Liverpool Football Club’s Kop fans have since the ‘60s made the pop classic You’ll Never Walk Alone their anthem and climbing the steps of Margaritaville on Saturday, the strains of the emotionally charged tune pumped out to heighten expectations for the 300-plus patrons to receive one of Britain’s greatest ever players.
Kenny Dalglish was the guest of honor in the latest staging of Sunset Football Club’s annual fundraiser of this sort. So popular have these nights become that Sunset has outgrown the 250 capacity of traditional football venues Fidel Murphy’s and Triple Crown.
It was a wise move. Peter Shilton, Geoff Hurst, Jack Charlton, boxer Frank Bruno and Bryan Robson had entertained previously and drawn the crowds, but Dalglish was likely to top that exclusive bunch.
The Scotsman, always pleasant and patient in signing his latest biography and memorabilia and posing for photos, needed every available space of Margaritaville to work the adoring crowd.
No British figure has achieved what the 62-year-old Scot has in seamless careers as a player and manager.
King Kenny was a majestic forward for 22 years for Celtic and Liverpool, winning the European Cup three times and every domestic title at least once. He is Scotland’s most capped player, with 102 appearances and also his country’s joint-leading scorer with Denis Law, with 30 goals.
The number of individual awards is simply too long to list, but the two most significant came when the influential FourFourTwo magazine named Dalglish as the greatest striker in post-war British football in 2009, three years after he topped a Liverpool fans’ poll of 100 Players Who Shook the Kop. He has been inducted into the Scottish and English Football Halls of Fame.
He managed Liverpool twice, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle and Celtic, all with some success. Lost to full-time football for a decade up to 2010, he focused on charitable concerns, founding the Marina Dalglish Appeal with his wife to raise money for cancer care.
Since leaving Liverpool as manager a year ago, he focused on charity and media work and recently became a non-executive director at Anfield.
Jeffrey Webb, the CONCACAF president and FIFA vice-president came along, and there were a few in their favorite club’s jersey, including Derek Larner in a Blackburn Rovers jersey. No fear of duplicates there.
For $75, punters got a hot buffet before compere Robert “Woody” Woods introduced the great man and interviewed him for an hour. Woody is a proud Scouser (Liverpudlian) and was a season ticket holder at Anfield from 1973-89 until arriving in Cayman.
A book signing session followed, and then the best bit of the night, an often hilarious question and answer session before thousands were raised for Sunset from an auction of Dalglish’s memorabilia. A raffle topped off the evening. The next day the king strode majestically out on North Sound Golf Course to help raise more Sunset funds.
The Dalglish journey started when he signed with Celtic at 15, although his father was a staunch Rangers supporter. “Dad may have been Rangers, but he was intelligent as well,” Dalglish quipped.
Liverpool wanted him, too, at the time but leaving Glasgow was not a serious consideration for the teenager.
Soon after he joined Celtic, the team won the European Cup in 1967. Dalglish, aged 16, was impressed with how unaffected the players seemed to be, which was an inspiration that he retained throughout his career – humility.
He remembers baby-sitting with teammate Danny McGrain a senior player’s kids. “The kids didn’t turn out too well, but we tried our best,” Dalglish joked.
Sharing the Scotland scoring record with Law drew another laugh. “We played together near the end of his career and he always nicked the ball off me to stop me scoring!”
Dalglish remembers the time Scotland played Argentina at Hampden Park and a 19-year-old Diego Maradona terrorized them. “Maradona went on one run from his 18-yard box, which was even better than the weaving run he made against England in the Hand of God match.
“He avoided five tackles and three serious assaults, shot and hit the post, but it did not go in. It would have been another great goal.”
Anxious to move south to further his career, he refused to consider staying at Celtic Park. The legendary manager Jock Stein shook Dalglish’s hand as he bade goodbye for Liverpool. “All the best, ye wee b*****d,” was Stein’s send off. “Jock always used lovely terms of endearment,” said Daglish.
