DENIS LAW – THE KING
Written by John White for Manchester United Then & Now
I get quite emotional sometimes, especially if I hear that one of my childhood heroes has passed away, such as George Best and Freddie Mercury. But tonight, one of my heroes, The King of the Stretford End, where a statue of him can be seen by United fans young and old, thankfully is alive and well aged 81. His name is Denis Law – The King of the Stretford End. And he is very much in my thoughts today as he deals with living with Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia. A while ago Denis openly spoke about his illness.
“I am at the point where I feel I want to be open about my condition. I have been diagnosed with ‘mixed dementia’, which is more than one type of dementia, in my case this being Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. This has been an extremely difficult year for everyone and the long periods of isolation have certainly not helped. It is an incredibly challenging and problematic disease and I have witnessed many friends go through this. You hope that it won’t happen to you, even make jokes about it whilst ignoring the early signs because you don’t want it to be true. You get angry, frustrated, confused and then worried. Worried for your family, as they will be the ones dealing with it.
However the time has come to tackle this head on, excuse the pun. I recognise how my brain is deteriorating and how my memory evades me when I don’t want it to and how this causes me distress in situations that are beyond my control. I do understand what is happening and that is why I want to address my situation now whilst I am able, because I know there will be days when I don’t understand and I hate the thought of that right now. In the height of the pandemic I said I hoped that if one positive was to come out of it, it would be that it would make people kinder to each other, so that’s what I am hoping for now. I don’t want people to be saddened if I forget places, people or dates because you need to remember I enjoyed all those memories and I am lucky to have experienced what I have in my life … a loving and supportive family, a great career doing what I loved and getting paid to do it, and lifelong friends.
I have good days and bad days and aim to take each day as it comes adjusting my lifestyle accordingly. I hung up my football boots a long time ago and now it’s time to put my signing days behind me too, so apologies to anyone who has sent me anything but I am just not able. I am trying to be positive and determined to continue watching my club, Manchester United at Old Trafford, hopefully this will be a season of success and I am excited by the new signings that Ole and the club have made.”
Denis Law is immortalised in the United Trinity statue opposite Old Trafford, standing proudly in bronze alongside Bobby (Sir) Charlton and the Belfast Boy, the late, great, genius, and the world’s best ever footballer (well, ask Pele) George Best. Manchester United said in a statement: “Denis Law will always be one of this club’s greatest legends and everybody at Manchester United sends our love and best wishes to him and his family. We know our fans around the world will also rally behind him. We applaud Denis’s brave words and will continue to offer whatever support we can as he adapts to this challenging condition.”
Here is my thoughts from his greatest ever season at Manchester United:“You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” (Andre Gide).
In 1963, the movie “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” was released to the cinema paying public. Manchester United had their own adventures in 1963.
In season 1963-64, Manchester United played in a European club competition for the third time. However, whereas the previous two European adventures had been in the European Cup (1956-57 & 1957-58), this foray on to the continent was in the European Cup Winners’ Cup. United qualified for the competition after defeating Leicester City 3-1 in the 1963 FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium with two goals from David Herd and one from Denis Law. It was only the fourth edition of the competition which began in 1960-61. Manchester United kicked-off their 1963-64 season on 17 August 1963, with the annual curtain raiser to an English football season and lost 4-0 to League Champions Everton, at Goodison Park, Liverpool in the 1963 FA Charity Shield. Up until the 1974 Charity Shield when it was hosted at Wembley Stadium, it was traditional for the League Champions to host the FA Cup winners at their home ground.
The qualifying teams included Atalanta, Dinamo Zagreb, FC Barcelona, Fenerbahce, Glasgow Celtic, Hamburger SV, Olympiacos, Olympique Lyonnaise, MTK Budapest, Sporting Lisbon and Tottenham Hotspur, who qualified as the reigning cup holders. Spurs beat Atletico Madrid 5-1 at De Kuip, Rotterdam, Netherlands in the 1963 final. On 15 October 1963, United faced the Dutch KNVB winners, Willem II, in the second leg of their Round 1 tie at Old Trafford. Three weeks earlier the two domestic cup winners drew 1-1 in Tilburg, at the Gemeentelijk Sportak. Herd scored. It was the first time the Dutch club had played in European competition. United demolished Willem II in the return leg winning 6-1 with a hat-trick from Law and goals from Bobby Charlton, Phil Chisnall and Maurice Setters.
The draw for Round 2 pitted the two English clubs against one another. The first leg was due to be played at White Hart Lane, London on 27 November 1963 but the game was called off just 30 minutes before kick-off as North London was enveloped in a heavy fog. The game was rearranged for the following week, 3 December 1963. Ronnie Briggs was set to play in the game as Harry Gregg and David Gaskell were both injured. The pair had already met in the League prior to the tie with United winning resoundingly 4-1, another Law hat-trick and one from Herd. Law was in superb form when United arrived at White Hart Lanewith 14 goals so far in the season whilst his strike partner, Herd, had scored 5 times.
