Bob Paisley and the Red Kennedys
The north-eastern influence that underlay Liverpool’s period of domination
The remains of the day were slipping away over the brown stone walls of the squat, cold Liverpool graveyard where Eleanor Rigby lies buried. The happy screeching children from Quarry Street playground had gone in for tea and across the road from St Peter’s Church, in the fading white winter dusklight, the verger was winding down the silent afternoon.
It had been busy, lots of pre-Christmas parish work. And for him there was the usual line of excited tourists bustling down to Woolton in the south of the city regardless of the season or the weather. They arrive at St Peter’s in a state of religious expectation. It was here in July 1957 that John Lennon first met Paul McCartney. The very place.
Nine fabled years after the Quarrymen skiffle group appeared in this little landmark church, the Beatles penned “Eleanor Rigby”. Although Paul McCartney has said that the song’s title and its dismay did not originate from a greying head-stone in the grounds of St Peter’s, there is one here marking the life of a woman named Eleanor Rigby.
Maybe it is coincidence that the man who raised John Lennon, his uncle George Toogood Smith, is also buried here, though Beatlemaniacs will think not. They will feel it is magic or fate or whatever, and there is indeed something unusual, special, in the fact that the greatest English football manager, Bob Paisley, is another who lies here close to Eleanor Rigby.
Paisley was the first of only two managers in history to win the European Cup three times. Carlo Ancelotti equalled his record in 2014.
Paisley said his finest hours were spent in the shadow of St Peter’s, but it was Rome’s St Peter’s he was talking about. As Gunner Paisley he helped liberate the Italian capital in the Second World War and it was in Rome in 1977 that Paisley became the first English manager to lift the European Cup. “My first glimpse of Rome in 1944 was through the dusty windscreen of an army truck,” he said. “My second visit was rather different.”
On the latter occasion it was Liverpool 3 Borussia Mönchengladbach 1 and Paisley joked it was the second time he’d beaten the Germans in Rome.
In Liverpool, St Peter’s was also the name of the Paisleys’ chosen church and if that were not enough coincidence – or magic – the verger who deals with the daily line of tourists has the surname Paisley. He is Graham Paisley, son of the father.
On this late afternoon, a match day 17 years after Bob Paisley’s death, there had been some football footfall in Woolton. Graham tidies pastoral paperwork and says, “At St Peter’s we have a mix of the Beatles and my dad, a mix of music and football.
“My dad still attracts people here – today there was someone from Chicago and someone from Israel. The taxi drivers always like it when Liverpool are at home because people come here as well as Anfield. Liverpool have this worldwide following and I’d like to think a small part of that pays testimony to the success when my father was here. He helped make them a European and world name. So, sometimes he becomes part of the Beatles tour.”
The Beatles never declared which club, if any, they supported. McCartney’s preference was for Everton but he was not an avid fan and the Beatles’ most direct connections to football are red. Matt Busby is mentioned in the song ‘Dig It’ – Busby played for Liverpool. And on the cover of the album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, there is one football face in the 61 crowding around The Beatles.
That face belongs to Albert Stubbins. Stubbins, too, played for Liverpool.
Albert Stubbins came from Wallsend, Newcastle. He was Bobby Robson’s early hero. As a teenager Stubbins joined Sunderland on the understanding that if his hometown club wanted him he could go there. In 1937, when he was 18, they decided they did. Stubbins played 30 times for Newcastle United before the Second World War; during it, he scored 244 goals.
His goalscoring exploits led Everton and Liverpool north across the Pennines in 1946. Newcastle were prepared to sell, for money and to accommodate a young player, Jackie Milburn. Stubbins was at a cinema in town when he was summoned to the boardroom at St James’ Park to meet the Merseyside clubs. He did not know who to speak to first. He tossed a coin, spoke to Liverpool and that was that.
Liverpool paid a club record fee of £13,000 and Stubbins joined a man back from the war, Bob Paisley, at Anfield. Together they helped Liverpool win the first post-war league title, Paisley at left-back, Stubbins at centre-forward. Stubbins scored 24 goals in 36 games and became a local hero.
Paul McCartney once sent Stubbins a telegram that read, “Well done Albert for all those glorious years of football. Long may you bob and weave.”
John Lennon was seven when Liverpool claimed that title and presumably heard the playground rhyme “A-L-B! E-R-T! Albert Stubbins is the man for me.”
On the 1967 Beatles’ album cover, Stubbins is next to Lewis Carroll. Carroll was the inspiration behind another Lennon creation: “I Am The Walrus”. Carroll spent a lot of time in the North-East near Sunderland, where today there is not a statue of Albert Stubbins, but there is one of a walrus.
