Kenny's From Heaven

Posted by Timbo's Goals on May 18, 2012, 03:19:49 PM

So saddened by Kenny's removal but rather than going over the whys and wherefors I'd rather just post something that attempts to convey just what he meant/means to myself,


KENNY’S FROM HEAVEN


“Glasgow’s miles better”

The smiling logo on the subway wall was no stranger to eighties billboards up and down the country. It was an ingenious riposte to a belligerent drunken image borne of countless years’ misrepresentation of the true nature of Glaswegians and their city. And what better way to jettison such a myth than to meet it head on with a more accurate representation of what it is you’re really about. The underlying concept was eagerly adopted by Glaswegians everywhere and was to spearhead a revival in the city’s fortunes that has lasted to this very day. Indeed, it was rumoured that for a brief moment or two it even succeeded in quelling the fighting in the city’s pubs.

Meanwhile, for the red-shirted inhabitants of that equally notorious provincial city some 200 miles due south - Glasgow’s English counterpart both spiritually and culturally not to mention in terms of being so frequently and so gratuitously misrepresented - the words of that logo could not have been more apt. Or true. Nor the irony of their sentiment so accurate. As far as Liverpudlians were concerned, the indelible beaming grins of their own particular adopted son of Glasgow were certainly a million miles better than anything else this planet could offer. Not even a spot of raping and pillaging down Greytee Market came close.

Fact was, for us, no one ever smiled quite like Kenneth Matthieson Dalglish.

In due course,  the Dalglish smile was to become as inspiring a sight and as much a fixture of the Anfield scene as any of the boundless trophies glinting from the annual open topped victory bus. Radiant. Unbridled. An explosion of innate boyish glee that not only formed a welcoming bridge between those flushed rosy cheeks of his but also lent a sense of blue collar fulfilment to his sweated brow and matted fringe. It was to become Kenny’s trademark. It would become, also, our touchstone; our rising sun. One that would, in turn, come to symbolise an era of excellence without peer in British footballing history; a time to be cherished by every Red. Even those of us with blue collars.

I say ‘every Red’ rather presumptuously I suppose. After all, how can anybody simply presume the existence of any such consensus? Let’s be honest, it’s not as if there’s ever been any opinion poll on the subject. I for one certainly don’t ever recall coming across Peter Snow brandishing his massive swingometer outside the Kop. I mean the poor guy used to have enough trouble explaining votes for William Hague let alone registering one for Torben Piechnik.

Still, official opinion polls aside, the fact is I have yet to come across a solitary Liverpudlian who witnessed Kenny Dalglish in the flesh and fails to put him at the very top of their personalised pantheon of Liverpool footballers. If he does have any rival for top spot it would have to be the legendary Billy Liddell who commands a corresponding reverence especially - and predictably - amongst more elderly Reds who were able to share Billy’s particular greatness. In the main, though, it is Kenny who seems to reign supreme.

Ostensibly, the extent of Kenny’s popularity is in recognition of his outstanding ability. Part, however, must also have derived from the wider social and economic context in which he found himself ensconced as well as the innate empathy he had with it. Kenny Dalglish strutted his stuff in a Liverpool reeling from widespread degeneration courtesy of early eighties Thatcherism, monetarism, Reaganomics or whatever the hell name it answers to these days. The bleakness of that Merseyside landscape in which he found himself performing contrasted so sharply with the sweetness and light of his talent it quite possibly had the effect of amplifying it in the eyes of those of us it beguiled. Meantime, coming as he did from a kindred city and background, he understood precisely the implications of what he was witnessing. He knew what many Liverpudlians were going through. Via what he did on the pitch he was to make a quite profound connection with them.

Of course, for anyone not from the city or unfamiliar with it at that time, it might be difficult to align with such an empathy or to conceive quite how desolate the economic and social fabric of the city became during those years. The starkness of Alan Bleasdale’s tour de force television drama of those life and times, The Boys from the Blackstuff, was invention purely from a literary definition. The sense of despair and desperation it conveyed was actually chillingly real. The fact was industries were dismantled, factories were closed, lives were ruined, bitterness and a sense of isolation and abandonment were rife. The words of a poignant Liverpool folk song of the time are revealing and lend this scenario a palpable perspective:

The curtain closes on an empty day
A man is staring at his last day’s pay
So turn your heads and then walk away

