The most under-rated footballer of his day dies at 70
Ray Kennedy, one of the most successful but under-exposed footballers of the 1970s, has sadly died after decades of fighting Parkinson’s Disease. He was 70.
Born in Northumberland in 1951, Kennedy emerged as a young centre-forward in the famous Arsenal Double-winning team of 1970-71. He became an Arsenal legend by scoring a title-winning goal at White Hart Lane against arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. He also played in the FA Cup Final victory over Liverpool five days later. Great days for a player so young, but Kennedy lacked self-confidence, and over the next couple of years, his form began to wane.
Benched at Highbury, in 1974 Kennedy joined Liverpool, initially intended as replacement for off-form striker John Toshack, who was poised to move to Leicester City before the deal fell through. Kennedy was Bill Shankly’s last-ever signing at Anfield, but with Toshack’s return to form the following season, Kennedy was gradually switched to left midfield by new manager Bob Paisley, replacing the injury-prone Peter Cormack. It proved a masterstroke, as Kennedy, with his strength, creativity, and incredibly elegant left foot, found the form of his life, devastating defences with his shrewd runs from deep, his precise passing, and his stunning shooting powers.
Over eight years at Anfield, Kennedy won five more Championships, a UEFA Cup (as star of the home leg of the 1976 Final), three European Champions’ Cups, and a League Cup. Ever unsure of himself, he compensated for nonexistent failings with work-rate, making him a favourite of his manager.
Sadly, Kennedy never quite realised that the Anfield coaches, masters of coldly keeping players from becoming too comfortable, had any love for him at all, but he frequently played a critical role in Liverpool’s successes. The resolve with which he fought his confidence issues would be matched twice over in his later battles with illness.
The onset of illness
Unfortunately, those battles were imminent. After almost every match by the late-70s Kennedy experienced severe fatigue, especially terrible stiffness in his right leg, and no recuperative techniques corrected it. With the fresher-legged Ronnie Whelan emerging to succeed him in the first team, Kennedy left Liverpool in 1982, rejoining Toshack, now managing Swansea City.
Kennedy’s fatigue worsened however, hampering his on-field performances, and Toshack unfairly berated him for being “lazy.” Toshack was sacked late in 1983, and Kennedy agreed to leave too as Swansea looked to cut costs. He had brief spells with several other clubs as player-coach.
Late in 1984 came the bombshell, as Kennedy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, casting new light on his decline. From there, his life descended into tragedy. His marriage ended in 1987 after he assaulted his wife; the medication he took for the disease only worked sporadically, and often had damaging side-effects, including extreme paranoia. His business collapsed and left him with a tax bill he could not pay. He had to sell his medals and England caps (of which he won 17) to cover his debts and became dependent on the Professional Footballers Association to finance his treatment.
Kennedy spent much of his later life isolated and lonely, the disease seldom letting him leave his home, the medication continuing to cause delusions. However, one Liverpool fan in the early-2000s bought him a computer to let him get on the internet and take part in chatrooms, allowing him a priceless measure of (virtual) company.
Kennedy finally succumbed to the disease on 30th November 2021. He was one of the finest players the English game ever saw and should be mentioned routinely in the same breath as Bobby Charlton or Glenn Hoddle. That he was so under-rated by history perhaps reflects how badly he under-rated himself.
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