Liverpool were so successful in Dalglish’s heyday because so many fabulous players either came through the ranks or were shrewdly signed by another legendary Scottish manager, the irrepressible Bill Shankly, who in his 15 years at the helm until 1974 hoisted them from the second tier to the old First Division elite.
Bob Paisley continued for nine years the momentum Shankly built up, signing Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Alan Hansen within a space of a year. They were the backbone of a great side that dominated domestic and European football for a decade.
“Every time I was pictured with Souness and Hansen for the Jock pic, Scotland had a strong case to be called the superior race.” All three were good looking, pin-up types. Then, Dalglish joked, another Scotsman, Steve Nicol, who was not noted for being handsome, joined Liverpool, and he implied the theory was shattered.
An unheralded part of the Liverpool success story from Dalglish’s playing days was the cohesive spirit among the wives and girlfriends. “When we went to Anfield South (Wembley) for a cup final, they got on so well and were so organized, it helped us relax and focus on the game,” he said. “There was no notion of so-called WAGs (today’s notorious Wives and Girlfriends) then.”
The greatest British manager ever is indisputably Sir Alex Ferguson, another Scotsman with whom Dalglish enjoyed an intense rivalry. Ferguson did incredible things with limited resources as manager of Aberdeen before his achievements at Manchester United, Dalglish acknowledged. “We always had a drink after a match together, no matter what the result of the game,” Dalglish said.
He rates only Scotsmen as the supreme British managers of all-time: Ferguson, Stein, Shankly and Paisley.
John Barnes at Liverpool and Alan Shearer at Blackburn Rovers were his two best signings for obvious reasons.
A national team manager does not have to be from that country, but it does help, Dalglish reckons.
He jokingly put into perspective the $48 million fee Liverpool paid for the lamentable Andy Carroll, and during the question and answer session praised Arsenal for winning 2-0 at Anfield to snatch the league title from his side in 1989.
“The Kop applauded Arsenal, but it came at the end of a very difficult and emotional time, only a few weeks after the Hillsborough disaster (when 96 Liverpool fans died in a crowd crush at a football match).”
The furor about the 2022 World Cup finals being staged in Qatar came up. Dalglish reckons there “could be fatalities” in the cauldron-like heat. “I can’t see how they can resolve it unless they move it elsewhere or play it in their winter.”
The king famously scored a goal worthy of a royal seal of approval through the legs of England keeper Ray Clemence once. When Dalglish arrived at Anfield, did he remind Clemence of that goal? “Not on the first day,” he smiled. “Maybe on the second.”
The controversial fly-on-the-wall TV documentary Being Liverpool did not put the club nor newly appointed manager Brendan Rodgers in a good light last year. “It was tough on Brendan, but he felt an obligation to do it,” Dalglish said.
Someone at Margaritaville shouted something out inappropriately. “I was like that when I had my first drink as well,” Dalglish
responded to a roar of laughter.
No, he insists, he did not have a rift with Peter Beardsley while managing Newcastle United.
The inevitable question over the Luis Suarez racism affair came up. Dalglish was criticized for seemingly showing the Uruguay striker blind loyalty after Suarez allegedly made a racial remark to Manchester United Patrice Evra. “Luis Suarez is a sweet, straight-up guy. He is genuine and does not tell lies,” Dalglish insisted.
“He is not a racist in any shape or form. He may have made a racist remark, but he is not a racist. One of his best pals at Liverpool is Glen Johnson (a black defender). They speak Spanish together.
“There were 16 cameras placed around the ground but not one caught Suarez making a racist remark to Evra. There is no place for racism in football. He got punished and now has to take it and move on. I would have handled the situation differently as well.”
One of Dalglish’s most pleasing Liverpool memories is the 2005 Champions League final against Milan. He watched it in a pub near his home and was in despair when they were 3-0 down at half-time. With three Everton supporters goading him, he decided to go home to watch the second half.
Liverpool scored three times in an amazing six minute spell, took the game into extra time and won on a penalty shootout. Maybe he should have stayed in the pub after all.