In the first part of this look back at the relationship between Sir Kenny and Sir Alex, we examined the early years of their time as players in Scotland as well as Ferguson’s move into management.
We then considered Ferguson’s time in charge at Aberdeen, including the ill-fated European Cup clash with Liverpool in 1980, and the two men’s coming together while on Scotland duty that lay the groundwork for Ferguson’s decades-long ire against all things Liverpool.
In this second and concluding instalment, we will consider the development of the two men’s relationship once they became established managerial adversaries.
In September 1985, the qualification stages for the 1986 World Cup were coming to a close, and Scotland’s continuance in the tournament was on a knife-edge.
The final game of Group 7 saw Wales and Scotland clash at Ninian Park with the teams locked together on six points each from five previous games. Scotland had the better goal difference and so needed a draw in Cardiff to ensure staying ahead of Wales and thus qualifying for a play-off against Australia, while the Welsh needed a victory in order to progress.
The Liverpool connection of Dalglish, Hansen and Souness were all absent due to either injury or suspension, although Steve Nicol appeared for Scotland and Ian Rush started for Wales.
On a night that lives on in infamy 35 years later, Scotland got the result they needed courtesy of a late controversial penalty equaliser converted by the late Davie Cooper.
As heartbroken as the Welsh were by the result and the manner in which it came about, the true tragedy of that evening was the untimely death of Jock Stein who collapsed and died of a heart attack upon the game’s final whistle.
The whole of Scotland and the footballing world was stunned, and with a World Cup to still qualify for and then, hopefully, take part in, the SFA turned to Alex Ferguson to take over on a caretaker basis. It was agreed that Ferguson would be in charge of the Scotland team while the nation still retained an interest in the tournament.
So, after qualification against Australia had been secured via the play-offs, Ferguson and Scotland set about preparing for the competition proper.
Kenny Dalglish was at the time playing for and managing Liverpool as they chased league and cup honours on the domestic front, and as he personally closed in on a century of caps for Scotland.
Although deeply saddened by the death of his mentor Stein, Dalglish unsurprisingly continued to make himself available for selection under Ferguson.
In total Dalglish played three times for Scotland under Ferguson’s stewardship; the first leg of the play-offs against Australia plus friendlies against East Germany and Romania, the match in which Dalglish was awarded his 100th cap.
As the 1985-86 season came to a climax, Dalglish was in a rich vein of form on the field. Having spent large swathes of the season being selective about which games he played for Liverpool, an injury to Paul Walsh had resulted in Dalglish the manager being forced to pick Dalglish the player for the title run-in, and this decision had paid off as Liverpool secured the Double of First Division and FA Cup.
As a result, Ferguson had no qualms about including Dalglish in the Scotland squad bound for Mexico. Dalglish was by now 35-years-old, however, and there was some speculation as to whether or not he could be expected to start once every game the competition got underway.
If Dalglish’s inclusion in the 22-man squad had been expected, the exclusion of his Liverpool team-mate, captain and friend, Alan Hansen, did more than raise a few eyebrows.
Ferguson preferred to play his Aberdeen club pairing of Willie Miller and Alex McLeish, as Jock Stein had done, but it was widely expected that Hansen would be selected as a back-up.
Dalglish felt Ferguson had made a mistake and personally phoned him in an effort to change his mind. Ferguson did Dalglish the courtesy of considering his request but ultimately decided to stand by his decision.
A few days later, Liverpool met and defeated Everton in the FA Cup Final with Dalglish not having one of his better games, but lasting the entire 90 minutes.
The following week Dalglish withdrew from the Scotland World Cup squad citing an injury he’d picked up at Wembley.
Although Ferguson has never really spoken about Dalglish’s decision to withdraw from the squad, for a long time certain sections of the media speculated that Hansen’s omission from the squad had something to do with Dalglish’s choice.
So legend has it, the roots of supposed enmity between the men trace back to this incident.
Dalglish has defended himself many times over the years saying that the specialist’s advice was clear: if he went to Mexico, he would have to miss the start of the following season with Liverpool.
At the age of 35 and with a football club to manage, the prospect of being away from home for up to six weeks with a slight injury and no guarantees he would feature much during the tournament, Dalglish made his decision to stay home.
Scotland and Ferguson went off to the World Cup and returned with just one point from three games. Ferguson’s time in charge of Scotland was at an end and so was his time in Scottish football altogether.
The following November Ron Atkinson was sacked as manager of Manchester United and Alex Ferguson moved seamlessly into the Old Trafford hot seat.