The young men waiting for years or more
Washed up driftwood on a city’s shore
So wipe your hands and churn out some more

A mother watches her children play
No money left so no food today
So who’s to blame and who’s gonna pay

Their clothes are ragged their shoes are worn
Second class from the day they’re born
What’s that you say – thought those days were gone


I daresay some really did think those days were gone; long gone along with the likes of Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale and Ron Moody. For those not ever directly exposed to such adversity - even from within the city itself - there can be a tendency to develop an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ indifference towards such wretchedness. Not so much a case of callously ignoring it but certainly of being blissfully unaware of its everyday existence. Today much the same situation is found with that disadvantaged swathe of the population referred to as the ‘underclass’ who in similar convenient fashion can find themselves brushed under the mat by the majority. Ironically, the origins of the underclass are largely intertwined with the devastation inflicted by monetarist dogma on towns and cities like Liverpool. The bottom line is many places in our industrial heartlands suffered badly. It’s just that Liverpool got it twice as bad as anywhere else. And it showed.   

Against such a backdrop the role of Kenny Dalglish and his team-mates was probably of rather more significance to the people of the city than either of these principal protagonists may have realised at the time. Football and the distraction it offered to ordinary people with weighty problems confronting them really did present at the very least a respite, however makeshift in real terms such respite might have been. A blinding goal may only be a goal but if it helps you get through a right bastard of a day then perhaps spiritually at the end of that day it is a little bit more than just a goal.

On a personal level Kenny Dalglish’s smile and what it represented was also there for me through a difficult time. Not so much a crutch as a welcome refuge. Within eighteen months of Dalglish’s arrival at Anfield my father had contracted what transpired to be a particularly insidious strain of terminal cancer, marked by a prolonged and agonising illness. As anybody who has experienced such ordeals will be aware one of the most distressing aspects for the loved ones as well as the unfortunate victim is that absence of any escape. That sense of no hiding place is so lonely and dispiriting.

I am unsure whether professional footballers are aware of their impact upon ordinary working people like my father. Of course they know about their influence on younger fans. Such influence is manifest and tangible. Yet perhaps they go about their everyday football business oblivious to how they are perceived by more elderly aficionados of theirs. The fact is they do have an influence. They can sometimes provide a degree of comfort. To an existence nearing its end a tiny spark of inspiration is no small matter.

My father’s suffering was constant for two long years. For much of that time a combination of his television set, gritted teeth and regular doses of the pain-killing drug Pethadene would keep his pain and discomfort under some semblance of control. A fireside chat about the exploits of King Kenny and his team-mates would invariably provide some alleviation, too. Occasionally, he would enjoy my demonstrations of one particular brand of that Dalglish magic.

“Ed - come and see soft lad doing this”

His wracked voice would beckon my mother to come and watch me give my impersonation of Kenny Dalglish poking his backside in the face of his marker. I would play along in the faintest hope that it would provide him with even the minutest degree of succour. To me even his weakest smile at my efforts to please him counted enormously.

“And Mick Mills’d be like this dad”

I would hold my arms out wide to mimic the exasperated gesture of the poor defender who I’d seen so frustrated by Dalglish’s antics earlier that afternoon that with his RAF moustache he’d reminded me of a forlorn Battle of Britain pilot unable to get his Spitfire off the ground.

 “And Kenny’d be like this”

Again I’d thrust out my rear end as far as it would go, twisting and wiggling it in that peculiar Dalglish fashion.

“But isn’t that a foul, Bert?”

My dear mother having formed a watching crowd of two would display inimitable fair play by asking the acting referee for his judgement.

“Kenny, foul? Don’t be daft, pet. Kenny never fouls”

My father loved Kenny almost as much as Billy Liddell and would have forgiven him virtually anything. Anything, that is, short of Kenny actually stealing his precious television set. Certainly it would have taken far more than a slight hint of obstruction for him to have awarded Squadron Leader Michael Mills the free kick that was no doubt rightfully his.

I daresay in the light of such overwhelming bias it is easy for fanatics such as myself to get carried a tadge too far away with the influence wielded by a hero as endearing as Kenny Dalglish. I must therefore stress from the outset that it would be misleading to attribute to Kenny alone Liverpool’s dominance on the field of play during those heady days. Clearly this was far from the case with so many others of such breathtaking class playing - or for that matter managing - alongside him.

