Liverpool and the world of football are once again mourning the passing of one of the legends of the game. For us who watched the club through the seventies and early eighties, Ray Kennedy remains one of our favourite players.
There were so many unbelievable players to hang your hat on in those days, but Razor fitted the bill for so many of us.
Not flash or big-headed, there was no ego to him. Yet he possessed enough talent to have got away with it.
Strong, elegant, calm and with a touch that made you purr, he was involved in so many of Liverpool’s finest moments. Yet he was rarely heard, preferring to let others hog the limelight.
Kennedy signed for Liverpool on the same day Bill Shankly resigned. He had been a striker at Arsenal where he won the League and Cup double in 1971. When Bob Paisley took over from Shankly at Anfield, he made the astute decision to move him into midfield. Kennedy became one of the most respected midfield players in Europe.
During his career, he won everything there is to win at club level. Not many players can make that claim. After the League and FA Cup with Arsenal, he won five League titles and three European Cups with Liverpool, as well as a UEFA Cup and League Cup.
In 1984 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and bravely fought the illness ever since.
Born in Seaton Delaval, Northumberland on 28 July 1951, he turned professional for Arsenal in 1968. He made his debut a year later and in 1970 was part of the side which won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (the forerunner to the UEFA Cup and Europa League).
They were 0-3 down to the Belgian side Anderlecht when Kennedy scored a crucial away goal with just minutes of the first leg of the Final to go. A week later Arsenal were able to capitalise winning 3-0 to lift their first-ever European trophy.
A year later they became only the second club in the twentieth century to ‘do the double’.
They won the League title when Kennedy scored the winner at White Hart Lane against fierce rivals, Tottenham. Soon after they met Liverpool at Wembley in the FA Cup Final. Their road to Wembley had been assured when Kennedy scored the winner in the Semi-Final against Stoke City. In the final, they won after going a goal behind in extra time.
Only two players scored more goals (26) in the league than Kennedy that season. He formed a lethal partnership with John Radford up front at Highbury, with the pair hitting 47 in 1971. In 212 games for the Gunners, he banged in 71 goals.
Despite this, he struggled to hold down a regular place.
A year later he came on as a sub to replace Radford in the defeat to Leeds United in the FA Cup Final.
Before signing for Arsenal, he’d been turned down by Port Vale, then managed by Stanley Matthews. He kept the letter Matthews wrote to him as motivation for the rest of his career.
In the summer of 1974, Liverpool manager Bill Shankly paid a club-record fee (£200,000) to bring him to Anfield. But the day he arrived he went under the radar as the football world was rocked with news of Shankly’s resignation.
Shankly believed his parting gift was going to leave the club in good hands;
“There is no doubt Kennedy will do a good job for Liverpool. He is big brave and strong. His signing means that we now have the greatest strength in depth that we have ever had. Kennedy will cause plenty of trouble to defences. He fights all the way and he was at the top of my list of my wanted men. Maybe it will be said that one of the last things I did at this club was to sign a great new player”
He was indeed a great player for Liverpool but Shankly wasn’t to know in what capacity he would shine. Initially, he played as a striker and scored in each of his first three games for Paisley’s team, scoring eight in his first 13 matches. But the goals dried up and when Toshack resumed his partnership with Keegan, Kennedy looked to be on the sidelines.
It wasn’t until November 1975 when Kennedy was seen on the left-side of midfield, replacing the injured Peter Cormack. Paisley had a hunch it would work. A brilliant reader of players, Paisley had heard Kennedy played much deeper than an out-and-out striker in his early career. It was an inspired move and the making of the player.
He made the number five shirt his own for the rest of his career. In 1976 Liverpool won the UEFA Cup for the second time. They were 0-2 down inside the opening quarter of an hour at home to Bruges in the first leg of the Final. It was Kennedy who got them back into it with a goal on the hour. They won the first leg 3-2 and a 1-1 draw in Belgium was enough to win the trophy.
A week later they secured the first League title of Paisley’s reign, with Kennedy scoring the third goal in a 3-1 win at Wolves. With 15 minutes to go, Liverpool, who needed to win, were still a goal down. Kennedy played a part in the second goal from Toshack and then completed the scoring.
The following season saw Liverpool lift the European Cup for the first time when they beat West German Champions, Borussia Monchengladbach in Rome. But it was the run to the Final that saw Kennedy play a crucial part.
At the quarter-final stage, Liverpool were at home in the second leg against French Champions, St Etienne. The French, who lead 1-0 from the first leg, had just equalised on the night with a vital away goal, and now lead 2-1 on aggregate. Within minutes Kennedy popped up to score a crucial goal to level things. Then with just six minutes to go, he played a part in one of the most famous goals in the club’s history.
Years later David Fairclough revealed what went on that night. He’d just come on as a sub for Toshack and was keen to help get the winner. Kennedy had always said to him, just to make a run as whenever he got the ball he’d play it into the space he expected Fairclough to occupy.
Being a former striker gave Kennedy an advantage of being able to think like one, knowing where he’d want the ball played.
Sure enough with just six minutes to go, Kennedy, without looking, knocked the ball over the defence into space and there was Fairclough clear on goal. He fought off a rather weak challenge and slotted the ball home for a stunning winner. ‘Supersub’ was born and he had Kennedy to thank for making it possible.
He won his second league title with Liverpool and was part of the side which came close to winning the treble when they were beaten in the FA Cup Final by Manchester United.
