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Fans really are my ray of hope

RAY KENNEDY’S voice falters, the phone line goes quiet and a previously lively conversation comes to an abrupt hiatus.

It’s not the Parkinson’s Disease that has afflicted him since the early 1980s that makes the Liverpool legend stop talking, though, it is the sheer emotion brought on by thoughts of the support he has been given by those who worshipped him as a player.

Because if Kennedy’s debilitating illness means he is fighting the biggest battle of his life, at least he knows he is not facing it alone as he can count on the support of a group of Liverpool fans who have now raised tens of thousands of pounds to try and make his life at least a little easier.

“It’s tremendous,” says Kennedy, as he gathers his thoughts and his composure to pay a heartfelt tribute to those who have made it their business to help a man who gave them so much pleasure as one of Liverpool’s finest players of the 1970s and ‘80s.

“The Liverpool fans have always been very special and I always knew that, but I suppose I didn’t realise just how special – now I do.

“I really appreciate how much they have done for me and it is hard for me to put into words just how much I appreciate it.

“It is great they remember me and for people to give so generously to try and help me is tremendous. Absolutely tremendous.”

There has been an organised and concerted effort to provide Kennedy with financial assistance ever since the Ray of Hope Appeal was set up by lifelong Liverpudlian Karl Coppack in January.

As Coppack said at the appeal’s launch, the idea was simply to give Liverpool fans a chance to support “the man who scored the crucial goal at Munich in ’81”.

Significantly, given the fact Kennedy also enjoyed an illustrious spell at Arsenal before becoming Bill Shankly’s last signing in 1974, it also appealed on Gunners fans to remember his “title winner at White Hart Lane as part of a double season”.

But what has happened since then has proved once again that while football rivalries run deep, boundaries can be broken down when they need to be.

“The support we have had from football clubs and football supporters throughout the country has been incredible,” says Coppack.

“Had it just been about Liverpool and Arsenal then I doubt very much that we would have been able to achieve anywhere near as much as we have, and we are all really grateful for the backing we have received.”

In the 11 months the appeal has been up and running a total of almost £40,000 has been raised through e-bay auctions of memorabilia, a fundraising tour of the 92 league clubs and donations from a number of clubs and individuals, including Liverpool’s own Jamie Carragher.

This week, a cheque for £2,000 was handed over by the committee of the Bob Paisley Memorial Appeal – a fitting gesture given the fact that Paisley regarded Kennedy as one of the finest players he ever managed.

The money raised has been put to good use with specially adapted furniture having been bought for Kennedy’s Whitley Bay home in his native north east.

There are now plans to pay for a new bathroom to take into account the 57-year-old’s failing mobility, with the backing of a £5,000 grant from the PFA.

The appeal has even paid for clothing so Kennedy could attend a family wedding, and for a set of false teeth for a man whose honours list as a player dwarfs that of many clubs.

“It has really taken the pressure off me,” said Kennedy, whose son, Dale, is a season ticket holder at Anfield.

“Money had been getting tighter and tighter. Things were becoming very difficult for me and I was struggling to pay my bills.

“It is fantastic what they have done for me and I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to be remembered by the fans.

“I will always be Liverpool through and through.”

Earlier this season, Kennedy was given the opportunity to see his beloved Reds in action when he was invited to see Liverpool take on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light by Black Cats chairman Niall Quinn.

It was a gesture he greatly appreciated, particularly as he got to see Rafa Benitez’s men notch up an important victory, thanks to a late strike by Fernando Torres, and he was able to see his own current favourite Liverpool player, Steven Gerrard, in action.

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry has told the Ray of Hope Appeal that Kennedy will be welcome at Anfield for any game, but his condition means undertaking such an arduous journey has not been possible up to now.

But Coppack – who is joined on the appeal committee by fellow Reds Robbie Ashcroft, Stephen Hinds, Andrew Campbell, Matthew Anton and Kennedy’s former doctor, Andrew Lees – remains hopeful his idol will be able to visit some time this season.

“It would be fantastic if he could make it down here for a game,” he said.

“It hasn’t been possible until now, but maybe it will be in the future. We are looking at the possibility of Ray making it to the game against Arsenal next April because that would be really fitting with it being a game between the two clubs where he really made his name, but we’ll see.”

The fundraising efforts were due to come to a halt in January, but such has been the groundswell of support for the appeal that Coppack believes they will now continue beyond then.

“We had a game between fans of Liverpool and Arsenal last season and we’re looking at the possibility of that becoming an annual event,” he said.

“But, from our point of view, the most important thing is that together we have managed to raise awareness of Parkinson’s Disease and also helped a player who brought us so much pleasure.”

Ray Kennedy honours

Arsenal (1968-74):

212 appearances, 71 goals.

Fairs Cup, Division 1 title, FA Cup, Division 1 runner-up, FA Cup runner-up.

Liverpool (1974-82):

393 appearances, 72 goals.

5 x Division 1 title, 3 x European Cup, UEFA Cup, League Cup, European Super Cup, 4 x Charity Shield, Division 1 runner-up, FA Cup runner-up, League Cup runner-up, European Super Cup runner-up, World Club Championship runner-up medal.

England:

17 caps, 3 goals.

Parkinson's Disease facts

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson's is a degenerative disease of the brain affecting the nerve cells involved in movement.

What is the cause?

Parkinson's is caused by the loss of brain cells that produce dopamine, an important neurotransmitter (a chemical that carries signals between the neurons in the brain), which enables us to perform smooth, coordinated movements. A person with Parkinson’s will develop symptoms once 80% of these cells are lost.

What are the symptoms?

The disease attacks the part of the brain that controls our movements. It affects activities we take for granted, such as talking, walking, swallowing and writing.

Symptoms include repetitive shaking, slowness of movement and muscle stiffness.

After several years, people with the disease may develop a shuffling walk without arm movement. Beginning an activity may be difficult, but once started people with Parkinson’s move too fast and end up almost running.

Who’s affected?

The Parkinson's Disease Society estimates there are about 120,000 people in the UK have the disease. – that's one in 500 of the general population – and approximately and 10,000 are diagnosed annually.

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