WE live in an era of almost crippling political correctness, in which the need to be viewed as non-discriminatory is often paralysing; and yet, when it comes to football and friendship, favouritism is a process of differentiation in which we all engage openly and without fear of censure. None of us would ever want it known that we prefer the denizens of one country over another or that we consider the food of a particular region to be inedible detritus, but we will quite happily arrange to meet our best mate at the match and sing lustily about our favourite player whilst also mercilessly barracking the bloody gormless defender who’s been giving us palpitations all season – I mean, what’s actually wrong with that twonk? Play the way you’re facing lad!
I’ve been picking favourites since the late Seventies. My first choice, the capo di tutti capi, remains Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish. Kenny’s the only real hero I’ve ever had, apart from Mohammed Ali. Having just turned forty, I’m too young to have enjoyed Ali’s great years. A magnificent human, Ali is worthy of endless articles devoted solely to his genius and charisma, but it was Dalglish who captured my young imagination. Christ, the things that man could do with a football. I may have been seeing stars, but as the early Eighties edged glacially onwards under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, I thought he was the best in the world. Bestriding pitches across Europe in the wonderful kits of the era, Dalglish was a footballing visionary; a real-life version of the eponymous hero from my weekly Roy of the Rovers comic.
An anxious and overly analytical youngster, I was busy balancing the comics by reading about the horror of nuclear winter and wondering why even harmless TV fluff like Benson and Silver Spoons seemed to have an episode about The Bomb; but as Reagan and Andropov did the apocalypse shuffle, football was the soothing balm to my youthful angst. Michel Platini, Karl Heinz Rummenigge and Zbigniew Boniek were all playing in the more fashionable Italian league and scooped most of the plaudits, but for this scribbler, Kenny Dalglish was better than them all. A deceptively hardy bastard, Dalglish’s brain was always that bit quicker than his opponent’s and his vision made him the finest passer of a ball one could wish to see. He could shield the ball and ‘arse’ his way back into non-existent space, a low centre of gravity affording him unique balance and poise, which he used to tear teams apart, but it was the goals that defined him. So many wonderful goals and yet one stands out for me ahead of any other.
European Cup victories in 1984 in Rome and eight years ago in Istanbul are high on the list of most people”s favourite football moments, but it was amidst the infinitely more prosaic surroundings of the old Stamford Bridge in 1986, that I had my spiritual peak as a Liverpool fan. On that May day, as I approached my thirteenth birthday, Alan Hansen led out a Liverpool team which featured a thirty six year old Dalglish returned by himself to the first eleven out of necessity as the side faltered in his absence during his first campaign as player/manager. Inspired by the great man, Liverpool had rallied to peg back a ten point Manchester United lead and found themselves facing Chelsea on the final day of the campaign, knowing a win would seal the title and a crack at the coveted Double on the following Saturday against Everton at Wembley. What followed eclipsed even the most reality-stretching plot involving the aforementioned Roy Race.
Kenny wore the long sleeved version of that classic adidas kit (my dad bought me the knock-off version afterwards – I”ve never loved him more) as he jogged out, all wary grimaces and decade-straddling barnet. Around him that day were the likes of Jan Molby, Ronnie Whelan and Ian Rush, the man with whom he had formed the most lethal partnership in Europe. The creativity on this occasion came from a different source, however. On twenty three minutes, having had his shot blocked, Whelan stretched to head-on the rebound. It fell to Jim Beglin on the edge of the D, who”d remained in attack following his earlier effort. His first time volleyed pass was cushioned expertly onwards for Dalglish, who”d drifted in from the left. As he approached the corner of the six yard box, the Scot took the ball on his chest and without breaking stride, allowed it to drop to his right foot, before volleying past Tony Godden in the Chelsea goal. Cue the biggest grin in football and the that we all got to revel in again as it was reprised, of late, in the dugouts of the Premier League.
The rest of the game is a blur. Dalglish”s strike had been enough. Only weeks previously, it looked like that lot from across the park were going to take a second successive title and now, on the last day, Liverpool were champions again, for the sixteenth time, no less. Think of it. Think of the impact of that on a twelve year old boy. It was spirit-shocking, defining, inspirational. I had moist eyes as I revelled in the pathetically brief coverage that night. Every Sunday paper was bought without question, as my dad, a dyed-in-the-wool Manc, stretched the meagre family budget so that my brother and I could have every possible report and image for our posters and scrap-books. The whole delightful routine was repeated the following Sunday after Kenny et al had beaten Everton to win the Double in his first season as player/manager. As darkness descended on the successive summer evenings that followed, I pulled older brother rank many times and forced my beleaguered sibling to dink pass after Beglinesque pass into my path so I could recreate my hero”s finest hour. Each time the ball nestled in the back of our home-made nets, I felt the very same visceral thrill, the very same frisson of connection with my hero.
