Legends: Ray Kennedy

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Ray Kennedy, LFC 1974-1982.

Factfile

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Born: Seaton Delaval, England, 28 July 1951

Position: Left-midfield / Striker

Signed from: Arsenal, £180,000, 12 July 1974

LFC debut: 31 August 1974

First LFC goal: 31 August 1974

Contract expiry: January 1982

International caps: 17 England caps (3 goals)

International debut: 24 March 1976

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Honours: League Championship 1975/76, 1976/77, 1978/79 , 1979/80, 1981/82; League Cup 1981; European Cup 1977, 1978, 1981; UEFA Cup 1976

Win ratio: 55.22% W: 217 D: 104 L: 72

Games/goals ratio: 5.46

LFC league games/goals: 275 / 51

Total LFC games/goals: 393 / 72

Other clubs: Arsenal (1968-74), Swansea City (1982-83), Hartlepool United (1983-85), Pezopolikos (1984-85)

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PLAYER BIOGRAPHY, BY KARL COPPACK

Signed by the Reds as Bill Shankly made way for Bob Paisley in the Anfield hotseat, Ray Kennedy was an integral part of the machine that conquered Europe time and again in the 70s and 80s. Football writer Karl Coppack has a look back at the career of one of football’s most successful players, starting with that long list of honours.

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For Ray Kennedy, May came with medals. Let’s have a look.

  • May 1970: Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (UEFA Cup)
  • May 1971: Football League and FA Cup
  • May 1976: Football League and UEFA Cup (and UEFA Super Cup)
  • May 1977: Football League and European Cup
  • May 1978: European Cup
  • May 1979: Football League
  • May 1980: Football League
  • May 1981: European Cup (League Cup won in the spring)
  • May 1982: Football League
  • May 1983: Welsh Cup

You can add five Charity Shields to that lot as well. Basically, Ray Kennedy could play a bit.

Born on 28th July 1951 in Seaton Delaval in the North East, Ray cut his footballing teeth at New Hartley Juniors, just down the road from his parent’s house, before heading south to Port Vale to work under Sir Stanley Matthews. It wasn’t to be a fairy tale start. Ray was already tall and powerfully built but Matthews thought him too slow to be a footballer and summarily rejected him. That must have hurt. To be turned down by one of the heroes of the game. That would rankle with most men, but to this day Ray is grateful for the time they spent together. He still speaks of a training session where he was outsprinted by Sir Stanley. Ray was sprinting full pelt  while the former Blackpool great glided past him – backwards! Ray still has that fateful letter.

Ray packed his bags and went back to the North East, where he signed up with New Hartley Juniors again and began work in a sweet factory. Not the most auspicious of starts for a multi-European Cup winner, but somehow typical of his humble approach to life.

Things looked up in 1968 when, having been spotted by a scout, he signed for Bertie Mee’s Arsenal. The rest, as they say, is history. He made his first team debut the following September in a Fairs Cup game against Glentoran and then played a part in the two leg final, scoring a crucial late goal in the first leg.  A routine 3-0 win at Highbury saw the Gunners secure their first European trophy. Ray had European silverware in his teens.

Come 1971, at the age of nineteen, Ray added a League and Cup double when he scored 27 goals. Ask any Arsenal fan about Ray Kennedy and they’ll speak of his title deciding winner against local rivals Tottenham Hotspur, but the other half of the double was at Liverpool’s cost, when his team beat Liverpool 2-1  in extra time. We’ll gloss over that.

He was back at Wembley in 1972 but lost the chance of a second FA Cup Winner medal when his side lost narrowly to Leeds United. Ray played another two seasons at Highbury, notching up 53 goals in 158 appearances.

In July 1974, Bill Shankly resigned as Liverpool manager and it’s generally agreed that Ray was his last signing. However some say that Bill had nothing to do with the move and that it was Liverpool chairman Sir John Smith who secured the move. Nevertheless, he became  an instant hit. Playing as a striker, Ray became the first Liverpool player to score in his first three games for the club – a record only recently matched by Daniel Sturridge. Ray took just 22 minutes to make his mark at Stamford Bridge.

He settled quickly on Merseyside, but struggled to break up the Keegan-Toshack partnership. Enter the quiet genius of Bob Paisley. Giving the number 5 shirt to the Geordie, he converted Ray to a left-sided midfielder and watched him flourish into one of the greatest midfielders in Europe. This was an inspirational move as the team always needed his goals, but his added steel in midfield created chances all over the park. By 1976 he added another League and UEFA Cup to his tally and then it was medals all the way. He nearly became the first player to win the Double with two different clubs when he hit the crossbar in the dying seconds of the 1977 FA Cup Final, but a few days later he helped the club lift its first European Cup.

