DENIS LAW is Scotland’s favourite footballing son. A maverick, a showman, a marksman of some repute – and Scottish through and through.
Scotzine will pay its tribute to The Lawman – acclaimed by Sir Alex Ferguson as “the finest player Scotland has ever produced and one of the greatest the world has ever seen” – over the next fortnight.
We will be publishing EXCLUSIVE extracts from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘DENIS LAW: King and Country’, starting with his encounters with The Auld Enemy, England.
DENIS LAW played against England nine times – eight on the trot from 1960 to 1967 – and was on the winning side four times, sampling defeat on three occasions with the other two ending in stalemate. Scotland scored seventeen goals and the English claimed twenty, including nine in the hammering of Ian McColl’s side in 1961.
Interestingly, they would score only three goals against the Scots in the next four Home Internationals, being beaten on three successive outings before claiming a draw in 1965 at Wembley. An awesome total of 1,040,667 fans – averaging almost 115,630 per game – watched the action in Glasgow and London; the highest attendance being the 133,245 who turned out for the 1964 match at Hampden and the lowest was the ‘mere’ 97,350 who witnessed the rout of Scotland at Wembley three years earlier.
Law scored three goals against the Auld Enemy, a total that was a source of irritation to a soccer perfectionist.
The Lawman, playing in only his seventh international, debuted in the Scotland v. England encounter at Hampden in 1960. Intriguingly, he had fired five successive blanks after scoring on his debut against Wales in Cardiff in 1958. He had failed to register in games against Northern Ireland (twice), Holland, Portugal and Wales again. Now he was hoping, at the third opportunity, to strike his first goal at Hampden in front of the home support.
England, after defeating Scotland 1-0 at Wembley the previous year with a 59th minute header from Bobby Charlton, arrived in Glasgow confident of another victory. Law and his team-mates had other ideas, of course. Joe Baker, who would become a team-mate of Law at Italian side Torino a year later, was chosen to lead the English frontline. Bizarrely, Baker was a Hibs player at the time and was one of ten home-based Scots on display that afternoon.
As usual, there was the tussle between club and country to get players released. Spurs manager Bill Nicholson, who made one appearance for England in 1951, was as English as Law was Scottish. He refused to allow goalkeeper Bill Brown and the inspirational midfield duo Dave Mackay and John White to play for their nation on this occasion. Airdrie’s No.1 Lawrie Leslie was injured and Celtic’s Frank Haffey won his first cap.
Hearts centre-forward Alex Young also made his debut and there was a recall for his Tynecastle team-mate John Cumming, the wing-half making his return after a five-year absence; his last appearance coming in a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia in a friendly in Belgrade. Manager Andy Beattie, who would quit the post six months later to concentrate on club football with Nottingham Forest, also brought in three Motherwell players – Bert McCann, Ian St.John and Andy Weir – as well as naming Denis Law at inside-left. Celtic defenders Dunky McKay and Bobby Evans, Rangers left-back Eric Caldow and Fulham forward Graham Leggat were the survivors from the team vanquished at Wembley twelve months earlier.
The Hampden game had no chance of becoming a spectacle with ruinous gusts of wind creating havoc when the ball was in the air. However, Hungarian referee Istvan Szranko saw fit to award England two penalty-kicks, three if you include a retake. Haffey saved the first from Bobby Charlton, but the match official spotted an infringement – the goalkeeper claimed it was because Law had rushed into the box before the kick had been taken – and ordered the ball to be placed on the spot again.
This time Charlton fired past the post. With Scotland leading 1-0 following a sixteenth-minute effort from Leggat, Charlton had better luck five minutes after the interval when the match official once more pointed to the spot. This time Haffey was left helpless. So, honours even and Denis Law had Wembley in his sights a year down the line.
Scotland had been deeply embarrassed by the 9-3 thrashing from their old foes in 1961. Law, then a schoolboy, recalled feeling extremely hurt when Scotland had lost 7-2 to the same opponents at the same venue in 1955, especially as the goalkeeper had been Fred Martin, then playing for Denis’s local favourites Aberdeen.
Ian McColl, who had replaced Andy Beattie eighteen months earlier, prepared for the visit of England on 14 April 1962. He kept faith with five players who had been on the receiving end of a footballing nightmare the previous year. Rangers’ Eric Caldow and Davy Wilson, to figure prominently on this occasion, Celtic’s Billy McNeill, Ian St.John, who was by now a Liverpool player, and Law were the men given the opportunity to get their own back on the English with 132,441 watching inside a packed Hampden.
Bill Brown, with Spurs boss Bill Nicholson relenting and giving the go-ahead, replaced Wembley ‘villian’ Frank Haffey in goal and there were also places for Dundee right-back Alec Hamilton, Pat Crerand, Celtic’s forceful midfielder, Jim Baxter, the elegant Ranger, John White, the equally stylish Spurs player, and Rangers’ pacy outside-right Alex Scott. Unsurprisingly, England manager Walter Winterbottom kept the same attack that had gone goal crazy at Wembley: Bryan Douglas, Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Smith, Johnny Haynes and Bobby Charlton.
They shared eight goals among them; Greaves with three, Smith and Haynes with doubles and Douglas with a single. Midfield player Bobby Robson, who hit the opener past Haffey that bleak afternoon for the Scots, was injured. Sunderland’s Stan Anderson replaced him and his international career was over after only two appearances.
England had devastated Scotland at Wembley with Robson scoring in the eighth minute and Greaves adding another two before the half-hour mark. This time it was England who were on the receiving end in the early moments. The lively Wilson, who had netted a hat-trick for the Scottish League against their English counterparts a few weeks beforehand, was on target in the thirteenth minute to the joy of his team-mates and the relief of the supporters.
Wilson’s shot flew past the stranded centre-half Peter Swan, who was on the goal-line. He made a valiant effort on the line to kick clear, but he only succeeded in diverting the ball high into the net. Centre-half Billy McNeill recalled, ‘Denis Law was the architect of the goal after dribbling round goalkeeper Ron Springett and presenting Davy with simplest of chances. Denis was outstanding and his darting runs and constant movement pressurised the English defence throughout the ninety minutes. I think he took the 9-3 defeat personally.’
As the Celtic captain pointed out, Law was in the thick of the action throughout proceedings as he challenged menacingly in the air and on the ground at every opportunity. England thought they had equalised when a shot from Haynes battered against the underside of the crossbar and came down on the line. Dutch referee Leo Horn waved play on.
The match official awarded Scotland a penalty-kick two minutes from the end when Swan, threatened by Law, handled the ball and Caldow made no mistake. McNeill added, ‘England were fortunate to hold us to two goals. Significantly, it was the first time for fifteen games that England had failed to score. In truth, we completely outclassed them.’
Law’s former Huddersfield boss Bill Shankly was in the crowd at Hampden and said, ‘England had been favourites to win, but Pat Crerand and Jim Baxter conducted the orchestra brilliantly. It was a typical bone-hard end-of-the-season playing surface, but it made no difference to those guys. They pulled the ball down and utilised it so well. Denis Law was also brilliant. What a display from him and his team-mates.
‘However, it riles me, frustrates me and annoys me to think of all the great players Scotland have had over the years and yet they haven’t done anything. It’s criminal after all that talent we’ve had that there’s not been a really successful Scottish international team.’
* TOMORROW: Wembley glory for ten-man Scots.