In these cynical and world-weary times, it can be dangerous to elevate anyone to hero-status. Media saturation means that no weakness, foible or ill-advised life-choice is unscrutinised. Very few things have hurt me as much as the vilification Kenny Dalglish endured during the 2011/2012 season. When he came back, ending the soul-destroying tenure of Henry Winter”s beloved Roy Hodgson, my instinct was to hope he would walk away in the summer. I couldn”t bear to see my hero tarnish his unblemished legacy. Like everyone else, however, I was beguiled by the return of The King and the re-emergence of pass-and-move football. Sadly, the season was a huge disappointment. Dalglish and Damien Comolli saddled the club with overpriced and under-performing talent and the fallout from the Suarez scandal made the manager an increasingly belligerent presence in the national media. People have drawn their own conclusions about how the great man”s second spell was ended, but ended it was, and my initial misgivings were proved to be sapient ones.
The most saddening aspect of Kenny”s last spell as manager is the justification it has given to some fans to display a total lack of respect and knowledge. It became a kind of badge of honour for some to point out the bleedin” obvious and say that things had gone awry under Dalglish”s stewardship. That was devastatingly clear and it was being said even by those who revered the man as much as I. How depressing it was to hear fans speak of Kenny Dalglish in the same bile-filled way they had bitched about his lamentable predecessor. For these children of the Benitez era, the legacy of the club”s finest ever player was ignored as they failed to temper their abuse with a modicum of deference. Honesty is possible without descending to ignorant name-calling. The podcast by The Anfield Wrap, called We Need To Talk About Kenny showed that perfectly. It was a difficult topic and needed talking about but you watch your bloody mouth when you speak about what Kenny Dalglish has done for Liverpool, the city, its people and the football club.
Ultimately, the last couple of years have taught me much about the reality of having heroes. People, you see, will quite often be awful, let you down, break your heart or steal your faith. The purity of a young boy”s hero-worship is not something that can transmute intact into adulthood. Wary cynicism prevents it. We have suffered too many disappointments and endured too many moments of dolorous discomfiture. Yet, I swear to your chosen deity, I still felt that old unbridled joy when Kenny celebrated a goal with the fans. I still hung on his every word with a childish anticipation and a fierce pride. He was, and still is, my hero.
Superb read. Loved it.
I think younger supporters, even those with a thirst for history satiated by modern media, missed out on so many true legends that have graced the Anfield turf.
I feel privileged to have seen the shirt worn with pride by many, both home and away. Today the media creates false heroes and the word legend is bandied around too easily, devoid of real significance. KK is the epitome and standard by which all should be measured. We are fortunate that throughout our history we can pull together a squad of legends and heroes.
Brilliantly put yet again.
It was a hard season to take. Men my age (42) almost gave up completely on football when he was sacked, proper Liverpool fans, prepared to give it up because of their respect for Kenny and the way he was treated. And then to hear these ‘kids’ slating him….
I chastised one once by telling him that Kenny was only one of a handful of men to win the Premiership. “Who with?” he replied……… says it all.
That was a lovely read.
Bit of a generalisation, don’t you think. I’d consider myself a ‘kid’ or ‘child of the Houllier/Benitez era’ and many older fans who have been lucky enough to bear witness to his genius wanted Kenny sacked when I didn’t.
It still stings to be honest. For all the people calling him Brent when that documentary was on last year, Rodgers seems like a nice fella who has been put in some tricky situations by the club but easily the cringiest thing that has been said over the other nonsense people put too much stock in, is when he podcasted with TAW recently and felt the need unprompted, to defend his first season by comparing it to Kenny’s league (and wisely, only his league) season the year before. Just… No need.
Totally agree with the ‘Brent’ observation. The timing of that documentary couldn’t have been worse. It’s well known that the very act of observing will alter the behaviour of the observed, and it was obvious from the get go that that was occurring here.
The comment you’ve singled out as a generalization, WASN’T for me, in MY experience. I wasn’t trying to put forward any kind of empirical evidence about fan attitudes to Kenny. It’s as personal a piece as I’ve written and therefore, utterly subjective. The tone of it was intended to be nostalgic and celebratory but my experience of having Kenny as a hero was tainted by the ignorance of some – it just so happened that most of them were of the era I mentioned. So, clearly, no offence intended and no generalization made.
My mistake actually, Trevor. I was more just responding to stephen martin with the ‘kids’ comment but went down to the bottom to comment for some reason rather than click reply.
Anyway, love reading/hearing fans about of that time gush over Kenny and your article was no exception.
