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- English footballer
The footballer Ray Kennedy, who has died aged 70, spent eight years with Liverpool at the height of the club’s powers in the late 1970s and early 80s. Having arrived at Anfield in 1974 from Arsenal, where he had been part of the FA Cup and league double winning side of 1971, he went on to claim a hatful of further honours on Merseyside, winning three European Cups and five First Division league titles under the manager Bob Paisley, who regarded him as “one of Liverpool’s greatest players and probably the most underrated”.
Revered at both clubs, Kennedy was a powerful left-sided midfielder with tremendous vision and anticipation, allied to an unusually good first touch and a knack for scoring goals. He won every domestic trophy on offer and still has one of the highest hauls of medals of any English player, although he won only 17 international caps, a circumstance best explained by the presence of West Ham’s Trevor Brooking, who proved to be more popular with England managers.
Kennedy was best known in later years for his commitment to spreading awareness of Parkinson’s disease, a condition he was diagnosed with shortly after his playing career ended. As a high-profile public face of the Parkinson’s Disease Society (now Parkinson’s UK), he co-wrote a revealing autobiography, Ray of Hope (1993), with Andrew Lees, a neurologist who had helped to treat him.
Born in the Northumberland pit village of Seaton Delaval, Kennedy was the eldest of the four children of Martin, a coalminer, and Veronica, a housewife. In his early teens he was spotted by Fourth Division Port Vale, whose manager, Stanley Matthews, came to the family home to persuade him to sign schoolboy forms. Once Kennedy was settled at the club, however, Matthews’ enthusiasm began to wane, and at the age of 16 he let the youngster go, believing him to be too slow.
Moving back to Northumberland, Kennedy worked in a sweet factory while playing as a centre-forward for the amateur side New Hartley Juniors, where he caught the eye of Arsenal, who signed him up in 1968 and gave him his debut as a 19-year-old the following year.
By 1970 he had become more of a regular in the side, and he played a valuable role in Arsenal’s run to become winners of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup (forerunner of the Uefa Cup), scoring a crucial away goal as a substitute in the first leg of the final against Anderlecht.
Having collected his first winners’ medal, the following season it was his commanding header that clinched the 1970-71 First Division title in the final match of the season against Tottenham. He was also to the fore (although he missed some good chances) in that season’s FA Cup final against Liverpool, which Arsenal won 2-1 to complete the double.
He was the club’s top scorer that season, as well as in 1971-72 and 1973-74, but eventually fell foul of their manager Bertie Mee’s sustained refashioning of his double winning side when Brian Kidd was brought in to replace him as a striker. Surplus to requirements, he was signed by the Liverpool manager Bill Shankly for a fee of £200,000 – then a club record – in the summer of 1974.
Much to his consternation, Kennedy arrived at Anfield on the very day that Shankly resigned from his job, to be replaced by Paisley. But it was the new manager who made the inspired decision, in late 1975, to move Kennedy to a permanent berth in left midfield, and in that position he found a new lease of life, becoming more of a playmaker while continuing to provide useful goals.
Kennedy’s second season at Liverpool, 1975-76, ended with a First Division title and a Uefa Cup final win against Club Brugge in which he scored the first goal in the first leg. Over the next five campaigns he missed only five league matches as his side went on to win three more league titles in 1977, 1979 and 1980.
He also played in three European Cup finals as Liverpool won in 1977, 1978 and 1981, making a particularly strong impact in the run-up to the final in 1981, during which he scored a decisive away goal as his side beat Bayern Munich in the semis.
All Kennedy’s international caps came at Liverpool, beginning with a debut against Wales in 1976 and ending in 1980 with appearances in two of England’s three games as they were knocked out at the group stage of the European Championship finals in Italy. His final First Division championship title came in 1981-82, when he was transferred midway through the season to John Toshack’s Swansea City, who were also in the top flight, but had played enough games for Liverpool in the first half of their campaign to qualify for a medal.
By then signs of Parkinson’s were beginning to manifest themselves on the pitch, although Kennedy had no idea at the time what the problem was. After a difficult year at Swansea he moved to Fourth Division Hartlepool United, followed by a short stint as player-manager of Pezoporikos in Cyprus in 1984-85 and some non-league football in Northumberland at Ashington.
When he was formally diagnosed in late 1984, Kennedy was finally able to account for some of the physical difficulties he had quietly noticed even back in his days at Arsenal, where he sometimes had trouble doing up shirt buttons and occasionally suffered from excessive post-match fatigue.
After retiring as a player he became landlord of the Melton Constable pub in Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear, and did some coaching at Sunderland. But he lost the pub licence in 1987 and his 15-year marriage to Jennifer came to an end. A long, dark period followed in which he struggled with illness and the side effects of medication, while also becoming increasingly hard-up and isolated.
Helped financially on occasions by the Professional Footballers Association, he benefited from a testimonial match between Liverpool and Arsenal, staged for him in 1991. But in 1993 he was forced to sell his medals and England caps to raise further money for care.
One of the brighter parts of Kennedy’s later life, however, was his involvement with the Parkinson’s Disease Society, which, among other things, allowed him to strike up a relationship with his childhood hero and fellow Parkinson’s sufferer Muhammad Ali.
He had three children, Cara, Dale and Alannah.
• Raymond Kennedy, footballer, born 28 July 1951; died 30 November 2021