THE CHANGING MAN
THE LIFE AND CAREER OF RAY KENNEDY 1951-2021
BY Vince Cooper
IN 2021 former Arsenal, Liverpool, Swansea and England star Ray Kennedy passed away after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease..
Ray had been fighting the debilitating disease for a number of years, showing the same dignity and fortitude he had displayed in a highly successful career during which he became a huge star at two of the game’s leading clubs – and in two different positions
Raymond Kennedy was born in 28 July 1951 in the mining village of Seaton Delavel, Northumberland which had, many years before been the birthplace of footballing brothers Clem and George Stephenson and more recently of Billy Wilson, a full-back who played for Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth in the 1960s and 70s.
The eldest of four children to miner Martin and his wife Veronica, Ray was spotted playing local youth football by Port Vale scouts and the club’s then-manager Sir Stanley Matthews travelled to the north-east to persuade him to move to Vale Park.
But after signing him Matthews eventually decided that the 16-year-old was too slow to make it and the club let him go.
Returning to the North East, Kennedy got a job in a sweet factory and was playing for local team New Hartley Juniors where he quickly earned a reputation as a goalscorer. Arsenal had sent a scout north to watch his strike partner Ian Watts, but it was the then 18-year-old Kennedy who impressed and he moved south to join the Londoners.
While he was moving up through the ranks at Highbury Ray’s weight was also moving up and he even thought of quitting the game for a while. “I was thinking of chucking the game in altogether”, he later recalled. “It all seemed so pointless.
“A constant battle against getting overweight and another fight to get some sort of form in the reserves”.
In action against Manchester United
At Highbury Kennedy found himself behind the first-choice front pair of John Radford and Charlie George. He made occasional first-team appearances including a crucial one off the bench in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final first leg at Anderlecht.
With the Gunners three down, Kennedy replaced George with a little under 15 minutes remaining and scored a vital away goal to reduce the deficit and give his team hope for the return.
Although he failed to get on the pitch in the second match, he saw his teammates secure a 3-0 win, and the trophy.
As is often the case one man’s misfortune in football is another’s opportunity and the broken ankle suffered by Charlie George in a 1970-71 early season clash with Everton opened the door for Kennedy. George would later return but be deployed in a deeper role allowing Kennedy to keep his place alongside Radford up front and giving the Gunners a unique triple threat when they attacked opponents.
After playing in the goalless draw with West Ham, he scored the winner against Huddersfield Town and quickly formed a lethal strike pairing with Radford.
Kennedy finished the season as Arsenal’s top scorer with 19 league goals and 26 in all competitions as Bertie Mee’s men completed the double of League and FA Cup. The tally, of course, included the crucial winner on a night of high drama at White Hart Lane.
The goal at White Hart Lane
Kennedy’s 88th-minute header gave Arsenal the win. But before they could be crowned it created three minutes of extra pressure for the team, and their 19-year-old front man. The situation had been that the Gunners needed either a win or a goalless draw to claim the title. But a 1-1 finish would see Leeds United on top.
“That was the longest three minutes I have ever known”, Kennedy would later recall. “As Tottenham came back I remember thinking maybe it would have been better if I hadn’t scored”.
Kennedy and Radford celebrate their win
Five days later came the glorious sunny day at Wembley when Charlie George’s memorable extra-time winner against Liverpool at Wembley clinched the double.
In the final, Kennedy missed a great chance to put Arsenal one up in normal time and George Graham later hit the bar but it finished goalless after 90 minutes.
In action at Wembley
The first minute of the extra thirty saw Steve Heighway catch Bob Wilson off his line to give Liverpool the lead. But after a great save by Wilson stopped the Reds from doubling their advantage, Graham (or was it Eddie Kelly?) levelled and paved the way for George’s 111th-minute goal.
A spectacular effort against Newcastle United in 1973
The following campaign proved less successful for the team although Kennedy again finished as top scorer with 22 goals in all competitions as the Gunners finished 5th in the league, lost the FA Cup final to Leeds and were knocked out of the European Cup by a Johan Cruyff-inspired Ajax who would go on to win the trophy.
‘Good Old Arsenal’
Kennedy had actually given Arsenal the lead in the Amsterdam first-leg but a brace from Gerrie Muhren saw the home team take a lead to Highbury which they improved upon with a 1-0 win.
A 14-goal tally in 1972-73 as the Gunners finished runners-up to Liverpool was followed by a disappointing 1973-74 where Kennedy found the net 13 times but his team slumped to 10th in the table. A shake-up was on the cards.
Ray signs on
On 12 July 1974 Liverpool manager Bill Shankly announced his retirement. And immediately after, he revealed his new signing, Kennedy who cost a club record £200,000. The player, who returned from a holiday in Crete to sign, described the move:: “Unbelievable”, while Shankly said he believed the new man, still only 24, would prove to be; “My greatest signing for the club”.