“A small part” was Graham Paisley’s reference to his father’s contribution to Liverpool’s global status. The modesty must be genetic.
Alan Hansen once said that Bob Paisley’s autobiography would contain just two references to Bob Paisley and Graham offers further evidence. When Paisley was announced as Bill Shankly’s successor in June 1974, news that shook the world, Graham heard it not from his father but “on the radio”.
Paisley was football’s definition of discreet genius. “If I can walk down the street and nobody recognises me, I’m delighted,” he said.
His unease with publicity and his desire to avoid the media deterred him from seeking the England job. As he said, “It’s a specialist job and you’ve got to be a bit more of a diplomat. If there’s one thing I preach, it’s knowing your strengths and weaknesses. I might have been caught out from a verbal point of view.”
Liverpool’s players have countless tales of Paisley’s idiosyncratic language, when every sentence contained “doings” or “an’ that”. In the case of Newcastle’s Stewart Barraclough, Kevin Keegan said Paisley would warn, “Watch that fellow Wheelbarrow.”
Paisley probably knew the mirth he was creating – in his office he had a clock that went backwards – he just didn’t shout about it.
Discretion was a trait Paisley traced back to his roots. He was humble in the days before humility became part of football’s ostentatious parade of personal promotion.
The son of Sam Paisley and Emily Bones, Bob Paisley was born in Hetton-le-Hole, County Durham in 1919, six months before Stubbins was born 12 miles away. Paisley’s father was a miner who worked at the Hetton Lyons colliery in the town and on the occasions when Paisley was prepared to look back on his life, he said of Hetton, “The population was about 12,000 and it was just mad about football. When I was a youngster, about five years old, when the New Year was coming in I kicked a ball on New Year’s Eve, and in the North-East this was a sign: that if you kick a ball through New Year, you’d be kicking a ball through the rest of your life.”
There was the pit and there was the ball, or a pig’s bladder from the butchers where Paisley’s Uncle Alan worked. As a boy, Paisley witnessed the effects of the General Strike of 1926 and with his father he scoured coal tips to bring home crude fuel.
It gave him perspective. He said in 1978, “The poverty was there to be seen but the people were happy, they accepted their lot. It grieves me now to hear people say what a state the country’s in when you look back to those days. Yet you were happy, and you didn’t have anything at all.”
And Hetton gave him something deeper: “Character, to be modest, to be thankful for small mercies. This was the upbringing, what I was taught. The character, reluctant to be pushed down. Perseverance, reluctance to give in.”
In 1935 Paisley’s father almost lost an arm in a pit accident and reacted by withdrawing his son, who had not yet gone underground. “I was sorting coal from stone, what they call ‘on bank’, on top of the pithead,” Paisley said. “I’d little interest in this.
“It was either going down the pits or being a footballer. This is where the North-East was in pre-war days, and why there were so many footballers. It was such an incentive. I was at Hetton Lyons colliery for three months. The colliery closed down and my father had been badly injured. He wouldn’t let me go to another colliery.”
Paisley got a bricklaying job 12 miles away in Blackhall, cycling there and back. But professional football would intervene. Paisley had been a prolific medal-winner at Eppleton school and was looked at by Wolves when he was 13. He was rejected, then by Sunderland, which hurt more: “Sunderland was my team, the team I supported. These were the days of Jimmy Connor, Patsy Gallacher, Alec Hastings.”
Paisley joined Hetton Juniors, with Harry Potts, who would go on to play for Burnley and Everton and to manage Burnley and Blackpool, and then the great amateur club Bishop Auckland. The Bishops knew what they had uncovered: they would send a Rolls-Royce to Hetton to pick up their new youngster. Although amateur, there are numerous stories of how Bishops paid more than Football League clubs and the Paisley family needed it. Samuel had not worked since his accident.
But Bob Paisley always credited luck in his life and he had proof when one of his brothers, Hughie, got 14 of 15 predictions correct on his football pools coupon and won £315, nine shillings and a penny, a fortune in the 1930s. The Paisleys could relax financially and matters improved further when the Liverpool manager George Kay went to see Bob to offer him a contract at Anfield. “Sunderland had turned me down because I was too small,” Paisley said. “They came back again but I’d promised to come to Liverpool. We won the Championship in 1946-47. That had to be my highlight as a player.”
His last Bishop Auckland game was in the Durham County Cup final at Roker Park. Considering what Paisley was to achieve, just as a player, never mind coach and manager, Sunderland’s error ranks as historic ineptitude. It was 1939 and Paisley’s time at Anfield was brief. He was soon in the Royal Artillery, serving in North Africa and Italy. Part of Montgomery’s Desert Rats, Paisley’s brother Hughie said that Bob temporarily lost his sight during the battle of El Alamein – “Bob was in the trenches and a plane came over and sprayed them with bullets. His eyes were full of sand and he thought he was blinded.”
