14 Jul 2009

It could’ve been Old Trafford! How Liverpool beat Manchester United to the signing of Kenny Dalglish

The thought of club legend Kenny Dalglish signing for Manchester United is enough to make any Liverpool fan sick to the stomach, but it could have happened in the 1970s. Thankfully, there was only one club for which Dalglish wanted to play, and that was Liverpool FC.

1977: Liverpool had just beaten Borussia Monchengladbach 3-1 to win the European cup for the first time. Amid the triumph, the reality was that Kevin Keegan was leaving for Hambur SV and needed to be replaced.

Liverpool had their eye on Celtic's creative maestro Kenny Dalglish as potential replacement for Keegan. Bob Paisley had contacted Jock Stein a year earlier when he heard that Dalglish wanted to leave for England, but Stein had said that he was going nowhere.

Stein added that Paisley would be the first he would contact if he couldn’t talk Dalglish into staying at Celtic. Stein kept his promise, even though he was disappointed to be losing a player of this calibre.

Manchester United actually offered Celtic more money for Dalglish, but, luckily, the player had set his heart on Anfield.

Liverpool and Celtic eventually sat down to discuss the deal. An initial £300,000 was offered but legendary Celtic Manager Jock Stein rejected it as ‘paltry’, despite it being only £50,000 short of the British transfer record Everton paid Birmingham City for Bob Latchford.

In private talks prior to negotiation, the Liverpool party had agreed to keep adding 10%, with £400,000 being the final offer. That figure was reached, but Stein once again rejected the offer, but for some reason suggested that a further 10% may tip the scales.

A simple nod of heads sealed the deal; Stein had lost his man, and he would remain silent on the matter after the deal, only ever stating that Liverpool got a better player than Kevin Keegan (Dalglish’s predecessor) and still made a profit.

Negotiations had taken all day finally concluding at midnight but neither Bob Paisley nor John Smith were in any mood to leave until their target had agreed the transfer. Personal terms were much easier to settle. Dalglish was located at his father-in-law's pub and called Parkhead. Within minutes, John Smith, Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish were shaking hands on a deal.

Smith was delighted with the deal, enthusing: "There's never been a better bit of business than that”.

Bill Shankly couldn’t believe his ears when he heard that Celtic had allowed Dalglish to leave.

"I understand that like Kevin Keegan, Dalglish wants to get on but I would have moved heaven and earth to keep him. I would rather have quit and got out of the game altogether than sold a player of his brilliance."

Paisley later told Kenny that it wouldn't have mattered if Liverpool hadn't sold Keegan to Germany, Paisley would have still tried to sign him.

From Kenny's perspective:

"Bob told John Smith he wanted me. Liverpool had such a simple way of handling transfers. Old Bob would just pick the players he wanted to bring to Anfield and John Smith and Peter Robinson would sort out the deals.

"They were brilliant at deals. So I walked into the boardroom to meet my next employers. Bob was there as well because new players like to talk to the person who is going to be looking after them. They informed me that the two clubs had agreed a fee. We talked for a couple of minutes. After two years of wanting a move, it was all happening in minutes."

Dalglish's love affair with Liverpool and its fans is unprecedented and from day one it was evident:

"My Anfield debut came against Newcastle, who counted Tommy Craig, amongst their number. I had grown up with Wee Tam, playing Glasgow Schools, Scottish Schools and Scottish Youth with him.

"Before kick-off, I found Tam looking up at the sign that declares 'This Is Anfield'. 'How are you?', he asked. 'I'm all right, I think', I told Tam, 'but you see that sign there? It's supposed to frighten the opposition. I'm terrified by it and it's my home ground.'

"Fortunately the game worked out well. Just after half-time, Ray Kennedy started wandering off down the inside left. I raced towards the box. Ray's pass came in and I clipped the ball past Newcastle's keeper, Steve Hardwick, as he came out.

"The goal was at the Kop end and I nearly finished up in amongst them. Their appreciation was magnificent. It really touched me. That was the start of the relationship between the Kop and me. It was a special relationship, hard to articulate how strong the bond was. We would share great success in England and Europe."

Further reading: Liverpool's forgotten heroes: John Smith

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