‘Denis has done it!’

More than forty-five years on, for City (and United) fans of a certain vintage, those four simple words still resonate loud and clear and perfectly crystallise one of the most remarkable days in Manchester derby history.

They were uttered by long-standing former Granada TV commentator Gerald Sinstadt and recall the moment Denis Law struck one of the most famous goals in Manchester derby history.

It’s a goal that has resonated down successive generations of Blues – and Reds – and it still stands as one of the most iconic touchstones in Manchester footballing folklore.

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The date was April 27th, 1974 and an ageing United – fighting for their very Division One lives – were at home to a City side featuring Scotland legend Law, who had left Old Trafford the previous summer after 11 years' sterling service to return for a second spell at Maine Road.

While Tommy Docherty’s United were freefalling towards the Division Two trapdoor, after a remarkable career, 34-year-old Law was enjoying an Indian Summer with City.

Not only had he helped the Blues reach the 1974 League Cup final, Law had also earned a place in Scotland’s 1974 World Cup finals squad.

But nothing could have prepared him – or City – for the drama that was to befall at Old Trafford that spring afternoon.

In what was the penultimate game of a nightmare season for United, with just nine minutes left, Law conjured some of his trademark skill and verve by instinctively back-heeling Francis Lee's square pass beyond home 'keeper Alex Stepney to hand City a 1-0 win.

For a moment time stood still before the enormity of the moment dawned on both Law and a stunned crowd of 56,966.

A crestfallen Law could barely trudge back to the centre circle let alone celebrate with his ecstatic City team-mates

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Within moments he had been substituted shortly before United fans staged a mass pitch invasion that forced the game to be abandoned with five minutes still left to play, though the result still stood.

It remains one of the most memorable Manchester derby matches ever staged.

And mythology has subsequently immortalised Law as the man whose goal relegated United.

The truth however is somewhat more prosaic.

Not that he knew it at the time, but Law’s goal was irrelevant in terms of United’s overall survival.

Victories elsewhere that afternoon for West Ham and Birmingham meant that even if Docherty’s side had prevailed against City they were still doomed.

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In the heat of battle though Law wasn’t to know that.

And for the Scotsman – a man who had given so much to both sides of Manchester – it was a sobering moment.

Reflecting back on that eventful day in 2012, Law admitted: “I just felt depressed, and that wasn’t like me.

“After 19 years of trying my hardest to score goals, here was one that I almost wished hadn’t actually gone in. I was inconsolable. I didn’t want it to happen.”

City team-mate Rodney Marsh was another taken by the impact of the moment on Law.


                        BACK IN BLUE: Denis Law is all smiles after rejoining City in the summer of 1973
BACK IN BLUE: Denis Law is all smiles after rejoining City in the summer of 1973

In his autobiography, Marsh recalled: “In the dressing room afterwards, Denis was as miserable as I’ve seen him.

“His goal hadn’t relegated United but he later told me that only one other game had made him feel as bad and that was England winning the World Cup.”

It was to prove Law’s last moment in competitive club professional football.

After playing for Scotland in that 1974 World Cup finals, though Denis then figured in two pre-season Texaco Cup games for City in August 1974, he officially announced his retirement later that month.

Law could reflect with justifiable pride on a remarkable career that saw him plunder 303 goals from more than 600 club appearances in England, Scotland and Italy as well as a further 30 strikes for his beloved Scotland.

Yet the irony is that, for many, Denis is still best remembered for the goal he would do anything to forget.