He wakes up this morning as a knight of the realm but Kenny Dalglish’s place among football’s aristocracy was secured long ago.
At Liverpool, the club he became most synonymous with for his distinguished service both on and off the field, he will always be ‘King Kenny’. Supporters of Blackburn Rovers, whom he managed to the unlikeliest of English Premier League triumphs, revere him still.
The generation of Celtic fans fortunate enough to recall his six full seasons of generally sustained excellence in the hooped shirt, which brought him nine major domestic winners’ medals in the 1970s, can reflect on bearing personal witness to one of the most gifted players in their club’s history.
Dalglish’s greatness can also be measured by his all-time record haul of 102 Scotland caps in an international career which saw him appear in three World Cup finals tournaments.
But for one of the men who shared so many of those days in the dark blue jersey with him, Sir Kenny’s most admirable quality was a valour of which Sir Galahad might have approved.
“I played with him for Scotland for the best part of ten years,” says Joe Jordan, who relished having Dalglish as a team-mate for 47 of his own 52 appearances for his country.
“I’m delighted he’s been given this knighthood and I’d say it’s long overdue. He was a wonderful player, although obviously he is on the honours list for more than that.
“People will always remember the ability he had, which was enormous and goes without saying. But I don’t think everyone fully appreciates how courageous he was as a player. You can show that in a number of ways.
“Kenny was always there to receive the ball, he was always looking for the ball and willing to take it in to his feet. That was in an era which is very different from now when it’s much better for strikers.
“In those days, defenders had a licence and freedom to challenge from the back. But whenever Kenny saw one of his full-backs or midfielders looking to serve the ball up to the strikers, he always made himself available – whether he was getting marked tightly or not, regardless of what type of centre-half he was up against. It didn’t bother him. He played at the top level like that for so long, still competing to win things.”
Dalglish scored 30 goals for Scotland and still sits proudly as the nation’s joint-top scorer of all time alongside Denis Law. He still believes he should have been credited with 31 international goals, remaining miffed that his backheel from a Danny McGrain cross went down as an own goal by defender Ian Evans who slid in and got the final touch on the ball when Scotland beat Wales 1-0 at Hampden in a qualifier for the 1978 World Cup finals.
Along with his close friend and fellow ‘Anglo Scot’ Graeme Souness, Dalglish’s contributions to the Scotland cause were not always universally appreciated by the Tartan Army. In his autobiography, Dalglish himself expressed a degree of regret that his international career had not been more fulfilling in terms of making greater progress at major tournaments.
But Jordan, an iconic figure in his own right for Scotland fans, has no doubts about Dalglish’s standing in the history of the national team.
“I was very fortunate in my career to play alongside a lot of great players who helped make you look better yourself,” he added. “Playing alongside Kenny in a Scotland jersey was as good as it gets, believe me.
“He ended up with more than 100 caps, most of them playing as striker. To do that, in that era when the game was so punishing physically, is some feat. No disrespect, but while if a centre-half gets to 100 caps it’s an achievement, you don’t get many strikers who do it.
“The courage that he showed in my eyes, both when I was playing alongside him and watching him, was incredible. He never, ever shirked responsibility.
“Once he got the ball, what he did with it was so often brilliant and often took your breath away. His control, vision, selection of pass and decision-making were all top drawer. But he had so much courage as well which was the quality which always shone through in my eyes.”
Jordan’s admiration for Dalglish the footballer is matched by his appreciation of the personal qualities which came to the fore in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool supporters in 1989.
“Kenny had a terrific career at Celtic before he went to Liverpool and was a magnificent player for them,” says Jordan. “He then continued to win trophies as Liverpool manager but there are also deeper reasons why he is so revered there, for the exceptional manner in which he conducted himself after Hillsborough.
“It was tough times for the families of those who were lost and he has been a great comfort and strength for them. That’s clearly one of the reasons he’s been given this wonderful honour and no-one deserves it more.”