Bob Wilson: Why modest and shy Ray Kennedy will always be remembered as an Arsenal legend

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  • Arsenal
    Arsenal
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  • Ray Kennedy
    English footballer
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

My former team-mate Ray Kennedy will always be a legend at Liverpool for everything he achieved there, but at Arsenal his legendary status was assured from the moment he scored just one goal.

Ray, who passed away yesterday, aged 70, will be remembered forever and a day for scoring the winner at White Hart Lane to clinch the 1971 League title in our famous Double season.

We went to Tottenham on the final day and had to win or draw 0-0 to be champions. If we drew 1-1, Leeds were champions.

Even now, I can visualise Ray getting up from George Armstrong’s cross from the left wing. He wasn’t challenged for the header, which came off the underside of the crossbar to beat Pat Jennings.

I’m glad it happened eight or nine minutes from the end, because all hell broke loose. Tottenham were the only side to have won a Double that century — back in 1961 — and they did not want their near-neighbours to do the same!

Kennedy scoring the winner at White Hart Lane as Arsenal clinch the 1971 League title (Getty Images)
Kennedy scoring the winner at White Hart Lane as Arsenal clinch the 1971 League title (Getty Images)

Then the champagne came out, even though we were playing at Wembley in the FA Cup Final four or five days later, and Ray was the centre of attention.

Ray became a phenomenal midfield player at Anfield but, for Arsenal, he was a lethal striker and it was all about the partnership created by Don Howe, who was the best coach in the country at the time.

He built a pairing between Ray and John Radford — Ray and Raddy we called them — and I can’t emphasise enough just how extraordinary they were in our Double season.

If I had the ball in my hands, I was always looking for Ray. He was very, very well-built, even at 20, and opposition players just bounced off him. He would face me, around the centre circle, and I would hit him with a direct kick or throw.

He would screen it, hold off the centre-half and Raddy would spin off him. That partnership is really the story of Ray at Arsenal and our Double-winning season.

Raddy got 15 goals in the League and Ray got 19. It was one of the greatest partnerships you could have.

They liked each other enormously but off the field but they were different characters. Raddy could be a rascal of a lad — always taking the mickey out of me because of my middle name, Primrose — but Ray never had Raddy’s outgoing nature.

He was a lovely, lovely guy but what stands out was his incredible shyness, the modesty he always showed.

Arsenal’s Double-winning 1971 squad (Hulton Archive)
Arsenal’s Double-winning 1971 squad (Hulton Archive)

He was quiet and unassuming. He never boasted. There was never ‘the great I am’.

If we went through tunnels on the team coach — and I can clearly remember a particular night when we went through the Blackwall Tunnel — we had to calm him down because he had extreme claustrophobia. Frank McLintock and I, who were the senior members of the squad, tried to soothe him, saying, “Ray, you’re okay, you’re okay”.

You have to remember that he was born in 1951, so only 20 in our Double season and probably even younger at the time. Despite the way he was off the field, he was incredibly calm on the pitch.

In that era, centre-forwards took a battering — well, we all took a battering — but particularly if you played in the way Ray played for us. He took his kicks and in all the time I played with him, I can’t ever remember seeing him lose the plot on the field.

I wasn’t in touch with Ray after he finished playing and one of the saddest parts of his story was having to sell his medals and 17 England caps to pay for his Parkinson’s treatment.

It was a different time, though. The highest salary I earned in my career was £135 a week.

Arsenal fans didn’t see Ray for long enough. He was a brilliant kid, but before you knew it he was gone, whisked away to Liverpool as Bill Shankly’s parting gift to the club in 1974.

I’ll never forget the exuberance and quality of our Double side — Charlie George, 20, Pat Rice, 19, Eddie Kelly, 20, Peter Marinello, 20, and two old fogeys in McLintock and me.

It was very much like the Arsenal side now, which gives me a little bit of hope.

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