TODAY, Scotzine concludes its salute to Denis Law, Scotland’s favourite footballing son.
In the final EXCLUSIVE extract from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘DENIS LAW: King and Country’, which was published by Arena Sport in 2013, we turn the focus of two of the nation’s most flamboyant and entertaining personalities – the inimitable double-act of Denis Law and Jim Baxter.
DENIS LAW wanted to annihilate them. Jim Baxter wanted to humiliate them. It would be fair to say the two Scots weren’t quite on the same wavelength on the afternoon of 15 April at Wembley in 1967 when Scotland faced England, the unbeaten world champions.
Law was raging at his team-mate when he started to take the mickey against Sir Alf Ramsey’s men. Law, remember, was part of the Scots team that had been dismantled, demolished and demoralised on the same ground only six years earlier when they were obliterated 9-3. For a proud Scot, it would undoubtedly be an understatement on a scale of Everest to state that dreadful embarrassment must have been extremely difficult to comprehend never mind accept.
However, here was the ideal opportunity to reverse that scoreline with Scotland dominating their fiercest foes. Here was a Scotland team clicking into place, firing on all cylinders, players brimming with confidence, the ball running straight and true and everybody performing to the maximum of his ability. England were groggy, on the ropes and looking for an escape route. Law wanted to go straight for the jugular; Baxter was quite content to play the juggler.
Tommy Gemmell recalled, ‘Yes, there seemed to be a wee bit of animosity between Denis and Jim that day. One of the worst experiences in Denis’s career – probably his professional life – was that 9-3 hammering. It rankled with him and he never wanted to talk about it. You brought up that particular topic at your peril. But you knew he wanted to exact revenge at some point and this was the ideal platform. It could not have been stage-managed better by a Broadway producer. Before and after winning the World Cup, England had remained unbeaten in nineteen games. They were in Denis’s sights, though, and he realised this was the day he had waited for such a long time.
‘I have to admit I indulged myself a little, too. Like Slim Jim, I just couldn’t help myself. I remember playing a bit of keep-ball with Billy Bremner and Willie Wallace with little Alan Ball in the middle of our triangle trying desperately to intercept a pass. Billy would stick it to me, I would pass it to Wispy and he knocked it back to Billy. Wee Bally was going off his head. All I could hear in his squeaky little voice was, “You Scotch bastards…you Scotch bastards” as he ran from player to player.
‘All the time, Denis is standing upfield screaming for us to get the ball to him. And who will ever forget those marvellous pictures of Jim indulging in a bit of keepy-uppy as he sauntered nonchalantly down the left hand side of our midfield? That image will live with many forever. Meanwhile, Denis has got steam coming out of his ears as he hollers for a pass. Jim would just sling him a deaf ‘un. He was enjoying himself too much. The scoreline didn’t matter to him, just so long as we scored at least one more than England.
‘Aye, I suppose we could have piled them on that day. We were in control and sparking in every department. It was a fabulous team performance and, naturally enough, we took a lot of confidence from Denis’s early opening goal. I still laugh when I see that goal. If you view film of it again have a look at the player getting treatment down at the bye-line beside the England goal.
‘I had taken a dull one from their left-back Ray Wilson as I sent over a cross from the right. It was painful and I went down like a sack of spuds. On came the trainer and he was working on the leg when Denis put us ahead. He went through his usual arm-in-the-air celebration as the stadium erupted. That goal worked better than any magic sponge that had ever been applied by any trainer. I was up on my feet in jig-time to join in the celebrations.
‘Denis enjoyed the moment, no doubt about it. And you could see he wanted more. He wanted to stuff that ball behind Gordon Banks as often as possible. We won, but he didn’t quite get his wish and I suppose anyone now looking through the record books will see a 3-2 scoreline and believe it had been a tight encounter. Really, nothing could be further from the truth. Denis would just have to put up with an historic win at Wembley over the Auld Enemy. Hopefully, that helped get him over the frustration of us not piling on the agony and racking up a more emphatic scoreline.’
