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Liverpool Football Club mourn Ray Kennedy, Bob Paisley’s ‘most underrated player’

Centre-forward star was converted into goalscoring midfielder to help Anfield machine conquer Europe
Former Arsenal and Liverpool great Ray Kennedy who has died at the age of 70. Photo: Action Images

Former Arsenal and Liverpool great Ray Kennedy who has died at the age of 70. Photo: Action Images

Ray Kennedy

Ray Kennedy

Chris BascombeTelegraph Media Group Limited

Former Liverpool manager Bob Paisley was once asked which of his all-conquering players most attracted the attention of envious European coaches and scouts.

Considering the vast array of talent he led to English and European dominance, Paisley’s mind did not immediately turn to Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness or Ian Rush.

It was Ray Kennedy, one of the most elegant and technically brilliant left-sided players to grace English football, whom Paisley cited. “One of Liverpool’s greatest players and probably the most underrated,” was how Paisley described the Northumberland-born midfielder.

Kennedy, who at 70 lost his long battle with Parkinson’s disease on Monday, was a League and FA Cup double winner at Arsenal, but will be forever synonymous with the Liverpool trophy-winning machine with which he claimed five league titles, the UEFA Cup and three European Cups between 1974 and 1982.

Alongside an assortment of Anfield midfield supremos – Jimmy Case, Souness, Ian Callaghan and Terry McDermott to name a few – Kennedy was the epitome of consistency and class, while his knack of scoring crucial goals, smoothly ghosting into the penalty area from deep areas, contributed to Liverpool being virtually unstoppable for most of his eight-year spell. In many respects he redefined the role of the wide midfielder.

Kennedy was in some respects a reflection of his most celebrated manager, Paisley; a humble, understated genius, often seen as the support act for more charismatic and dominant personalities around him, just as his boss was often in the shadow of Bill Shankly.

Indeed, Kennedy’s arrival for a club-record fee of £200,000 was relegated to an afterthought on the day of his planned unveiling. Reporters gathering at Anfield anticipating an introduction to the new recruit were instead met with the glum face of chairman John Smith alongside Shankly. The iconic manager announced his retirement, offering Kennedy as a lavish farewell gift.

Kennedy played against Shankly’s team at Wembley in the 1971 FA Cup final as a 19-year-old, helping Arsenal add the cup to the title they had already sealed with a Kennedy header against Spurs the previous week.

He was an old-fashioned centre-forward then, with strength and touch, scoring 26 times in that glorious Highbury season. But while Shankly saw Kennedy as a rival to John Toshack, who had by then formed a flourishing partnership with Kevin Keegan, Paisley devised a more imaginative and devastating plan.

“Bob changed my position and resurrected my career,” Kennedy said later. “When he said he fancied me on the left side I was gobsmacked. But he was right – and I could come into the back post when the ball was being played diagonally on the other side by Terry McDermott. I always found acres of space there and scored a lot of goals.”

Kennedy scored 72 Liverpool goals in 393 appearances, many of them majestic finishes. The most celebrated was in the 1981 European Cup semi-final, second leg, away at Bayern Munich’s Olympic Stadium.

With the tie goalless in the 81st minute, Kennedy controlled David Johnson’s pass on his chest and struck a perfect right-foot volley from the edge of the penalty area past Walter Junghans, the critical away goal taking Liverpool to the final with Real Madrid. Kennedy claimed an assist for his namesake Alan Kennedy, who proved the unlikely hero with the winning goal in the Paris final.

After quitting England with 17 caps, and then leaving Anfield for Swansea in 1982, the debilitating effects of his illness began to manifest themselves more regularly. Kennedy had intermittently noticed periods of fatigue at Liverpool. At Swansea, his performance was seriously impacted and in 1984, aged just 35, he received his fateful diagnosis. Public appearances became limited, despite the best efforts of Arsenal and Liverpool to raise awareness of Kennedy’s plight and the charities he supported.

Liverpool will mourn the loss of one of their greatest players, who enriched a generation of unparalleled success; Kennedy taking his place alongside Ray Clemence, Ian St John and Roger Hunt among those idols who’ve passed away and are architects of the modern Anfield.

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