against Benfica, languishing in a hospital bed with a knee injury, he could only listen to a radio broadcast of the game. Law recovered and was back the following season but this would prove to be the high point for Busby's United, and team slowly started to decline. Law continued to score, but at a slower rate then his explosive early years, and the team drifted apart. Busby left and successive managers failed to rejuvenate the team, and George Best was lost to alcoholism when he should have been hitting his peak.
And all around the Stretford End,
The end for Law came in the summer of 1973 when rumours started that manager Tommy Docherty was preparing to release the aging star. Law, without a contract and realising Docherty wanted a fresh start, joined rivals Manchester City for the second time. He had scored 236 goals in 399 games for United. This last season was Law's swansong, but his most famous goal for City was the last one of his career. Both City and United had poor seasons in 1974 and the last Manchester derby of the season saw both sides mired in a relegation dog-fight. City won this decisive goal, thanks to a goal from Law, scored with his back-heel, never as a goal been celebrated in such a glum manner. This goal saved Manchester City but led to United being relegated to the second division. Law never played a game again and said afterwards, "I have so seldom been so depressed as I was that weekend."
You'll hear us sing,
Law had one last hurrah for Scotland, who had qualified for the World Cup in West Germany for the first time since 1958. Law was no longer the first choice striker however, and only played in one game, the win against Zaire. In all he gained 55 caps for Scotland, and his 30 goals in that time gives him a far superior strike-rate to any post-war Scottish striker.
After retirement Law followed a career in the media, and until recently was working for Radio 5 Live. He is a also a regular on the after-dinner speaking circuit, and his daughter Di is now a press officer at Manchester United. In 2003 Law underwent surgery for prostrate cancer, and it has been reported that the operation was successful as the cancer was caught at an early stage. Asides from his regular connections at Manchester United, Law is also involved with supporters associations at both Huddersfield Town and Aberdeen.
Denis, Denis Law,
King of the Football League.
News of the World Football Annual 2001-2002, Stuart Barnes