Picture: 123RF / SOMKKU9KANOKWAN
Picture: 123RF / SOMKKU9KANOKWAN

I can’t remember the first time I watched Ray Kennedy play for Liverpool. He was part of a team of giants, a side that included Kevin Keegan, John Toshack, Phil Neal, Terry McDermott, Emlyn Hughes and Ray Clemence. 

That was the team that made me love football and, thus, Liverpool. Well, that and the luck of the draw by choosing the Liverpool tog bag my dad brought home after work instead of the Manchester United one my brother had to take because it was all that was left.

Kennedy, who died this week at the age of 70, arrived at the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Bill Shankly signed him for a club record fee of £200,000 in 1974, but then announced his resignation on the day Kennedy arrived at the club.

Shankly’s resignation came as a shock to the club. After the 1974 FA cup final, he admitted he felt exhausted and needed a break. “I wasn’t feeling ill or anything like that, but I felt though that if I was away from the pressures of Anfield for a while, and rested, it would make me fitter and rejuvenate me.”

He would never return, though he did go down to Melwood, Liverpool’s training ground, a few times, until it got awkward with players calling him “boss”, which the club’s directors felt undermined the authority of the new manager, Bob Paisley, and he was all but banned from the site.

Shankly felt Liverpool shunned him. He was not offered a directorship, he had to get his own tickets to matches and sat in the stands. This man who in 15 years had taken the team from a second-rate side to serial winners, leaving a legacy allowing Liverpool to dominate until the end of the ’80s. It was, said Keegan, “the saddest, saddest thing that ever happened at Liverpool”.  

Paisley profited from Shankly’s signing of Kennedy, a player the latter described as “big, brave and strong. He fights all the way and he was at the top of my list of my wanted men. I’ve seen him in training and he looks good. He reminds me of Rocky Marciano.” 

He turned him from a striker into a left-sided midfielder, where he flourished. He could pass, had a dream first touch and an ability to see moves before they happened.

Paisley said he was “one of Liverpool’s greatest players and probably the most underrated”. Graeme Souness, who played with him in that extraordinary midfield with Jimmy Case and McDermott, agreed in his column in The Times this week. 

“Ray Kennedy was one of the most underrated players I played with, a man that you looked at in the dressing room before a big game and instinctively knew you would be all right,” Souness wrote.

“Ray wasn’t brilliant at anything, but he was very good at everything. He never gave the ball away, was a threat on the far post, and he had a silky touch and intelligence. People don’t regard him as one, but we have to talk about him as a great of the English game. After all these years, I still can’t tell you if he was naturally right- or left-footed because he was so good with both.” 

He won just about everything it was possible to win as an English player with Liverpool. Five league titles, three European Cups, the Uefa Cup, Uefa Super Cup and the League Cup. He never won the FA Cup with Liverpool, but he did do so with Arsenal, who beat Liverpool in 1971. 

Kennedy described the 1977 European Cup 3-1 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach in Rome to become champions of Europe as the favourite of his career. It was certainly the favourite of my young life. I was nine years old watching at our house in Northern Ireland, bouncing off the walls.

McDermott slipping on to a Steve Heighway pass to score the first; Allan Simonsen equalising for Mönchengladbach; Tommy Smith thundering in a header from a Heighway corner; and Phil Neal sealing with a penalty after Keegan had been brought down. 

Kennedy passed away on Tuesday. He had Parkinson’s disease, being formally diagnosed with it in 1984. His diagnosis explained a lot to Kennedy — the immense postmatch fatigue, the pains in his fingers, struggling to button up his shirt as far back as his days at Arsenal. He struggled financially, being forced to sell all of his medals in 1993 to pay for his medical care. 

“My great sadness is that he lost half his life to that awful condition — after having achieved so much before it affected him,” Souness wrote.

He gave many of us joy in the half of his life that he graced the football fields of the world. YNWA, Ray Kennedy.

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