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Kenny Dalglish: One-on-One

Despite having a long and enormously successful career to reminisce about as both player and manager with Celtic, Liverpool, Blackburn and Newcastle, Kenny Dalglish rarely gives interviews these days. As Sir Alex Ferguson says in the foreword of Dalglish’s autobiography, “He’s got that suspicious Scottish nature about him.”

Today, however, one of the great British stars of the ’70s and ’80s has agreed to answer your questions to promote the launch of ESPN Classic, a new TV channel showing classic sporting events. Yet as we sit down in the basement of a central London hotel, there are more than a few frowns as he attempts to deal with your questions…

Is it true that you had trials at Liverpool and West Ham but weren’t considered good enough to join them?
Joe Reeves, via e-mail
It’s true that I had trials, but he’s got the second part wrong. Both West Ham and Liverpool actually wanted to sign me so he’s only 50% correct. I was tempted, but I was only 15, so I thought I was too young and I should stay at home for a few more years before going to England.

Early on, Celtic loaned you to my home-town team, Cumbernauld United. Happy memories, or did you fear for your career?
Macca, via e-mail
[Incredulous] Fear for my career! No, no, not at all because that was normal up there. All the young players were farmed out to other clubs. I don’t know if you know the set-up in Scotland, but it’s called junior football, which means it’s semi-professional and everyone gets sent out to be toughened up. Aye, I do have happy memories of that time: I was a kid amongst men, but they looked after me very well. I think it worked well for me.

Is the story true about Celtic coming to your house when you had Rangers posters on your wall? If so, how fearful were you of Celtic fans discovering the truth? And could you have ever played for both clubs?
Mike McArthur, via e-mail
Celtic fans knew the truth, so there was no problem. I didn’t worry about anything. You should never fear the truth, should you? Celtic’s assistant manager Sean Fallon came to my house and invited me to train at Celtic Park. It was not a problem for me, or Celtic or Rangers. Did I have Rangers posters on my wall? He should read my book if he wants to know the story. And could I have played for Rangers? I was never asked. I don’t know, but I don’t think I’ll be asked now.

What was your biggest achievement or proudest moment as a player?
Peter Bishop, Plymouth
Just signing as a professional footballer for Celtic. It all starts from there. I might have been an apprentice joiner, so for me to sign for Celtic was wonderful. After that, moving to Liverpool and playing for my country were the next greatest moments.

Did you consider joining the perm-n-’tache brigade among your team-mates at Liverpool? Is it right that you were shocked that all the players used hairdryers in the dressing room?
Jake Evans, via e-mail
I could never grow a ’tache and I didn’t fancy a perm. That whole era was all right because when the rest of the team ran out with perms, it took the pressure off my own haircut! I wasn’t shocked that the lads used hairdryers, but it was different to Celtic where no one brought them to the dressing room.

What’s it like scoring the winning goal in a European Cup Final? How did you celebrate that brilliant night in 1978?
Lucy, via e-mail
It’s difficult to put into words my emotions at scoring that goal. It was fantastically enjoyable. Scoring that goal was the reason I left Glasgow, so I could achieve Europe�an success. So to do it in my first season at Liverpool and score that goal was a great moment. I can’t remember too much about the celebrations afterwards, so it must have been a good night.

I once saw a great photo of you in bed with the European Cup. Did you really spend the night together?
Steve Johnson, Liverpool
[Laughs] Somebody brought it up in the morning for a picture. I think they did anyway – maybe it was a good night.

How did you feel about Alan Bleasdale’s drama Scully, about a fan who wanted to meet you? Did you enjoy acting? Who would play you in the film of your life?
Sandra Pennington, Oxford
Funnily enough, they didn’t want me originally because it had been written for Kevin Keegan. But Kevin left, so I filled in. It was enjoyable to see how it all worked, but I can honestly say I don’t think I’ll ever be a thespian. Alan Bleasdale is a very talented writer, who had done the Boys from the Blackstuff, which Graeme Souness and Sammy Lee appeared in. And in a movie of my life I would play myself. Why not?

