TODAY, in Part Two of Scotzine’s salute to Denis Law, Scotland’s favourite footballing son, we continue 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.
SCOTLAND returned to the scene of the crime in 1963 and five players remained in position from the calamity two years earlier – Eric Caldow, Dave Mackay, Ian St.John, Davie Wilson and, of course, Denis Law. Willie Henderson took over from Alex Scott on the right wing from the line-up that had been successful in Glasgow twelve months earlier.
Otherwise it was the same forward line. Law was buzzing and had already become the darling of the Scottish support. In the previous Home International, against Northern Ireland five months earlier, the Manchester United man had banged four past goalkeeper Bobby Irvine, who played his club football in Ireland with Linfield. Law had gone into that game after rifling in four goals for United in the previous league game. Eight goals in five days – not bad by anyone’s standards.
The Wembley confrontation was only five minutes old when there was a sickening collision between Caldow and England’s bulldozer of a centre-forward, Bobby Smith. Henderson claimed, ‘I heard the crack above the din and I was over on the other wing.’ That was the end of the contest for the Rangers defender, who was carried off with a broken leg. Smith continued, hobbling on the left wing with a knee injury. Substitutes had yet to be given the go-ahead by FIFA and Mackay offered to take over Caldow’s role on the left-hand side of the defence.
Manager Ian McColl puzzled everyone, including the player, by nominating Wilson. The Ibrox outside-left agreed to the switch, but insisted, ‘I told the boss I would play in the position, but only if he remained on the touchline to offer advice. He had been up in the stand at the kick-off, but came down to see the extent of Eric’s injury. Then he told me of the switch. I had never played there in my life. However, he agreed to remain trackside and I took confidence from that.’ McColl explained, ‘On my way down from the Royal Box, I had been wondering what to do if Eric had to go off as was, sadly, the case.
‘Even though the game had only gone five minutes, I could already see that our half-back line of Mackay, Ure and Baxter had settled. I didn’t want to disturb the situation. I knew Davie Wilson very well, so I asked him to play left-back. He agreed one one condition – that I stayed by him on the touchline.’
Jim Baxter then took centre stage. I recall a conversation I had with Rangers legend John Greig, who would make his international debut against England a year later, when we were discussing the merits of the player.
Greig smiled, ‘He does things with that ball others can only dream about. Do you know, he calls his left foot ‘The Glove’? When he’s playing all you can hear are cries in that Fife accent, “Gie the ba’ to The Glove.” He’s a one-off, alright. I remember a game against Partick Thistle at Firhill. It was the dead of winter and they had no undersoil heating at the time. The playing surface was treacherous, just like an extended sheet of glass.
‘All of the Rangers players were changing their studded boots for rubber moulds. Well, everyone except one – Jim Baxter. He had already put on his usual boots with leather studs and he wasn’t changing them for anyone. We implored him, but he just grinned and said, “‘The Glove’ will be okay.” You can guess what happened next. He went out and didn’t put a foot wrong while the rest of his slid around on our backsides for the entire game.’
The Baxter Glove was in full working order against the English. The eccentric left-half rarely made a tackle if he didn’t believe the situation merited it. However, England right-back and captain Jimmy Armfield would later testify that Baxter could, in fact, tackle with the best of them. In the twenty-ninth minute the Scot robbed the defender as he foolishy tried to dribble round him.
His timing in the challenge was impeccable. Then he elegantly strode into the danger zone and flashed an unstoppable drive between Gordon Banks and the right-hand post. The lurking Denis Law, in a good position, might have expected a pass from his pal, but Baxter’s only intention was to plant that ball behind the goalkeeper. This he managed with a certain amount of aplomb. Law was the first to congratulate him.
Leo Horn, the referee who had awarded the Scots a penalty-kick at Hampden the previous year, was to do so again two minutes later. The panicking Ron Flowers felled Willie Henderson and there was only one man to take the kick – Jim Baxter. He placed the ball on the spot and sauntered forth before casually and almost contemptuously rolling it into the net with the England goalkeeper guessing wrong.
Baxter’s slide-rule left-foot drive swept to Banks’s left as he moved to the right. Law, hands on hips, watched from the eighteen-yard line, obviously confident in his team-mate’s prowess from the spot. Henderson said, ‘I was fond of a cigar back then, the bigger the better. People used to see me with these massive things and comment, “Mind you don’t fall off that, Willie”. If I had a cigar in the back pocket of my shorts that afternoon, I would have lit up when Jim went forward to take that kick. He was never going to miss.’
Blackburn Rovers’ nippy raider Bryan Douglas beat Bill Brown with a fine effort with eleven minutes remaining. However, this was to be ten-man Scotland’s day. The awful memory of 1961 was beginning to dissipate. Veteran sportswriter John Rafferty noted in the Scotsman, ‘Bewhiskied Scottish fans weaved onto the field and kicked their tartan bonnets into the goals and planted standards on the greenest turf in Britain. Impatient policemen chased them, but they were not to be moved.’
We always were a nation to do things with a certain amount of elan and panache. At least, the crossbars remained intact!
* TOMORROW: The truth about the Denis Law/Alan Gilzean double-act.