Seaton Delaval, Northumberland - July 28th 1951
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Thor Zakariassen ©