TODAY, in Part Four of Scotzine’s salute to Denis Law, Scotland’s favourite footballing son, we conclude with his battles against the Auld Enemy, England.
These are EXCLUSIVE extracts from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘DENIS LAW: King and Country’, which was published by Arena Sport in 2013.
DENIS LAW, with Ian St.John replacing Alan Gilzean, at last got on the scoresheet at the sixth time of asking against England on 10 April 1965. Alas, there was to be no victory parade at Wembley as a dour, tense struggle ended in a 2-2 draw.
Spurs’ Bill Brown was reinstated to goal with Chelsea’s adventurous Eddie McCreadie replacing the pedestrian Jim Kennedy at left-back. Pat Crerand, Law’s Manchester United mate, came in at right-half with John Greig moving to the left and Billy McNeill commandeering the role in the middle of the defence. Leeds United veteran Bobby Collins wore the No.8 jersey.
Spurs inside-right John White, at the age of twenty-seven, had tragically died after being hit by lightning while getting caught in a storm on a golf course in the summer of 1964. Law lamented at the time, ‘He was killed in the prime of his life. It was a tremendous loss, not solely for his family, but for all of his team-mates at club and international level. He was a super player who had still to reach his peak. He was wonderful to play alongside. John White was a favourite player of mine.’
Denis Law must have been the first name on Ian McColl’s team sheet at the time. His four goals against Norway in the 6-1 win at Hampden in November 1963 brought his total to fifteen in his last nine internationals. He had also netted four against the vulnerable Northern Ireland, another three as he waged a one-man campaign against Norway, two against Austria before the game was abandoned with eleven minutes remaining, and singles against Wales, Spain and Finland.
The Manchester United attacker was also on target against Wales in a 2-1 victory thirteen days after his virtuoso performance against the Norwegians. Alan Gilzean swept round lunging goalkeeper Gary Sprake to set up Law with a simple tap-in, his twenty-first goal in twenty-two internationals. Law, only twenty-three at the time, was well within sight of Hughie Gallacher’s twenty-three goal record for Scotland. It was phenomenal finishing from an extraordinary player. Law added another with a second minute effort against the Finns as the Scots triumphed 3-1 at Hampden on 21 October 1964.
Law was now sitting on twenty-two strikes for his country. Could he equal Gallacher’s feat at Wembley? The guy’s timing was perfect and, yes, he got his goal as Scotland came back from two down to claim a point. Bobby Charlton got the opener in the twenty-fifth minute with a drive that flicked off Alec Hamilton and left Bill Brown helpless.
McColl’s men were in disarray by the time Jimmy Greaves had doubled the advantage ten minutes later with a shot that went in off a post. Thankfully, Law managed to pull one back four minutes before the half-time break. Law tried his luck with a dipping shot from thirty yards and it left a befuddled Gordon Banks stranded on his goal-line.
The England custodian, normally so reliable, tried to kick the shot away and didn’t look too clever as it zipped under his foot and sliced into the net. A crestfallen Banks said, ‘I don’t know what on earth happened with that goal. Denis simply scored with a shot that deceived me. He didn’t get a lot of goals outside the box and he really surprised me that day.’
England were severely handicapped in the second-half with injuries to defender Ray Wilson and West Ham forward John Byrne. In the circumstances, Scotland piled into attack and duly levelled with an Ian St John counter in the fifty-ninth minute. The Scottish press weren’t ecstatic about the final 2-2 scoreline or the display. One said, ‘England were clearly toiling with their injuries and, to all intents and purposes, they only had nine fit players on the field. They were there for taking. Everyone saw it apart from Ian McColl and his players.’
At Hampden a year later, the Scottish fans had three goals to cheer. Unfortunately, England, with their players eager to prove to manager Alf Ramsey that they were good enough to be selected in his World Cup squad, netted four at the other end.
John Prentice was now in charge of the international side and put out this team: Bobby Ferguson (Kilmarnock); John Greig (Rangers), Tommy Gemmell (Celtic); Bobby Murdoch (Celtic), Ronnie McKinnon (Rangers), Jim Baxter (Rangers); Jimmy Johnstone (Celtic), Denis Law (Manchester United), Willie Wallace (Hearts), Billy Bremner (Leeds United) and Willie Johnston (Rangers). The Scots went into the match with plenty to prove. They were still disappointed at failing to reach the finals in England.
Jock Stein had said during the ill-fated campaign, ‘It will be like playing home games if Scotland can get there.’ It wasn’t to be, so hammering England ‘to send them home to think again,’ in the words of the Tartan Army, would be the next best thing.
In thirty-four minutes there wasn’t a murmur; the Hampden Roar stifled for the time being, anyway. Geoff Hurst scored in the eighteenth minute and Roger Hunt added a second. However, it was Denis Law who gave Scots hope with an unforgettable corkscrew header three minutes from half-time. Willie Johnston flashed over a left-wing corner-kick and Law rose majestically at the near post, getting front of Bobby Moore. With one athletic twist of his slight frame, his head made perfect contact to send the ball hurtling into the net. Gordon Banks didn’t even move; there would have been little point.
Law’s future Manchester United team-mate Martin Buchan later said, ‘That’s as near to perfection you will ever see in a football game.’ Who was going to argue?
Goalkeeper Bobby Ferguson looked as though he was suffering stage fright in front of the 134,000 audience and he was left flat-footed when Hunt rattled in England’s third only two minutes after the turnaround. Celtic’s marvellously-entertaining Jimmy Johnstone zipped one past Banks ten minutes later, but Ferguson was again rooted to his line when Bobby Charlton fired in a long-range drive for No.4 in the seventy-third minute. Again the stubborn Johnstone replied with eight minutes remaining.
Astoundingly, Scotland almost levelled in the fading moments. Willie Wallace swept a close-range shot past Banks, but dreams of a dramatic comeback were dashed when Nobby Stiles materialised to head the ball off the line. England would, of course, go on and win the World Cup and in doing so only concede three goals in their six games; one against Portugal in the semi-final and two against West Germany in the final. Uruguay, Mexico and France drew blanks against the English in Group One as did Argentina in the quarter-final. Scotland had managed in one match something that took another six nations to achieve in the World Cup.
Next up, of course, was the splendid 3-2 victory over the world champions at Wembley in 1967, but this game deserves a chapter all of its own. Denis Law made his last appearance against England at Hampden in a 1-0 loss in 1972. That game, too, is afforded its own chapter. The English defence that particular day, consisting of Paul Madeley (Leeds United), Roy McFarland (Derby County), Bobby Moore (West Ham) and Emlyn Hughes (Liverpool), would no doubt have been happy to see the back of the Lawman.
Gordon Banks, also, must have breathed a massive sigh of relief. No more international duels with his arch enemy. Time to take his heart out of his mouth.
TOMORROW: Written off at Wembley 1967.