TODAY, in Part Two of Scotzine’s salute to Denis Law, Scotland’s favourite footballing son, we continue with our focus on events against England at Wembley in 1967.
These are EXCLSUIVE extracts from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘DENIS LAW: King and Country;, published by Arena Sport in 2013.
DEBUTANT Ronnie Simpson, who passed away on 20 April 2004 at the age of seventy-three, was actually annoyed at the end of the game. A superb photograph figured in most of the national press showing the veteran goalkeeper, minus his false teeth, celebrating with the young Jim McCalliog at the final whistle.
He had taken over from Bobby Ferguson, the Kilmarnock goalkeeper who would join West Ham United for £65,000 – a British record fee for a keeper at the time – later that summer, and was determined to keep a clean sheet. Ferguson had failed to convince Bobby Brown, a former Scotland international No.1, of his worth. Ferguson had played in seven of the previous eight Scotland games and had conceded goals in every game, twelve in total and four against England in a 4-3 defeat at Hampden the previous year.
Brown stuck to his guns about the decision to bring in Simpson, quaintly known as ‘Faither’ to the rest of his Celtic team-mates. The newly-appointed manager said, ‘I knew Scotland had a problem in that position. I had witnessed it first-hand on several occasions. I thought it was time for a change and not for one moment did I ever think Ronnie Simpson would let us down.
‘He was a reliable, safe pair of hands. He also had experience of the Wembley pitch after having played there twice for Newcastle United in the early Fifties, so the ground would hold no surprises for him. To my mind, he was the most consistent goalkeeper around at the time and it was hardly a risk putting him in against England. I didn’t care what age he was; I was only ever interested in ability. Anyway, he must have been doing something right if Jock Stein picked him for Celtic week in, week out.’
A month and ten days after that ringing testimony, Ronnie Simpson would pick up a European Cup medal as part of the triumphant Parkhead team against Inter Milan in Lisbon.
The goalkeeper wasn’t thinking that far ahead, though, in the jubilant Wembley dressing room afterwards. Tommy Gemmell recalled, ‘He was genuinely upset that England had managed to score two goals inside the last six minutes or so. That underlined the perfectionist in our goalie. He didn’t want to concede any goals and Denis wanted to score more. Some people are never happy!’
The redoubtable Ranger John Greig led out Scotland that day and said, ‘What a memory and what an honour to captain a team with the likes of Denis Law, Jim Baxter and Billy Bremner in it. That game was the highlight of my international career. Every player did their bit – and more – that afternoon. I had positive vibes before the game. Honestly, I was convinced we were going to create an upset. The English football press did us a favour by suggesting that we shouldn’t even be allowed to share the same pitch as their lads.
‘Comments like that went down like a lead balloon, particularly with a guy like Denis. He, more than anyone else, was determined to stick two fingers up to the opposition. They underestimated us, no doubt about it, and I thought the scoreline flattered them. We enjoyed our celebrations afterwards and my club team-mate Ronnie McKinnon and I stayed an extra night in London because Rangers were flying to Bulgaria on the Monday for a European Cup-Winners’ Cup-tie against CSKA Sofia. We arranged to meet them at Heathrow Airport.’
The timing was fortunate for Greig because Scotland’s triumph over the world champions created a bit of a stir in the capital. The Rangers man was hurriedly invited to appear on the Eamonn Andrews Show on Sunday night. They used to open the chat show with the words ‘And now live from London…the Eamonn Andrews Show!’ Actually, it was taped on the Sunday afternoon and broadcast in the evening.
The Scottish captain, thankfully, hadn’t overdone the celebrations the previous evening and sailed through the performance while sharing a couch with American crime fiction writer, the prolific Mickey Spillane. A young singer also appeared on the hour-long show, a Welsh bloke by the name of Tom Jones.
Afterwards, Greig returned to his London hotel and hooked up with Denis Law. ‘After a late breakfast, Denis and I visited a nearby pub after Denis had expressed a desire for a pint of shandy. The barman obviously didn’t have a clue who we were. The pub was empty at that time on a Sunday and when the barman heard us speak he immediately recognised our accents and asked us if we were down for the game.
‘”Yes,” I replied and added, “but that fellow Law is seriously over-rated.” The barman totally agreed with me, but you should have seen his face when I turned and pointed to Denis, who was by now spluttering with indignation and I said, “I’d like to introduce you to Denis Law.” Great memories.’
Law recalled, ‘That was a game that all Scots will fondly remember, especially the sight of Slim Jim Baxter doing his tricks and taking the mickey out of the World Cup winners on the very ground where they had beaten West Germany the year before.
‘Everyone had expected us to be slaughtered, but we weren’t because we had no fear of England whatsoever. We knew we had a good team and we knew that if we played the way we knew we could play we would cause an upset. I have played in games when I have not been in the better team, but this time we were the better team and nobody could argue about it.’
*TOMORROW: Return of The King – Denis Law makes his international comeback.