Kennedy left North London having made 213 appearances in all competitions, scoring 71 goals but there was a feeling that he had become a little jaded in North London so the hope was that the move might refresh the player whilst The Gunners used the money from the sale on his replacement, Brian Kidd
Shankly’s resignation saw Bob Paisley take over as manager at Anfield and he gave Kennedy his debut in the 5th game of the season, at Chelsea on 31 August 1974. It was a dream start as the new boy scored in the 22nd minute of a 3-0 win and he followed up by scoring one and making two in the 5-2 hammering of Spurs.
A few weeks later, with Kevin Keegan now back to the line-up having returned from suspension following his Charity Shield bust-up with Billy Bremner, Kennedy got the only goal at Carlisle, a result which pushed the Reds up to second in the table behind Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town.
Kennedy, Keegan and Steve Heighway continued as the front three but Ray suffered a groin injury in mid-December which saw John Toshack replace him for the home match with Luton Town.
Toshack notched the first in a 2-0 win and when Kennedy eventually returned to full fitness he found it impossible to dislodge the Welshman.
In the middle of February, Liverpool suffered a 4-1 loss to Newcastle which put a big dent in their title hopes. A few days later they travelled to London to face West Ham and Kennedy was given an outing in place of Toshack. A goalless draw there saw Toshack restored for the Merseyside derby four days later where the Anfield men again failed to find the net in another 0-0 stalemate.
A header against West Ham United
That result left both Merseyside teams within striking distance at the top of the table with Everton a point behind joint leaders Stoke City and Burnley, and Liverpool a further one adrift.
But a disappointing run saw Paisley’s team draw four more matches in a row, a run which would eventually scupper their title hopes as they finished in the runners-up spot two points behind Derby County who had stormed up the table as those around them faltered. Kennedy, meanwhile, made only sporadic appearances for the remainder of the season and finished it with ten goals in all competitions.
With Bob Paisley
When the 1975-76 season got underway, Kennedy was again on the sidelines with Paisley clearly preferring the combination of Keegan and Toshack up front.
An injury to Toshack gave Kennedy a four-match run in the side in late August and early September. He found the net twice but once the Welshman regained full fitness it was back to the sidelines for Ray.
When he eventually got back into the team – for the 3-1 win over Manchester United in November – it was in a deeper role and one he would soon become accustomed to.
Kennedy’s new midfield role made The Reds much more versatile as he could move forward and join the attack when needed whilst his vision, strong running and passing all proved useful assets.
After some shaky results when Kennedy first moved into his new role, Liverpool found their form. Defeat at home to a Middlesbrough side inspired by Graeme Souness in February knocked them off the top of the table but they won seven of their last eight matches to snatch the title by a single point from QPR.
And that wasn’t all. Kennedy also picked up his second UEFA Cup (or Fairs Cuo) winners medal, scoring his fourth goal of the tournament during a 4-3 aggregate win over Club Brugge in the final.
Walking out for the Charity Shield against Southampton
1976-77 saw a season opening Charity Shield win over Southampton followed with the First Division – European Cup double – which could so easily have been a treble.
A 2-1 F. A. Cup defeat to Manchester United at Wembley scuppered hopes of a domestic double and left The Reds with just four days to pick themselves up for the European Cup final.
In Europe, Crusaders, Trabzonspor, St Etienne (on a memorable Anfield night where, with half an hour remaining the hosts needed two goals to qualify. First Kennedy, then ‘super sub’ Dave Fairclough turned it around) and F. C. Zurich had been despatched to set up a final clash with Borussia Monchengladbach.
The final, played in Rome was Kevin Keegan’s last match for Liverpool prior to his switch to Hamburg.
With the European Cup in Rome
Terry McDermott put Liverpool in front and although Allan Simonsen levelled for the Germans, a rare headed goal from Tommy Smith and a Phil Neal penalty sent the coveted cup to Merseyside for the first time.
In 1977-78 although they lost their grip on the domestic crown to Nottingham Forest and were also beaten by Brian Clough’s men in the League Cup final, there was a European double with victory in the Super Cup followed at the end of the campaign with a second European Cup in a row with Keegan’s replacement Kenny Dalglish scoring the goal that saw off old foes Club Brugge at Wembley.
In 1978-79, hopes of taking a third successive European crown were ended at the first stage by Forest but The Reds traded places with Clough’s men by regaining the First Division title.
Throughout this period of success Kennedy was a crucial member of a four-man midfield which was probably at least as good as any other seen in English football. Alongside Ray were Graeme Souness, Jimmy Case and Terry McDermott giving the Anfield men a quartet who could all tackle, pass, run, and score goals.
Ray invariably wore the number five shirt but he was a ‘South American Five’ rather than the traditional English one, who had invariably been the ‘old fashioned’ centre-half’.
Liverpool won another title in 1979-80 and also claimed the Charity Shield with a win over Ray’s former club, Arsenal although the North Londoners would gain revenge in the F. A. Cup, ousting the Merseyside men at the semi-final stage after an epic four-game struggle.
