Eighteen years have elapsed since Everton and Liverpool met in the FA Cup, but for Peter Beardsley, that rare specimen of a man revered on both sides of the Merseyside divide, it is not too late to set the record straight. The former England international admits he "cannot lose" when the rivals meet in the fourth round today. Back in 1991, however, he could not win.
There is hope at Liverpool, courted by Kuwaiti billionaires and finally presenting a genuine title challenge under Rafael Benítez, of a new era of prosperity at Anfield. Today's FA Cup encounter, though, revives memories of when something special undoubtedly ended. Liverpool did not lose just the tie when they last faced Everton in the FA Cup, they lost Kenny Dalglish and their authority over the English game went with him. Beardsley, though it may be hard to believe now, was cited as a principal cause.
Hindsight has brought perspective to the reasons for the Scottish manager's resignation two days after an epic 4-4 draw at Goodison Park, with Hillsborough and the exhaustion of 20 years as a talisman for Celtic then Liverpool chief among them. Yet the Liverpool rumour mill of the time concerned a dressing-room revolt over Beardsley's demotion behind David Speedie and Jimmy Carter, and a major clash with a striker Dalglish had enticed from Newcastle with the promise of his own No7 shirt.
Beardsley responded to a recall by scoring twice in that derby, then found himself cast as the villain of the piece in some quarters within 48 hours. Even 18 years later it is a transformation he struggles to comprehend. "I got the blame for a lot of what happened, which was wrong," the 48-year-old insists. "I never fell out with Kenny other than being devastated at being left out of the team. Kenny is a good friend. I got involved in his wife Marina's charity last year, we played in a charity game together against Celtic and Kenny played in my testimonial. If I had any problem with him I wouldn't have invited him. It is wrong for people to say we fell out.
"We lived next door to each other and Kenny and Marina were different class. In fact, Kenny was the one who told me to ask for more money when I was negotiating my move to Liverpool. I was going to ask for less than I eventually got. He told me I was the club's record signing at the time and so I should be asking for wages that reflected that. I would do anything for that man. The man is a genius."
Liverpool were training on Luton's plastic pitch on Friday 22 February 1991 when their ashen-faced manager announced his departure at Anfield. "We didn't have a clue it was coming," Beardsley admits. Dalglish has since revealed he regretted his decision within a fortnight and would have returned had an invitation arrived. "I needed the break, I needed the rest," the Scot said. "After two weeks I got what I needed and I'd have been ready to go back, but the phone never rang. No one ever asked me how I was doing or whether I'd reconsider and the club went on and appointed Graeme [Souness]."
Beardsley believes a more profound cause triggered Dalglish's departure from Liverpool. He explained: "I might be wide of the mark, but my own theory is he left because Hillsborough took its toll. Kenny went to at least half the funerals. I went to one. I am not embarrassed to say it, but I just couldn't cope. I went to one in Burnley with Kevin MacDonald and it was completely soul-destroying.
"What Kenny and Marina did at the time was unbelievable. They had three young kids of their own and did everything they could for everyone involved. I know he left two years later, but I think, in the end, everything caught up with him. He was going to as many funerals as he could. He went to Sheffield several times. He was sensational. I have never known a man do so much for so many people in such a short space of time. Kenny should be knighted for what he did after Hillsborough alone."
Liverpool were champions when Dalglish left although, as the signings of Speedie and Carter indicated, a painful transition had already commenced. One week after the manager's exit another Scottish mainstay, Alan Hansen, confirmed his retirement with a knee injury. With a brief exception under Roy Evans, and until this season's drive under Benítez, Liverpool have rarely threatened to capture their 19th title. It illustrates Dalglish's standing in the eyes of Beardsley that the Scot remains a reason for a 19-year drought.
"Kenny going had a far bigger impact on Liverpool than most people realise, certainly at the time," Beardsley says. "To be fair to Graeme Souness, he tried to the right thing, won the FA Cup and did OK in Europe, but it didn't work out for him. When you lose someone of Kenny's pedigree and personality from a club it takes a long time to recover. We had the same problem at Newcastle when we lost KK [Kevin Keegan] for the first time. Only when Bobby Robson came in did we recover.
"I don't think Liverpool have had a better chance of winning the league since than they have now."
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