Combining a touch as sure as certainty, vision as incisive as a surgeons knife and a goal scoring ability the gods themselves envied, Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish became arguably the most successful and decorated Scottish Footballer of all time. A talismanic figure for both Celtic and Liverpool, his memorable contributions ensure his place in the historic pantheon of legends at both great clubs.
Born in Dalmarnock, Dalglish would eventually become the East End of Glasgow boy fondly christened the ‘King’ by his adoring Celtic fans. Yet despite going on to feature so prominently for Celtic, Dalglish’s early years were spent following the other team in Glasgow – Rangers. A stubborn character, Dalglish did not let his allegiances cross his ambition. On signing for Celtic he reputedly tore down the Rangers posters that adorned his bedroom wall. Although at the time the young Dalglish may have been too young to realise, this symbolic gesture would provide the perfect metaphor for the frustrating times that lay ahead for his boyhood heroes.
After signing at 15 years of age Dalglish became an integral part of ‘The Quality Street Gang,’ the promising group of youngsters Jock Stein had accumulated in the anticipation of the inevitable decline of the Lisbon Lions. Containing the precocious talents of Dalglish, Lou Macari, Davie Hay, Danny McGrain, George Connolly and Harry Hood, this nucleus of young players would provide the backbone for Celtic’s team of the 1970’s as they perpetuated the Jock Stein dynasty. Inspired by what Davie Hay described as the “fierce competition amongst friends” in the Quality Street Gang, Dalglish made his Celtic debut in season 1968-69 during a league cup tie against Hamilton. Despite this early first team breakthrough, the young Dalglish was used sparingly by the canny Stein in the following seasons, as he patiently waited for Dalglish’s talent to develop and ultimately flourish.
By the 1971-72 season Stein felt this time had come. In the midst of a punishing schedule of fixtures that saw Celtic face Rangers at Ibrox three times in a fortnight, Dalglish made the first of four decades worth of contributions to Celtic. Scoring his and Celtic’s first goal in a 2 – 0 victory, he helped deliver what would become the first of three Ibrox victories in the space of two weeks. By the end of this championship-winning season Dalglish had consolidated his position and contributed 23 goals in 49 appearances. The following season saw Dalglish progress and establish himself as Celtic’s leading striker, whilst he earned the first of his 102 international caps, a record that still stands to this day, in an international friendly against Belgium.
Yet it was at club level where Dalglish’s rapid development was having most effect. Championship winning year followed Championship winning year as Celtic accumulated a record 9 leagues in a row. During this period Dalglish scored 167 goals in all competitions helping Celtic to four league championships, four Scottish cup successes, one league cup victory, a European Cup Final and another two European Cup semi-finals. Inevitably the considerable contribution of the talismanic Dalglish’s goals and all round play did not go unnoticed. In 1977 Celtic accepted a then record bid of £440,000 from Liverpool, and to the dismay of incredulous Celtic supporters, King Kenny was allowed to leave.
Conversely, many Liverpool fans were sceptical of Dalglish’s signing and the significant outlay. Despite his impressive track record, not only did they think their new signing was coming from an inferior league but he was replacing the Kop idol, Kevin Keegan. There was barely a Liverpudlian who believed Dalglish could replace the departing hero. However, as Emlyn Hughes recollected many years later “they were to be proven spectacularly wrong”. Dalglish eventually went on to exceed the adoration afforded to Keegan by the Kop, and as Phil Thompson went on to surmise “Kenny was the greatest Liverpool player by a million miles”. During his trophy laden Liverpool playing career Kenny Dalglish scored 169 times in all competitions, helping Liverpool accumulate six Division One Championships, four League Cups, one F.A. Cup, one European Super Cup, one Intercontinental Cup and three European cups, the first of which was thanks to a sublime Dalglish solo goal at Wembley Stadium.
Now in his prime, it was not only the club arena where Dalglish was excelling. In accumulating his 102 Scotland caps ‘King Kenny’ featured in the consecutive World Cups of West Germany 1974, Argentina 1978 and Spain 1982. Spanning 15 years he contributed much to Scotland and scored a record 30 goals before international retirement in 1984.
