Key chapters of Kenny Dalglish's career have been devoted to crossing tactical and psychological swords with Sir Alex Ferguson, but their first clash proved by far the most bruising. The year was 1969, the location Glasgow and the occasion an Old Firm reserve game in which the 18-year-old Dalglish was deployed out of position at centre-half by Celtic. His task was to mark Ferguson, an expensive centre-forward suddenly surplus to Rangers' requirements, yet possessing an uncompromisingly combative edge.
"My biggest memory is Fergie's elbows, they were a real nuisance, but I have to say he never really gave me a problem," says a smiling Dalglish as he, very deliberately, opens and examines a coat pocket before adding: "He'd better come out of here."
By then the pair were already well acquainted. After his family moved from a home close to Parkhead to a flat near Ibrox, Dalglish befriended a young Rangers player called Alex Miller and it was not unknown for him to skive off school in order to hang around the club before cadging favours from a senior pro. "We stayed across the road from Ibrox and I was friendly with Alex," Dalglish recalls. "Fergie used to give us a lift into town. He had such a big car."
Ferguson took little notice of the then puppy-fat-prone striker's oft expressed desire to become a professional footballer, telling friends: "That plump wee Dalglish boy won't make a player." Imperceptibly, that opinion changed. By the time, a couple of years later, they met in the reserves, Manchester United's future manager had heavily criticised Rangers for allowing such a prodigy to slip into enemy hands.
If Celtic were still not quite aware of exactly how big a talent they had snared, Dalglish's temporary defensive role was deliberate. "I was put there for educational purposes," he says. "I thought we won that reserve game 2-0 but I've read somewhere that Fergie said he scored. I don't remember it that way but we definitely beat them."
Ferguson recalls an unexpectedly exacting personal duel. "Kenny man-marked me and I warned: 'You'll need a doctor,'" he has recounted. "Kenny just looked at me, and got stuck in. He was a great player but people often forget that the one quality great players need is courage. Kenny was as brave as a lion. He would take a kick from anyone and come back for more."
The two have always harboured a mental as well as physical edge – while Ferguson's is more overtly aggressive, Dalglish's spikiness invariably features cutting sarcasm – but both appreciate some battles are pointless. Significantly, neither ever had any truck with the sectarianism that scarred Glasgow during their respective upbringings. Although a Protestant, Dalglish was perplexed by religious divisions and grew up alongside close Catholic friends. Unusually, in extremely Protestant Govan, Ferguson was the product of a "mixed" marriage, his father having broken a widespread taboo and married a Catholic.
In later years Manchester United's manager would tap, productively, into the emotional energy fuelled by his club's supporters' "hatred" for Liverpool, but that Govan upbringing had imbued him with an ability to grasp a bigger picture. Immediately after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 he followed up a phonecall to Dalglish by dispatching a deputation of wreath-bearing United fans on a respect-paying mission to Merseyside.
His disregard for Glasgow's traditional religious/footballing demarcations also explains how Dalglish's father-in-law, among other things, taught Ferguson how to fry fish. Unconcerned that the Beechwood was a bar-restaurant popular with both the Catholic community and Celtic players, he and his wife, Cathy, became regular patrons. Over time his ambitions to run a pub were nurtured by Pat Harkins, the father of Dalglish's wife, Marina, and the Beechwood's part owner. With Harkins offering informal work experience stints Ferguson learned not just about preparing fish, but the intricacies of Italian cooking, bartending and beer barrel care. When he was finally granted a licence to open his own pub – Burns Cottage in Govan – such lessons proved invaluable.
Life as a landlord soon became eclipsed by an overriding desire to run winning football teams and, in this respect, Dalglish soon started representing an awkward obstacle. By the time he scored for Liverpool in a crushing 4-0 European Cup demolition of Ferguson's Aberdeen in 1980, "the wee plump boy" had long since matured into a most dangerous enemy.
Once the 1986 World Cup in Mexico came round they were both, supposedly, on the same side, Ferguson having taken over as Scotland's coach. When the then Liverpool player-manager's big pal Alan Hansen was controversially dropped and the star striker swiftly pulled out citing knee trouble the headlines cried "feud". Not so, says Dalglish, who maintains he was seriously injured.
Soon the two Glaswegians were M62 rivals. During Ferguson's underwhelming early Old Trafford years Dalglish, busy choreographing three league title triumphs and two FA Cup successes, was more preoccupied with then ascendant Everton, but he did take time to address cynical reporters at a Football Writers' Dinner, urging them to offer United's beleaguered manager the benefit of then considerable doubt.
Ferguson did not return the compliment when, furious with the refereeing during a 3-3 draw at Anfield in 1988 he launched into an extraordinary anti-Liverpool rant. Cradling his then six-week-old daughter Lauren in his arms, an unruffled Dalglish responded by telling an interviewer: "You'll get more sense out of my baby than him." Lauren is due to attend Sunday's game and Dalglish said, joking: "She'll be there to haunt Fergie again."
Tellingly, Liverpool's manager, who turns 60 on Friday, is noticeably more mellow with the media than in a sometimes publicly tetchy, privately warm past. If his older daughter's Kelly's sports broadcasting career has perhaps softened his attitude towards journalists it is still quite a surprise to discover that Dalglish, who for so long actively cultivated an air of mystery, Marina and their children are all on Twitter. The idea of Ferguson following suit remains unthinkable, although just imagine the highly charged tweets he and Dalglish could have exchanged on those infamous occasions when they fell out over the respective pursuits of Roy Keane and Alan Shearer.
If their rivalry is characterised largely by mutual respect and intertwined heritage it has certainly prompted moments of incandescence on both sides. While Dalglish, when managing Blackburn, did not find the idea of Keane enjoying a game of snooker with Ferguson remotely amusing, a newspaper cartoon portraying the former as a cool, cunning strategist and the latter a spouting volcano went down appallingly at Old Trafford. Aided by Dalglish's amalgam of tactical acumen and sheer stubbornness Blackburn had just ignored Ferguson's suggestion that they might "do a Devon Loch" and won the 1995 title.
Accepting the joke was on him, Ferguson penned a generous congratulatory letter with the postscript: "Devon Loch is a horse ... I'm sure your Dad must have backed it. Mine did."
They may be two very different, in many ways totally contrasting, types of Glaswegian, but a bond first forged during far distant 1960s car rides from Ibrox remains uniquely powerful.