Kenny Dalglish to be knighted
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Kenny Dalglish won countless trophies as a player and a manager with lfc, but in the aftermath of Hillsborough, he stood and led an entire community
It was early in the morning and Anfield stood empty except for one man. Kenny Dalglish had arrived just after dawn, let himself in, hurried through the dressing-room area, instinctively reached up and touched the sign that read "This is Anfield" and then stepped up on to the pitch.
In the 20 years that have elapsed since the Hillsborough disaster, Dalglish has always called what awaited him that morning as the "saddest and most beautiful sight".
As well as the Kop, half the playing surface was covered in scarves, wreaths and tributes to the 96 Liverpool fans crushed to death on the Leppings Lane End.
Sadness cloaked the scene like a long grey cloud, emotion writ large in every scribbled message to a friend who'd died, in every tear-stained note to a fallen son, daughter, father or uncle. For Dalglish, the beauty came from this vast outpouring of love, of a club reaching out to those in their hour of need.
As Dalglish made his way towards the Kop, the only sound he could hear was the cellophane around bunches of flowers rustling in the wind. In his hands, the Liverpool manager clutched two teddy bears taken from his children's bed-rooms.
Taking care not to tread on tributes, he walked towards the Kop goalmouth.
This part of Anfield had been a place of celebration for "King Kenny" on so many occasions, Liverpool's greatest player wheeling away, his face lit up with a smile, another keeper beaten, another party started on the Kop. Not this time. The feelings were of anger, confusion, desolation.
Tenderly, the soberly-suited Dalglish leant forward and tied the teddy bears to a goalpost. As a father, his heart broke for all those parents across Merseyside burying their children.
To understand Dalglish's heroic response to the Hillsborough Disaster, to appreciate why he took it upon himself to carry a club and a city until eventually he broke under the strain, one has to recognise his passion for the family, for his wife Marina and their four children and also for his footballing family, Liverpool FC.
Naturally shy, Dalglish blossomed only within the embrace of these families, whether at home or on holiday, or in the dressing-room. The perception of Dalglish as dour is mocked by all privileged to have been in his company at his house or in the dressing-room.
Ask Marina Dalglish, Kelly Dalglish, Alan Hansen or Graeme Souness. They will speak of Dalglish's humour, his love of wind-ups, his immense warmth as a human being.
When Hillsborough plunged a city into mourning, Liverpool's family craved a leader, a beacon. As manager of the team, as a father who endured a nightmare 20 minutes until his son Paul, who had been amongst the Liverpool fans, walked across the pitch towards him, Dalglish was the man who held together a grief-stricken community.
"They supported Liverpool," he told those close to him, "now it is the turn of Liverpool Football Club to support them."
And they did. Along with his indefatigable wife and club dignitaries like Noel White and Peter Robinson, Dalglish helped the bereaved, comforting them and ensuring Liverpool were represented at every funeral.
Hansen, John Barnes, John Aldridge, Bruce Grobbelaar and the rest of the squad attended service after church service, some of them "reading from the scriptures" as Dalglish puts it. Kenny and Marina went to four funerals in one day, requiring a police escort to guide them through the traffic.
When asked by Dalglish in 1996 to assist in writing his autobiography, I quickly learned the Hillsborough chapter would be the most difficult. Inevitable. The pain ran deep within Dalglish. Disasters have scarred him. He was on the terraces at Ibrox in 1971, on the pitch at Heysel in 1985 and in the dug-out at Hillsborough in 1989.
Reminded of all the many letters of thanks that the Hillsborough families had written to him, Dalglish finally opened up, talking without pausing about his frustration that the FA Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest had not been delayed.
The moment it became known Liverpool fans were held up in motorway roadworks, Dalglish argued the game should have kicked off at 3.15, later if necessary.
He voiced his anger at the "terrible mistakes'' of the authorities, both the South Yorkshire Police and the Football Association. He was surprised the Forest manager, Brian Clough, did not join him in the stadium announcer's booth to appeal for calm.
It is fair to say that Dalglish's respect for Clough lessened that grim afternoon. In the days that followed, he was similarly dismissive of those politicians who turned up at Anfield, viewing a Kop draped in scarves as a photo-opportunity. Only Neil Kinnock impressed him with the genuineness of his grief.
Through all this, Dalglish stayed strong, making light of the stress counsellor sent by the club to his office. "Go and see Peter Robinson,'' said Dalglish. Robinson rang a minute later jokingly to chastise Dalglish. These were men of substance who thoughts of others before themselves.
Soon, though, Dalglish came out in shingles, requiring daily injections at Melwood to keep him going. Eventually, 21 months after Hillsborough, and concerned that he was constantly bawling out his children, Dalglish resigned as manager.
"All the emotion and stress of Hillsborough, all the weight of responsibility he felt, had taken its toll," said Kelly, his daughter and now a respected television reporter. "Hillsborough was devastating for dad."
Liverpool fans will never forget. "King Kenny" brought them such joy: the dinked winner in the 1978 European Cup final at Wembley, the volley at Stamford Bridge to set up the 1986 Double.
Anfield also reveres him as the last manager to bring the league title, back in 1990. Yet Dalglish's response to the Hillsborough disaster, to Liverpool's darkest hour, stands as his greatest achievement.
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