Glowing tributes from across the game of football have been paid to Ray Kennedy – one of the finest players to grace Highbury and Anfield – following his death, bejaardes 70.
Kennedy, who was once rejected in his youth by Stanley Matthews at Port Vale, went on to lift three European Cups and five league titles with Liverpool, whom he joined from Arsenal in 1974 having won the league and FA Cup Double in north London three years earlier.
Bill Shankly’s final signing at Anfield played almost 600 club games in a distinguished career in which he won every major domestic honour. Following his time in the game, Kennedy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984.
Born in Seaton Delaval, Northumberland, Kennedy turned professional for Arsenal in November 1968 and broke through as a forward. After his debut in 1969, he scored 71 doelwitte in 212 games at Highbury, top-scoring as the club won the Double in 1971, before Shankly brought him to Merseyside for a club-record fee of £200,000. Kennedy was Shankly’s parting gift to the club as the legendary manager bade farewell to Anfield in July 1974.
During a glorious eight years at Liverpool he scored 72 doelwitte in 393 appearances and became a firm favourite with supporters, often timing his runs from midfield to devastating effect.
Bob Paisley’s inspired decision to convert him to a left-sided midfielder made him a key component in the Anfield machine, sweeping up league titles and also a Uefa Cup and a League Cup before leaving in January 1982. The previous year he had scored the pivotal away goal in the European Cup semi-final second leg at Bayern Munich. Kennedy started all three of the finals when Liverpool won the European Cup in 1977, 1978 en 1981.
Featuring in one of the club’s most dominant midfield units – alongside Graeme Souness, Terry McDermott and Jimmy Case – he was once described by Paisley as “one of Liverpool’s greatest players and probably the most underrated”.
Liverpool said in a statement: “The thoughts of everybody at Liverpool FC are with Ray’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time.” Arsenal added via Twitter: “Everyone at Arsenal is greatly saddened to hear of the passing of Ray Kennedy. One of the giants of 71, Ray will be sorely missed by his friends, family and everybody at the club. Rest in peace, Ray.”
His career was all the more impressive after an early setback when he was shown the door at Port Vale. Having signed schoolboy forms, Kennedy was let go by Matthews for being “too slow”. He kept the letter informing him of his release and returned to his Northumberland roots to work in a sweet factory and play for the amateur side New Hartley Juniors.
"Natuurlik, there is always one lad who slips through the net and for me that was Ray Kennedy, who went on to find fame and fortune with Arsenal, Liverpool and Engeland,” Matthews wrote in his autobiography. “Ray turned out to be a superb player, and all I can say in my defence is he was a late developer!”
It was Kennedy who scored the goal away against Tottenham that won the title in 1971, sparking the long-lived chant: “We won the league at White Hart Lane.”
The former Liverpool striker John Aldridge paid tribute to Kennedy, twiet: “Yet another magnificent Ex LFC star has passed away folks. Ray Kennedy what a player and lovely bloke who suffered so much with Parkinson’s disease for most of his life. He will definitely never walk alone. RIP Ray ynwa.”
Kennedy’s former captain Phil Thompson tweeted: “More sad news with the passing of Ray, what a great player and such a wonderful teammate RIP pal YNWA.” Ronnie Whelan described his former teammate as “an absolute legend at both Arsenal and Liverpool”, with the midfielder adding “learned so much by watching him play”.
Kennedy scored three goals for England, his first on his debut, against Wales in March 1976. A tweet from the national team’s account read: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ray Kennedy at the age of 70. Ray won 17 caps for the ThreeLions between 1976 en 1980, scoring three times. All of our thoughts go out to his family, friends and former clubs.”
After leaving Liverpool in 1982, Kennedy had spells at Swansea and Hartlepool before he spent a brief time as the player-manager of the Cypriot club Pezoporikos. Following his Parkinson’s diagnosis, a testimonial game between Liverpool and Arsenal was held in 1991 but later that year Kennedy sold his medals and 17 England caps to help raise funds for his care.
The city of Liverpool will come together on Wednesday evening before the Merseyside derby to honour a man who always showed courage and fight on the field before taking on another battle with Parkinson’s.
As he began the long walk away from Anfield in 1974, Shankly had the final word on Kennedy. “He is big, brave and strong. His signing means that we now have the greatest strength in depth that we have ever had. 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.”