Retirement from club football, however was still a long way off. In the wake of the Heysel tragedy and defeat to Juventus in The European Cup Final of 1985, Liverpool parted company with then manager Joe Fagan and installed Dalglish as player-manager. In his debut season at the helm he led Liverpool to an historic first-ever League and cup double, with Dalglish himself scoring the title clinching goal in a 1-0 victory over Chelsea.
Whilst the following seasons saw a gradual decline in on-field appearances, success remained. Liverpool won the league twice more as well as attaining the F.A, Cup and League Cup before Dalglish made his final appearance, aged 38, against Derby County in the title winning year of 1990. Tragically however, only months later Dalglish was forced to resign as manager due to health problems. Despite the sudden departure his contribution to Liverpool is still without parallel. He remains highly regarded by all Liverpool fans thanks to the special relationship he built with the supporters and, of course, his contributions to England’s most successful club. It is perhaps testament to Dalglish and his influence that the 1990 title win, in his final full season as a player and manager, was the last time Liverpool won the English title.
After a brief sabbatical from football Kenny Dalglish returned as manager of newly rich Blackburn Rovers. Assisted by the seemingly bottomless pockets of millionaire owner Jack Walker, Dalglish quickly and intuitively assembled a side that won promotion to England’s top flight. After a couple of seasons of Premiership acclimatisation and a few more costly but effective purchases, Dalglish secured Blackburn Rovers first Premiership title in 1994. In doing so he won his ninth English title as player and manager, and became only the third manager in history to win England’s top division with two different teams. Yet despite this success and the prospect of Champions League football, Dalglish stepped down as Blackburn manager, merely weeks after winning the Premiership title. He briefly occupied a role as director of football at the Lancashire club, however left by mutual consent within a year.
Newcastle United was the next managerial stop for Kenny Dalglish, where once again he would replace the charismatic Kevin Keegan. Newcastle fans celebrated in the January snow as Dalglish was unveiled, giddy at the prospect of ‘King Kenny’s’ stellar reputation for accumulating silverware. However, despite an F.A. Cup final appearance and a second place Premiership finish, his stay lasted only 20 months, as a poor start to the 1998-99 season saw Dalglish exit Saint James Park without the fanfare of his arrival or the success he had achieved elsewhere.
Somewhat deflated by the Newcastle episode Dalglish took another sabbatical. However it was under a year before he was back where he started as a 15 year old. In becoming Celtic’s director of football ‘King Kenny’ returned to Paradise to be greeted by a euphoric Celtic support. Dalglish appointed ex-Liverpool team mate John Barnes as head coach and after a promising start to the season, the pair were christened ‘The Dream Team’ by Scotland’s tabloid press. However, the second Celtic honeymoon was to be short lived. A string of poor results, culminating in a catastrophic cup defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, coupled with a dressing room revolt swiftly ended the era of the dream team and John Barnes managerial career. Dalglish took charge of Celtic on a caretaker basis and although he led them to a League Cup triumph over Aberdeen, he and Celtic parted ways for a final time in the year 2000.
In the intervening period Dalglish has taken an enforced leave from football, conquering personal challenges as he helped his wife Marina through cancer treatment. Yet after more than 30 trophy-laden years it seems apt that it should end for Kenny Dalglish where it all started. Although the suddenness and immediacy of his departure meant the fans were never able to publically display their appreciation for the memories or the successes he gave so many, Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish can rest assured that the fans of Celtic, Liverpool, Blackburn and Scotland will forever fondly remember ‘King Kenny’.
Full Name: Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish
Date of Birth: 4th March 1951
Place of Birth: Glasgow, Scotland
Height: 5ft 8 in. (1.73m)
Playing Position: Forward
1969-1977 Celtic – 204 Appearances [112 Goals]
1977-1990 Liverpool – 515 Appearances [172 Goals]
1971- 1986 Scotland – 102 Appearances [30 Goals]
921 Appearances [314 Goals]
1991- 1995 Blackburn Rovers
1997-1998 Newcastle United
FL Division One – Winners  1985/86, 1987/88, 1989/90.
FA Cup – Winners  1986, 1989.
Charity Shield – Winners  1988, 1989, 1990, [Shared]: 1987, 1991.
FA Premier League – Winners  1994/95
FL Second Division Play-off – Winners  1991/92
Scottish League Cup – Winners  2000
First Published in Issue 1.3 of The 12th Man Scottish Football fanzine