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Manchester United legend Denis Law: Why Rangers will always be engraved in my heart

The legendary Denis Law.
The legendary Denis Law.

Denis Law grew up dreaming of playing for Rangers as he kicked cans along the streets of Aberdeen until his “shoes gaped”.

Aberdeen-born Law was a 15-year-old wearing a pair of thick, round-lensed spectacles to hide a squint when he joined Huddersfield Town in 1955.

Huddersfield’s Aberdeen scout spotted him playing for Powis Secondary Modern School and recommended him to manager Andy Beattie as “star material”.

He signed on wages of £5 a week.

Law developed a unique system for coping with the problem and learned to play football with one eye closed, something that didn’t hinder him in the slightest.

Something of significance occurred after only a fortnight at Huddersfield.

He had been on a list at Aberdeen General Hospital, awaiting an eye operation to cure the cross-eyed vision he had suffered from since he was a baby.

An unexpected vacancy occurred and Law threw away his glasses after the operation.

Manchester City

Playing under Bill Shankly, he scored 19 goals in 91 appearances and became a target for Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Rangers and West Bromwich Albion.

But the Terriers’ price tag was too high for all but Manchester City, who set a new British record transfer fee of £55,000 to take Law to Maine Road in 1960.

Ken Barnes, captain of Manchester City, with Law after he signed for a record transfer fee in 1960.
Ken Barnes, captain of Manchester City, with Law after he signed for a record transfer fee in 1960.

He scored 25 goals in 50 games for the sky blues.

However, after just one full season, Law moved to Torino for another record fee of £110,000 and was voted the best foreign player in Serie A for that campaign.

Law spent a season in Italy before Matt Busby finally got his man and he signed for Manchester United for another British record of £115,000 in 1962.

Law scored an incredible 237 goals in 404 appearances at Old Trafford and was named European Footballer of the Year in 1964.

There was no live TV presentation to a worldwide audience back then.

He received his trophy before a low-key Inter-Cities Fairs Cup game against Strasbourg at Old Trafford and remains the only Scot to have lifted that prize.

Denis Law after being named European Footballer of the Year in 1964.
Denis Law after being named European Footballer of the Year in 1964.

Law was given a free transfer in the summer of 1973, after winning two league titles, the FA Cup and being part of the squad that won the 1968 European Cup.

He moved back to Manchester City and his first engagement was his debut against St Johnstone, which was his first appearance on Scottish soil as a club player.

The game pulled in a 5,000 crowd and saw a Rodney Marsh goal earn the visitors a 1-0 win over Jackie Stewart’s Saints side.

Law amassed 30 goals in 55 Scotland internationals and travelled to the 1974 World Cup in West Germany and won his final cap against Zaire.

Rodney Marsh, Colin Bell and Denis Law after Law returned to Manchester City in 1973.

He returned to Maine Road and appeared in a couple of pre-season friendlies, but with first-team opportunities looking scarce, he retired in August 1974, at the age of 34.

Law never played for a club side in Scotland during his 18-year career.

A forgotten memoir written by Law in 1962 after signing for Manchester United explained how Rangers could have stopped him going to England in 1955.

He said: “Mum brought up six kids on less than ten pounds a week, which father earned as an engineer on the fishing trawlers.

I was ever a player, seldom a watcher, but I always paid to see Glasgow Rangers whenever they visited Pittodrie Park.”

Denis Law

“As a boy, I kicked cans along the streets until my shoes gaped.

“A can was all that I and my mates needed to transform a cobblestoned alley into Hampden Park.

“But when I was chosen for Kittybrewster School I had to borrow a proper pair of boots from George Geddes, the boy next door.

“The Laws didn’t have money to spend on luxuries.

“You may wonder why, with my close nationalistic ties, I did not go to a Scottish club in the first place.

“The simple answer is that I had to come south to find the crowds and the money.

“By staying on a few more weeks at school I might have earned a Scottish schoolboy cap, for I had been picked for the trial, and could then have joined Aberdeen.

“But I missed the trial because I was impatient to leave school and make a start with Huddersfield Town.

“Aberdeen has a good club but the city’s most talented sons, like Graham Leggat, Adam Blacklaw and Ian Moir, have found it necessary to migrate in order to cash in on their ability.

“I was ever a player, seldom a watcher, but I always paid to see Glasgow Rangers whenever they visited Pittodrie Park.

“Whatever my club may be, Rangers will always be engraved on my heart because in so many ways Rangers are Scottish football.

“An offer from Rangers would have been the one thing that might have stopped me from going to England in the first place.”

Law also gave an insightful narrative on his life off the pitch in his 1962 memoir, where he admitted “football does not give me all my kicks by any means”.

Denis Law scored 30 goals for Scotland between 1958-1974.
Denis Law scored 30 goals for Scotland between 1958-1974.

He said: “I like a drink on Saturday night, all kinds of music, dancing, reading and golf, and I have energy to spare for all these activities.

“Eventually I think I would like to take up a business career.

“I wouldn’t want to be a football manager.

“His task is such a thankless one.

“But let me emphasise that I enjoy playing soccer as much as I ever did, and I mean to go on for a long time.

“I am dedicating the rest of my football life to the service of Manchester United and Scotland.

“The one and only reason I went to Italy was for the money. I wasn’t happy there but I was well paid for being miserable.

“And it was a tremendous experience.

“As a player it broadened my knowledge and my technique.

“This isn’t by any means the last you’ll hear from Denis Law.

“At 22 I’d like to think 15 years of football adventure and excitement lie ahead of me.”

Excitement?

Here was a showman supreme in his pomp as a player who put his home city of Aberdeen on the world map and has never forgotten his roots.

He has established the Denis Law Legacy Trust, been involved in championing the creation of two Cruyff Court facilities in his home city, has backed such causes as getting “No Ball Games” signs removed from communal areas and has worked tirelessly to promote the benefits of sport in boosting health and tackling anti-social problems.

Denis Law.
Denis Law.

He was made a CBE and accorded the Freedom of Aberdeen in 2017 – the first person to receive the accolade since the Scotland the What? trio in 2008 and only the second since another Old Trafford legend, Sir Alex Ferguson, was honoured in 1999.

How might Law’s career have panned out if he had joined Rangers?

The late Ferenc Puskás described Law as “a brilliant player who could have travelled anywhere in the world and he would have been a superstar”.

A fitting tribute to one of Scotland’s greatest-ever players.

More like this:

Denis Law recalls how close Rangers legend Jim Baxter was to joining Manchester United

Rangers broke Dundee United legend Jim McLean’s heart in forgotten ‘family final’

How Aberdeen’s ’80s heroes could have starred in Escape to Victory

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