Kenny Dalglish: No point beating England if Scotland go out of Euro 2020 as he recalls Alan Ball prank
You can’t mistake the Kenny Dalglish grin. In a millisecond, he switches from deadpan to dead excited as that inimitable smile etches itself across his distinguished face. Memories of playing for Scotland against England have that affect.
This country’s most-capped player produced some of his finest moments in games against the Auld Enemy, both at Hampden and Wembley. England had three lions on shirts, Scotland boasted those iconic diamonds down sleeves, but Dalglish always had ice in his veins and fire in his belly. His enthusiasm for the rivalry hasn’t waned despite becoming a septuagenarian in March.
He will watch Friday’s Euro 2020 Group D match with friends and family, arguing that the Tartan Army deserve tickets more than him. The humility which endeared him to fans in Glasgow, Liverpool and beyond is never far from the surface. Likewise the trademark smile. Dalglish turning away after scoring a goal with both arms aloft, mouth gaping and eyes popping out his head is one of the most nostalgic Scottish football images of the last 50 years.
However, the man himself knows it is time for new memories. Not those from Monday’s opening game against Czech Republic, but the kind that live on for decades. The kind Scotland seek to create at the new Wembley. Tension is inevitable after losing 2-0 to the Czechs so a pre-match chat with Dalglish might settle nerves within Steve Clarke’s squad.
From nutmegging his future Liverpool colleague Ray Clemence with the winner in 1976, to telling England’s Alan Ball that a 1973 Scottish pitch invader was his dad, there are tales aplenty. “A wee guy ran on with a hat. Nae malice. He'd maybe just had a couple of wee celebration drinks before the match,” smirked Dalglish. “Alan Ball took it brilliantly. He had a good laugh at it.
Anfield atmosphere in 1977
“I don't think the England-Scotland games could have been any more passionate or exciting than the night we beat Wales at Anfield in ‘77. That was unbelievable. There was as many locked out in the car park at Anfield that night as there was in the stadium. For us to beat them and qualify for the 1978 World Cup made that a memorable night.”
It is no coincidence that Scotland’s halcyon period – when the national team regularly reached major tournaments – is synonymous with the peak years of Dalglish’s playing career. Was there more passion then?
Dalglish, speaking as a McDonald’s Fun Football ambassador, said: “When you were growing up, all you ever saw in those days on television was the Home Internationals. So when we played England, every Scot wanted to beat them. I wouldn't say you dreamt about scoring the winner when you were a wee boy. First of all you've got to become a footballer, so you dreamt about that and anything else is just a bonus.
“It was pleasant to come out on the winning side against England. We beat them 2-0 at Hampden with two own goals in 1974. We got battered twice as well [5-1 in 1975] but I suppose you just have to put up with that.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Liverpool training sessions in the 1970s and 80s didn’t involve Scotland-England five-a-sides. “The boys in the dressing room knew that the Jocks were the superior race anyway, so they wouldn't play against us. We were pretty strong in there with big Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, Steve Nicol. There was always a wind-up before the games.
“Obviously, Ray Clemence got a bit of stick after the one went through his legs at Hampden but you can’t go too far. When the season starts, you have games to win so you don’t want to upset him too much – just enough to make him a little bit riled. He got a bit of abuse for that, then, but I’m told he was always weak between his legs – that’s what they said anyway.”
Again that cheeky grin emerges. Talk turns to Pat Nevin’s recent comment that the only Scotland player worth a place in England’s team is Kieran Tierney. “I think Pat's just as well as a pundit and not a football manager. Did you see the gear Pat used to wear? I wouldn't have chosen that either. He's got every right to have an opinion on the football but that doesn't mean to say you agree with it,” laughed Dalglish.
“Andy Robertson could get in any team in the world and so could Kieran Tierney. I'm sure any team in the would would be grateful to have them as a national player.”
No point beating England and going out
Scotland earned “legendary status just by qualifying” for Euro 2020 in Dalglish’s mind. Progress from the group phase is unprecedented and remains something of holy grail. Beating England would be seismic, but there is a bigger picture to address.
“Marsh [David Marshall] saving the penalty for us to qualify was unbelievable. We were in the house and when he saved it we were up out the seat. We nearly spilled our drink,” joked Dalglish.
“Qualifying makes the players legends. Beating England at Wembley would be memorable as well, but everything doesn't depend on the England result. We have a game afterwards.
“You've got to get it into perspective. You can't just wait for the England game and then think that's you finished. That would be dangerous. There's no point beating them if you can't get through.”
So where will the greatest player ever to represent Scotland be come 8pm Friday night? “I'll watch with one eye open to start with and see how it goes from there. I don't have a ticket, but why should I? It's the Tartan Army you want to have the tickets to give us plenty support. They are more deserving of a ticket than me.”
Sir Kenny Dalglish is launching one million hours of free McDonald's Fun Football sessions for children across the UK this summer. To find your nearest session, go to mcdonalds.co.uk/football