TODAY, in Part Three of Scotzine’s salute to Denis Law, Scotland’s favourite footballing son, we continue with a look at his clashes with 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.
BOBBY CHARLTON knew how much beating England meant to his Manchester United team-mate. ‘When Nobby Stiles and I were helping England win the World Cup, Denis made a point of playing golf. Whenever we played Scotland, Denis made a point to kick us both and call us “English bastards” within the first minute or so of the match. It was a though he felt obliged to make a statement and, having done so, he could then get on with the game.
‘When I played my first game for England in Scotland I remember the bus journey from Troon up to Glasgow. It seemed there was scarcely a house where someone wasn’t hanging out the window shouting the Scottish equivalent of, “You’ll get nowt today”.
‘Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t, but there was always one certainty – if there was a Scottish deficit, it would never be one of the heart. Down the years I formed the impression that no-one embodied this national pride more strongly than Denis and on my visits to his country there was always at least the hint that he was regarded as the most patriotic Scottish player of them all. I know that this image for him will always be the matter of deepest pride.’
Law was in his usual No.10 berth a year later when England visited again on Home International duty on 11 April 1964. Manager Ian McColl made five changes from the triumphant Wembley eleven, some enforced through injury. Bill Brown, the unfortunate Eric Caldow, Dave Mackay, Ian Ure and Ian St.John were replaced with Campbell Forsyth, a promising young goalkeeper at Kilmarnock, Celtic’s stuffy left-back Jim Kennedy, a defender who rarely crossed the halfway line unlike his eventual successor Tommy Gemmell, Rangers’ reliable John Greig, Billy McNeill, now captaining Celtic and Scotland, and Dundee’s Alan Gilzean, a towering presence in the middle of the attack.
Facing Law that day was his former Huddersfield team-mate Ray Wilson, who had since moved onto Everton. The left-back said, ‘I saw Denis in the tunnel, smiled and said, “Hi, Denis.” He just looked me up and down and said nothing. In fact, he looked at me as though he actually hated me.’
The game, played in driving rain and swirling winds, was still deadlocked until the seventy-second minute. Match official Leo Horn, beginning to be recognised as a lucky omen to Scotland, awarded the home side a corner-kick on the right. Davy Wilson skipped over to take it before sending the ball arcing into the penalty area. It seemed to be held up in the air by the gusty conditions while there was the usual pushing and shoving as the England defenders bellowed the time-honoured cry, ‘Get a jersey.’ Whoever was supposed to be marking Alan Gilzean – probably Spurs’ giant centre-half Maurice Norman – wasn’t listening.
Gordon Banks appeared to hesitate as Gilzean propelled himself forward to score with a near-post header. Once again, for the third consecutive Auld Enemy encounter, the Scottish fans were celebrating. It remained 1-0 and most of the 133,245 fans repaired to the nearest hostelries. It was a good time to be a publican in the Mount Florida area.
Goalkeeper Banks recalled years later, ‘That was my first game in Glasgow and it’s no exaggeration to say that a Hampden crowd in full voice can be terrifying when you first hear it. For me, it was like hearing an explosion of guns from the enemy lines. I am sure the Hampden Roar could have been heard way down over Hadrian’s Wall.
‘Before their goal, I had Bobby Moore to thank for preventing me from giving away another. I miscued a throw right to the feet of Denis Law, of all people. He was so surprised to have it presented to him that he delayed his shot and Moore made one of those interceptions of his that were to make him a world-renowned defender. As I came off leaden-footed at the end, all I could see were thousands of Tam O’Shanters waving in the air like a field of tartan flowers. There is no celebration to match the one when the Scots have got the better of England on the football field.’
It was the third time Law and Gilzean had spearheaded the attack – they would play together on another six occasions – and later on there were suggestions of a rift between the two. Law had a firm take on the rumours. ‘Gillie is a friend. As for us not blending, I would think he was ideal for me. I like to play it quick and sharp and Alan has this great ability to play one-touch stuff.
‘There’s nobody better to give you that half-yard extra space. Had he played for Scotland more often, we would have had a better team. He also has the sort of wacky good humour that keeps up morale. You get to know to check the salt and pepper pots. I’m not the only guy who has found the lid slackened and got the lot in my soup.’
The so-called fall-out between Law and Gilzean appears to have no substance. In the games where they were paired, Scotland scored eighteen goals and the players shared ten strikes equally between them. Scotland won four of the nine encounters – against Norway (6-1), Wales (2-1), England (1-0) and Northern Ireland (3-2) – drew three – against West Germany (2-2 and 1-1) and Spain (0-0) and lost two – against Northern Ireland (2-3) and Poland (1-2).
TOMORROW: Law strikes – and equals record at Wembley.