A Long Overdue Recognition:
Earlier today it was announced that former Liverpool FC player and manager Kenny Dalglish is to receive a knighthood in the Queen’s birthday honours list. For many, this will come as no surprise. He is, after all, a ‘legend’, both at the club and in the world of football. But when other club legends, including Bob Paisley (who won the European Cup three times) have been successively overlooked and considering the lengthy, public campaign for Dalglish to receive such recognition, this is a significant event that gives rise to both delight and relief whilst acknowledging that his work has also involved a wider community, especially in the city of Liverpool and during a sustained period of grievous suffering . The honour is also totally justified.
Sir Kenny Dalglish
Kenny Dalglish is a man who adds a sense of dignity to any event and who is characterised by modesty and humility. I have long wondered as to how he might react to such recognition. Kenny’s response is that he is “humbled and gratified”. He has also said,””But just because we’re a wee bit embarrassed about it doesn’t underestimate how pleased and proud we are to have received it”. “I thought it was a tax bill” he told BBC Radio Merseyside. In a statement, Kenny paid homage to the managers who provided his own opportunities and nurtured his talents, those being Jock Stein, Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley.
Yet Kenny has also been responsible for encouraging and inspiring players from around the world. In a congratulatory tweet, the current Liverpool Captain still refers to Kenny as “the boss”. Gary Lineker has tweeted, “No one in football is more deserving”.
Celtic and Liverpool Careers:
Sir Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish MBE was born in Glasgow in March 1951 (the same month as me). At the age of 15 he played in a Liverpool shirt for the first time, playing for the B-team during a brief trial. In 1971 Dalglish began his professional football career at Celtic where he won 4 Scottish League Championships, 4 Scottish Cups and a Scottish League Cup with the club. In 1977 he joined Liverpool as a replacement for star player Kevin Keegan who, having just won both the League Championship and the European Cup, decided to look for a fresh challenge at Hamburg SV (for a record £500k fee).
Dalglish capped his first season as a Liverpool player by scoring the winning goal in the European Cup final, a 1-0 defeat of FC Brugges. With Dalglish as a player, Liverpool enjoyed one of their most successful periods winning 3 European Cups, 6 League Championships, an FA cup and 4 successive League Cups. Dalglish was voted FWA Footballer of the Year twice (1979, 1984) and PFA Player of the Year (1983). These achievements together with his style of play earned Dalglish the name ‘King Kenny’ amongst the Liverpool supporters. For a long period, it was possible to successfully predict that if Dalglish had the ball in the penalty area, he would score.
The following video of Kenny Dalglish in action is a 720pHD compilation that includes archive TV quality clips. It includes (at 5m 38s) footage of his winning goal in the 1978 European Cup final –
Following the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985, Joe Fagan resigned as Liverpool manager and Dalglish was appointed player-manager of the club. In his first season in the dual role, Dalglish won the coveted double of a League Championship and FA Cup. In all, Liverpool won 3 League Championships, 2 FA Cups and a League Cup in this period with Dalglish as manager and he was voted Manager of the Year three times (1986,1988 and 1990).
In total, Dalglish scored 172 goals in 515 appearances for Liverpool. In his international career, Dalglish scored 30 goals in 102 appearances for Scotland between 1971 and 1986, becoming their most capped player and leading goalscorer (jointly with Denis Law). In 2009, football magazine ‘FourFourTwo’ named Dalglish as the greatest striker in post-war British football. He has also been inducted into both the Scottish and English Football Halls of Fame.
The Hillsborough Disaster:
But all those great, aforementioned achievements were to be overshadowed by the Hillsborough Disaster of 15th April 1989 where Dalglish’s Liverpool team were due to play an FA Cup semi-final against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. Soon after kick-off, a human crush resulted in the worst disaster in British sporting history where 96 Liverpool supporters, some very young, lost their lives and 766 were injured. It was said that almost every Liverpudlian knew someone who was bereaved by the tragedy. At a time when the entire city was devastated and so many families were incosolable in their grief, it was realised that the club and especially the team, whose importance to the victims had drawn them to what should have been an ordinary football match, had a role to play and a responsibility to provide whatever support they could.
Such was his involvement in the aftermath of the disaster, it was believed by many that Kenny Dalglish had attended every funeral and memorial service. The reality is that he attended most of them but does not recall exactly how many. What is certain is that Kenny ensured that every funeral was attended by high profile players and others from the club. He also ensured that visits were also made to every hospital bedside and that the club liaised with the families in any way that might offer support. This support has continued in various forms until the present day and Kenny would always be noticed amongst those attending the annual memorial services.
Floral Tribute at Anfield
The experience of Hillsborough placed the game of football in a different perspective and there seemed no great willingless to play again amongst many of the players. With the fixture list on hold, Celtic FC, Kenny’s former club, offered a friendly match in Glasgow in support of the victims and families. The appropriate nature of this event enabled players to be involved and to return to playing football. Liverpool would remain a great club but even so, it would be decades before supporters could be optimistic about a return to the level of success experienced in the 1970s and 1980s. The English game would also change as a result and not least because the FA allowed new TV deals for live football to be shown as a means of raising the investment need to improve ground safety with all-seater stadia. Thus, the Premiership replaced the 1st division of the football league.
The intensity of Kenny’s involvement in the Hillsborough aftermath would not be without personal cost. Two years later, in 1991, he decided to put his family first and resigned as manager for the sake of his own wellbeing. Eight months later he took up the post of manager at Blackburn Rovers and later went on to manage Newcastle United and Celtic. In each case he brought success to the club he managed but either resigned or was dismissed the following season. He had taken Blackburn from the 2nd division to the Premier League, finished as runners-up in both the Premier League and FA Cup in his first season at Newcastle and won the Scottish League Cup with Celtic. His period of tenure at Blackburn was 4 years but he lasted only one year at each of Newcastle and Celtic.
Later Involvement and Charity Work:
Following the dismissal of Roy Hodgson, Dalglish returned to Liverpool as caretaker manager in January 2011 and was appointed permanent manager in May of that year. As with his previous appointments at other clubs, he had an immediate impact in turning around the team’s ailing fortunes but after winning the League Cup (thus earning a place in the Europa League) and reaching the FA Cup final in 2012, he was dismissed in May. In October 2013 Dalglish returned to Anfield as a non-executive director and has remained fully involved in the club ever since.
In 2004, Dalglish and his wife founded the charity, The Marina Dalglish Appeal, to raise money to help treat cancer. The respect, admiration and friendship of other players for Dalglish has enabled him to organise many charity matches and other events in which he has also participated around the world in order to raise money for the charity. Dalglish often competes in the annual Gary Player Invitational Tournament, a charity golfing event which raises money for children’s causes around the world. On 1st July 2011, Dalglish was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Ulster, for services to football and charity.
Football is a game full of talented players where the word ‘legend’ can be liberally applied. Liverpool is a club with a great history and is therefore endowned with many legends. But amongst Liverpool supporters Kenny Dalglish is the indisputable ‘Legend’ whether on the basis of skill, success, commitment, loyalty or all of these qualities. In 2006 he topped a Liverpool fans’ poll of “100 Players Who Shook the Kop” and the number 7 shirt will always be synonymous with King Kenny. On 13 October 2017, Anfield’s Centenary Stand was officially renamed the Kenny Dalglish Stand in recognition of his unique contribution to the club.
I have been a Liverpool supporter since 1974. For many years after Hillsborough I chose not to buy a replica Liverpool shirt. Instead I bought a cheaper, generic top and sent the difference in price to one of the Hillsborough support groups. When in fairly recent years a friend decided to buy me a replica shirt as a gift and asked what name should go on the back, my obvious choice was ‘Dalglish’.
Given Kenny’s standing amongst Liverpool supporters, it is no surprise that there has been a long-standing campaign for him to be awarded a knighthood. There is a “Make Him Sir Kenny” social media page for example and there has also been an online petition to this effect. But if you enquire as to why he deserves such an honour or indeed, why he is held in such affection by Liverpool supporters, the first reason you will be given involves his work in supporting the community following the Hillsborough Disaster. It is therefore particularly gratifying to see the citation for Kenny’s knighthood –
“He was Liverpool manager at the time of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989,” it reads. “He selflessly made himself available to the families of the bereaved, attending most of the funerals, organising hospital visits and attending annual memorial services held at Anfield. He has been a steadfast supporter of the families in their quest for and throughout the Hillsborough Inquiry, and was granted Freedom of the City of Liverpool in recognition of his work. He is the co-founder of The Marina Dalglish Appeal, his family’s cancer charity which opened the £1.5m Centre for Oncology at University Hospital, Aintree in 2007 and which has raised over £10m in total.”
As Liverpool CEO Peter Moore tweeted –
“A king becomes a knight. Our hero in front of goal and in the manager’s seat, but most of all, when we needed him most, he was there for us, for the families, for the city. There couldn’t be a more deserving person to receive this recognition. “
Kenny Acknowledges Supporters
Arise Sir Kenny, King of the Kop. YNWA
Credits and References:
1. Floral Tribute photograph from the Liverpool Echo
2. Kenny Dalglish at Wikipedia
3. Kenny Dalglish career statistics at LFCHistory.net
4. Kenny Dalglish – The Humble Knight at Anfield Online
5. Video compilation from MerseyGoals YouTube channel