It says everything about Ray Kennedy’s capacity to cope with the challenges of life that his extraordinary achievements with Liverpool and Arsenal came in the face of acute self-doubt.
His early days at Arsenal were legendary. He was the 1972 Double champion and won the title-winning goal at White Hart Lane. He often joked that he would return to Whitley Bay’s sugar factory as a trainee sugar boiler.
At Liverpool, where he arrived in 1974, he became convinced Bill Shankly, who resigned on the very day he signed, was privately expressing doubts about the wisdom of a £200,000 deal.
‘Keep at it, son,’ Shankly told Kennedy when he encountered him at the Melwood training ground one morning.
He was curious if the statement had any meaning. Following his Liverpool membership, he had lost over a stone. He was one of life’s worriers. Kennedy, who has died at the age of 70 after living with Parkinson’s disease for 37 years, did not need to have any anxiety.
Steve Burtenshaw is his first mentor at Arsenal. His first striker, he marvelled at his vision, touch and strength.
Ray Kennedy, right (pictured in 1980 for Liverpool) died from Parkinson’s Disease.
Kennedy was a Liverpool player who won the European Cup in 1977, 1978, and 1981.
Those were qualities which saw him soar when Bob Paisley, newly appointed as Liverpool’s manager and looking for a way to improve him, learned through a chance encounter with Kennedy’s former secondary school games teacher that the schoolboy player had been a midfielder. Paisley was a listener who spoke more than he talked and told Kennedy that he’d be shifting to the left-hand side of midfield.
That complicated mind of Kennedy’s made him suspicious of this. His nickname at Liverpool was ‘Susser’, as he always seemed to be trying to ‘suss out’ an ulterior motive. It was his making.
Many remember Kennedy’s smart, left-foot finish into the top of the net at Wolves which sealed the 1976 First Division title. And the gorgeous pass which set up David Fairclough’s legendary 1977 European Cup quarter-final winner against Saint-Etienne.
Bob Paisley, former Reds manager (right), switched Paisley to the left side of the midfield.
Many of his former team-mates were there on Tuesday to recall the performance and goal against a weak Liverpool in 1981. The ghosted run into the box to receive David Johnson’s pass, the control under pressure and finish into the corner. This was Kennedy’s trademark move and helped Liverpool to the European Cup finals.
He seemed effortless and languid, but it was not hard to see that he could be a troublemaker at times. When the team reached Melwood, the fight between Jones and Jones over the coach of the Melwood team was still going.
Between 1976 and 1980, 17 England caps were won by the Liverpool legend.
His Liverpool nameake, the defender Alan Kennedy, was a particularly difficult mix for him. So team-mates would routinely dial the Anfield players’ lounge phone from another extension and Kennedy would be beckoned over, only to find the caller asking: ‘Is that Alan?’ There was no room for the faint-hearted in that merciless Liverpool team.
Then there was the fracas in which Kennedy threw a chair at the landlord of the Bryn Howel Hotel in Llangollen, North Wales, on Liverpool’s one-night ‘mid-season break’ in 1981. Kennedy and Jimmy Case were his greatest friend and allies in the team. However, Case feels Kennedy got in first.
‘I always looked out for him. He told me he’d been chinned so I said, “Let’s sort it out!”’ Case told SportmailIt was a few decades ago. Kennedy’s incalculably difficult struggles ahead led his teammates to question if the extreme unpredictability of Kennedy was a sign.
After Kennedy’s diagnosis in 1984, he worked with neurologist Dr Andrew Lees on a chronological record of symptoms that he remembered. He noticed that his right hip was pushing forward when he was walking. This happened as soon as 1975, one year after he joined Liverpool. His right foot would sometimes rub the ground, as he noticed in 1980.
In 1981, the year after the Bayern victory, he felt more discomfort while training. He also had a stiff left arm and poor swing. As player-manager, he worked at Swansea and Hartlepool after leaving Liverpool.
Kennedy pictured with the UEFA Cup, Community Shield (centre), and league title in 1976
Kennedy was an icon of Liverpool for his seven-and-a half-year stint.
He briefly thought he had beat the disease after spending a brief period helping Lawrie McMenemy in Sunderland. It wasn’t to be, of course, though tireless work followed for the Parkinson’s Disease Society.
Kennedy’s former colleagues marvelled on Tuesday that the player they always wanted to see on the team-sheet had brought so much — regardless of whether or not he carried a burden they were oblivious to.
Phil Thompson remembered the ‘transformation’ Paisley’s positional shift brought about. ‘It was a masterstroke,’ Thompson told Sportsmail.
‘The fans at times didn’t appreciate what Ray brought because it was a different way of playing. They thought he wasn’t working hard enough.
‘But what he had was an incredible left foot, not just for scoring goals but for creating them. He was also very precise in timing his runs. For a midfield player he was incredible and, for us, he was one of the unsung heroes.’