What it is true to say is that Kenny it was who was at the vanguard of a group of footballers destined to become world-beaters. He it was who led from the front. He it was who pulled most of the strings and epitomised what the team was all about. He it was, too, who embodied the silken style of play that Liverpudlians had hitherto only dreamed of. With Kenny at the helm those dreams were soon to become reality.

And as for that smile?

Well let’s just say that when Kenny Dalglish raised those arms towards the heavens and flashed his own unmistakable logo no one could ever be in any doubt as to the significance of what had just taken place. Boy, would he smile. Boy, would he enjoy his hard-earned moment. So too would his team-mates. We all would. More often than not so, too, would anyone else who truly held dear the grace and beauty of this game we love. The simple fact was a Kenny Dalglish goal demanded no less. Invariably, it would carry some essence of that quintessential majesty for which such universal acclaim is reserved.

Me? Carried away? Never! 

“And in the end the goals you make are equal to the goals you take…”

The magic of Kenny Dalglish extended far beyond the goals he scored. Whether - as in my own case - it be on reflection or with the immediate intuition that is the preserve of the more perceptive amongst us, the accumulation of goals was only one facet of this magnificent footballer’s true playing legacy. Undeniably, the goals have come to represent the most abiding image of our icon. After all, why else would he - and we - have smiled so much? How else would we have hitched all those unforgettable rides to vicarious glory? Still, when some cold reasoning and sound logic is smeared round all those wafts of sublimity he provided in front of the opposition net, it is another aspect of his art which also begins to worm its way into our consciousness.

While his pre-eminence as a goal-taker of majesty might never be eclipsed, his contribution as goal-maker is surely sufficient on its own merits to elevate him to the ranks of any Anfield pantheon. In the final analysis, who is to say that Kenny as a creator and playmaker was any less pivotal to Liverpool’s success story than Dalglish the finisher? Certainly not Ian Rush. That is for sure. Not unless he wants to risk that nose of his growing as long as Phil Thompson’s.

It is perhaps true that the lasting images we associate with this aspect of Kenny’s game were not characterised by quite the same subtleties as with his goal scoring exploits. When all is said and done watching any male backside in action can have its aesthetic limitations. Why even a faithful reproduction of the original by one of the master’s ardent disciples can induce a difference of opinion.

Kenny’s own bum was the size of a small mountain. It would baulk and obstruct frustrated defenders until either they cried foul or else fouled in sheer frustration. Wing Commander Mick Mills was not alone in what he underwent. That wicked posterior certainly did its job in any company. As it swivelled and swayed in unison with those beguiling hips that flanked it so it would invariably send the opposition and even at times the watching crowd the wrong way. The overall effect was, I’m sure, a form of hypnosis. Players and fans alike were mesmerised. Those afflicted would stagger out of the ground and catch the wrong bus home. Defenders would be found mumbling incoherently round the streets of Anfield days after the game had finished.

The regular beneficiaries of the wiggling backside would be Kenny’s team-mates. The sight of Kenny wriggling and squirming away from his marker to set up Ian Rush for a streak on goal was to become as memorable in its own way as any where our hero himself may have sent the Anfield net bulging. 

The fact is that apart from being one of our greatest goalscorers Kenny was also one of our finest puppeteers. The team - and we - danced to his tune. He it was who commandeered the proceedings and induced others to play. Whatever the occasion. Wherever the stage. Like a master angler enticing a salmon, Kenny it was who seemed to attract every ball that went begging, every punt hit hopefully forward. He it was who received every throw-in. He it was, too, who virtually cajoled every other player in the team to thread every move through him. In short, his performances were those of a virtuoso; though, of course, some might say he was simply a right bossy bastard.

Recalling his home debut, a friend of mine – a none-Red – who had travelled up from South Wales just to see him on that historic Anfield day remarked to me during the game how Dalglish always seemed to be at least a couple of moves ahead of every other player on the pitch. He was only partly right, of course. The reality was Kenny was half a dozen ahead of some and maybe as much as a couple of hours ahead of others. Thankfully, some of Liverpool’s Nineties motley crew weren’t around back then or else they and Kenny might never have managed to start a game on the same day.

What was even more impressive was how Kenny maintained his stature of performance throughout every second of the entire ninety minutes. And then how he would repeat it in virtually every game he played. To achieve and then maintain that level of virtuosity has always been rare in top class sport. It is the domain of only the very exceptional. Clearly it meant we at Anfield were in the presence of someone very special.

