The greatest achievement of any football manager in the England is that of Kenny Dalglish. Forget winning leagues, F.A. Cups, and European Cups etc. At the darkest day for Liverpool Football Club Kenny Dalglish rose to the occasion. As much as any human being could do he guided Liverpool through its darkest days with the utmost dignity and integrity. He put himself, the club and the playing staff at the service of those who had the greatest cause to the grieve the families of the bereaved. They visited the sick in hospital, attended funerals, and as best they could tried to comfort the grieving families. His leadership was stunning and remember he was only 38 at the time of Hillsborough.
From the darkest day in the history of the club has emerged its greatest victory. The truth.
I'm not sure why that thought hadn't really occurred to before. Perhaps it had. But it occurred to me more clearly than ever yesterday evening. Of all the times, it had to be last night. As I stood in the middle of Lime Street looking towards the temporary screen erected above the steps on St George's Hall, so far away from the speakers' platform due to the vast the numbers crowded onto the plateau. It was then, as Kenny Dalglish began reading a poem about footprints, those exact same thoughts you have so eloquently expressed above came to my mind too. It also made me realise, that us, we as a football club, this entity still being here today, still functioning, still chasing down trophies – the fact that we didn't collapse under the burden of Hillsborough and disappear as a force in English football – is, to a large degree, down to that great man speaking those simple words. Kenny Dalglish.
I've been ever so stoical this week. The nerves, tension and apprehension of Monday night replaced on Tuesday morning with joy, relief and the still clinging shards of anger I've carried with me ever since leaving Hillsborough on that April day in 1989. But listening to Kenny, a humble and reluctant hero, finish the poem he read with the words, “In other words, you will never walk alone,” I began shaking and the tears fell from my eyes. The hurt, the sadness, the extent of my empathy for those 96 individuals and their families on the steps facing me became too much. I cried. I cried too for this much abused and traduced city and for the survivors who've fought and argued their case over 27 years the length and breadth of this country and beyond.
I was stood with my kids – reluctantly dragged from the street for the night, to accompany their da and ma to the vigil – and my thoughts travelled back to the events 27 years ago, way before they were even born. I was a 20-year-old football fanatic brought up on the expectation and glamour of supporting a side that won one trophy after trophy. One of the reasons we did so was because of Kenny Dalglish. And it would never end because we had Kenny Dalglish.
Then I recalled the three or four funerals I had attended after Hillsborough, people I, or a mate, knew from our area of the city or beyond who had died. I remember standing outside churches, still a kid at heart, trying to spot players who were in attendance, as yet another coffin was carried within. But we were always looking out for one man in particular, a man who was ever-present when the dead of Hillsborough were buried – Kenny Dalglish. The burden of leadership he carried week after week, to funeral after funeral, while still in charge of England's greatest football team, with matches to play, a league to win, a cup to compete in...
We need not have worried. Kenny was here. What could go wrong?
Yesterday it also dawned on me that Kenny is a Hillsborough survivor too. Something we forgot, or didn't talk about back then. When you sign up to manage a football club – not just any football club, admittedly – attending 96 funerals and leading the club through its darkest period isn't in the job spec is it? He'd already done it once after Heysel. How does a man cope with such an inheritance in the first place, then have to deal with something as gruelling and emotionally draining as Hillsborough too? He must have been superhuman. He was superhuman to us.
After the funerals, after the dirt was thrown around, after the whitewash, Kenny was still leading us, sustaining our fanatical pursuit of trophies. We forgot something, however: he was human too. Easy to forget if you watched him play football, I know. The toll began to tell. The burden he carried, the effort to keep us all going, to keep us on top, became too much for him. He didn't make us forget Hillsborough and those dreadful, life-changing events, but through football he allowed us to carry on as normal: singing, cheering, saluting our heroes. The ordinary things we travelled to Hillsborough to do that day.
We asked too much of him, I fear. He'd already done far and above his duty. Something had to give.
Yesterday surrounded and comforted by loved ones, it finally occurred to me how much we owe that great man, Kenny Dalglish. We all, of course, owe each other a great deal for the solidarity and support we've shown one another over the years. We owe the families because they taught us through example their tenacity, their will to carry on the fight year after year. To never give in, even though the odds of ever seeing justice being done seemed, at times, to be diminishing. But, as you've said above, Kenny Dalglish's greatest contribution to this football club is not league titles or European cups. It's not the goals scored or the great years of success as our manager. His greatest achievement is the way he guided us through those initial months and subsequent years after Hillsborough.
I was glad to be reminded of that yesterday on Lime Street. I was thankful we had Kenny Dalglish back in April 1989. None of us walked alone because we were led by King Kenny.