Ray Kennedy

 

Born:              Seaton Delaval, Northumberland - July 28th 1951
Transfer Fee:   180.000 (from Arsenal, July 1974)
Games:           384 (3 as sub)
Goals:               72
Honours:         European Cup 76/77, 77/78, 80/81
                      UEFA Cup 75/76
                      League Cup 80/81
                      First Division 75/76, 76/77, 78/79, 79/80, 81/82
                      England Caps: 17
Other clubs:    Arsenal, Swansea City, Hartlepool United, Sunderland.

 

Even in a modern game that rarely finds room for sentiment, the most hard-hearted of observers would have struggled to remain unmoved by the appearance on the pitch of an emotional Ray Kennedy, wracked by Parkinson's Disease, at his 1991 benefit match between Arsenal and Liverpool.

The illness had already cost him his career and his health, had ruined his private life and would soon force him to sell his enormous collection of medals to make ends meet. His tearful struggle to greet the fellow greats who had turned out to play for him that day in front of a Highbury crowd of more than 18.000 was touching enough in itself, but the immediate contrast cut by his gaunt figure against the memory of the strong, athletic footballer who had graced the shirts of both sides was the saddest moment of an emotional afternoon.

Kennedy was only diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's in 1987, when he was 35, but had been fighting an unknown battle against the disease for the previous ten years. To have achieved as much as he did - he left Anfield in 1982 as the only Englishman to have been both a Double-winner and three times European Cup-winner - in the face of such sapping condition was a true act of sporting heroism.

Ray joined Liverpool on the same July day in 1974 on which Bill Shankly shocked the city by announcing his retirement. He was left with the worry of wondering whether the new manager, Bob Paisley, would think as high of him as his predecessor had. The initial answer appeared to be in the negative, for although he scored on his debut it took Kennedy well over a year to establish himself in Paisley's team.

It was Kennedy's standing as one  of the best all-round strikers in the country that had set his price so high - he was great in the air, clever on the ground, powerfully built and the owner of a devastating left-foot finish - and although he never lost any of those attributes after his move, Paisley recognised that there was even more to his game than that. 
Ray had lost much of his appetite for playing up front by the time he came to Liverpool, where Toshack and Keegan were forging the most irresistible forward partnership around, and the knowledge that he had played in midfield as a schoolboy prompted the manager to look for a new role for him.

The dark-haired attacker's skill on the ball, his vision, control and passing ability had already revealed themselves on the training ground, but even Paisley had to admit that he could never have foreseen how successfully they would fit into the left-hand side of his first team's midfield from the moment he began experiment in the autumn of 1975.
Over the next six years, Kennedy blossomed into one of the finest footballers in Britain and became, in many judges' mind, the player of the 1970s. Demonstrating the great positional sense which convinced his boss that he could even have played at centre-back had the need arisen, he gave his team invaluable width on the left and could open a game up with an instant, telling pass.

In January 1982 he moved on to John Toshack's Swansea, but he was already on the downward path that would lead eventually to the doctor's appointment five years later at which his condition was finally recognised.
The hardships that followed have left him facing a more formidable opponent than any of those he ever came up against on the field of play.

Ray Kennedy may often have been underrated by many among the Liverpool crowd. But in his eight years at the club he proved himself one of his country's finest players.
A benefit match at Anfield would be as fine way as any to show him the belated appreciation his talent deserved.  
(From "Liverpool's Greatest Players" by David Walmsley)


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