Players Out Of Time: No. 3 Ray Kennedy
“Ray was the player, more than any other of that great squad, that everyone used to ask about first. He was simply one of the best footballers ive ever seen” – Bob Paisley
“Ray played in no mans land, in a world of his own, but he gave the team balance. He had style and he reminded me of Matt Busby. Ray Kennedy was some player” – Bill Shankley
It seems odd to open with quotes from two Liverpool managers but given they were amongst the best the game has ever seen, their opinions are hard to argue with. Ray Kennedy was one of my favourite ever footballers, the first hero I worshipped.
He was only 24 at the time of his departure from Highbury. 24 and already a League and FA Cup double winner; a Fairs Cup winner; an FA Cup runner-up. By the end of his playing days, he had added another 5 League titles, 3 European Champions cups, as well as UEFA Cup, League Cup and a European Super Cup to his medal haul. Just for good measure, he threw in a Welsh Cup winners medal whilst at Swansea.
Having been rejected by Sir Stanley Matthews as a teenager, his early Arsenal career must have seemed like a dream. 1969-70, his breakthrough into the first team and a crucial goal in the first leg of the Fairs Cup final in Belgium. 1970-71, a title-winning goal at White Hart Lane, a season in which he was Arsenal’s top scorer, a feat he would repeat the following season and 1973-74.
The variety of goals he scored for the club is impressive. The strikes from range, the well-timed run, climbing headers as well as the predatory striker’s goals. He rarely complained about the knocks he suffered, there was a spikiness to him that hid beneath a shy demeanour.
Since retiring, he struggle with Parkinson’s Disease is well documented, one cannot even begin to imagine the devastation it has brought to a former player.
How would Kennedy have fared today at The Emirates? He was an excellent header of the ball with a powerful shot in either foot. He was an intelligent footballer, highlighted by his transition at Anfield into an attacking midfielder. He scored a similar amount of goals for both Arsenal and Liverpool, his advanced role as John Radford’s strike partner meant he reached his total in 100 fewer games for the club.
Looking at the way Wenger sets his teams, it is not hard to imagine him slotting into the central striker’s role. He and van Persie play the game in a similar way, looking to link attack and midfield whilst scoring consistently as well. The only contemporary English player you could compare him to would be Wayne Rooney. Perhaps the United striker may be that good in the future, it is hard to say.
Whatever it was, 17 England caps was scant recognition for his abilities. Ron Greenwood could not decide on which goalkeeper he wanted, alternating between Clemence and Shilton for internationals. He had no qualms about choosing between Trevor Brooking and Ray Kennedy, his former West Ham charge winning through. Kennedy retired from international football in 1980 at not even thirty years of age.
In each of the decades since his retirement, Ray Kennedy would have been a successful player. Each Arsenal manager would have loved to have him in his team. And the supporters would have done so as well.
Enjoy this extract from the 501 Arsenal goals of a man who is an Arsenal great: