He Was The Greatest Of Them All
By Pete Carter
From Issue 48, Autumn 2000
There's a scene in the movie 'The Shawshank Redemption'
where the hero, Andy Dufresne, is explaining to
his fellow suffering prisoners that although the
penal institutions' goal was to strip him of the
most basic of human dignity, they couldn't prevent
him from retreating into his memory and conjuring
the beauty of his most precious memories, in this
case his love of the music of Mozart. I sometimes
feel like that with my memories of Kenny Dalglish.
Whilst a few videos can show some actual footage
of his brilliance on tape, there are moments which
weren't captured and therefore they only live
in the memory banks of those of us who had the
privilege of seeing the greatest player ever to
pull on a Liverpool jersey, according to Bob Paisley
- and me.
I will probably fail dismally in attempting to
put into words what I not only see in my mind
but feel in my heart about a player who transcended
the expectations of an impressionable teenager
looking for someone to idolise and which grew,
over the years, into reverence for the humanity
of the man as well as his genius on the football
field. He came to us in 1977 after the wily Paisley
broke the British transfer fee by enticing Celtic
to part with him for $440,000. Of course, it was
It took a while for him to become accepted as
a rightful replacement for the great Kevin Keegan,
though they were completely different players.
But I was fortunate in meeting a coach-load of
Celtic fans who had made the trip from Glasgow
simply to watch Dalglish on his debut away to
Middlesbrough where he scored in a 1-1 draw. Another
load of the same fans held him in such esteem
that they travelled to Anfield, for the game against
Newcastle, a few days later and further informed
us that in 6 months time we'd think him good enough
to part the Mersey. How right they were.
It wasn't just his ability on the ball, his vision
in bringing other people into the game, his poise,
football brain or the great goals he scored but
also the unadulterated joy he had in scoring while
playing his 'beautiful' game. It was as if he
knew he was privileged in acting out most people's
dearest wishes. Given Liverpool's utter dominance
during his time with us - mere coincidence I ask
you? - it got to the stage that, at times, it
was monotonous and, dare I say it, boring attending
some of the more mundane of fixtures at home.
We just knew that we'd win. To combat this I would
vary the places from which to watch the match
and just go and watch Dalglish. Two instances,
which reflect the essence of the man at Anfield,
are embedded in my memory. One cold night the
visitors were 'Boro, a dire team, who had the
plan of marking Dalglish with two defenders. After
about an hour of Kenny hardly getting a kick,
Clemence mopped up a rare attack on the edge of
the Kop 18-yard area.
Dalglish had drifted to the Paddock touchline
in an attempt to shake his markers. Clemence threw
the ball to him and he instantly controlled it
on his thigh and shimmied to his right. The defenders
bought the dummy hook line and sinker, and before
they could retrieve the situation Kenny had turned
to his left and, as the ball came down from his
thigh, played a 40 yard ball on the half-volley
into the path of a sprinting Davie Johnson out
on the Kemlyn Road wing. The whole thing lasted
a second or two. Blink and you would have missed
the sheer brilliance of it. I groaned with pleasure,
envy, respect, admiration and awe as I watched
from the Paddock that night in the knowledge that
I'd witnessed a 'simple' feat on the football
pitch that only a small iota of players who had
ever pulled on a pair of boots anywhere on the
planet could ever duplicate.
Another occasion was during the '80-'81 season
when the eventual Champions Aston Villa visited.
The preceding games at home had reaped disappointing
crowds and so Bob Paisley had banned the T.V.
cameras. On ya, Bob!! He had complained of their
growing influence in all things togger, particularly
the attendances. So, given the circumstances,
only the lucky 48,000 at the match witnessed two
great goals from Dalglish. You see, Villa had
an excellent team, full of flair up front, grit
in defence and a midfield containing the likes
of Mortimer, Cowans and Morley. They were a difficult
team to break down and there was hardly a glimmer
of a chance throughout the whole game.
With just over an hour gone, Kenny got the ball
on the edge of the Kop box, typically with his
back to goal and a multitude of defenders pushing,
jockeying, kicking and scything at him. However
his incredible strength, determination and skill
in shielding the ball and twisting and turning
whilst still gracefully balanced, got him in a
position where he had a scintilla of a glimpse
of the goal and he shot into the corner giving
the keeper no chance. His second a few minutes
from time, and the ultimate winner, was a similar
effort a bit nearer the goal with him seemingly
making space out of nothing in a packed penalty
box. Low into the corner of the onion bag and
it was time for celebration as the crowd went
mad and the players mobbed Kenny. Upon rising
from his joyous team-mates who had pummelled him
into the ground, he faced the Kop and, with one
arm raised and hair stuck to his forehead as a
testimony to his endeavours of this gruelling
battle, he gave that beaming, almost fluorescent
Jesus, we all loved that smile! Not for Kenny
was the almost painful relief of most of the present
day players' emotions when they've scored - or
swinging round the fucking corner flag! No, you
knew that he loved scoring for us, the fans, and
his team and demonstrated his pleasure with THAT
one and only smile covering his sanguine face.
Arms raised, shoulders back, chest proudly dominant.
Scoring aside, his ability in bringing other players
into the game was second to none, anywhere in
the world. On occasions, as George Best once opined,
you felt sorry for him as there was no-one in
whatever team he was playing for that could match
up to his vision. Once in possession of the ball,
usually after extricating himself from at least
one defender hanging off him, he would quickly
look up, analyse the play and see space and possibilities
that his team mates just couldn't see and act
upon. He is the most intelligent footballer I've
ever seen, quite simply on a different mental
plane to the players of his time. Ian Rush, as
great a goalscorer as he proved to be, was developed,
moulded, and shaped - in my humble opinion - by
having the ability and speed to read and be on
the end of Dalglish's unique talent in opening
up the play.