A side note here. Look at the build up to the last goal in Rome. Liverpool are 2-1 up with  minutes to play and are  desperate  to relieve some of the German pressure. Kevin Keegan has been tormenting Bertie Vogts all night and, once having got free of him for the umpteenth time, Vogts has had enough and brings him  down in the box. What a moment that was! A penalty in the dying minutes to make it 3-1 and secure immortality. Never before in our history has the award of a penalty been so gratifyingly taken. If you were around back then, you might recall the dizziness it gave you. I was only eight years old and I can still remember that sensation. This is it!

But look at Ray Kennedy.

Look at him.

He’s approaching the box  behind Steve Heighway as Keegan storms into the area, and is waiting for the pass back if needed. Keegan goes down. Ray looks over, widens his arms at the ref and then calmly applauds. That’s it. No histrionics. No brandishing invisible cards. Nothing. Just an acceptance of the pen. That’s all he wants.

And that’s why Ray Kennedy was great. He had the lot and was admired across the continent but he had absolutely no ego whatsoever.  Look at his goal in the 7-0 romp against Spurs in 1978. A clap of his hands, a smile and then a trot back to the centre circle. Thanks lads, what’s next?

His greatest moment came in 1981. Bayern Munich had come to Anfield and secured a goalless draw. They immediately made plans for the Final in Paris, but Liverpool had other ideas. The second leg in Munich was dirty, cagey  and great. I love those games. Kenny Dalglish went off injured and Ray, playing as captain, was pushed up front. With ten minutes to go he took a pass from David Johnson on the chest and slammed it in with his unflavoured right foot.  Again, no Mediterranean howling or laps of the track.  A double arm gesture and a hug from Graeme Souness and he’s done. Back to business.

By his admission Ray was more of a semi-final player than a final performer. As his Liverpool days drew to a close Bob Paisley noticed that it took Ray a little longer to get going than the rest of the team. This confused Ray, as did the occasional stiffening in his right thigh and arm. As far back as his Arsenal days he would struggle to fasten his buttons on his shirt. He could never understand why but the odd tremor he would experience from time to time became more and more frequent.

Ray left Liverpool in the 1981-82 season following a couple of uncharacteristic red cards and an incident in a North Wales hotel. He took up residence at Swansea City. He didn’t have the best of times there as his health wasn’t always great. He noticed that even the lightest training session gave him a torrential sweat. What’s more he appeared sluggish on the pitch. His manager and ex-teammate John Toshack accused him of laziness and they decided to cut ties. Naturally, he ended his Swansea days with a trophy -a Welsh Cup this time- but Ray left not knowing why he was slowing down at such an early age.

A trip to Dr Andrew Lees gave him his answer. He told the doctor about the stiffening of his right arm and leg, his occasional slurred speech and an immobilising restriction of facial muscles. Ray was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at the early age of 35.

Parkinson’s stems from the existence of dead cells in the brain. Without them a chemical called dopamine cannot form, leading to numerous symptoms. The condition escalates. In the days following his diagnosis Ray would find himself freezing in public and would rely on strangers to call either a cab or an ambulance depending on the severity of the attack.

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One day Dr Lees showed some students a video of a Liverpool game played years before Ray even realised he had a problem. He asked them to look at the posture and running style of every player and to tell him which had Parkinson’s. Every single one of them pointed to the man wearing the number 5.

Following a brief spell at Hartlepool and Cyprus, Ray joined the backroom staff at Sunderland but their relegation ended his career in the game. While he was well enough, he raised both funds and awareness for the Parkinson’s Disease Society and now has a room named after him in their London headquarters. He met his hero, Muhammed Ali, who also suffers from Parkinson’s. The photograph of that meeting sits in his living room today.

He now lives back in the North East, not far from his New Hartley beginnings. He still battles his condition every day, but never loses his strength or wit. He leads a simple life that is in keeping with his personality. Never a man to make a fuss. During his playing days, when his teammates would jet off to Spain, he would return to the North East to see his friends and family.

On the day of the two mosaics at Anfield – one from Liverpool, one from Arsenal- a friend of mine told me that although Kenny Dalglish was his favourite player, Ray would always be his hero. That sums up my own feelings perfectly.