Denis Law (born February 24, 1940, in Aberdeen, Scotland) is a retired Scottish football player, who enjoyed a long and successful career as a striker from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Law's career as a football player began at Second Division Huddersfield Town in 1956. After four years at Huddersfield, Manchester City signed him for a transfer fee of £55,000, setting a new British record. Law spent one year there before Torino bought him for £110,000, this time setting a new record fee for a transfer between an English and an Italian club. Although he played well in Italy, he found it difficult to settle there and signed for Manchester United in 1962, setting another British record transfer fee of £115,000.
Law is best known for the eleven years that he spent at United, where he scored 236 goals in 409 appearances and was nicknamed The King and The Lawman by supporters. He won the prestigious European Footballer of the Year award in 1964, and helped his club win the First Division in 1965 and 1967. Law left Manchester United in 1973 and returned to Manchester City for a season, then represented Scotland in the 1974 World Cup. Law played for Scotland a total of 55 times and jointly holds the Scottish international record goal tally with 30 goals.
Denis was the son of George Law, a fisherman, and his wife Robina, and was the youngest of seven children. The Laws were a poor family, living in a council tenement in Aberdeen, and his father regularly had to visit the local pawnbroker. Law did not own a pair of shoes until he was fourteen, and his first pair of football boots was a present from a neighbour.
He supported Aberdeen Football Club and watched them when he had enough money to do so, watching local non-league teams when he did not. His obsession with football led to him turning down a place at grammar school, as he would have had to play rugby there instead. Despite having a serious squint, he showed great promise once he was moved from full back to inside-left, and was selected for Scotland schoolboys.
In the 1954/5 season, he was spotted by Archie Beattie, a scout for Huddersfield Town, who invited him to go for a trial. When he got there, the manager said, "The boy's a freak. Never did I see a less likely football prospect — weak, puny and bespectacled." However, to Law's surprise, they signed him on 3 April 1955. While he was at Huddersfield, he had an operation to correct his squint, which greatly enhanced his self confidence, and meant he no longer had to play football with one of his eyes closed.
Huddersfield's relegation to what was then the Second Divsion made it easier for Law to get a game, and he made his debut on 24 December 1956, aged only sixteen, in a 2–0 win over Notts County. Manchester United's manager Matt Busby shortly offered Huddersfield £10,000 for Law, a lot of money for a footballer at that time, but the club turned the offer down. He was not picked to play for Scotland in the 1958 World Cup, but scored on his debut against Wales on 18 October 1958 and quickly established himself as a first choice player. Bill Shankly was manager of Huddersfield between 1957 and 1959, and when he left for Liverpool he wanted to take Law with him, but Liverpool were unable to afford him at that time.
In March 1960, Law signed for Manchester City for what was then a British record transfer fee of £55,000, although Law's share of the fee was "precisely nothing". Although a First Division side, City had narrowly avoided relegation the previous season, and he genuinely felt that Huddersfield had a better team at the time. Law made his debut on 19 March, scoring in a 4–3 defeat to Leeds United. In April, he scored two goals in a 4–1 win over Aston Villa that ensured City's survival in Division One.
Although he had thought about leaving, he was playing well and in 1961 Law scored an incredible six goals in an FA Cup tie against Luton Town. Unfortunately for him, the match was abandoned with twenty minutes to go, so his six goals didn't count. To make matters worse for him, he scored in the replay but Luton won the match, and City were out of the Cup.
He played but did not score in Scotland's match against England on 15 April 1961. Scotland lost the match 9–3, and Law described it as his "blackest day". The following November, Law represented the Football League in a match against the Italian League, losing 4–2.
Although he enjoyed his time at City, he wanted to play in a more successful side and was sold to the Italian club Torino in the summer of 1961.
Law's time in Italy did not go according to plan. Another Italian club, Internazionale, tried to prevent him becoming a Torino player as soon as he arrived, claiming he had signed a pre-contract agreement with them, although they dropped this claim before the season started.
