Heroes, Just for One Day

by Gareth Mowatt

They say you should never meet your heroes, as they invariably disappoint. I don’t think that would be the case with Denis Law – after all he was one of us, from the streets, a working class kid made good, the Aberdeen trawlerman’s son, who in front of goal had the reactions of a mongoose on speed, and a Gallus streak as wide as Union Street. We all wanted to be Denis back then.

Growing up in 1960s Fife, we played football on the streets for hours on end. It was just what we did at that time in our lives; football was our escape, we lived and breathed it. Games back then were often decided on the next goals, the winner principle, no penalty shootouts in those days. World Cups, European Cups were all often decided using this method, a sort of Duckworth Lewis method for the streets. In that short spell before girls and other distractions kicked in, I must have won more medals than Ryan Giggs, although to be fair he can take out his and admire them, while mine and how they were won are but fading memories of a distant past.

If we were not outside playing the game, we would sit inside captivated by Match of the Day, as Denis pounced in front of the Stretford End, wheeling away with his right arm pointing to the sky, fingers tightly gripping the cuff of his long-sleeved shirt – always long sleeved and always worn outside his shorts – another opposition defence breached, another to add to his ever-growing tally of goals.

When playing for Manchester City against Luton Town in an FA cup tie, Denis scored an astonishing six goals, only for the game to be abandoned, his efforts to be in vain. To rub salt into his wounds, City lost the replayed game to crash out of the competition, much to the annoyance of Denis, who, like most elite sports people was fiercely competitive, hating to lose anything. Bobby Charlton, along with Denis and George Best made up the legendary Old Trafford Holy Trinity of Law. Best and Charlton once said Denis would kick his granny to win a game! Charlton had obviously never met an Aberdonian granny, as even the Lawman would have seen that as a challenge too far!

Our heroes were all guys like Denis; nowadays they would be called mavericks, or anti-establishment – we Scots have a word for people like that, Gallus, to have a bit about yourself, a presence, a life lived on the edge. The funny thing is, now looking back to those days, I never see colour, only black and white. That’s how heroes were in those days, grainy black and white images flickering across our television screens. No rolling news channels, no internet back then, and things were all the better for that. We never got close to our heroes, we never really knew them, only what they did on the pitch, which was a good thing. It allowed them to keep their magic, their mystique, and that’s all that mattered to us. You see, the thing with heroes is that if you get to know too much about them, get too close to them, if you strip away that air of mystery surrounding them, then there is a danger they will be revealed as mere mortals like the rest of us, with all our flaws and foibles.

The street football with my friends is long gone now, a distant memory of a time gone by. Some friends are also long gone, lost touch with as they made their way through the uncharted waters that is life; others are also gone, behind the sun, where no doubt we will meet some day to reminisce, argue and bicker as friends do.

Me? I work offshore on an oil rig, and trust me when I say it’s a way of life that is not for everyone. It’s noisy, cramped, and hard to find your own personal space – a bit like jail I would imagine, but without the drugs or the tattoos, and the food is better. When I do find time to myself I sit down, kick back, close my eyes, and allow myself to travel back in time, remembering the scrawny Scottish kid with a God-given talent arriving late in the penalty box in front of the Stretford End – well, you know what happens next, I don’t need to tell you – after all, maybe, just maybe, you were there. To paraphrase another United legend, “Heroes bloody hell.”

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