This memory from Sir Kenny Dalglish says it all about Denis Law. The Scottish striker was also idolised by Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Rod Stewart, both of whom appear in a documentary premiered on Sky Documentaries last night to mark the freewheelin’, backheelin’ Law’s 80th birthday earlier this year.
Despite several campaigns, Law has not – yet - been knighted. Not that it truly matters. Cuffs over hands, right arm stretched to the heavens and that single finger salute, he is and always will be the King. He puts this distinctive goal celebration down to his time in Italy. “They talk with their hands don’t they, they don’t talk with their mouth,” he says.
There is brilliant footage of a spat he had with Scottish international teammate Ian Ure during a match between Manchester United and Arsenal. They were sent from the field and later handed six-week bans. “He’s Scottish, I am Scottish, he’s hit me, I’ve hit him – what’s the point (in sending us off?)” says Law. Well preserved, thin to the point of scrawny, he doesn’t look a whole lot different now to when he played. The mop of blond hair is still intact.
Law’s memory is not what it was, but he still makes a remarkably cogent interviewee. You were the most expensive-ever player, a voice off-camera says. “Was I?”……Three or four quid?” There’s a glint in Law’s eye.
He riffs on this inability to remember certain details. Later, in the part covering the last club goal of his career, for Manchester City against Manchester United, he pretends he can’t remember something he wishes had never happened. Playing in the blue of City, he returned to Old Trafford to backheel in the winner credited with having relegated his old club in 1974 (it was slightly more complicated than that). “Denis has done it!” cries the commentator.
He was immediately substituted and walked straight off down the tunnel ….into the home dressing room. He had read the news he had been freed by United at the end of the previous season in a newspaper while back in Aberdeen. “He let me down, really,” he says of Tommy Docherty. Jim McCalliog, another Scot, recalls Law still being in the United dressing room when Docherty came in after that momentous relegation game.
A potentially explosive moment was defused when Docherty stretched out his arm and the pair shook hands. McCalliog wells up when speaking about another historic occasion. He has just put Scotland 3-1 up on his debut against world champions England at Wembley in 1967. He turns round to find the first person rushing towards him with arms outstretched is …Law, his hero.
McCalliog notes he and Law were the less-well remembered warm-up acts for Jim Baxter’s oft-recalled keepie-uppies in that game, which Scotland eventually won 3-2. They started the fun, McCalliog backheeling to Law, who then backheeled to Baxter. Why is this not better known? If you watch only one thing this Christmas, Scottish football fans ought to make sure it is this tribute to the best there has ever been.