The 1977-78 season saw them retain the European Cup. The semi-final pitted them against Gladbach again, and they were 1-2 down from the away leg. Kennedy scored to level the tie after just six minutes at Anfield, then played a part in two further goals as Liverpool won a place in the Final where they beat Bruges.
That season he played in the League Cup Final for the first time where they were beaten by Nottingham Forest in a replay.
A year later they returned as League Champions in the side which broke a host of records. He was now part of one of the most formidable midfield line-ups English football has ever seen. Case, Souness, McDermott and Kennedy. The names struck fear into the hearts of their opponents.
Their strength was an ability to join attacks, taking advantage of the space created cleverly by Dalglish. They all chipped in with goals, some of them scorchers from outside the area. They were relentless. Liverpool were known as a machine in the 1978-79 season, and it worked so smoothly and clinically as they set a points record.
That season was a personal triumph for the player as his goal against Derby County was voted Goal of the Season.
The goal was typical of the side. Terry McDermott picked up the ball wide on the right just inside Derby’s half. He hit a crossfield ball towards Dalglish on the edge of the ‘D’. Kennedy, sensing his chance, pounced on the ball first with a deftness of touch which belied his sturdy frame. That touch completely took out the defence and saw him through on goal. He was able to use the pace of the ball to drop his shoulder, thereby committing McKellar in the home goal. With the keeper sitting on his backside, Kennedy just calmly shepherded the ball into the empty net. He was the calmest, coolest player on the pitch and this just looked like a routine training ground move. Making things look brutally simple was a hallmark of his play.
His fourth league title for Liverpool, the fifth of his career, arrived in 1979-80 and was followed by his only ever appearance in an international tournament.
Don Revie gave him his first England cap in March 1976 in a friendly against Wales at Wrexham. He scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win. He struggled to find a regular place, even when Ron Greenwood took over. But he was in the 1980 European Championship squad playing in two of the group games against Belgium and Italy. He retired from international football in March 1981, fed up with not being picked as regularly as he would’ve liked. He won just 17 caps.
Paisley would later say he believed England kept giving him a role he wasn’t suited to. They wanted him to be a defensive midfielder, but Paisley had seen how devastating the player was as a midfield player with a striker’s instinct.
The 1980-81 season was his last full one at Anfield. Paisley had made plans to replace his older players, and a disrupted season saw them finish a disappointing fifth in the league. But Kennedy and Liverpool won their third European Cup. In the semi-final, he again turned up when his team needed him most.
After a goalless first leg at Anfield, they were beset by injuries for the return leg in Munich against Bayern. The West Germans were so confident they’d reach the final, they left directions to Paris for the fans under their seats.
Having used all their substitutes, and with Dalglish off the pitch and Johnson hobbling on one leg, Kennedy took the responsibility of putting them in front with the priceless away goal.
Ever willing to join the attack, Kennedy took the ball on his chest, turned and volleyed it right-footed past the keeper.
They were through to theirs, and his, third final and ultimately succeeded by beating Real Madrid in Paris.
A couple of months before, they lifted their first League Cup trophy beating West Ham in a replay. Those two cup wins took his total to eight for his career.
Kennedy’s Anfield career came to an end in January 1982. Ronnie Whelan was breaking through into the side and the 30-year old took up an offer from his old teammate, John Toshack to move to Swansea City.
After finishing fifth in their first-ever First Division season, Kennedy was made captain the following season. But this ended in disappointment as they were relegated.
Kennedy had begun to notice changes in his physical state as the early stages of Parkinson’s started to take hold. He had already felt tired after matches for Liverpool but shrugged it off. Now there were occasions when he struggled to even do the buttons up on his shirt after a match at Swansea.
Following his diagnosis, a testimonial game was held between Liverpool and Arsenal in 1991. Then in April 2009 supporters of both sides paid a wonderful tribute to the man before a Premier League match at Anfield. He received a standing ovation on the pitch before the game, as his number ‘5’ was held up by coloured cards at the Kop and his number ‘10’ was held up by Arsenal fans in the away section. That was the crazy game that ended 4-4.
After a stellar career, Bob Paisley said of Kennedy “he was one of Liverpool’s greatest players and probably the most underrated.”
Amongst those who saw him regularly, there is little doubt he was indeed one of the club’s greatest players.
Tributes have poured in throughout football, and especially from those connected with Liverpool;
Really sad to hear the great Ray Kennedy has passed away. So many great times and memories with Ray to recall, but so sad that he fought Parkinson’s for so many years. Sincere condolences to all his family. RIP Razor
Alan Harrison – AFC Liverpool Honorary Life Member & Hillsborough survivor
It’s my 70th birthday today. Just so sad that Ray Kennedy who was born in the same year, 1951, has passed away today. A wonderful footballer and a gentleman. RIP Ray
Really sad to hear the news about Ray, he had fought and suffered for a long time so I now hope he is at peace. A great player and a great man who will be missed.
We are mourning a legendary former player Ray Kennedy, who has passed away at the age of 70. The thoughts of everybody at Liverpool Football Club are with Ray’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time. Rest in peace Ray, 1951-2021
The Anfield Wrap
Really sad news that Ray Kennedy has passed away after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. A gentleman and a Liverpool legend who won everything there was to win in his career
Steven Scragg – a writer with These Football Times
“No-one who saw him play will ever forget the brilliance of Ray Kennedy. He was a wonderful footballer and a lovely man”