James Lawton On Tuesday: Beautiful game further disfigured by Dalglish link to Rooney court case

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The Independent Online

When Kenny Dalglish, one of the greatest, and most driven, of footballers ever to come out of Scotland, went to receive his medal from the Queen his morning suit and top hat were immaculate. He even wore grey gloves.

When Kenny Dalglish, one of the greatest, and most driven, of footballers ever to come out of Scotland, went to receive his medal from the Queen his morning suit and top hat were immaculate. He even wore grey gloves.

Naturally, the next time he was in Glasgow his sartorial tour de force at Buckingham Palace drew comment. One old friend asked: "What was a boy from the Milton housing scheme doing dressed up like that?" Dalglish gave his interrogator the level gaze which he might apply to someone merely asking after his health, and said: "When you go to somebody's house you have to look decent."

Look decent... it was the fiercely applied code of conduct of one of those characters who can keep their version of decorum in a riot.

But then whatever happened to Kenny Dalglish's sense of propriety? Where did his judgement go that he was named, however innocently, in last week's court case brought by Paul Stretford, the agent of Wayne Rooney, in which a notorious gangster featured?

How did Dalglish's famous guard slip? And where is football when this can happen? Where are football's mechanisms of restraint? Who sets an agenda?

Before anyone begins to attempt to answer - the truth is there is no one, not the enfeebled Football Association, not the Government department of culture and sport, not any collective or coherent voice of protest - Dalglish's admirers will need a lot more hard proof of any wrong-doing.

They will not be in a hurry to remove him from the pantheon of superbly gifted footballers who knew how to behave, who brought to the game something far more than native skill, and in Dalglish's case more than a nodding acquaintance with genius.

Maybe it was a sense of what the game meant to all those who supported it, and that the Dalglishes, because of their roots, knew they were the lucky ones whose lives had been changed and whose debt had been established. What kind of debt? Not a material one, only a fraction of Dalglish's generation have bank accounts to match the most junior of today's scuffling agents. No, a debt of honour, of doing something in their youth which would colour all their days, and give them a sense of their worth not so easily gained in other walks of life.

Dalglish's connection with the Stretford case has maybe carried the most devastating effect of all of football's recent troubles.

Whether he is, deep down inside, good or bad isn't so much the point in football's desperate plight. He was inviolate, he had created his own place in the world and it was as a representative of football at its best, its most most committed, its most passionate.

Dalglish may have prided himself on his Glaswegian street smarts - a compatriot once observed that had he met Helen of Troy he would probably have said that she wasn't the worst looking woman he had ever seen - but if he kept his emotions buttoned, they were never too far from the surface.

When manager of Liverpool at the time of the Hillsborough tragedy, he immersed himself so deeply in the communal suffering some felt that his appetite for the game he had graced so beautifully as a player, and succeeded in so well as a manger, was never quite the same again.

These are some of the reasons why Dalglish's alleged involvement delivers such a heavy blow to the idea that one day football will find the will and the means to begin to protect its image.

If Dalglish is compromised by the mores of modern football, who is safe? It makes the recent meanderings of David Beckham in his moral maze seem like the mere burrowings of a dysfunctional gerbil.

Dalglish, who refused to give a signed statement to the police and who was said in court to have arranged for the presence of a convicted criminal at a taut meeting between his friend and former employer, Stretford, and associates of another agent, had never before been so careless of his reputation. But, for some time now nor has football.

The weekend news that £60,000-a-week Chelsea footballer Adrian Mutu had tested positive for a banned drug certainly did not invade a high threshold of surprise. Whether Mutu is proved innocent or guilty, the public perception of football is set now. The game threshes along answerable only to itself, and some of the questioning could hardly be less focused. Outrage, if it ever existed in Blairite Britain, has been overtaken by torpor. Shocked at reports that players light cigars with £50 notes and spray Cristal champagne around their favourite watering holes? Hardly. How else can they move their cash flow; you can only park so many Porsches and Ferraris in one mansion's driveway.

The Football Association saw no need for action when a posse of leading managers took out shares in the public flotation of Stretford's business. No one imagined - or perhaps had reason to - a sinister purpose. It was based, it was reasonable to assume, on the sound conclusion that no branch of the game appeared to offer such sure-fire profit. Conflict of interest? No one, at least initially, was exercised about that possibility.

But then what does matter in English football beyond turning a profit? When Sven Goran Eriksson bargained with the Chelsea oligarch, Roman Abramovich, while holding a contract with England, his reward was not censure or dismissal but a massive rise, and those who were appalled by this were told that Eriksson was merely a man of the world. But then whose and what world?

A world where anything apparently goes. In the wake of the George Graham bung affair, when the former Arsenal manager was suspended for receiving an illegal payment from an agent, an official of the American National Football League was told of all the details of the affair, how it was in "soccer" that agents conducted transfer negotiations and dealt one-on-one with managers and individual directors. He was disbelieving. He didn't know how the huge monies of a big-time professional sport could be handled in such a way, pointing out that in America the leagues have a clearing house for all deals manned by accountants and lawyers. An agent represents only his own player client, and when he is paid his fee comes directly from the player.

It sounded so simple, so logical when he said it. But as far as English football was concerned it might have been an operation proceeding on the other side of the moon.

When Pete Rose, the record-hitting baseball star, was found to have been betting on baseball games he was denied his place in the game's Hall of Fame. He swore that he had never bet against his own team, was never guilty of anything that any upstanding member of society might not have done. But it was pointed out that Pete Rose was a ballplayer and that the game had an image to consider, one that was made by men like him.

Here the image is made by men like Dalglish - and, from an earlier generation, Sir Geoff Hurst. Last week Hurst said that Beckham had let down his game and his country when he talked publicly of how he had subverted the laws of football. In some quarters the reward for the hero of England's 1966 World Cup victory was disdain; somebody even pointed out that Hurst had sold his own winner's medal.

But then what is in a piece of gold for a modestly rewarded man who brought such honour - and joy - to his country?

Dalglish, the most private of men, will maybe one day tell us the story behind the sinister headlines. The hope is that it will be an innocent one. No, make that more than a hope; make it a prayer for what is left of the good name of English football.

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