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The golden rule of Law

Published: Wednesday 2 February 2011, 10.55CET
Denis Law combined skill, guts and determination in a glittering career that brought goals and glory with Manchester United FC and Scotland.
by Gerry McNee
The golden rule of Law
Denis Law in action in for Scotland ©Popperfoto/Getty Images features

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Published: Wednesday 2 February 2011, 10.55CET

The golden rule of Law

Denis Law combined skill, guts and determination in a glittering career that brought goals and glory with Manchester United FC and Scotland.

To help mark UEFA's Jubilee in 2004, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. Scotland chose Denis Law as their Golden Player.

A few years ago, before his knighthood, I sat at a deserted Old Trafford with the then Mr Alex Ferguson who, like his mentor Jock Stein, never played at full international level.

As we spoke of great Scottish players we inevitably got to the name of Denis Law, a man who had graced the mighty stadium we now surveyed. Ferguson's eyes lit up at the very mention of 'The Lawman' as he is known by his own. "I think Law is the one Scottish player who could have played for Brazil, I really do," said the Manchester United FC manager.

Ferguson was paying the ultimate tribute to Law's skill in the air and on the ground. He had a quickness of mind and magnetic qualities, which would have made him good enough to play for a country that has won the FIFA World Cup more than any other. "He was electric and had pace and energy and was impossible to tie down. He was fearless too," added Ferguson.

There had been no signs of greatness when a scrawny little boy wearing spectacles emerged out of the North Sea-ravaged city of Aberdeen, high on Scotland's east coast. But he would blossom into Scotland's greatest-ever player – an accolade few, if any, would deny him. He developed quickly and, at just 15, was signed directly from school by English club Huddersfield Town AFC.

While he learned his craft, Scotland were having a miserable 1958 World Cup in Sweden, and had much thinking to do in its aftermath. At 17 Pelé had become the youngest player ever to participate in the World Cup finals, and had proved with a hat-trick in the semi-final and two goals in the final, that if you have the talent then age is no barrier.

Perhaps the sight of a youthful Pelé encouraged the Scots to give Law his first cap the following season, making him the youngest Scottish international since goalkeeper Alex McLaren in 1929. Although there had historically been four younger debutants than Law, he was the youngest outfield player of the 20th century and proceeded to mark the occasion by scoring in a 3-0 win over Wales.

That first goal set him on his way to establishing a Scottish international goalscoring record he still shares with Kenny Dalglish – 30 goals in 55 appearances, to Dalglish's 30 in 102. Law will be remembered for many things including great goals against bitter rivals England.

He was snapped up by Manchester City FC for a British record fee of £55,000 in 1960, and the following year joined Italy's Torino FC for £100,000. He was reckoned by many to be the most determined forward to have played in the Italian league, possessing that necessary nasty streak required by all great strikers when playing against powerful and sometimes unscrupulous defenders.

His finest hour came after Sir Matt Busby took him to Manchester United FC where he played in that great side with Pat Crerand, George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton, winning the European Player of the Year prize in 1964 and league championship and FA Cup winner's medals.

He scored 237 goals in 404 United appearances – second only to Charlton – but sadly missed their European Champion Clubs' Cup final triumph against SL Benfica at Wembley in 1968 through injury. Ironically, his final goal in English football was for Man City, whom he had rejoined the previous summer, against his beloved United on the final day of the 1973/74 season – he did not celebrate as his old team were about to be relegated.

Law retired that same summer after appearing for Scotland at the World Cup and subsequently enjoyed a successful second career as a television pundit. He remains a regular visitor to Old Trafford and retains a prominent place in the club's pantheon – a point underlined when a statue of United's 1960s' 'Holy Trinity' of Law, Charlton and Best was unveiled outside Old Trafford in May 2008.

Last updated: 2 February 2011

Last updated: 15/03/11 13.13CET

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