Now that Kenny Dalglish is back where he belongs, in the Anfield hotseat, I decided it would be a good time to share some of my own favourite personal memories of The King. All of my favourite memories are during his management years as I did not start closely following football until 1985 when I was seven years old.
I do have memories of certain big games before the 1985/86 season but I honestly don’t know what I actually remember and what I have just seen since on videos and DVDs. However from 1985 onwards I was football crazy and at such an influential age it was impossible not to get carried away in the success of both Merseyside clubs in that golden late eighties period.
Kenny was installed as player manager after the Heysel disaster in 1985. His first season in charge, 1985/86, was a momentus success as Liverpool won their first League and F.A. Cup double. During the first half of the season Kenny did not pick himself very often and his iconic number 7 shirt was worn by Paul Walsh. Walsh scored an amazing eighteen goals in twenty five games so the decision seemed justified at the time. Kenny did choose to start in the first Merseyside derby of the season, played at Goodison Park. This was an absolutely superb game, and I will never forget watching the televised highlights and keeping them on tape for years afterwards. In fact I think my dad still has a copy of it. This was just before the television strike that effected coverage of that season which was lucky.
To coin a cliché this really was a game of two halves. Liverpool raced into a 3 – 0 first half lead before Everton staged a dramatic comeback in the second half. The game started out in incredible fashion with Kenny opening the score after just 20 seconds. It was a spectacular strike from outside the area and the ball seemed to fly in slow motion. This was the first time I really paid close attention to how good he was and the memory of him running wild in celebration will live with me forever. Kenny may have scored goals that were better or more important than this, but for me this will always be a truly magical goal. The Reds went on to take a 3-0 lead at half time before letting Everton back in and closing the final score at 3-2.
In one of those cruel moments of fate, Walsh severely damaged his ankle ligaments against Man Utd in early February 1986 and he missed the majority of the rest of the season, playing in only three more games. The injury to Walsh led indirectly to Kenny putting himself back in the side after he had not played too often. Kenny picking himself for the remainder of the season has often been described as a major reason why Liverpool ended up winning the league title. With only a handful of games remaining, Everton were leading the First Division by miles. When Everton won 2–0 at Anfield the title race seemed all but over. Then Liverpool went on an amazing run of eleven wins and one draw in the last twelve games. With King Kenny back in the side Liverpool started to gain momentum as Everton started to collapse. When Everton lost away to lowly Oxford Utd destiny was in Liverpool’s own hands as they just needed to beat Chelsea away in the final game to take the title. I will never forget that day, as Everton had beaten Southampton 6-1 to close the gap at the top. In fairytale fashion Kenny was to score the goal that clinched Liverpool’s sixteenth league title. We were on a family outing listening to the radio when the goal went in and that moment and the celebrations at the end will live with me forever. No Liverpool fan will ever forget this goal and how perfect it was for Kenny to be the one that scored it.
After the title was won the 1986 F.A Cup Final came next, which is my favourite football match of all time. It was a massive game in which Liverpool where going for their first ever ‘double’ and Everton were looking for revenge for the league. Anybody who lived in Liverpool at the time will know just how truly massive this game really was. Kenny picked himself and at the age of 35 he had a cracking game, taking on players ten years younger than him. Everton took the lead in the first half through Lineker but the second half belong to Liverpool. Jan Molby had a career best performance as Ian Rush scored two goals and Craig Johnston also scored to make it 3-1 to the Reds to clinch Liverpool’s first, and only, League and F.A. Cup double. Kenny had a hand in two of the goals and his football brain was on display perfectly for the third goal when he made a run off the ball that took the Everton defenders away and left space for Whelan to pass to Rush in acres of space. Kenny almost scored himself when he went on a dribble beating a number of players late in the game. The smile on his face at the final whistle and the giant sombrero he wore afterwards is an unforgettable image.
After this glorious season Kenny started to ease his way into retirement as a player, only making a handful of appearances, often as a sub in 1986/87. My favourite Kenny moment in that season was a cracking game away at West Ham, which we won 5-2 and Kenny scored twice.
Anyone who says that Kenny was lucky in management to have inherited such a great side can be put to shame when we look at the 1987/88 season. This was Kenny’s team and although he still had some players there from the past, the players he brought in dominated. Aldridge, Barnes, Beardsley and Houghton were four of the finest players ever signed by the club and he also brought in some smashing squad players like Spackman. This team played some of the finest football seen since Brazil in 1970 and deserves to be listed among the greatest teams to watch of all time.
