May as well get this out on the table straight away, though it will hardly be news to those that know me; I am a huge Manchester United fan and have been since I saw one of my childhood heroes, Denis Law, score for United in the 1963 FA Cup Final.
Law was electrifying; every bit as explosive & effective as current pretenders like Wayne Rooney, but with lethal pace over short distances, a penchant for spectacular bicycle kicks when that was thought to be the province of fancy-Dan Brazilians and Italians and a serious case of attitude that ranged from merely being cheeky to full-on aggression. Denis was always in trouble with referees and despite his slightly frail appearance would never back down when things kicked off on the pitch.
This was, of course, the team that also featured George Best and Bobby Charlton, but despite the media’s fascination with Best and his naughty-boy antics off the pitch and Charlton’s status as the English Corinthian par excellence, it was always Denis for me.
My Dad, bless him, would whisk me off to Coventry or Leicester or anywhere close to home to see United on a regular basis. I can still remember milling around outside Highfield Road (Coventry’s old ground) before a game when a phalanx of United ‘ultras’ came marching through….all steel toecaps, scarves tied round their wrists and cropped heads….a bit scary, even though I didn’t really understand that they were mad, bad and dangerous to know. This was the 70’s and no-one had really grasped the realities of hooliganism at this stage; a few broken windows and running fights through suburban streets certainly didn’t prepare us for Heysel and all that came after it.
Anyway, though I continued to follow the fortunes of my home town club (grim though they were), there was a major transference of loyalty to United at the age of 10 and it has never wavered. In subsequent years my affinity for the club was cemented by living in Manchester and going to matches at Old Trafford on a regular basis, but it all began with grainy black and white TV pictures of a fair-haired Scot with electric pace, tremendous agility and an infectious grin. Eventually, I even got to meet the man, shake his hand and thank him for all that he had given me over the years. They say that you should never meet your heroes, but Denis was pretty much as advertised – chirpy, friendly and gracious. Long live the KIng….