Forgotten Heroes: Ray Kennedy

Ray Kennedy was a rare bird, a deceptively talented individual whose contribution one of Liverpool’s greatest sides made a nonsense of any attempt to pigeon-hole him. The descriptions of a powerful midfielder – which he became at Anfield after years as a succesful striker with Arsenal – failed dismally to do justice to his full, subtle range of distinctive abilities.

When Bill Shankly signed Ray for ”
180,000 in the summer of 1974 – his last act as the Reds boss – he was rescuing a slightly overweight centre forward, still eight days short of his 23rd birthday, who had seemingly lost his way after playing a crucial role in the Gunner’s league and FA cup double of 70/71. The newcomer found himself in at the dawn of the Paisley era and, despite an irritating injury which kept him out of the seasons first four games, impressed ‘œSir Bob’ enough to oust John Toshack from his front running role. There followed a sequence of 24 games in which Ray managed 10 goals, but then he lost his place as the Welshman was recalled in a bid to find a winning blend.

The turning point, however, was not far away. Towards the end of the campagin Paisley began experimenting with the former Highbury man in a deep lying position behind the Keegan & Toshack partnership – and he liked what he saw. By November 1975 Ray was installed on the left of midfield where he was to help Liverpool lift ten major honours in 6 years of almost uninterrupted triumph.

His value to the team was undenyable, his footballing qualities legendary, and if he didn’t quite catch the eye like Souness & McDermott, Ray had much more to offer the connoisseur. Still not the most athletic of figures – though more streamlined than on his arrival – he had a delicate touch for such a big man, he was adept at shielding the ball, a legacy of his days as a striker, and his distribution was intelligent, swift and decisive. Like all top players who are short of pace, Ray read the game well and often changed the emphasis of an attack with a sweeping crossfield pass, but perhaps his deadliest attribute was a knack of lurking unobtrusively on the left flank before making a late run into the box to finish off a move at the far post.

In important matches. he habitually spent the early minutes lying in a deeper role than usual, doing a containing job before allowing his attacking flair to blossom as the game wore on, and opponents fell victim to a false sense of security. This tendancy was especially marked in his European encounters, in which the England international contibuted some of his most vital strikes. An 83rd minute away goal to upset Bayern Munich in the 1981 European cup semi final, and a fierce 2nd half volley to turn the tide against Bruges when the Belgians were 2 up in the 1976 UEFA Cup Final, are just 2 of the goals that spring to mind.

Ulitmately squeezed out of the side by the youthful challenge of Ronnie Whealan in December 1982m Ray joined John Toshacks coloney of former Reds at Swansea for only ”
20,000 less than his purchase price!. A brief spell with Hartlepool followed by a coaching job at Sunderland before it was revealed that Ray had ‘˜Parkinson’s Disease’, which he battled with typical characteristic courage. Shankly, as usual, summed Ray up:

‘œRay played in no mans land, in a world of his own, but he gave the team balance. He had style and he reminded me of Matt Busby. Ray Kennedy was some player’

Paisley has gone on record as saying:

‘œRay was the player, more than any other of that great squad, that everyone used to ask about first. He was simply one of the best footballers ive ever seen’

I can put it no better than 2 of Liverpools greatest ever managers.

Please raise to your feet, and give a huge round of applause for Mr Ray Kennedy.

Liverpool 1974/75 – 1981/82
Played – 384 career games
Scored – 72 career goals.

Article Copyright (c) Roper 2003

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