Is it true that Graeme Souness ironed his underpants and put them on coat-hangers? Did you enjoy sharing a room with him? Wasn’t it frightening?
Colin, Dunblane
You would have to ask Graeme: I don’t know about that. Where did Colin get that from? I enjoyed sharing a room with Graeme, and it wasn’t at all frightening.

Was there any player you really feared playing against? After all, you played when it was a hatchet man’s game...
Tim Lamb, Leeds
There wasn’t a single player I feared playing. Who was my toughest opponent? Marina, my missus. On the pitch I never worried about anyone, I took it as it came. But my most difficult opponent was Colin Todd – a good footballer, very intelligent, who could read the game well. Todd was as good as I ever played against.

What was the best goal you ever scored? And did you prefer scoring or creating?
Giles Hill, via e-mail
The one I celebrated the most was the European Cup Final goal against Bruges in 1978, but it probably wasn’t my best. I wouldn’t like to pick just one – there’s been a few. And I had no preference between scoring and creating; it didn’t matter as long as the move ended in a goal.

Is it true you had an inferiority complex when you played for Scotland? Why?!
Jim O’Neill, Glasgow
Yes, that is true. I suffered from it a bit. At 20, I knew I was in a squad with players who were a lot better than me. If you looked around the room there were some greats of the game. It was especially intimidating to play with my idol Denis Law.

Who’s the best player you ever played with? And managed?
Pete Hindmarch, Chester
I can’t give you a name – there have been too many. The same goes for management: there have been a lot of players who have been instrumental in the success they brought to the clubs I’ve been in charge of, so to single one out would be unfair.

Are you glad you played when you did? Or would you rather play now with the extra money but more gamesmanship?
Stephen Smith, Lancaster
The money is not important to me. You can’t beat the success we achieved during our era in the late ’70s and ’80s. They were wonderful times and I wouldn’t swap that to be involved in today’s game as a player. There is no jealousy about the wages players earn today – none whatsoever.

Which was the best Liverpool European Cup-winning team: ’78, ’81 or ’84? How would they have fared against the 2005 team? And had English teams not been banned, would the ’88 team have won?
Dan, London
Do you prefer steak or fish? Each one has its own qualities. I don’t have a list of best and worst successes; they were all great and every one was very enjoyable. How would my era have fared against the 2005 team? I couldn’t tell you: it’s subjective, isn’t it? Thirty years separates those teams, so how can you compare? But I do know that any time a group of players wins the Champions League they must be a hell of a team. My team of 1988 would have had a very good chance of winning, but who knows? We could have gone out in the first round, because in those days you didn’t have the group stage. There was no second chance.

What’s the truth about Heysel? Were you forced to play? How much did the players know about what had occurred?
Keith Johns, Stockport
We knew some detail, but not much. Once we were told the game would go ahead, we knew we had to play. We had no choice in the matter. We didn’t know the full scale of what had happened when we played, but I don’t think anyone did. The game was irrelevant. Football’s meaningless once something like that happens.

Did you have any qualms about taking over as Liverpool manager from Joe Fagan in 1985? What was the hardest thing about moving from being a player to the gaffer?
Oliver Peters, via e-mail
I had no qualms whatsoever. In fact, I thought it was a tremendous compliment that they asked me. It was a great chance to have a go at management while I was still playing, and I wanted to show the Liverpool board they were right to have so much faith in me. I didn’t think I was taking too much of a chance as I knew the players very well and had Bob Paisley, Tom Saunders, Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans working alongside me.

Having said that, it was very difficult to remove myself from the dressing room and all the jokes and banter. To the players’ credit, they probably handled that better than me. Having a laugh with all the players is the best part of being at a football club. It was strange for the players to have to call me ‘Boss’ rather than ‘Kenny’ but it was fine. A few struggled with it to begin with, but they got there in the end.

