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The end to Denis Law’s Manchester United career spoiled his pint in Aberdeen

Law was given a free transfer by Manchester United in 1973.
Law was given a free transfer by Manchester United in 1973.

Denis Law was left punch-drunk after his Manchester United career was prematurely ended while he supped pints in an Aberdeen boozer.

Law was enjoying a few drinks in a pub close to where he grew up in Aberdeen when he discovered Tommy Docherty had put him on the transfer list.

In his 1979 memoir, Law revealed he was “completely unprepared for the bombshells which exploded in April 1973”.

Law was the youngest of seven children and his father was a fisherman who spent all of his working life on the Aberdeen trawlers.

Denis Law in action for Manchester United in 1972.
Denis Law in action for Manchester United in 1972.

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

Manchester City took Law to Maine Road in 1960 where he scored 25 goals in 50 games for the Sky Blues before moving to Torino in 1961 for a record fee of £110,000.

Law signed for Manchester United for £115,000 in 1962 and scored 237 goals in 404 appearances and was named European Footballer of the Year in 1964.

Tommy Docherty was appointed manager at Old Trafford in December 1972 and rescued United from the threat of relegation but had decisions to make.

‘It sounded like a death sentence…’

Law had accepted his playing days were coming to an end.

He was being troubled by a knee injury and was delighted when Docherty told him not to worry because he would “have a job at United for life”.

Law broke it down further in his 1979 book when he told how he was left dumbstruck after being “stabbed in the back” by Docherty before a match against Chelsea.

Denis Law pictured in March 1960 at Printfield Terrace in Aberdeen where he grew up.
Denis Law pictured in March 1960 at Printfield Terrace in Aberdeen where he grew up.

He wrote: “There had been one or two comings, and goings, and Bobby Charlton was retiring at the end of the season, but the ship appeared to be stabilising and the immediate future looked reasonably good.

“For me it was a case of getting back to full fitness, and then things would be absolutely fine. I was completely unprepared for the bombshells which exploded in April 1973.

“It was a Friday morning, and United were due to travel down to London to play their final match of the season against Chelsea on the following day. I was not in the team but had taken part in some light training at The Cliff.

“I was just getting ready to go home when Docherty called me into his office, and utterly shattered my world when he said: ‘We’ve decided to give you a free transfer’.

“At first, I stood there in disbelief.  It was the last thing in the world I expected.  I could hardly believe my ears. A free transfer! It sounded like a sentence of death.

“What about all the promises? What about my wife who was five months pregnant?

“What about the new house we were moving into? Docherty knew about these things and had even said that he would get the club to give me a mortgage. What about the promise of a job for life? After all his big talk he was now telling me I was out of a job.

“I couldn’t believe it. I felt as if I had been stabbed in the back.

“As I quickly gathered my thoughts I realised that my most immediate concern was that the news shouldn’t come out. I was afraid that it might upset Di, and I certainly didn’t want to end my career like that – discarded.”

Law eventually waved goodbye to Old Trafford in 1973.
Law eventually waved goodbye to Old Trafford in 1973.

He felt he had two or three seasons left of top-class football and didn’t want to leave Manchester where his children were at school and his family were happy.

Law didn’t want to leave Old Trafford but if United no longer wanted him then he would hang up his boots rather than suffer the indignity of being put up for sale.

He was due to have a testimonial against Ajax at Old Trafford in September 1973 and suggested he use the occasion to announce his retirement.

“I would have the testimonial match, then I would quit the game,” he said.

“That way the club would be spared the expense of settling the outstanding part of my contract, and I could go out of the game at the top.

“It would also spare me the pain of having to upset my wife, and give me a little time to sort out my plans.”

Jim Baxter joins Law in Hamilton in 1978 where a tribute evening was being held in Law's honour.
Jim Baxter joins Law in Hamilton in 1978 where a tribute evening was being held in Law’s honour.

Docherty agreed to allow Law to leave on his own terms and he travelled to Scotland to collect his children who were spending the Easter break in Aberdeen.

“Because I was confident in my mind that I had reached a mutually satisfactory agreement with him, I said nothing to Diana about what had happened.” he said.

“Nor did I mention it to any of my family and friends in Scotland when I got there.

“I told no one. There was no point, since nothing was supposed to come out about it until the start of the next season.”

Drinking in the Last Chance Saloon

At lunchtime on the Saturday Law was in a pub in Aberdeen having a drink with some friends when a football preview programme came on the television.

Those on the show were discussing the £25,000 price tag for Arsenal defender Frank McLintock when Law saw his own photograph appear on the screen.

The presenter broke the news that Law and team-mate Tony Dunne were being given free transfers by United, which prompted a deathly silence in the pub.

Manchester United fans wrap scarves around the neck of Manchester City's Denis Law following his 1974 goal.
Manchester United fans wrap scarves around the neck of Manchester City’s Denis Law following his 1974 goal.

“I was speechless,” Law recalled in his memoir.

“How could he have done that after we had agreed to leave it until next season? I sat there absolutely stunned, not knowing what to say to my friends.

“Whatever I said I was going to look stupid.”

Within an hour Law’s family home in Aberdeen was under siege as the nation’s press and television crews descended upon them for comment.

He said: “Di, of course, was still on her own in Manchester. By now she too would be knee deep in reporters, and she hadn’t known anything about it.

“I had to get home. The following day I piled the kids into the car and set off back to Manchester.

“The worst aspect of it was that he did what he did without warning me.

“I was on the telephone in Aberdeen and the club had my number. Whatever Docherty’s reasons were for breaking his promise, he could at least have let me know.”

Scoring against United in his final game

For his part, Docherty always denied that there was ever such an agreement but Law returned to haunt his former club after signing for Manchester City.

On April 27 1974 Law scored a back-heeled goal in the Manchester derby and hung his head in dejection when his typically-instinctive finish beat Alex Stepney.

He thought he had relegated United but the Red Devils still would have gone down even if Law’s goal hadn’t given Manchester City a 1-0 victory.

That was because their chief rivals for a drop spot, Birmingham City, won their match.

Law was immediately substituted and didn’t play league football again, retiring after he’d played in a couple of friendlies the following season.

What a way to go out.

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