Everyone at the club is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Ray Kennedy.
Born and raised in Northumberland, he joined Port Vale as an apprentice but on being released – and close to taking up a job in a sweet factory – he was offered a second apprenticeship on May 6, 1968, this time with Bertie Mee’s Gunners in north London.
Still only 16 years-old on his arrival, Kennedy spent a season playing representative football, before being thrust into the first team shortly after his 18th birthday, coming on as a substitute in the European Fairs Cup against Glentoran on September 29, 1969.
The teenage forward only made a handful of appearances that season, but he still managed to leave an indelible mark in Arsenal history. Coming on as a substitute in the Fairs Cup final first leg, with us 3-0 down to Anderlecht and facing a mammoth task in the second leg, the young centre forward – already blessed with a powerful physique, excellent touch and devastating left-foot shot – headed home a free-kick in the 82nd minute to give Mee’s team belief they could turn around the tie. Which they duly did, with a 3-0 win at Highbury to claim the club’s first ever European silverware.
It was the springboard for a magnificent Double campaign for Kennedy. Coming into the team for the second game after an injury to Charlie George, he played every subsequent match, 41 games in all, scoring 19 goals, comfortably the team’s top goalscorer – all before his 20th birthday. He dovetailed beautifully with John Radford and thrived off the service of Geordie Armstrong and Charlie George and it was Kennedy’s thumping header at White Hart Lane – from an Armstrong cross – that ultimately claimed the title on the last day of the season. Pandemonium ensued in the Islington streets as the red half of north London celebrated a first league success in 18 years.
In the run to FA Cup glory, he was also ever present, playing all nine games and scoring twice, including in the semi-final against Stoke City.
Despite not claiming any more silverware with us, he played a significant part in a further three seasons under Mee, until being sold to Liverpool for £180,000 after making a total of 212 appearances for the club, scoring 71 goals. At Anfield, he operated in a deeper, midfield role where his skill and composure on the ball made him a key member of a team that beat all comers, winning numerous honours including five league titles and three European Cups. He also won 17 caps for England, scoring three goals.
He later played for Swansea City and Hartlepool United, but tragically Ray was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984 and he suffered through ill health for the remainder of his life. He did, however, hear the applause of the Highbury faithful once again when we played a Testimonial in his name, against Liverpool, on April 27, 1991.
But for Arsenal fans fortunate enough to have witnessed Ray Kennedy in action, the image will remain of a teenage striking colossus, dominating opposition defences as his goals led the club to one of the game’s greatest achievements and something his name will always be associated with – the Double.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Ray’s family and friends.
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