The greatest thing Kenny did for the club and the city of Merseyside was how he handled the Hillsborough disaster, despite the toll it eventually took on his health. There are lesser men than him who have received knighthoods for services to football. Kenny’s achievements in the game go without saying but his actions after Hillsborough are worthy of the highest honours that can be handed out. Kenny is a humble guy (which is another reason why we adore him) so just the fact that he has the love and thanks from the entire city is reward enough for him. Kenny seemed to carry the club, the city and the victim’s families on his shoulders in the aftermath. He attended funerals, visited the injured and made himself available 24 hours a day to help in any way that he could.
The 1989 F.A. Cup Final was a very special game after the Hillsborough disaster. The city deserved another all Merseyside final as both teams players & fans came together united in grief and support for each other. The fans and families of those who died deserved a tremendous game and that’s exactly what they got as both teams fought to the bitter end, with the game going into extra time.
The game was preceded by moving versions of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and ‘Abide With Me’ sung by Gerry Marsden on the pitch, accompanied by eighty thousand fans of both Red and Blue. Once the game got going it was John Aldridge who opened the scoring from a terrific Steve McMahon through ball. After that early goal, the game was tense and dramatic as Everton pressed for the equaliser. As the game ticked into the ninetieth minute Everton made a last gasp effort to get the ball into the Liverpool area. Time seemed to stand still as Stuart McCall’s toe-poke trickled into the net through the legs of Tony Cottee. In extra time, Rush scored twice and McCall got his second and Liverpool won 3-2. One of the most abiding memories for me of that game was of Kenny on the touchline. Despite the sunshine and the blazing heat, Kenny wore his heavy padded stadium coat throughout, an image never to be forgotten.
After hardly playing in the first team for a few years Kenny was to take one final bow at Anfield before officially retiring as a player. In May 1990 at the age of 39 Kenny brought himself on as a substitute against Derby County in Liverpool’s last home game of the season. Liverpool had already wrapped up the league title, Kenny’s third as boss, and it was a truly memorable occasion. I remember the back page of the Daily Mirror next day which had a big photo of Kenny’s son Paul in The Kop wearing a Juventus shirt and holding a Liverpool scarf.
As we all know this proved to be Kenny’s last hurrah in his first period at the club. In February 1991 after the 4-4 with Everton Kenny announced his resignation as team manager and retirement from football. The stresses after Hillsborough and the amount he took on badly affected his health and he made the decision that he had to walk away. As we now know he regretted it almost immediately and when He decided to come back it was too late as Souness was already installed as his replacement. The fact that we have suffered in the league, despite a number of trophies we won, over the next twenty years, only adds to Kenny’s legacy as possible the last truly great Liverpool manager (not meaning any disrespect to those that followed). Every Liverpool fan over the age of thirty should remember where they where the moment they heard that Kenny was quitting. I’ll never forget the moment I heard of Kenny’s resignation. It was during the half term holidays from school so I was in my friend’s house. His father called to tell him the news and we didn’t believe him. As there was no internet that day we had to wait ages till the lunchtime news came on TV to confirm it. The shock was just incredible and came completely out of the blue.
Kenny is regarded as our greatest ever player and probably the most beloved player ever in the history of the club. He is probably only second to Bill Shankly when we think of the greatest icons in Liverpool history. So when Rafa Benitez brought Kenny back into the club to work in the academy it was celebrated en masse. When Rafa was sacked there a lot of support for Kenny to get the job and make up for lost time. When Kenny himself revealed that he was interested in the job this only made us want him back more. As soon as Roy Hodgson began to struggle the crowd started chanting just one word repeatedly, ‘Dalglish, Dalglish, Dalglish, Dalglish’.
So when it was announced that Kenny was the new manager, until the end of the season, it was celebrated with immense vigour amongst Liverpool fans. I danced around the house for hours after I found out and to be honest I haven’t stopped smiling since. The feel-good factor amongst the fans and around the club is just great. To me it seems right for The King to be our manager again and his first two weeks back have done nothing to make me change my opinion. It is not just nostalgia that makes me happy, because I think he is genuinely the right man for the job from a football standpoint. If the rest of the season goes well and Kenny gets the job permanently, then I am sure that we will be at the start of a new golden period with Kenny right in the middle of it. I know it is going to take time but I also know that Kenny can take us back where we belong.