Thursday, 22 February 2024

Kenny Dalglish was without doubt a great player and could have been a great manager when he made the step up at Liverpool. He was suspicious of people beyond belief and it was good just to be on the fringes of the Merseyside media pack when you covered the club. His press conferences were like an attempt to be awkward, painful at times, and I could never work him out when he was there.

I tried to play it straight with him and give him the respect his reputation deserved if not his attitude. I once rang to check a story I knew was true about Steve Nicol picking up an injury that would rule him out for months. It took hours and lots of calls to get through until I reached Dalglish who was just obstructive rather than making any attempt to co-operate or even make sure the story was written right. It always stuck in my mind.

It was quite something to be at Anfield the day Dalglish left, the mask slipped and we saw the true man. He was worn down by the pressure of the job and wanted out, it had got to him and he did not need it any more. From that day I looked on him in a slightly different light. Yet it was easy to have the odd chip about him walking out on jobs and he obviously did not like it.

For all that I played a strange part in his managerial return and it was all down to a chance conversation with the Blackburn Rovers chairman Bill Fox.

I had written the story that Rovers wanted Dalglish as boss as I knew their wealthy owner Jack Walker was telling people he was their first choice. Nobody in the London offices believed it and so the tale was played down.

A few days later I went to cover a Football League meeting in the Midlands at the time when the Premier League breakaway was on the cards. I liked Fox a lot and so I was sympathetic to his side of the argument and the protection of the 'old' league. We had always got on well when we met at Rovers games and he was a proper football man.

After this League meeting Bill pulled me in the bar and said 'Have you got it then?' 'What do you mean?' I replied with no idea what he meant. 'Dalglish's number?' he said. Straight away I thought 'what the ****? and said I did not have it but knew a man who could contact him.

I asked Bill if he was serious and he said that Dalglish was the one Jack wants and Bill had to make it happen. Or else. Walker was a man who liked his wishes to be fulfilled. Fast.

I called The Sun's man on Merseyside Mike Ellis to brief him on the possibility as he was good mates with Dalglish's solicitor and Liverpool lawyer Kevin Dooley. I said to get them to call Fox and make the thing happen. Mike went to see Dooley who put it to Kenny and the ball rolled.

Even then Dalglish would not come back and share any news or updates. In the end I found out from Blackburn that it was on. I was puzzled Dalglish or his sidekick did not have the courtesy to call, but that was just him.

So I did the story that he was coming, a joint byline job with Mike. The office should have been overjoyed, but they came back and ridiculed the story and one sports desk lackie tried to pour cold water on it in particular. I flipped. For ten minutes he got a good old Drumchapel doing down the phone when I pointed out what a useless operator and spineless bastard he was. I have never sworn as repeatedly or with such depth of feeling as I did on that call.

I went home from the office and had the sports editor David Balmforth on soon after asking why I had abused his right hand man. I told him what I had said to him and stood by it.

Next day the big Dalglish for Rovers story came out. By Mike Ellis. My name nowhere near it. I never forgave those petty pricks for that and never will.

The problem was that people stuck in a London office did not want to back their reporter on the patch when he was telling them that a millionaire was bankrolling the biggest revolution in English football.

It had been an issue before. I got the tip that Walker wanted Gary Lineker, England's top striker and the star of the Tottenham team. Most people would have laughed, but I knew that was the way Walker thought and was going about doing things. I called Bill Fox and he confirmed it, an approach had been made and a bid of £2 million was in. So I sent the story and after a long argument with Balmforth it was on the back. Spurs erupted, Lineker and his agent Jon Holmes tried to claim it was a stunt. I found that funny in later years as money-grabbing Lineker would later go to Japan and present Match of the Day in his shorts.

I rang Bill to say is there any way we can take this further. He said the club would confirm the offer and if pressed he would tell Spurs and anyone else that Jack would buy their club instead if he wanted to. We both laughed, but it was true.

After the way the Dalglish story was treated I was tempted to quit the paper, but thought that Blackburn Rovers would now be a great source of stories and how right it was. Fox was eternally grateful and suddenly the London no-marks wanted Rovers stories because they loved the Dalglish thing. How ironic. So there was an endless stream of players coming and cash stories plus the bonuses and wages being thrown around. It makes me smile to see the cuttings and think of the friction that came before the earliest ones. Jack Walker changed a lot of things.

Fox was great through it all. When I heard they wanted rising star goalkeeper David James before he was famous he confirmed it on the spot. Any time other deals needed checking he was there. Sadly his health faded fast, no-one knows if it was the pressure or just his general wellbeing. His death was a loss to football, one of the true gents I have come across.

Dalglish was a new man at Blackburn, playing up to the media and relaxed in his new surroundings. He was also letting his assistant Ray Harford do much of the work, but that was fine by Kenny who liked his down time.

I have never told him about the background to how he got the job, I did not want him to think I was looking for a favour in return. But it does give me a certain glee to know how it was done.


Story courtesy of Alan Nixon @reluctantnicko. 



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