It’s not often you get an opportunity to meet the footballer you worshipped as a youngster growing up let alone play with them – but for Jim McCalliog it was a day that he will cherish forever.
The midfielder made his Scotland debut alongside boyhood idol Denis Law back in 1967, scoring in the famous 3-2 victory over reigning world champions England at Wembley.
The former Manchester United star remains Scotland’s only ever Ballon d’Or winner and is widely regarded as one of the country’s greatest ever players after scoring an impressive 30 goals during his 55 caps for the national team.
McCalliog was devastated to learn just over a month ago that his great friend had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia and admits he was overcome by emotion when the ‘King’ agreed to write the foreword to his new autobiography.
He said: “I was more nervous about meeting Denis than playing against England!
“Honestly, I swear. That was the scariest. It was great to meet him, and I have still got a photo of him in the house.
“I played for Sheffield Wednesday against Man United at Hillsborough on the Wednesday then on the Saturday was the England v Scotland game.
“Denis was my hero growing up. I think he was everybody’s hero.
“The thing about Denis was he could play as a striker and he could play in midfield, so he had a lot of football intelligence over and above the all-action Denis that we all know.
“The thing that really marks him out is he was so feisty. There were all these big defenders, but Denis would be in among them like a dog with a bone. That is the way he was.
“When I rang him to ask if he would do the foreword for my book, and he said yes, I just burst into tears.
“The new about Denis is horrendous because he’s not only one of the best players Scotland’s ever had – he’s also a great human being. That’s the difference.
“To score the winning goal against England at Wembley and the first person to come over to congratulate you is your hero, it doesn’t get much better. It was definitely the pinnacle of my career.”
Law became the latest Scottish football legend to face a fight against dementia, with Celtic greats Billy McNeill and Stevie Chalmers among a growing list of retired stars to recently lose their battle.
He was by no means the only superstar in Bobby Brown’s team to face the Auld Enemy that afternoon during a golden generation for Scotland.
McCalliog stated: “In the dressing room before we played England I was looking around and thinking: ‘Why are England such big favourites?’
“We had four guys who were going to win the European Cup (Bobby Lennox, Ronnie Simpson, Tommy Gemmell and Willie Wallace of Celtic) and two guys who were going to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup (John Greig and Ronnie McKinnon of Rangers).
“Then we had the Anglos: Jim Baxter, Eddie McCreadie and Billy Bremner. Don’t forget Billy. He was a tremendous player with Leeds and Scotland. So there were some heroes in there.”
McCalliog confirmed Rangers legend Baxter stood out as the one player who oozed the most self-belief in the squad as he recalled a memorable pre-match story.
He admitted: “Baxter would strut about. He was the most confident player I ever saw.
“We had finished training one day and he was first on the bus. He had a pen and a bit of paper. I said to him: ‘What are you doing? Are you a paper reporter now?’ He said: ‘No, I’m picking the ugly team. You’re alright, sit down’.”
“He was just winding everyone up. That was how confident Baxter was. It didn’t matter to him that he was playing England.”
Reflecting on his own Scotland career the 75-year-old said: “Only one of my caps was at Hampden. I had four away games.
“I quite enjoyed the game against Russia. It was quite weird and so out of character for Tommy Gemmell, he hit a pass-back from the halfway line to the goalie and the ball bounced in front of the keeper and went in the back of the net after 15 minutes.
“It kind of knocked us out of our stride. The team wasn’t the same as what played at Wembley.
“Unfortunately for myself and maybe some of the other players, we never played again together. It was one game and one game only.”
Born in the Gorbals, McCalliog enjoyed an illustrious career in England as he turned out for Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday, Wolves, Man United and Southampton.
He reckons it is now time for the country to produce the next set of heroes.
McCalliog believes the emergence of a few younger stars of the future and having more players now plying their trade in the English Premier League again has enabled Scotland to put years of international failure and disappointment behind them.
He claimed: “What makes the difference is now the Scotland support have some heroes. Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Scott McTominay, John McGinn, Billy Gilmour.
“Gilmour looks very good, doesn’t he? Hopefully he’ll be playing for Scotland for a lot of years to come.
“You can tell by their body language when you get players coming in the team that have been playing in the English Premier League. They stick their chest out and have a bit more of a swagger.
“Players who are maybe not at as big a team are maybe shier. It gives confidence to everyone and you can feel it off them.
“Every nation needs heroes and, looking back, we had them in abundance.
“I just feel like if we had a striker scoring goals more regularly, that would make all the difference, but everywhere else on the pitch we’re a lot better and defensively we’re a lot better.
“Steve Clarke was a great appointment, he’s down to earth and proper guy with a great CV. He’s bringing in a few of the young boys as well that are coming through.
“Nathan Patterson is another example. This is what you’ve got to look to do because all the young kids will see this and think ‘oh I’ll follow in their footsteps’.
“It’s a tough game on Saturday. We seem to have been drawn Israel so many times, but they are a good team.
“If we get the result, which I think we will do, that will be marvellous for the nation.”
*McCalliog was speaking at the launch of his book ‘Wembley Wins Wembley Woes’. He is a long-standing supporter of Football Memories Scotland (www.footballmemoriesscotland.co.uk) which supports people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia to reminisce over a golden era of football.