In the late nineteen seventies, a young player from the north-east of England secured what he believed would be his dream move.
At half-time of his debut, his new manager was heard to mutter something about wishing he had been shot.
Slightly more than half a decade later the same player completed his last game for the club. One of his last, if not his very last, touches of the ball in that particular shirt resulted in him knocking the ball past his own goalkeeper for an own goal and thus causing the dropping of two valuable points.
A rather unfortunate top and tail for anyone’s career at any one particular club, you might well surmise.
Mind you, the seven years in between these appearances for Liverpool weren’t too shoddy for Alan Kennedy.
Signed for Liverpool by Bob Paisley from Newcastle in the summer of 1978, Kennedy had previously played for the Magpies in an FA Cup Final against Liverpool. That 1974 defeat possibly put him on Liverpool’s radar for the first time, but if he was to taste disappointment that day and again back at Wembley for the 1976 League Cup Final against Manchester City, he was to more than make up for it in his time at Anfield.
Although he was born in Sunderland in 1954, he signed for arch-rivals Newcastle and made his breakthrough by the time he was 18. A naturally left-footed defender, Kennedy was a pioneer in as much as he did much more than purely sit in as an orthodox left-back.
It was this attacking prowess combined with his positional sense that brought Kennedy to the attention of Liverpool and a number of other clubs after he had made close on 200 appearances for Newcastle in the summer of 1978.
Signed as a replacement for Joey Jones, Kennedy was handed his league debut at home to Queens Park Rangers on the opening day of the 1978-79 season.
It’s true to say that it could have gone better.
After less than 30 minutes, Kennedy was found hopelessly out of position as Rangers’ Paul McGee netted what was to be one of only four league goals Liverpool were to concede at home that season.
As the players trooped into the changing room for their half-time cuppa, Bob Paisley is said to have looked in the direction of Alan and muttered the immortal words about the ‘wrong Kennedy’ being shot.
As the man himself was to write years later;
“My first game was against Queens Park Rangers at Anfield early on and I miskicked with my right foot – the one I use for standing on – and knocked a policeman’s helmet off. I also conceded a couple of corners and made a few errors. I just wanted half-time to come to get some reassurance from the manager but when I got back to the dressing room, Bob said to me, ‘I think that they shot the wrong Kennedy!'”
Things did get better, though.
That season Liverpool won the league at a canter, recording an impressive 68 points from 42 league games under the two points for a win system, and behind this success was the defensive stability that the back four of Kennedy, Alan Hansen, Phil Thompson and Phil Neal brought to the side. Just sixteen goals were conceded on league duty all season and only four games lost, but one of those, away to Aston Villa at Easter 1979, once more saw Kennedy climb into Bob Paisley’s bad books.
Liverpool went into the game well clear at the top and with only a handful of matches left, the bookies had long stopped taking bets on Liverpool being crowned champions. Rather than adhering to the tried and trusted method of taking each match as it comes, it was then that Kennedy chose to lend his name to a newspaper article in which he was quoted at length as saying the title was a done deal and was all but wrapped up.
Villa played with an intensity that day that led Paisley to believe they had been riled by Kennedy’s unwise outburst, and he furiously laid the blame for the defeat squarely at his unfortunate feet.
Kennedy made 37 league appearances that title-winning season, but unfortunately missed crucial games in Liverpool’s run to the FA Cup semi-finals and a clash with Manchester United. Club captain, Emlyn Hughes, was by now on the last legs of his Anfield career and was drafted back into the side for the first game at Maine Road and again for the Goodison Park replay.
The only goal of the game in the replay came when Hughes was caught hopelessly out of position in the United half of the field, having made a surge from left-back. Had Kennedy been playing, it is highly likely that his younger legs and greater fitness would have made all the difference in the circumstances.
The league title was secured again the following season, and again in 1982, 1983 and 1984, as Liverpool continued to reign supreme. Kennedy was almost an ever-present during these seasons as the Liverpool back four remained practically unchanged throughout this time.
In the summer of 1981, Kennedy’s place seemed to be coming under threat as Paisley signed the Republic of Ireland international Mark Lawrenson for a club-record £900,000. Kennedy, however, rose to the challenge and it was ultimately Phil Thompson who became the long-term casualty of Lawrenson’s arrival.
Although it was the consistency of Liverpool’s famed defence that built the cornerstone of their league successes, Kennedy made a name for himself for his propensity for scoring goals in important cup matches.