“There’s no place like home…”

It is perhaps worth reflecting on the broader significance of that last point. Not only where Kenny Dalglish fits so crucially into the Anfield equation but how that integration and the Anfield club itself fit into the broader spectrum of British and European football.

Dalglish had arrived in 1977 at an Anfield of somewhat mixed emotions. Still hugely ecstatic over its baptismal European Cup victory in Rome; yet also a might crestfallen and indignant from the sobering rejection it had received from Kevin Keegan who had been lost to the lure of the Continental game. As a little cameo in itself the Keegan departure is revealing. Liverpool, remember, were European champions. They were English champions, too. A year earlier they had been UEFA cup winners and English champions. They were about to embark on another European cup campaign. Yet Kevin Keegan still chose to leave.

Why?

Part of the key to this question - with Kevin Keegan such a restless soul it could never be conclusive - could lie in the distinct absence of glamour at Anfield. Liverpool are not and never have been what could be termed a glamour club. This might sound slightly preposterous to those for whom the criterion of glamour is a club’s cache of honours. They miss the point. The core definition of a glamour club has to be one that is feted by the media no matter what it is achieving on the field of play. Conversely it could be said to be one that is rarely feted no matter what it wins.

Liverpool Football Club are excluded on both counts. The media it is who determine the extent of a club’s glamorous image and Liverpool’s exclusion seems to have been decided a long time ago. Whilst part of this likely stems from the club’s own traditional shunning of the limelight, part is out of the club’s hands. For all Liverpool’s glory on the pitch they have never qualified to join that elite band of glamour clubs.

Take the 2001 treble triumph as a rather curious example of this. A hitherto unprecedented haul - for an English side at least - of three major cups was conspicuously glossed over by large chunks of the media. The Liverpool manager was shunned for the title of Manager of the Year in favour of someone whose team finished two places below his and won nothing. The next club to be deemed glamorous by the media, Leeds United, lost - albeit nobly - in the Champions League. That exploit virtually amounted to their season. Yet, the media’s designs for Leeds were not to be thwarted. They were accorded entry to glamour status and there they remained until reality and thus the media deem otherwise. Treble winning Liverpool were never deemed worthy of any such notions.

A similar scenario existed back in the seventies. It forms a revealing backdrop to the Dalglish signing. Kevin Keegan had been the first national icon ever to emerge at Anfield. He had engineered an almost pop star image despite - significantly not because of - his Anfield connection. His celebrity status offered Kevin a prominence no other Liverpool player - with the possible exception of Tommy Smith during his legendary modelling assignments for The Centurian Tank Weekly - had ever come near to approaching. And this was despite the omnipotence of the team for much of the previous two decades. So while our Kev had become virtually public property Liverpool Football Club in stark contrast remained a homely down-to-earth institution. Not surprisingly the quite distinct ethoses of the two were beginning to jar slightly. The Kopites, like the club itself, preferred their stars to maintain a sensible ramble around the backstreets of Anfield not an interstellar orbit round the planet Zeus.

In such context it was actually to be no surprise when Kevin Keegan did end up deciding to move to the Continent. Nor was it a surprise when he went on to win two successive European Footballer of the Year titles at Hamburg. No amount of magnificent play at Anfield could have procured him such an honour. As he himself had already discovered and as Kenny Dalglish was to find out when cruelly overlooked despite inspiring three European Cup triumphs that had all but blitzed the rest of Europe into submission, the Liverpool connection cut no ice with football’s establishment. Yet a burst of Continental exposure and the world becomes your oyster.

Just as with the original Liverpudlian version of the Kevin Keegan that had preceded him, the homeliness of Anfield had cost Kenny Dalglish the platform necessary to glitter sufficiently in the eyes of the European media and thereby wrest a mantle that was rightly his. As aficionados on both these great players, Liverpudlians were in a better position than most to judge their respective merits. Mind you, if three European Cup winners medals were not testimony enough to the real thoroughbred in our midst, it stretches credibility that anybody now would so much as remotely take as gospel on this matter the ravings of a Dalglish fanatic.