Its a tough business, being a hero.
For KK to come back and give it a go when the odds were that he wouldnt be adding to his legend, makes him all the more remarkable.
Kenny’s memorial will be his behaviour after Hillsborough. All your Sir Alex Fergusons and other plastic Knights of the Realm cannot begin to match the man’s dignity and simple humanity.
In addition to which, he was the greatest player ever to don a Liverpool shirt.
I prayed he would walk voluntarily – job done – when he dragged us out of the sump Hodgson left us in. It saddens me that didn’t, and was dismissed by investors.
That TAW podcast had me stopping in the street and shouting at no one in particular.
That was beautiful writing, nothing in there that I disagree with. Like you I used to get annoyed at the children of the Benitez or indeed Evans generations with their desire to slag the king or to inflate average players to the status of ‘legend’ but now I just pity them for never having witnessed the glory and the genius of Dalglish and his teammates.
Am I on my own in thinking Kenny’s 2nd spell wasn’t the disaster people make out? Even ignoring the excellent cup form and just concentrating on the league I don’t think we were too far off.
It cannot be overstated just how unlucky we were in so many games in Kenny’s full season. We hit the woodwork 33 times (next most in the division was in the teens) and missed 7/8 penos. In short we were one great finisher away from comfortably getting top 4.
The poor form of the last 8 games of that season can be explained by the fact that we had nothing to play for. We had got Europa League qualification via Carling Cup and after the Arsenal home game (that we absolutely dominated but once again lost due to no decent finisher) the week after winning the Carling Cup we were 10 points off fourth so the players clearly lost hope. When players feel they have nothing to play for in April and May you are going to lose games cos majority of opponents are fighting for the title/Cl/Europe or against relegation. Unfortunately a lot of people used those 8 games as the measure of Kenny’s season and ignored the previous 30 games, the majority of which we dominated, playing great football and would have won with a decent finisher.
He made mistakes too, but I find it hard to accept that he was a ‘failure’ when he was one good finisher away from comfortably getting top 4. I’m confident we would have got top 4 if Torres had stayed and kept up the form he showed in Kenny’s first few games in charge. I definitely think he deserved another season.
I’ve seen a few Liverpool teams that looked a long way away from the games elite, but Kenny’s wasn’t one of them.
Nope, you’re not alone. I’d even argue that we had that finisher in Suarez. For some reason, the ball just wouldn’t go in… With owners that had actual experience of football, and who were actually present, I do think they would have recognised the quality of the football that was played. As it stands, I would wager they just had people briefing them from press reports, and there was an obvious, and to my mind completely unjustified, anti-Dalglish slant in some sections of the press, in particular after the Suarez-Evra incident.
That said, it’s also true that, much as it personally amused me, being a vestige of a bygone era, Dalglish did himself no favours with his overt aversion to journalists. Still, while I was horrified at the way he was sacked, he certainly did not lose any credit in my eyes.
As for Rodgers, my personal jury is still out, the football has at times been more than decent. Unfortunately, the illusion is shattered each time he actually speaks (and boy, could he learn a thing or two from Dalglish on the virtues of terseness).
Lovely piece, cheers from another fortyish Kenny/Ali fan… come to think of it, while obviously very different, I think that what unites them is … dignity.
What Paul and mk11 said. When you hear fans talking about how unlucky their team was you tend to roll your eyes and imagine they’ve been blinded by club loyalty, but I defy anyone to look at KK’s league season and deny that we had the shittiest ever end of the stick. It got so bad that we’d get to the end of yet another game we’d dominated but hadn’t won and I’d sit there giggling uncontrollably for half an hour like some sort of fruitloop. It was post-tragic and had become comedic. I’m surprised it didn’t send KK and the players insane.
KK’s problem is that after Hillsborough he basically despises the press with every fibre of his being and not being a hypocritical wanker this shines through in every interview he gave to guttersnipes like Shreeves et al. I think this did for him more than anything else. I hope so as you don’t sack a two-time cup winning manager in his first full season for a sub-par league performance. We’re not fucking Chelsea. And although I’m quite happy to back Brendan. it’s still never been adequately explained why the rules that applied to KK didn’t apply to Brendan. Ayre had a go at doing so but, as I say, it’s never been adequately explained. And BR didn’t have two cup wins to fall back on.
All in all, the nature of KK’ leaving left a nasty taste in the mouth of this particular 40-something fan of LFC that I don’t think will ever completely disappear.
Well we’re the only team that’s got a chance of doing it aren’t we?
God I miss Kenny.
Nice read by the way, thanks.
Isn’t Dalglish era II already looking like ‘ The Golden Age’. Where are we going under soundbite Bren ?