Spurs were an excellent side in the early 1960s. In 1960-61, they became the first English side to win the Double of English League Championship and FA Cup in the 20th century. The following season they won the Charity Shield, finished third in the League (won by Ipswich Town managed by Alf Ramsey), retained the FA Cup beating United 3-1 (scorer: Herd) in the semi-finals and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup losing 4-3 to SL Benfica over two legs (SL Benfica won the 1962 European Cup). In season 1962-63 they retained the Charity Shield, were runners-up to Everton in the League and became the first English side to win a European trophy when they lifted the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
A crowd of 57,000 packed into White Hart Lane on a bitterly cold night to see the two English giants do battle. In what was a close game, United lost the first leg 2-0, Dave MacKay (67 mins) and Terry Dyson (88 mins) scoring for the home side. Gaskell played in goal for United. Both teams had a League game to play before the second leg which took place a week later on 10 December 1963. Spurs beat Bolton Wanderers 3-1 at Burnden Park, Bolton (scorers: own goal, Dyson & Jimmy Greaves). United hammered Stoke City 5-2 at Old Trafford with their lethal duo putting the visitors to the sword, Law scoring 4 times and Herd once.
The United team for the second leg was:David Gaskell, Tony Dunne, Noel Cantwell (Capt), Bill Foulkes, Maurice Setters, Paddy Crerand, Albert Quixall, Phil Chisnall, Bobby Charlton, David Herd, David Sadler. Denis Law missed the game as he had been sent off during United’s 4-0 loss English First Division away to Aston Villa at Villa Park, Birmingham on 16 November 1963. At the time domestic suspensions were included for European games. George Best had already made is first team debut, 14 September 1963, but Matt Busby had not played him since so the 17-year old Irishman sat among the fans to watch the game. In later years those fans around him could look back and tell stories of their big night out with a certain George Best.
Herd opened the scoring in the 6th minute with a diving header from a Sadler cross into the box, to record his seventh goal of the season. Greaves then fired a shot over the United crossbar and shortly afterwards, Cantwell and MacKay went in for a tackle which resulted in MacKay, the Spurs’ Ironman, breaking his leg. Substitutions were not permitted at the time and the visitors had to play the rest of the game with only 10 men. The first half ended 1-0. In the second half Spurs were holding on but attacked United at every opportunity knowing a 2-1 lead was a slender margin. In the 57th minute Herd scored again to bring United level at 2-2 over the two legs. Most teams would have buckled by now but Spurs were a classy outfit and just two minutes after United scored, Greaves, a lethal striker for club and country, scored for Spurs. United needed to score again to force a play-off in the days before the away goals rule counted or score twice more to win the tie on aggregate. Bobby Charlton proved to be the United saviour and scored twice, 77 mins & 83 mins, to book United’s place in the quarter-finals 3 with a 4-3 aggregate victory. But although defeated 4-1 on the night and out of the cup, the Spurs players could walk off with their heads held high for taking the fight to United with only 10 men for so much of the game.
In the quarter-finals United faced Sporting Lisbon and after winning the first leg 4-1 at Old Trafford on 26 February 1964 (scorers: Law 3, Charlton), they looked set for a place in the last four of the competition. The return leg in the Portuguese capital Lisbon on 18 March 1964, was a shocker for United losing 5-0 on the night and 6-4 on aggregate over the two legs. Sporting Lisbon went all the way to the final where they drew 3-3 with MTK Budapest and then beat their Hungarian opponents 1-0 in a replay.
In the League, United finished runners-up to Liverpool by four points and were beaten 3-1 by West Ham United in the FA Cup semi-finals (scorer: Law) who went on to beat Preston North End 3-2 in the 1964 FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium.
The movie “The Executioner,” was released in 1963 staring George Peppard in the lead role. United fans did not have to go to the cinema to see the movie as they could watch their very own Executioner at Old Trafford, Denis Law.
Denis, my thoughts and prayers are with you. I cannot thank you enough for the happy times you gave me, a Belfast child just like your very good friend, George, when I was growing up in the Short Strand area of east Belfast during that horrible period in the history of Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles.”
You made my dark days bright, you made my fears disappear, you gave me hope that I had a future despite the atrocities that surrounded me, your performances in the red shirt of my club, our club, your club, made me smile when I had very little to smile about.
And, for that, I thank you.
Like Georgie, you are Forever My Hero.
Did You Know That?
Denis Law scored a staggering 46 goals in 42 appearances for United in season 1963-64 which remains a club record: 30 League games, 30 goals; 6 FA Cup games, 10 goals; Charity Shield, 0 goals; 5 European Cup Winners’ Cup games, 6 goals. He also scored five times for Scotland in five games including four goals in a 6-1 win over Norway at Hampden Park, Glasgow with Dave MacKay scoring twice. Law also scored a hat-trick against the Norwegians at Brann Stadion, Bergen, Norway on 4 June 1963, a game they lost 4-3. Law’s exploits in front of goal in season 1963-64 earned him the highly coveted Ballon d’Or as the 1964 European Player of the Year. In 1964 he was awarded 61 points and saw off competition for it from Luis Suarez (Inter Milan, 43 points, 2nd), Amancio (Real Madrid, 38 points, 3rd) and Eusebio (SL Benfica, 31 points, 4th). Jimmy Greaves was voted 6th with 19 points. Denis Law is the only Scottish player ever to win the prestigious award.