Dinamo Tbilisi v Liverpool
They fell at the same stage in the League Cup with old foes Forest coming out on top over two legs whilst Euro hopes ended at the very first hurdle with a shock loss to Dinamo Tbilisi.
The 1980-81 season proved to be something of a mixed bag for Kennedy and Liverpool, but it ended with a third triumph on the biggest stage.
The season had started well enough with another Charity Shield win, this time over West Ham United and later they beat the same team to take the League Cup. But a slump down to fifth place in the league table was made worse by defeat in the 4th Round of the F. A. Cup to neighbours Everton.
In Europe, The Reds seemed determined to re-establish themselves after their shock early exit in the previous campaign. They thrashed Finnish side Oulu Palloseura 11-2 on aggregate in the first round and then comfortably saw off Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen and CSKA Sofia to set up a semi-final clash with Bayern Munich.
A goalless draw in the first leg at Anfield where the injured Graeme Souness was clearly missed sent Liverpool to Germany as clear underdogs.
Liverpool’s chances suffered another blow when Kenny Dalglish was forced off through injury after just nine minutes with 18-year-old Howard Gayle sent on as his replacement. But Alan Hansen marshalled the Reds defence superbly and Bayern rarely looked like breaching it.
The vital goal against Bayern
After 82 minutes of goalless football, and with extra-time looking increasingly likely, skipper-for-the-night Kennedy (he took the armband after regular skipper Phil Thompson was ruled out through injury) collected a pass from David Johnson and rifled the ball home for his 19th European strike. Although Bayern equalised with a couple of minutes remaining Liverpool went through to the Paris final on the away goals rule.
So it was on to Paris for the final.
Liverpool in Paris
The match was by no means a classic with Real Madrid relying on a clearly-unfit Laurie Cunningham for any attacking inspiration but mostly content to deny their opponents any clear cut chances while carving out few themselves.
With Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish
Liverpool had to wait until the 81st minute to find the net when a Kennedy throw-in was collected by namesake Alan who drove into the box and fired a shot across goalkeeper Augustin and into the far corner of the net securing a third European crown.
Liverpool would go on to capture another First Division title in 1981-82 but after a suspension over the Christmas period saw him replaced in the team by the promising Ronnie Whelan, Kennedy couldn’t get his place back.
So the time finally came to leave Merseyside. By then Kennedy had played almost 400 times for Liverpool and scored 73 goals. After a loan move to Sunderland fell through Ray joined the former-Reds contingent brought together by former Liverpool star John Toshack at Swansea who paid £160,000 for his services.
Playing for Swansea
During his time at Anfield, the Reds had won five league titles, three European Cups, a Super Cup and a League Cup and were undoubtedly Europe’s number one team.
His own form saw Ray win 17 England caps before he retired from the international scene with then-manager Ron Greenwood continually preferring Trevor Brooking in the left-midfield role.
On England duty with his Liverpool teammates
After an goalscoring debut against Wales in 1976, Kennedy would go on to score twice more for his country whilst winning those 17 caps.
After Swansea finished 6th in the top flight in Ray’s first season at Vetch Field he was appointed captain but was unable to play regularly due to recurring hamstring problems.
When The Swans started to suffer financial problems, Kennedy had his contract terminated by mutual consent and returned to his native North East, signing for Hartlepool United.
After 23 appearances he left Victoria Park to take up a position as player-manager of Cypriot team Pezoporikos but his new team made a poor start to the 1984-85 season.
Unable to settle in Cyprus he returned home, against the club’s wishes, in December 1984 and resigned a month later, taking over a pub in Ashington.
Kennedy joined Northern League Ashington, managed by former international teammate Colin Todd but managed to play just six times before worsening health forced him to retire.
Later in 1984, Kennedy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Despite the diagnosis he spent some time as first-team coach under Lawrie McMenemy at Sunderland but his condition worsened and he was eventually hospitalised.
Financial problems brought about by the end of his 15-year marriage, tax problems and the loss of his publican’s license saw Kennedy become reliant on help from the PFA to pay his medical bills and in April 1991 former clubs Arsenal and Liverpool played a testimonial to raise money.
Both teams included a number of former teammates and a crowd of 18,334 were present to see Liverpool win 3-1.
Kennedy’s autobiography ‘Ray Of Hope’, written in collaboration with neurologist Dr. Andrew Lees who was treating him for Parkinson’s, was published in 1993 but money troubles continued to bedevil him and he was forced to sell his medal collection to help pay for medical expenses. There was also a ‘Ray Of Hope’ appeal launched raising money not only for Ray’s medical expenses but also to help fund research into the disease.
Ray Kennedy passed away on 30 November 2021 aged 70. He was undoubtedly one of England’s finest players of his generation and the number of trophies he won for two of the game’s biggest clubs, and in two different positions, is testament to his outstanding ability.
In his own autobiography, Bob Paisley called Ray Kennedy; “Probably one of the most underrated Liverpool players of all time”, a tribute that could easily be used to summarise his whole career at both club and international level.