Players in the UK were not treated well at the time, and the maximum wage for footballers had only recently been abolished there, so he was pleasantly surprised to find that pre-season training was based in a luxury hotel in the Alps. However, Torino took performance-related pay to something of an extreme, giving the players bags full of money when the team won but little, if anything, when they lost. Like many British footballers who have gone to play in Italy, Law didn't like the style of football and found adapting to it difficult. The ultra-defensive catenaccio system was popular there at the time, so forwards didn't get many chances to score. He continued to play for Scotland while he was at Torino, although the club were not keen to release him for international matches and had put a clause into his contract stating that they were not obliged to do so.
On 7 February 1962, he was injured in a car crash when his teammate Joe Baker drove the wrong way around a roundabout and clipped the kerb as he tried to turn the car around, flipping it over. Baker was almost killed, but Law's injuries were not life-threatening.
By April, he had put in a transfer request, which was ignored. The final straw for Denis came in a match against Napoli when he was sent off. After the match, he was told that Torino's coach, Beniamino Santos, had instructed the referee to send him off because he was angry at Law for taking a throw in, which he had been told not to do. Law walked out, and was told that he would be transferred to Manchester United. A few days later, however, he was told that he was being sold to Juventus and that the small print in his contract committed him to going there whether he wanted to or not. He responded by flying home to Aberdeen, knowing that Torino wouldn't get a penny in transfer fees if he refused to play at Juventus.
He eventually signed for United on 10 July 1962, for a new British record fee of £115,000.
The glory years
Law moved back to Manchester, boarding with the same landlady that he had lived with during his time as a City player. His first match for United was against West Bromwich Albion on 18 August 1962, and he made an excellent start, scoring after only seven minutes. The match finished in a 2–2 draw. However, United's form had been erratic since the Munich air disaster in 1958, and because of their inconsistency they spent the season fighting relegation. In a league match against Leicester City Law scored a hat trick but the team still lost. They found form in the FA Cup though, with Law scoring another hat trick in a 5–0 win against his old club Huddersfield, and they went on to reach the final against Leicester City. Leicester were strong favourites, having finished fourth in the league, but Law scored the first goal as United won 3–1 in what turned out to be the only FA Cup final of his career. He also married his wife Diana that season, on 11 December 1962.
Unfortunately, an incident had taken place that season which Law felt had repercussions in years to come. In a match against West Brom on 15 December 1962, the referee Gilbert Pullin consistently goaded Law with taunts such as "Oh, you clever so and so, you can't play", and after the match, Law and his manager Matt Busby reported the matter to the Football Association. A disciplinary committee decided that Pullin should be severely censured, but he did not accept their verdict and quit the game. Law later claimed that "in the eyes of some referees, [Law] was a marked man" and blamed the incident for the "staggeringly heavy punishments" that he received later in his career.
Law scored a number of goals early in the 1963/4 season and was selected to play for a Rest of the World side against England at Wembley, scoring their goal in a 2–1 defeat. He later described this as the greatest honour of his career. His season was interrupted by a 28-day suspension for a sending off that he received against Aston Villa. The unusually cold winter forced United to play many of their fixtures in a short space of time, and their results suffered. Law later blamed this for United's failure to win a trophy in that season.
In 1964/5, Law won the European Footballer of the Year award, and Manchester United won their first league title since Munich. Law's 28 league goals that season made him the First Division's top scorer.
The following season, Law injured his right knee while playing for Scotland against Poland on 21 October 1965. He had previously had an operation on the same knee while at Huddersfield, and the injury was to trouble him for the rest of his career.
In 1966 Law asked United's manager Matt Busby to give him a pay rise at his next contract renewal, and threatened to leave the club if he didn't get one. Busby immediately placed Law on the transfer list, announcing that "no player will hold this club to ransom, no player". When Law went to see him, Busby pulled out a written apology for him to sign, showing it to the press once he had done so. Law later claimed that Busby had used the incident to warn other players not to do the same thing, but had secretly given him the pay rise.
