Liverpool and Arsenal great Ray Kennedy dies at 70 after long battle with Parkinson’s disease

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  • Arsenal
    Arsenal
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Ray Kennedy
    English footballer
  • Bob Paisley
    Bob Paisley
    English footballer and manager (1919-1996)
  • Alan Kennedy
    English footballer (born 1954)
  • Bill Shankly
    Scottish footballer and manager (1913-1981)
Ray Kennedy, former Liverpool and Arsenal midfielder dead, aged 70 - GETTY IMAGES
Ray Kennedy, former Liverpool and Arsenal midfielder dead, aged 70 - GETTY IMAGES

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, who Paisley cited as the most sought after in his prime.

“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 1974-82.

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, his multi-functional skills ensuring Liverpool were as balanced as they were skilful and physically dominant across the centre of the pitch.

A fellow North Easterner, Kennedy was in some respects a reflection of his most celebrated manager, Paisley; a humble, understated genius, often seen as the support act for the seemingly 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. Shankly announced his immediate retirement, offering Kennedy as a lavish farewell gift.

“He was at the top of my list of wanted men,” Shankly said. “Maybe it will be said that one of the last things I did at this club was to sign a great new player.”

Kennedy was tracked by Liverpool for several years before signing. He 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 where Shankly saw Kennedy as a potential 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 called me in and 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.

“Within five months of the switch, I’d been capped by England.”

Kennedy scored 72 Liverpool goals in 393 appearances, many of them majestic finishes worthy of his striking past.

The most celebrated was in the 1981 European Cup semi-final, second leg, away at Bayern Munich’s Olympic Stadium, when Kennedy was one of the few remaining senior players in an injury-stricken side.

With the tie goalless in the 83rd 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 – something he jokingly reminisced about when speaking via friends in 2018. “I remember being determined to take the throw-in, but for the life of me I can never remember why I threw it to left-back Barney [Alan Kennedy]!” he said.

After quitting England with 17 international 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 increasingly limited, despite the best efforts of Arsenal and Liverpool – particularly former team-mates – 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 have most recently passed away and are architects of the modern Anfield.

Kennedy, former Liverpool and Arsenal midfielder dies, aged 70

Ray Kennedy, the former Liverpool and Arsenal player, has died at the age of 70, the Merseyside club have announced.

Kennedy won three European Cups and five league titles with Liverpool, whom he joined from Arsenal in 1974 having done the league and FA Cup Double with three years earlier.

A personal highlight was his pivotal away goal in the 1981 European Cup semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1984 and a testimonial game between Liverpool and Arsenal was held in 1991.

Later that year he sold his medals and 17 England caps to help raise funds for his care.

A statement on Liverpool's official website read: "The thoughts of everybody at Liverpool FC are with Ray's family and friends at this sad and difficult time."

A statement on the official Twitter account of the England team read: "We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ray Kennedy at the age of 70. Ray won 17 caps for the Three Lions between 1976 and 1980, scoring three times.

"All of our thoughts go out to his family, friends and former clubs."

Ray Kennedy, former Liverpool and Arsenal midfielder dies, aged 70 - GETTY IMAGES
Ray Kennedy, former Liverpool and Arsenal midfielder dies, aged 70 - GETTY IMAGES
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