Three times he ventured upfield in cup finals and subsequently managed to find the net in open play. The first such occasion came in the 1981 League Cup Final against West Ham United. A drab goalless game was petering out when Liverpool won a free-kick deep inside the West Ham half. The ball into the Hammers’ box was only half-cleared, and Kennedy, who’d stayed up after the original free-kick, found the ball bouncing invitingly for him.
Striking a sweet right-footed shot, he beat Phil Parkes in goal and looked to have secured the cup for Liverpool. Unfortunately for him and his teammates, West Ham had enough about them to charge back down the other end, win a penalty and convert it, and thus force a replay which Liverpool ultimately won.
That May Kennedy scored his second ‘big-game’ goal when Liverpool met Real Madrid in the final of the European Cup in Paris. Once more, a stalemate ensued and once more Kennedy stepped forward to become the man of the hour. With seven minutes remaining, he controlled a throw-in from his namesake Ray, brushed off the challenge of a Madrid defender, and then beat the ‘keeper with a shot from an acute angle.
This time, Kennedy’s goal proved to be the only one of the game and so was responsible for Liverpool securing their third European Cup triumph.
Two years later and it was back to Wembley for the League Cup Final once again, this time against Manchester United. Trailing to a 12th-minute Norman Whiteside goal, Liverpool lay siege to the United goal but were unable to restore parity until the 70th minute. It was then that Kennedy joined the attack and latched onto a pass from Sammy Lee. A speculative shot from 30 yards or so bounced deceptively in front of Manchester United ‘keeper, Gary Bailey, leaving him with no chance and Liverpool were level. Liverpool then went onto win 2-1 in extra-time.
Kennedy’s most famous goal, however, probably came the following year and was not scored in open play but in a penalty shoot-out. Once again, Liverpool had battled through to the European Cup Final, this time being played on the home ground of their opponents, AS Roma.
After 90 minutes the scores were locked at 1-1 and with no further breakthrough in extra-time, the match became the first European Cup Final to be decided by a penalty shoot-out. Despite getting off to a bad start with Steve Nicol missing the first of Liverpool’s five scheduled kicks, the Reds clawed their way back into the contest courtesy of three successive conversions.
When the Romans subsequently missed two of their first four kicks, it was left to the striker of Liverpool’s fifth and final penalty to potentially win the cup.
Step forward, Alan Kennedy.
There were more than a few Liverpool players who didn’t fancy Kennedy’s chances, but they should have had more faith. As Roma keeper, Tancredi, moved to his left, Kennedy calmly slotted the ball to his left and in doing so brought home ‘Old Big Ears’ once again.
The next season, however, was to spell the final full season for Kennedy at Liverpool.
A first-choice still until March 1985, Kennedy then suffered an injury that allowed Jim Beglin to stake a place in the side. Kennedy made it back from injury in time for the ill-fated European Cup Final against Juventus in the Heysel Stadium but was not amongst the final sixteen.
The following season started with Kennedy back in the team under new player-manager Kenny Dalglish, but with his place once more under threat.
In the eighth match of the season, Liverpool played away to newly-promoted Oxford United looking to push on after a rather uncertain start to the season. With three minutes remaining and the scoreline reading 2-1 to the visitors, it looked as if three welcome points were on their way back to Anfield. It was then that fate intervened in the shape of an Alan Kennedy own goal.
With seemingly no danger imminent, Kennedy struck a backpass past the encroaching Bruce Grobbelaar in goal and an incandescent Dalglish never picked Kennedy for the Liverpool side again.
It was a sad way for Kennedy’s Liverpool career to end and after leaving Liverpool, Kennedy’s league career didn’t last long. He spent two pretty disastrous years at Roker Park as part of Lawrie McMenemy’s fabled ‘old boys’ team that resulted in the club’s first-ever relegation to the third flight and then dropped in briefly at both Wigan Athletic and Hartlepool before moving abroad for a short spell and then into the non-league game via one last league hurrah at Wrexham.
Playing at a good semi-professional level, he recovered the mojo that had probably been lacking since his Anfield departure and so continued to play until past his forty-second birthday.
Now 65 years of age, Kennedy looks an absolutely disgusting twenty years younger, at least, and as recently as 2019 played in a charity game at Anfield alongside players thirty years and more his junior when he took to the field in a Liverpool Legends match against AC Milan Legends.