BOB PAISLEY had an eye for a footballer. Just how perceptive an eye, however, was never better underlined than in the case of Ray Kennedy.
In July 1974, Chairman John Smith told the press that Ray Kennedy was the most expensive buy in the club’s history - then dropped the bombshell that the man who had signed him was retiring from football.
But Bill Shankly was convinced he had signed a top class centre-forward.
"There is no doubt Kennedy will do a good job for Liverpool," he declared. "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 a to sign a great new player."
The local press seemed equally convinced.
After Kennedy scored on his debut against Chelsea, Horace Yates wrote: "I have already seen enough of this cheerful, likeable ex-Arsenal heavyweight to be convinced he brings the aggression that must make Liverpool even more effective.
"His bustling presence near the goal gave the defence the jitters."
His presence, however, would soon be employed further away from goal.
Kennedy had a run of 16 League games up front before the injured John Toshack returned and took his place. Then Kennedy played just nine more First Division fixtures, finishing with five goals from 25 appearances.
An injury crisis in the winter of 1975 saw Kennedy pressed into emergency left midfield duties at Middlesbrough.
Liverpool won 1-0, but the headlines were dominated by the debut of an exciting 18-year-old striker, David Fairclough, and Joey Jones’ red card for parting Dave Hickton with five of his front teeth.
The Daily Post’s Erlend Clouston did refer to Kennedy’s positional switch, but only to declare: "With poor Kennedy looking a most temporary left-half, the nimble Armstrong, Souness and Mills outnumbered the loyally-working Callaghan."
The switch was more permanent than Clouston could ever have predicted, 393 games and 72 goals in eight years – despite the early signs of Parkinson’s Disease.
Without Kennedy realising what was going on, his right hip would push forward involuntarily when he walked and he would sometimes drag his right foot along the floor.
His whole right side often felt tired and tense, but few fans noticed as he slowly but surely became a revelation on the left of midfield, replacing Peter Cormack and making the number five shirt his own.
He added League Championship & UEFA cup winners' medals to the haul he already had from his Arsenal days - and for the next five seasons enjoyed unparalleled success as Liverpool dominated domestic and European football.
Over that period he only missed five First Division games and became one of very few players from any club to win three winners' medals in the European Cup.
His success with Liverpool brought him nearly 20 full England caps to add to the six he had gained at Under-23 level as a youngster in the Arsenal team. He also contributed a marvellous total of 49 goals for the Reds in all competitions during those amazing five years and his runs from midfield into scoring positions brought him almost as many goals as he created for others with his astute vision and distribution of the ball.
One of the most important goals he ever scored came in the semi-final of the European Cup in 1981 when the odds were stacked against Liverpool after Bayern Munich had ground out a 0-0 draw on Merseyside.
An already-depleted Liverpool team suffered an early setback when Kenny Dalglish limped off injured, but Kennedy's experience and composure finally told when seven minutes from time he strode forward to collect David Johnson's pass and stroked a firm right-foot shot away from the home keeper for the priceless away goal that took the club through to their third European Cup Final in five seasons.
He left Liverpool for Swansea in 1982, but never left Liverpudlian affections.
Fans can help alleviate his present suffering by making paypal donations to [email protected], or pay direct contributions to the Ray of Hope Appeal c/o HSBC account 21817299 sort-code 40-03-27. Paying direct or doing a bank transfer will avoid paypal commission.
* TICKETS are now available for the Ray Kennedy fundraising evening to be held in one of the Centenary Stand suites at Anfield on Saturday, February 23. Priced £10, they can be bought at the Hillsborough Justice Campaign shop on Oakfield Road.
Copyright - Liverpool Echo