Ray Kennedy passed away on Tuesday after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. The former Liverpool star will unquestionably go down as an all-time great.
Ray Kennedy arrived at Liverpool in 1974 and in a strange fashion. He was Bill Shankly’s final signing for the Reds but never played under him – Shankly retired on the same day.
“Kennedy will cause plenty of trouble to defences,” said Shankly, per lfchistory.net.
“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.”
Shankly was right about that though, he wouldn’t have known the details of how. He signed Kennedy as a centre-forward who had consistently scored for Arsenal and that was supposed to be his position with Liverpool, too.
New manager Bob Paisley, however, went with John Toshack and Kevin Keegan up top. There wasn’t much room for Kennedy there.
Paisley believed that Kennedy could operate in midfield, though, and reinvented the player from the left flank in the Reds’ 4-4-2. It was a masterstroke, allowing Liverpool a third creative goal-threat in a high-pressing team.
It’s difficult to find an obvious modern-day comparison to that change. Kennedy was already a very established player when Paisley moved him but we could possibly compare it to Roberto Firmino moving to centre-forward. A change that fit the team perfectly and that opened up more options in attack.
That first season ended trophyless but Liverpool exploded the next year. They won the league title and, arguably of more importance, the 1976 UEFA Cup. It would be Liverpool’s second – having won in 1973 – and Kennedy scored the most important goal of all.
The Reds were 2-0 down at home to Club Brugge in the first leg of the final. Kennedy pulled one back on 59 minutes, however, and Liverpool had a 3-2 lead by the 65th.
A 1-1 draw in the second leg sent the trophy to Merseyside. That UEFA Cup win, along with the league title, was the start of Liverpool’s dominance through the late 70s and 80s.
Kennedy spent seven and a half seasons at Anfield, playing from the left. He won five titles in that time, along with that UEFA Cup and a sensational three European Cups.
As for the player’s finest hour for Liverpool, we have to go back to April 1981. It was a European Cup semi-final second leg away at Bayern Munich. The Anfield leg had finished 0-0, meaning the Reds needed to win or an away-goal draw to reach the final.
Kenny Dalglish suffered a first-half injury, however, and left the game early, replaced by the wildly inexperienced Howard Gayle (notably, Liverpool’s first black player). It was captain Kennedy who stepped up to score the all-important goal, controlling a pass from David Johnson to volley home. A Bayern equaliser made things close but Liverpool progressed on away goals.
His ability to be that midfield threat moved Liverpool up a gear, with Kennedy hitting double figures on four occasions. The Reds’ success was certainly built on a huge number of factors but Paisley’s decision to move Kennedy was undoubtedly one of the most important of his career.
It makes Kennedy one of the best and most notable players in Liverpool’s history. After all, he was a key figure in one of the finest periods from any football club ever.
Without Ray Kennedy, Liverpool isn’t quite what it is today. Would they still have been successful under Paisley? We imagine so. But they wouldn’t have been that era-defining team that reached unseen heights.
And that’s possibly the best tribute we can make to Kennedy.