Is it true that Steve Nicol burst into tears in your office after the players told him you had an incurable disease? What’s your favourite story about “Chopsy”?
Si Moore, Doncaster
No, that’s not true. Si Moore obviously has a fertile imagination. And no, I’m not giving you my favourite story about him.

Did you hear Vinnie Jones before the 1988 FA Cup Final threatening to “rip off your ear and piss on your brain”? Do you think it genuinely intimidated your Liverpool players?
James Maxton, via e-mail
That didn’t take place. He has got his stories mixed up. How could I hear Jones say that if it never happened?

I was at Hillsborough, in the Forest end, and I couldn’t sleep for months afterwards. How did it affect you?
Andy Kerr, Hove
It affected everyone. Yes, it was dreadful for everyone, but we weren’t as traumatised as the people who lost friends and family.

Just how shocked were you to get turned over by Crystal Palace in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final?
Toby Hayter, Beckenham
It was very disappointing for us because we controlled most of the first half and then we lost two players at half-time through injury. Then Nigel Martyn saved one right at the death from John Barnes before the game went into extra time. You have to give Crystal Palace a lot of credit because we’d beaten them 9-0 at Anfield earlier in the season, but they came back and turned us over in the semi-final. On the day they scored four and we scored three so they deserved to go through to the final. What had they learned in between the games? Ask Steve Coppell.

Why did you always wear that Adidas bubble-coat even when it was boiling hot like at the semi-final against Palace?
Luke, Stevenage
Bubble coat? What is a bubble coat? It wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t a puffa or a bubble. I just felt comfortable. It was my uniform for the match.

Please set the record straight: why did you sell Peter Beardsley?
Sam Dalston, via e-mail
I didn’t sell him, so that is an easy record to set straight. He was still there when I left. Did I have a falling out with Peter Beardsley? No, not at all.

Why did you leave Liverpool so suddenly in 1991? Have you ever had any regrets about your decision or do you wish you had done it earlier?
Adam Collins, Warrington
I have already spoken about that in the past. [FFT: would you like to explain it briefly to Adam?] No, tell him to buy my book. I wish I didn’t have to make that decision, but it became inevitable. Circumstances took me along that road, so I had to do it. It was probably the first time that I had made a decision that was more in my interests than Liverpool football club.

I’ve heard a story that, when things were already getting too stressful for you towards the end at Liverpool, you accidentally electrocuted yourself while strimming the lawn. Is that true? If so, what happened?
Mooro, via e-mail
It was nothing to do with Liverpool – it was just a bad fitting and a bad plug. Why does he think it had something to do with Liverpool? It was summer and we hadn’t lost a game since May! Yes, I electrocuted myself, but it was in the newspaper, it was nothing at all.

Were you surprised at how quickly you were able to win the Premiership title with Blackburn?
Dave Vince, Shepperton
It was four years, but we never set a time on it; we just tried to do the best from the moment we went in there to the moment we won it. There was never a timescale. The progression was fantastic: we won promotion from Division One at Wembley, and then we finished fourth, second and then as champions in the Premiership. We deserved to win it because we were the best team with the most points. No one can dispute that.

How did you manage to persuade Alan Shearer to reject Manchester United in favour of Blackburn in 1992? Was Fergie furious that you got one over on him?
Stevie, via e-mail
I don’t know who he rejected, but I know he signed for us, so that’s all that mattered. We sold him the club and what we were trying to achieve, and Alan liked what he heard and signed for Blackburn. It had nothing to do with finance, and it had everything to do with what he heard about the club. It also had nothing to do with getting one over Fergie; it was all about signing Alan Shearer. If Alex was upset, that’s that; maybe he wasn’t upset. I just know we were happy.

How close did you come to signing Roy Keane for Blackburn in the summer of 1993? Didn’t he tell you he was coming to Rovers?
Gary Taylor, via e-mail
We were very close to signing Roy, but he eventually decided to go to Manchester United. I suppose his decision was vindicated with all those Premiership titles, the Champions League and the great career he had at Old Trafford.

