Denis Law playing for Manchester United.

Happy birthday to the King!

Monday 24 February 2020 05:01

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.

Denis Law: The King of the Stretford End.
Manchester United have been fortunate throughout their history to have some truly outstanding players represent the club, but in more than 60 years since I saw my first game at Old Trafford there has never been, in my personal opinion, another of the greats who ever came within a million miles of toppling Denis Law from his perch.

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.
He was at Leeds Road as the same time as the legendary Bill Shankly, which can only have been beneficial in the development of a young player making his way in the game. Shankly left Huddersfield around the same time as Law and there is belief that, having joined Liverpool, he wanted his fellow Scot to join him at Anfield. Yet, as the story goes, the money was just not available.

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.
Matt Busby, Manchester United’s manager at the time, had always coveted Law’s signature and in the summer of 1962 he finally got his man. The rest, as they say, is history. Law was the perfect fit for the United side that Busby was gradually assembling following the horror of the Munich Air Disaster five years earlier.

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.
Crerand on Law at 80 Video

Crerand on Law at 80

Denis’s former team-mate Paddy Crerand pays tribute to our legendary striker on his birthday…

United were back and it was to be the start of a golden spell which saw the club claim two league titles (1965 and 1967) and in 1968 – 10 years after Munich – the European Cup. A 4-1 victory over Portugal’s Benfica at Wembley saw United lift the giant trophy, after the game had gone into extra-time on a night of feverish excitement and raw emotion.

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.
Denis missed our European Cup final in 1968 through injury.
That is a night that will live with me forever but it would have been even better if Law had been there to share in the moment.

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.