The Day Denis Law played Páirc Uí Rinn!
We didn’t call it Pairc Uí Rinn then, of course. Flower Lodge was the proud home of Cork Hibernians F.C., who drew fine crowds to their matches with the likes of Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne, Bohemians and, of course, local derbies with arch rivals, Cork Celtic.
At 26 years of age Denis Law was at the height of his pomp and had already commanded a series of record transfer fees
However, very few crowds matched the 10,000 spectators who packed in to Flower Lodge on that Whit week-end in 1966 to see the then European Footballer of the Year parade his talents before us. At 26 years of age Denis Law was at the height of his pomp and had already commanded a series of record transfer fees as he moved from Huddersfield Town to Manchester City, thence to Torino in Italy and finally to Manchester United in 1962, breaking transfer records each time he moved. He captained United from ’64 to ’68 leading them to two First Division (now Premiership) titles in 1965 & 1967.
With Man Utd he scored 237 goals and holds the record for the most competitive goals scored – 46 – in a single season and was awarded the Ballon d’Or as European Football of the Year in 1965.
Such was his status he was awarded a civic reception in the City Hall on his arrival in Cork along with team-mate Noel Cantwell. Cantwell, of course, was from Cork’s Mardyke Road and was to captain United to FA Cup success in 1963.
(By coincidence, the following week-end saw Law’s team-mate and Man. United’s iconic goalkeeper, Harry Greg, also line out in Flower Lodge in another ‘All-Stars’ exhibition match. Gregg was the famous goalkeeper who pulled Bobby Charlton, Jackie Blanchfield and his badly injured manager, Matt Busby, and others from the wreckage of the Munich air disaster in 1958 which wiped out the ‘Busby Babes’, Manchester United’s gifted team of youngsters. I have included a photograph of Gregg in action in Flower Lodge)
He was mobbed every time he appeared and I was there with my camera leading the charge!
But Denis Law – the fisherman’s son from Aberdeen – was the star attraction that day and we packed Flower Lodge to see him. Health & Safety was not an issue back in 1966 and the biggest problem was, first of all, to get Denis Law from his car into the dressing rooms and then, from the dressing rooms on to the field. He was mobbed every time he appeared and I was there with my camera leading the charge! Eventually referee, the legendary ‘Nedser’ Cotter, took control and threatened to abandon the game if we didn’t clear the field. (Which he hadn’t any intention of doing, of course, as Nedser was as excited as any of us!)
He smashed one ball against the crossbar and I’d swear the ball crossed the half-way line on the rebound!
Law captained an ‘All-Star’ selection on the day and had the likes of John Brohan (Cork Hibs), Austin Noonan (Cork Celtic), Al Finucane (Limerick), Tommy Taylor (Waterford) and, believe it or not, future rugby international Barry McGann, who was a very promising soccer player with Glasheen at the time, in his side. But we only had eyes for Law and we marveled at his speed around the field and we ‘oohed’ and ‘aawed’ at how high he could climb for a crossed ball from the wing. He smashed one ball against the crossbar and I’d swear the ball crossed the half-way line on the rebound!
I needn’t tell you that half-time and full-time were chaotic as hordes of autograph hunters rushed the field while the stars hared for the dressing-rooms. It was little wonder that Law’s side were beaten 8-3 with Law himself scoring from two penalties and Cantwell adding a third. But we had seen enough of the charismatic Scot to satisfy ourselves that he really was as good as they said he was.
Two years later he transferred to Manchester City – but that’s another story.