For the next four-and-a-half years Dalglish and Ferguson would do battle as managers of England’s two biggest clubs.
Between November 1986 and February 1991, when Dalglish left Liverpool for the first time, Liverpool and United met a total of nine times in the league, with each side winning three apiece.
Perhaps the most talked-about clash came on Easter Monday in 1988. Liverpool were enjoying an exceptional season and came into the match 11 points ahead of United, who were second. United did have two games in hand, however, and so a United victory would give them just the whiff of a sense that perhaps Liverpool could still be caught.
A pulsating match ensued with United taking an early lead before being hit by three Liverpool goals around the half-time mark.
With Liverpool 3-1 ahead, Colin Gibson, was sent off for United and Liverpool looked home and hosed. However, goals from Bryan Robson and Gordon Strachan restored parity and if anything Liverpool were hanging on for a point at the end.
In his post-match conference, Fergie was not a happy bunny. Despite seeing his side claw their way back into the game he knew that the draw virtually gave the title to Liverpool and he was seething at the perceived injustice of Gibson’s red card.
Just as he was getting into his flow of how refereeing decisions at Anfield made visiting managers ‘choke on their own vomit’, who should happen to walk past other than Kenny Dalglish.
Carrying his six-week-old baby in his arms, he told the ensembled press corps they would be better off talking to his daughter as they would likely get more sense out of her.
This instance notwithstanding, the ‘Dalglish V Fergie Fued’ can be seen to be a myth with no real base, certainly during this period.
When Ferguson took over United, Liverpool were in the ascendency and although United had a decent 1987-88 season, they were not really very close to challenging Liverpool for most of the time up until Dalglish left Liverpool in early 1991.
In April 1989, the awful Hillsborough disaster occurred, taking the lives of 96 Liverpool supporters, and as the nation mourned Alex Ferguson called Dalglish personally to offer condolences and to help in any way possible.
In return, when Ferguson was under pressure in the winter of 1989 and looked to be one bad result from getting the sack, Dalglish took the time and effort to publicly support him and urge the United board to give him time.
After Liverpool and Dalglish parted company in 1991, Dalglish returned to management with Blackburn Rovers and the two men once more became rivals.
After promotion in 1992, Blackburn had a decent first season in the top flight before briefly challenging United for the title in 1993-94.
The following season saw the one and only time in the two men’s shared history that they truly went head-to-head for the title. Early season skirmishes were fairly even but as 1995 headed towards spring, United’s form hit the rocks and Blackburn began to pull away.
With less than ten games to go Rovers were well clear and it was then that Ferguson came up with his famous quote about needing Blackburn to ‘do a Devon Loch’ if United were to have any chance of catching them.
This was a reference to Devon Loch, the Queen Mother’s racehorse, that was leading the 1956 Grand National by some distance only to inexplicably stumble and fall in the home straight.
Dalglish pretended not to understand when told of Ferguson’s quote and asked reporters, “Is that an expanse of water in Scotland?”
Blackburn did stumble drastically on the run-in, though, and so it came down to the last day of the season before the destiny of the title was decided.
United were away to West Ham and two points behind Blackburn who were at Anfield. As United had a better goal difference, Blackburn needed to beat Dalglish’s old side to be sure of taking the title, while United had to beat West Ham and hoped Blackburn slipped up in order to prevail.
In the week leading up to the games, some were speculating just how much effort Liverpool would be putting into the game considering what was at stake.
Fergie made some noises about how he trusted Liverpool to do the right thing and how he had always respected them as a football club, and some took this as a sign of ‘mind games’.
To be fair to him, though, he was in an impossible position. He couldn’t refuse to answer the question being put to him and to answer anything else, ie that he expected Liverpool to roll over, would have caused a greater uproar and probably would have backfired.
As it happened Liverpool won 2-1 but as United could do no better than draw 1-1 at Upton Park, the title went to Blackburn and Dalglish.
Shortly afterwards, Dalglish stepped down as manager of Blackburn and within a year or so had released his first autobiography. Alex Ferguson penned some notes by way of introduction to Dalglish’s book and Dalglish in return dedicated an entire chapter to talking about his relationship with Alex Ferguson.
Although the two would come up against each other again in future years while Dalglish was at the reigns of Newcastle United and, later back at Liverpool, never again would they be in direct competition for the game’s top honours.
Talk of a feud between two of Scotland’s most famous footballing sons perhaps makes for a good tale, an examination of the facts shows really a rather more mundane footballing tale.