Happy birthday to the King!
Denis Law played for three clubs – Huddersfield Town, Manchester City and Torino – before arriving at Old Trafford, and had another stint with the Blues after leaving. But he will always be inextricably remembered for his 11 years in the red shirt of Manchester United.
To say that the blond-haired Scottish genius was one of the greatest players ever to pull on a football jersey isn’t open for discussion. As part of the famous ‘Best, Law and Charlton’ trinity of the 1960s he reached, along with George and Bobby, the very pinnacle of his chosen profession and, in doing so, became idolised by an entire generation of United supporters.
It was those denizens of the raucous, passionate, swaying mass of humanity who regularly squeezed into the Stretford End that singled him out as their number one. It was no surprise that they eventually bestowed upon him the regal status as their very own ‘King’.
It is with delight, pride and not a little nostalgia that I can say I was one of those who placed him on a pedestal during those incredible years, when he terrorised defences with his bravery, lightning reflexes and spring-heeled leaps that saw him win considerably more of the aerial battles than he lost.
There was always something very special, almost unique, about the way Law played the game. Charlton was a totally wonderful exponent of the game with his majestic style, ferocious shooting and scintillating passing skills. George Best was true to his name and is rightly regarded by many observers as occupying a place at the very summit in the pantheon of the world’s finest players. It was almost impossible to place one of these three megastars above the others and so it came down to choice – and Law was always the one for me.
So Manchester City was his next step up the ladder. But his fame had already spread far and wide, and barely a year after arriving at Maine Road he was on the move again – this time to Italy. Torino was the club he joined and his stay in Piedmont turned out to be an illuminating experience for the young Aberdonian. The culture and lifestyle contrasted considerably with what he had been used to, but in football terms he acclimatised well playing alongside Joe Baker, who joined Torino from Hibernian around the same time. Both Law and Baker remained in Italy for about a year, but the whole adventure almost ended in tragedy when they were involved in a road accident. Baker suffered life-threatening injuries, from which he eventually made a complete recovery, while Law emerged almost unscathed.
Denis Law turns 80 gallery
Check out some of our favourite images of the King of the Stretford End.
I remember seeing one of the photographs, taken during the build-up to his first campaign at Old Trafford, and I was immediately smitten by the mere style of the man. It was just a black and white picture, but he personified class with his ultra-modern Italian boots. Scoring on his debut against West Bromwich Albion made the instant impact that everyone craved and from then on he could do no wrong.
United finished the season with the FA Cup on display in the boardroom, after narrowly escaping relegation, and Law scored one of the goals as the Reds defeated favourites Leicester City 3-1 at Wembley. The team may have toiled during his first season (FA Cup triumph aside) but Law had been a roaring success, heading the club’s scoring chart with 29 goals in league and cup.
But even in the midst of the greatest occasion in the club’s history there was reason to reflect. The terrible disaster at Munich was never far from United fans’ minds and the success was unashamedly dedicated to their memory.
And all the countless thousands of Reds (it must have been somewhere in the region of 80-85,000) inside Wembley were also saddened that ‘The King’ was absent from this unforgettable occasion. The great man had been suffering from a persistent knee injury and was back in Manchester watching the drama unfold on television.
In sharp contrast to my constitutional and atheistic opinions, I have to say that Denis Law is the closest I will ever get to meeting a ‘God’. It’s said that to avoid disappointment you shouldn’t ever wish to meet your idol. Where he is concerned that couldn’t be further from the truth, for he is truly a great person and I am always privileged to be in his company.
Thank you for all the wonderful memories, Denis – long live the King!
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Inside United magazine.