Who’s better: Graeme Souness or Steven Gerrard?
David Owens, Shrewsbury
I would probably say Steven because Graeme is about 52 years old now. At their peaks you would have any one of them in your side. In fact, I would rather have both of them. Imagine what a combination they would make! They were very different players. Steven is more attacking. Together you would have Graeme just sitting there and Steven pushing forward. I&rsqu�o;ll tell you what: there wouldn’t be too many players queuing up to play against them.

Why didn’t you reproduce your amazing success at Liverpool and Blackburn during your time at Newcastle?
Kevin Marsden, Morpeth
When I went to St James’ Park in January 1997, they were fourth and by the end of the season I had taken them to second and a place in the Champions League. During pre-season Alan Shearer picked up an injury that ruled him out for a long time, then Tino Asprilla pulled a muscle in the second game of the season. We then finished 13th, but made it to the FA Cup Final, where we lost to Arsenal. When we were losing 1-0, we hit the bar and the post, and Wenger admitted if we had scored then we would have won it. Then in the next season, it was two games and I was away. My transfer record while I was there was positive as well. Everyone I signed tried their best and that is all you can ?ask. I thought that making it into the Champions League and to the FA Cup final was a relative success.

Did you never harbour ambitions to become Scotland manager given your success at club level?
Swifty, London
Never. It is an unequivocal “No”.

How did it feel to see your son Paul fall out of love with the game of football for about two years after being victimised by Ruud Gullit?
Keith E Turner, Ullswater
Well, I don’t know about being victimised by Ruud Gullit. Certainly if he isn’t enjoying playing football then it isn’t right for him to be taking money from any club under false pretences and depriving someone else of playing a game that so many people love. It’s a great credit to him that he was strong enough to make the decision, and an even greater credit to him that he then stood up to say, “I’ve made the wrong decision” and went back into football.

I just hope he has a wee bit of success now because he’s worked really hard to get there. Livingston gave him a chance and he must have done reasonably well because Tony Mowbray signed him for Hibs on transfer deadline day. I just hope there’s a lot more football left in him, because as a father I feel very proud to see him playing, especially when I saw him score his first goal for Newcastle against Sheffield Wednesday. During his career his surname has been a problem for other people, not him, because it’s the only one he has ever had.

Was Rafael Scheidt the worst player you ever signed? And was it your fault, or John Barnes’?
Jules Brandon, Glasgow
I never signed anyone at Celtic. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. If someone is in charge of a football team they are the one who make all the decisions, who comes and who goes, how they play, when they train. They are all the manager’s decision. That player he’s asking about was a Brazilian centre-back, and he was a right good player. He left Celtic and went back to Corinthians and played for Brazil.

Where the hell have you been for the last six years? How much golf can one man play?
Mosh, Clapham
I bet I don’t play as much golf as he imagines. It’s amazing how much they believe what they read in the papers. I don’t play that often – although I’m actually playing tomorrow. I’ve been doing work with McDonald’s with grass roots soccer, I’ve got two or three business interests and my wife runs a breast cancer charity, The Marina Dalglish Appeal, to raise funds to open an oncology ward in one of the hospitals in Liverpool. I’ve also enjoyed watching my kids progress in their lives. I’ve been pretty busy.

Have we seen the end of Kenny Dalglish the manager?
Paul Francis, via e-mail
I wouldn’t rule out becoming a manager again, but then I wouldn’t rule it in either. Until someone offers me something I don’t know what the answer would be.

What do you think Liverpool FC need to do to bring the title back to Anfield?
Marc Vannucci, Belfast
They’re going in the right direction. At the moment, they’re two spots better off than last season, and they’ll be three spots better off if they can get past United. Moving from fifth to third or second is a real sign of progress. They are getting closer to Chelsea. 

Interview: Sam Pilger. Portrait: Steffan Hill. From the May 2006 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!