Further to the reverence in which he was held
by the Anfield masses I believe that, grudgingly,
he was respected and admired by other fans too.
I was once in the Gwladys St. End for a derby
match and witnessed a barrage of personal abuse
at Dalglish for an hour. Finally one dyed in the
wool Evertonian bawled "For fucks sake we
all hate him but at least we admit he's brilliant!"
He received a clap from some around him, would
you believe! But what of the man?
There's no doubt that he is a shy and reserved
character who shields his private life with a
similar dedication only demonstrated for a ball
in his possession on the pitch. And he simply
wasn't cut out as a Manager for the inevitable
public scrutiny of the tabloid press. His reluctance,
maybe inability, to convey his milk of human kindness
in press interviews gave rise to an opinion of
coldness, even arrogance, from some quarters.
I'd argue that it was not in his nature to provide
answers to a media that he had no affinity with
When playing he would simply let his accomplishments
on the field do the talking and the mistrust that
the vast majority of ordinary people have for
the 'popular' press was evident in his relationships
Nonetheless, there are enough anecdotes to suggest
a strong sense of humour and a belief, from me
anyway, that his working class ethics of loyalty
and generosity prevailed. My wife's cousin was
an apprentice at Anfield for a few years and,
in time, came to idolise Kenny too. He relates
a simple story of having to clean several players
boots as part of his onerous duties. Of all the
players at the club at the time he reckons Dalglish
was the most humble and seemed to remember his
own apprenticeship at Celtic when dealing with
the Liverpool lads. And whereas some of the 'stars'
had deep pockets, there was always a fiver or
even a tenner on occasions, quietly and almost
secretly passed on to him by Dalglish as an appreciation
of his chores. Simple, I know, but also heart-warming
and something which made him a favourite amongst
Since his leaving of Liverpool there are those
who would suggest that he has never been the same.
I would suggest that neither would anyone else
if it's taken from the following perspective.
I've often wondered what effect the deaths of
3 young Liverpool fans had on the decision of
Shankly to retire. Maybe none at all, but I doubt
it. These fans died in a car crash on the way
home from the 1974 FA Cup semi-final replay against
Leicester at Villa Park. Shankly, of course, and
his players attended the funerals and would have
experienced the utter emotion of such an event.
As much as it was not meant to be taken literally,
his infamous 'football is not a matter of life
and death, it's much more important than that'
quote was known world-wide and seemed to capture
his philosophy and enthusiasm for his club and
the game. Of course, it's crap and was never meant
as a truism. But, as far as I know, it was the
first incident of tragedy that Shankly had to
witness for his beloved fans. Three months later
and totally out of the blue, he retired. It's
quite possible that I'm a mile out. But multiply
that scenario by 32 and try to experience what
Dalglish felt after another FA Cup Semi Final.
His actions after the events and tragic circumstances
of Hillsborough were the epitome of his humanity.
The responsibility and empathy for the families
of the victims of that horrendous crime that he
undertook throughout the devastating period of
grief which followed seemed to be out of context
with what was to be expected of a normal football
Manager and ex-player. He truly was hurt.
Living 12,000 miles away at the time it was bad
enough for me knowing there were loved ones who
would have been in danger, and I spent an anxious
few days ensuring everyone close was fine, and
then years more trying to get a handle on the
enormity of what had transpired. Again, multiply
that by thousands to try and comprehend what Dalglish
was going through, not to mention the inexplicable
emotions of the people he was empathising with.
He resigned 2 years later, and I for one hold
no rancour whatsoever, for that or what transpired
in his dealings with the other clubs he was employed
at. My point is that the role he took, voluntarily,
with Hillsborough, unavoidably changed him forever.
Rather than dwell on what may be viewed as a negative
aspect of his great career in football, I can
only recall the positive memories of Dalglish.
As a kid my mam would send us the half-mile or
so to our Grandparents on a Sunday to do the Grandchildreny
thing and courteously visit. My elder brother
and I would arrive during 'All Our Yesterdays'
and usually interrupt my Granddad swearing at
Churchill, lips chomping on a cigar as the peasants
died in the war, every time he appeared on the
screen. The football would then follow and, after
he'd slagged all and sundry on the box, we'd sit
enthralled as he regaled us about the great players
of the past: the goal scoring prowess of Dixie
Dean, the agility of Elisha Scott, the heading
ability of Tommy Lawton and the genius of Finney.
He told us about them because of his wonderful
I've been away from home for nearly twenty years
now, so it could easily be construed that absence
has made the heart and mind grow outrageously
fonder. But I believe that no matter where or
who you are those of us who saw, week in week
out, utter and unique brilliance have a duty to
pass on those recollections to younger fans who
may only get a glimpse from videos. Dalglish was
much, much better than the two dimensional footage
captured on tape. You had to watch him live, over
ninety minutes, and capture every nuance in every
game to appreciate how good he really was. He
is my Dean, Scott, Lawton and Finney rolled into
one - although I'm not a Granddad, if you know
what I mean.
Kenny, you're with me forever, in heart and mind
and if I'm ever locked-up I'm sure I'll understand
that marvellous scene in that marvellous movie
as the hero donates the music of Mozart to the
Hope I've done my duty.