And yet a clear picture does begin to emerge here. It is of Liverpool as the homespun family club. Kenny Dalglish the homely family man. It seems they each were made for the other. Not for Kenny the bright lights. Kenny’s desires all lay on the pitch and with more profound associations and connections. Superficial meanderings – until later forced upon him – would seem to have constituted an anathema. At this stage of his life he still wanted the real thing. A trusty old slipper - albeit gilded in silver - with which he could be comfortable while plying his marvellous trade, winning honours and achieving glory for fun.

At Anfield he got it despite the lack of glamour. And so too did we. More so than we could ever have bargained for. People today talk glibly of transfer snips. From Cantona to Zola. From Roy Keane to our own Gary McCallister. To them I would simply say this. Even at Zidane’s £48 million Kenny Dalglish would have qualified as a snip. Such was the mark he left on Liverpool Football Club. Priceless I think is the word as far as Liverpudlians were concerned. Certainly special would seem largely an understatement. And as we were about to so painfully discover there was still yet more to this man than met the eye.

“Walk like a man…”      

Let us now hurtle forward some years. It is 1989. Springtime. Kenny Dalglish is manager of Liverpool Football Club. He has retired some years earlier as a player. Then, first as a player-manager and subsequently solely as a manager he has experienced success to equate with that he had enjoyed as a footballer. The breathtaking new team he has fashioned is comfortably the best in the land. He is on the verge of yet another league and FA Cup double. The Anfield garden as rosy as it had ever been.

Now, however, something unprecedented and tragic has taken place. The club he manages has just been devastated by the worst footballing disaster in history. Ninety-five – a figure later to rise to ninety-six – of its supporters have been crushed to death at a football match. The nation is horrified at what has transpired. Football, the world over, equally so.

Meanwhile, Liverpool Football Club, its supporters, the entire city and citizens of Liverpool are in a state of complete and utter shock. Their trauma is on two levels - both entirely instinctive and predictable given the character of the citizens. The first is the wholesome and natural response of what is an intrinsically humanitarian and community entrenched city to a monumental tragedy that is consuming it. Widespread communal grief and mourning dominate.

The other level of trauma is possibly even more disturbing. Harrowing even. Certainly unique in what generated it. It is a fierce and raging anger at wrongful media accusations and lies that Liverpool fans are responsible for the deaths of their fellow fans and that they have committed unspeakable atrocities on the dead and dying. The upshot is a maelstrom of unprecedented confusion and distress unleashed within the city. Sadness and outrage collide in an unbearable clamour for real understanding and justice.

Step forward into the breach the manager of Liverpool Football Club.

Cometh the hour and we were to witness a man who rose to the daunting challenge confronting him. Kenny Dalglish bestrode the uniquely inhospitable post-Hillsborough stage from the outset with a dignity that gained the admiration of every Liverpudlian. By displays of humility and caring - it is said he or his wife Marina personally counselled every family and attended every funeral - together with wisely chosen sentiments that spoke a thousand times louder than any brazen words of defiance he may have been tempted to utter, he represented an entire city. His prior reputation within certain media circles for a tendency towards a prickly over-defensiveness was put into life’s sharp perspective. When it really mattered, when the tide was threatening to swamp us, he showed his true colours. He alone of every public figure retained a respect for victims and bereaved which pointed both to them and to others the way forward out of the despair. A man of stature, both inspirational and calming.

There are times when basic qualities of humanity transcend even the most sublime and extraordinary gifts from the gods. Kenny Dalglish was, indeed, very special in a footballing sense. He outstripped possibly every other footballer we ever possessed. Later, he was to rank alongside our other managerial greats. Ultimately, however, his feats as one of our footballing immortals were eclipsed by his achievements in the aftermath of Hillsborough.

Within a year or so of the tragedy Kenny was to pay the price for his devotion to others. The stresses unleashed as a result of his selflessness compelled him to sever his association with the club he adored and the fans who adored him. Most certainly it was a sad inevitability yet, as hindsight reveals to us, also a calamitous misjudgement on both his and the club’s part. The comparative hotchpotch of his career since now stands as the legacy of that sacrifice he made back then. That he made it for Liverpudlians he had never before met and would never meet again; indeed, that he did it simply because they were Liverpudlians - part of the entity he played for, managed and so cherished - is something that no Red should ever be allowed to forget. Even more than for that unforgettable smile, Kenny Dalglish should be remembered by Liverpudlians for his humanity to our own kind.               

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