SCOTLAND’S legendary Denis Law celebrated his 82nd birthday yesterday.
The nation’s joint highest goalscorer – sharing the honour with Sir Kenny Dalglish on 30 strikes – was one of football’s most flamboyant, charismatic personalities during his unforgettable playing days.
As a tribute to The Lawman, Scotzine, over the next few days, will publish the ENTIRE Chapter One of Alex Gordon’s biography, ‘Denis Law: King and Country’, which was published by Birlinn in 2013.
Sit back and enjoy some quality time in the company of the country’s greatest-ever showman as we continue our EXCLUSIVE series.
SIR ALEX FERGUSON doesn’t hesitate when he goes on record, ‘Denis Law, Scotland’s greatest-ever footballer. He was my hero. He typified my idea of a Scottish footballer. He was dashing, he was mischievous. He was everything I wanted to be.
‘There were occasions when you were just waiting for Denis to cause trouble. A lot of Scots can do that, you know. It was his way of telling the world, “You’re not going to kick me”. He had wonderful courage and daring. There is a lot in Denis Law that we Scots appreciate. He was pure theatre and knew how to work the crowd.
‘I saw him make his debut against Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff in 1958 and I watched him in his next game against Northern Ireland when he kicked their captain Danny Blanchflower up and down the park! He was told to mark the great Spurs player, but I think he took it too literally. He was only eighteen-years-old at the time, too, and Danny was one of the best players in Britain.
‘I think it was Pele who said Denis was the only British player who could get into the Brazilian team. That says it all.’
MY HERO…Sir Alex Ferguson with icon Denis Law.
Celtic legend Bertie Auld played alongside Law in three international games. ‘He was a fabulous guy to be around, a real man’s man. I made my Scotland debut against Holland in Amsterdam in May 1959. Denis was playing that day, too, and we hit it off. He oozed charisma, but he was far from being big-headed. He was just one of the lads and never came across as Billy Big-Time.
‘We went for a wee walk through Amsterdam after a training session one afternoon and found it to be an interesting city – although possibly not as ‘interesting’ as it is today! But I spotted that Denis was getting noticed by some of the locals. No wonder. He actually looked like a movie star. He was wearing this absolutely fabulous camel-haired coat, with a big collar and belt. Denis wasn’t trying to attract attention, he just did. And this was before he went to Turin and caught up with the Italian fashion which was all the rage at the time.
‘He was a dream to play alongside, too. Utterly unselfish. There was none of this superstar stuff with Denis. No chance. He was one of the boys and raced around and chased the ball all day. You watch some of the petulant prima donnas strutting around and preening themselves today and I can tell you they haven’t got a fraction of the talent or the ability Denis possessed.
‘He was genuine class, no argument. I wish I could say it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience making my first appearance for my country alongside Denis, but, sadly, I can’t. I was sent off after a bit of a skirmish, but, on a happier note, we still won 2-1 with goals from my wee pal Bobby Collins and that great Aberdeen and Fulham player Graham Leggat.
‘Yes, it got a bit untidy at one stage and I can assure you Denis wasn’t slow to get in there with some Dutch heavyweights. There were tackles flying around everywhere and the Dutch fans were baying for blood. There were over 55,000 in the ground, as I recall, and it couldn’t have been more competitive if it had been the World Cup Final.
A YOUNG LAWMAN…Denis Law at the start of his Scotland international career.
You look at Denis and there isn’t a pick on him. He certainly didn’t take one of those Charles Atlas courses that were around at the time. You know the ones I mean. The advertisement of this muscle-bound bloke, posing in tight swimming trunks, saying, “You, too, can have a body like mine. No-one will ever kick sand in your face.”
‘Denis would probably have made mincemeat of him. Actually, that was the second time I had played alongside Denis as we had turned out in an unofficial international match, a 3-3 draw with Jutland, a few days beforehand.
‘It was only too easy to be impressed by him. Like I said, there wasn’t an awful lot of him, but he really got stuck in. It’s rare that a guy who is so obviously gifted in football skills to get involved in the physical side of things.
‘There are some blokes out there who can play football alright, but they couldn’t tackle a fish supper. Not Denis. I never saw him shirk a challenge in my life; not once.’
TOMORROW: Don’t miss Part Three of our EXCLUSIVE series on Denis Law – only in Scotzine.