There were reports of Denis and Jim exchanging pleasantries in the dressing room afterwards. In 1992 I got the ample opportunity to ask Jim Baxter about that memorable afternoon a quarter-of-a-century earlier. A video had been put together of Jim’s spectacular playing days and someone requested a bit of publicity to help with the launch.
I was Sports Editor of the Sunday Mail at the time and I received a call from a producer asking if I could assist in any way. The cost of advertising the tape would have been exhorbitant and would have immediately cut into any cash raised for Jim. A normal practice is to give over a reasonable amount of space in the newspaper and run a competition. ‘Win 20 signed Jim Baxter videos’, that sort of thing.
It works both ways. Jim’s video is brought to the attention of the public – and the Sunday Mail might even pick up an extra reader or two. Back then, the Sunday Mail enjoyed by far the biggest circulation of any newspaper in Scotland, achieving figures of around 900,000 and sometimes close to one million. It was just about saturation coverage of a nation with a population of some five-and-a-half million. For advertising purposes, it is reasoned that one newspaper is read by three people. Rounding up figures, that would mean that three million people would have read that Sunday Mail. So, if you were a sports fan, you couldn’t have missed the fact that a Jim Baxter video had been launched.
Anyway, I arranged to meet Jim and have a quick chat about how we would go about getting the best for both him and the newspaper. We agreed to meet in a pub – surprise! surprise! – next to his flat in Shawlands on the south side of Glasgow. Possibly, we might go for a bite to eat at some point, or get some ‘lumpy stuff’, as Jim called it. No chance. Jim was in fine form, telling all sorts of stories and recanting memories from the past. Some I might even have been able to publish. We got round to Wembley 1967 and the alleged celebrated fall-out with Denis Law.
‘What argument?’ queried Jim, shrugging his shoulders. ‘Me and Denis? We’re the best of pals. Och, I’ve heard all the tales and I accept he wanted to rub their noses in it. But, believe me, Denis and I celebrated big-style at the end. I just got carried away in the moment. It was allowed, as far as I was concerned. Our wonderful supporters enjoyed every minute of it.
‘Not a day goes by that someone won’t stop me to talk about me playing around with the ball. It was just a bit of fun. They remembered that, but would they have stopped me to talk about the goals if we had scored five or six? Probably not. It was just a wee bit of off-the-cuff stuff that brought the house down. Hell, we were all enjoying ourselves, weren’t we? It was a good day to be Scottish. Okay, maybe I wouldn’t have done it if I had been in a Scotland team thumped 9-3 by England. Maybe I would have thought about getting more goals.’
Jim, dressed casually in a black T-shirt, navy blue trousers, black slip-on shoes and a dark brown suede jacket, then took a sip of his Bacardi and Coke, let the liquor roll past his tonsils, looked me straight in the eye, smiled and said, ‘I doubt it, though.’
Denis Law and Jim Baxter always brought something special and, basically, indefinable to the Scotland set-up. They were genuine world-class stars – and they knew it. Law was an admitted fan of the elegant Baxter and has always included him in his all-time list of greats. He would never have hesitated in selecting him for any team. Law is on record as saying the Scottish players who have impressed him most are, in no particular order, Dave Mackay, Billy Bremner, Billy McNeill, Pat Crerand, Ian St John, Davie Wilson, John White, Jimmy Johnstone, Alan Gilzean, Danny McGrain, Bill Brown, Eric Caldow and, of course, Jim Baxter.
Law would say, ‘You would want John White in your team along with Bremner, Mackay, Baxter, and wee Jimmy Johnstone – five foot nothing with the touch of a butterfly. They would be the first names in and you’d quite happily build your team around them.’
Sadly, Jim Baxter, at only sixty-one years of age, passed away on 14 April 2001 and Denis Law was among the mourners at the funeral at Glasgow Cathedral six days later.
Law said, ‘He turned on the class when we beat England in 1967. He was the best player on the park that day. To beat the world champions on their own ground was mainly down to Jim Baxter.’