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DENIS LAW: RETURN OF THE KING: PART ONE

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TODAY, in Part One of Scotzine’s tribute to Denis Law, Scotland’s favourite footballing son, we focus on the remarkable international comeback of the legendary frontman.

These are EXCLUSIVE extracts from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘DENIS LAW: King and Country’, which was published by Arena Sport in 2013. 

DENIS LAW played only six games for Scotland in the years spanning 1967 to 1972. ‘It was a thin time for me,’ he admitted with masterly understatement. A persistent knee injury, an unexpected collapse in form and a perplexing loss of confidence hindered Law’s progress. In all, he sat out 25 international contests during that bleak period.

Tommy Docherty, who had replaced Bobby Brown as Scotland manager, brought the player back for a friendly match against Peru at Hampden on 26 April 1972. Remarkably, Law would play for his country seven times over the next three months and would miss only two games that year – the back-to-back World Cup victories over Denmark in October and November. He was removed from the international scene for the first six matches in 1973 before his astounding and victorious return against Czechoslovakia at Hampden on 26 September. It wasn’t easy keeping Denis Law out of the limelight.

Preparing for his fourth game in charge of his country, The Doc had been suitably impressed by Law’s club form to not only bring him back from the international wilderness but to also make him captain against Peru. Denis was one of nine Anglo Scots in the team, with only Celtic goalkeeper Ally Hunter and Hibs right-back John Brownlie making their living in Scotland.

The Scots boss was never one to be too bothered about public outcries and those who continually demanded that Home Scots only should be selected were wasting their time in voicing their outdated opinions. Some Anglos were almost portrayed as traitors for taking their skills outside the nation of their birth. And, just to stir up things even more, Docherty, planning for his first game as a manager at international level, brought in Chesterfield-born Bob Wilson for his debut against Portugal in a European Championship tie at Hampden on 13 October 1971. ‘If he’s good enough for Arsenal, then he is good enough for Scotland,’ was Doc’s thoughts.

So, in came Law against the Peruvians, welcomed back to the fold by a crowd of just over 21,000. He was returning as captain, too, the fifth time he had led his country. The other four occasions were split equally in 1963 – a 1-0 loss against the Republic of Ireland and a 6-2 win over Spain in Madrid – and the following year, a 3-2 defeat to Wales in Cardiff and a 3-1 victory over Finland at Hampden. Docherty put out this side: Ally Hunter (Celtic); John Brownlie (Hibs), Eddie Colquhoun (Sheffield United), Bobby Moncur (Newcastle United), Willie Donachie (Manchester City); Willie Morgan (Manchester United), Willie Carr (Coventry City), Asa Hartford (West Brom), Archie Gemmill (Derby County); John O’Hare (Derby County) and Denis Law (Manchester United).

There were suggestions that Law had been selected to add a bit of glamour and sell some tickets for a fixture that was being played at the end of a season and held little appeal. The Doc’s response? ‘Rubbish.’ Law was in on merit. The South Americans had reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Mexico two years earlier before losing 4-2 to eventual winners Brazil.

In Glasgow, they paraded the likes of Teofilio Cubillas, Hugo Sotil, Juan Munante, Rodolfo Manzo, Jose Velazquez and Percy Rojas. Six years later, the same players were on show again in one of Scotland’s darkest days – the 3-1 defeat in their first game of the World Cup Finals in Argentina 1978. Who could ever obliterate from their memory bank Cubillas rifling two long-range rockets behind Alan Rough within six second-half minutes to seal the Scots’ fate?

Denis Law was there to witness the downfall of his nation, working as a broadcaster with the BBC. He spent more time in Argentina than the Scottish team as he also took in the Final, the host nation’s 3-1 extra-time victory over Holland.

Back in 1972, though, Law was sharply focused on events on the field and saw the bustling John O’Hare put Scotland ahead shortly after the turnaround when he touched in a free-kick from Willie Morgan. The Manchester United man, revelling in his return, had the final say with a second goal in 65 minutes. Tommy Docherty declared himself ‘more than satisfied’ and began making preparations for the upcoming Home International encounter against Northern Ireland at Hampden the following month.

Scotland won 2-0 and it was memorable for one reason; Denis Law netted his 30th – and final – goal for his country. There was never any doubt about Law playing against the Irish after facing Peru with renewed vigour. The swagger was back; and it was good to see.

Law’s good friend George Best had gone AWOL – again! – and Northern Ireland were denied his marvellous skills in Glasgow. However, they still possessed a twin threat up front in Willie Irvine and the crafty Derek Dougan. Docherty, mindful that Scotland would play Wales and England over the next eight days before embarking on a three-match trip to Brazil, wanted to use as many of his squad as possible to keep them tuned up.

Into the team against the Irish came Aberdeen goalkeeper Bobby Clark, Celtic pair Billy McNeill and Jimmy Johnstone, Arsenal’s elegant midfielder George Graham and Billy Bremner, the Leeds United dynamo taking the captain’s armband from Law. The Northern Irish either retreated into defence right from the off or they were forced back by Scottish attacking aggression, but they seemed content to have nine men behind the ball with only Irvine and Dougan foraging for scraps in enemy territory. Denis Law was an admitted fan of goalkeeper Pat Jennings – ‘a man with hands as big as dinner plates’ – and the Northern Irish No. 1 was in fine form in Glasgow. It was heading for a scoreless stalemate until Law struck with only four minutes remaining.

As you might expect from Denis Law, it was something special, another defining moment. It was a goal that was a compelling combination of everything Law was renowned for in the game; speed of thought, breathtaking mobility, electric reflexes, athletic prowess and devastating accuracy. The visitors failed to clear a corner-kick. Jennings was out of position, but there were two Northern Irish defenders on the goal-line.

The ball dropped awkwardly to Law, about hip level. No problem. He launched himself into the air, was virtually horizontal when he caught the ball perfectly and his effort soared high into the net. The arm, once more, was characteristically thrust towards the heavens, the cuff tightly clenched while the Scottish fans saluted the legend. No-one could have thought at the time that they would never again witness the famous Denis Law goal celebration in the dark blue of his country. However, once more Law had reached a milestone in style. That was the end of the Irish resistance and Peter Lorimer, a substitute for Jimmy Johnstone just after the hour mark, slammed in a second.

Next up was Wales for Hampden’s third international inside four weeks and once again Tommy Docherty shuffled the pack with Hibs skipper Pat Stanton coming into the defence alongside Celtic’s Billy McNeill, Newcastle United’s Bobby Moncur and Martin Buchan, the composed Manchester United defender. Tony Green, of Newcastle, took Asa Hartford’s midfield berth and there was a starting place for Peter Lorimer.

The Doc, for the third successive game, went with the forward line pairing of John O’Hare and Denis Law. Lorimer and Green combined in the 72nd minute to fashion the game’s only goal. The Leeds United forward strode forward purposely to thunder another of his specials behind his Elland Road teammate Gary Sprake. Three games, five goals scored and none conceded. The run came to a halt when Alan Ball squeezed a 28th minute shot under Bobby Clark to give England a 1-0 win at Hampden three days later.

* TOMORROW: Denis Law hailed as “a phenomenon” in Brazil.

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About Author

Editor

Acclaimed author Alex Gordon wrote the biography of Scotland international legend Denis Law, entitled 'King and Country'. He is a former columnist with World Soccer magazine and Scottish correspondent of respected European journal L'Equipe.

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