Law scored in Scotland's famous 3–2 victory over England on 15 April 1967, less than a year after England had become world champions. Manchester United won the league that season, but Law felt that the victory over England was even more satisfying.
In 1967/8, United won the European Cup for the first time, but Law's knee injury was causing him serious problems and he missed both the semi-final and the final as a result. He was regularly given cortisone injections to ease the pain, but playing while the knee was still injured was causing long-term damage. He visited a specialist in January 1968 who wrote to United claiming that a previous operation to remove the cartilage from the knee had failed and recommending that a second operation be performed, but Law was not shown the report for several years and had to continue full training.
In 1968/9, United reached the semi-final of the European Cup, playing AC Milan, but were knocked out after Law had a goal disallowed. Busby, who had now been knighted, resigned at the end of the season and United's decline began.
Wilf McGuinness took over as first team coach at the start of the 1969/70 season. United finished eighth in the league, but Law missed almost all of the season through injury, and in April 1970 he was transfer listed for £60,000. Nobody made a bid for him, so he stayed at United.
After a poor 1970/1 season, Frank O'Farrell took over as United manager. They made a good start to the 1971/2 season and finished 1971 five points clear at the top of the league, with Law having scored twelve goals. However, results deteriorated and they finished the season in fifth place. Law scored in the first match of the following season (1972/3), but his knee injury was troubling him again, and he failed to score for the rest of the season. The poor results continued and O'Farrell was sacked.
Law recommended that United replace O'Farrell with Tommy Docherty, whom he knew from playing for Scotland. The club followed his recommendation, and things started well with the team's improved results lifting them into mid-table.
Final season (1973-74)
Docherty gave Law a free transfer in the summer of 1973, and he moved back to Manchester City. He played in City's 2–1 defeat in the League Cup final, against Wolves. In City's last game of the 1973/4 season, Law famously scored a goal against Manchester United which guaranteed their relegation from the First Division, only six years after the European Cup final that he had missed. Law's backheel gave City a 1–0 win, but he was devastated to have relegated United (it turned out they would have been relegated even if the match had been drawn, but Law did not know this at the time) and he did not celebrate the goal, walking off the pitch with his head down as he was substituted immediately afterwards. This turned out to be the last time he kicked a ball in club football.
Scotland reached the World Cup finals in the summer of 1974, for the first time since 1958. Although he had not played much first team football in the preceding season, Law was included in the squad and played in their first match, against Zaire. He didn't score, but Scotland won 2–0. Law was "very disappointed" not to be picked for the following match against Brazil, and was not selected for the following match against Yugoslavia either. Although Scotland were not defeated in any of their matches, they did not qualify for the second phase and were out of the World Cup.
Law still had a contract with Manchester City, but their manager Tony Book told him that he would only be playing reserve team football if he stayed there. He did not want to end his career in this way, so he retired from professional football in the summer of 1974. Since then, Law has often worked as a summariser and presenter for radio and television. As of July 2005, he is still married to Diana, and they still live in the Manchester area. They have five children, and their daughter, also called Diana, works as a press officer for Manchester United.
Law was made an Inaugural Inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002 in recognition of his impact on the English game.
On 23 February 2002, a statue of Law was unveiled at Old Trafford, in the part of the stadium known as the Stretford End. He had a successful operation to treat prostate cancer in November 2003 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Aberdeen on 5 July 2005.
The emergence of Dutch international Dennis Bergkamp in the 1990s uncovered a story that the player's parents, who were fans of Manchester United in the 1960s, named their son after Law, although Dutch authorities refused to recognise the name unless it was spelt with two ns as they felt it was otherwise too similar to Denise.
On November 25th 2005, Law was at the bedside of former United team-mate George Best as he lost his battle against multiple organ failure.
(Law was a Manchester United player when the team won the European Cup in 1968, but he missed the match through injury).