On demobilisation, Paisley finally got his Liverpool career moving and played 33 times as Liverpool won that 1946-47 League championship. Peculiarly, that success is less well-remembered today than Paisley’s subsequent omission from the 1950 FA Cup final team.
Stubbins saluted Paisley’s contribution as a player: “Bob Paisley offered so much energy in the course of a game that I often thought he would be stretchered off when the final whistle sounded.”
Learning he had been left out of the 1950 Cup Final two days before Wembley, was a heartache that would never go. “I felt sick, really sick,” Paisley said, while his wife Jessie said that when the news reached County Durham “he had the whole of Hetton up in arms. Dear me, there was nearly a riot. They were very loyal.”
But it taught Paisley a lesson about selection and non-selection, about ruthlessness. It was a concept to which the avuncular Paisley would return with incisive success, a knife inside a cardigan. Lawrie McMenemy once said of Paisley, “Canniness in Yorkshire is carefulness, canniness in the North-East is niceness. A canny lad is a nice lad and that’s what he is,” whereas Brian Clough said of Paisley, “Sometimes his smile is genuine. Sometimes it hides his true nature. He’s as hard as nails, and crafty.”
Kenny Dalglish recalled Paisley observing, “I’m only a modest Geordie, but back me into a corner and I’m a vicious bastard.”
And Paisley himself understood, “Where I come from in the North-East, we were all brought up with the need to better yourself. That, and the belief in football as a religion, produces a certain kind of driving force for this job. It gives you that little spark of ruthlessness, that need to win.”
Paisley had left Hetton in 1939 and stayed in Liverpool for the rest of his life, but his son Graham says, “He never lost the accent. The North-East was very much a part of who he was. Even though he left when he finished playing for Bishop Auckland, those were his roots. He came from a coalmining community. He lived the major part of his life in Liverpool but the North-East was still very much home to him.”
If the world of football thought David Moyes had a difficult job succeeding Alex Ferguson in the summer of 2013, imagine how it reacted in 1974 when Bill Shankly stunned Liverpool with his impromptu retirement on the day he signed Ray Kennedy from Arsenal.
Few considered Bob Paisley to be the man to follow a legend. Shankly was a giant of the game, a national figure, a messianic character. Paisley was a former Liverpool player, a physio, a coach, a quiet assistant. He was not the man to front a football club. So it was thought.
Paisley changed that notion. “I never applied for the job, I wouldn’t have applied for the job,” Paisley said. “It came at us overnight. Bill decided to retire and I thought if I don’t take it, I’d worked with backroom staff, if someone new came in… thought I’ve got to make a go of it to keep this. There’s such a family spirit at Liverpool. I thought I’d give it a go. It was for the staff.
“There’s no doubt about it, Bill was a great manager an’ that, so well liked, everybody held him in such high esteem. Everywhere you went [he was there]. Bill wasn’t unique for nothing. I don’t use that term loosely when I say that Bill was unique as a manager. I mean, his very presence, all the rooms seem to be filled, you opened a drawer and you felt Bill was there an’ that. Aw, it was a tremendous sort of pressure and something I’d not given a thought.
“There’s no way anyone imitating can be great. You’ve got to be yourself. If that’s not good enough, you’ve just got to accept that. I couldn’t go on and say things like Bill did. But I could do them – in a more cunning sort of way.”
In his first season as manager of Liverpool, Bob Paisley won nothing. Liverpool were out of Europe before Christmas, they lost to Middlesbrough in the League Cup and to Ipswich in the FA Cup. They had been the holders. Liverpool finished second to Derby County in the league. Never again, in Paisley’s time, would a season go by without silverware.
There was no revolution, Paisley changed odd positions, such as bringing in Phil Neal from Northampton Town at right-back. In Paisley’s second season Liverpool won the league title and beat Club Brugge to lift the Uefa Cup.
Paisley was on his way to three European Cups, six league titles, three League Cups and one Uefa Cup – 13 trophies collected between May 1976 and May 1983. Paisley’s understated intuition, his cool, ruthless decision-making – his “cunning” – saw him improve the fine team he had inherited.
It is probably over-simplification to say that Paisley’s genius was simplicity but it was the idea he preached. “We don’t want purists or theorists at Liverpool,” he said. “Football is a simple game but one of the hardest things in soccer is doing the simple things regularly. Take concentration. That’s too easy to bother most so-called deep thinkers, but is it? Geoff Boycott stayed at the very top so long because of it. They decry him and say he’s too professional but if Geoff Boycott were a footballer, he’d be welcome here.”
When Paisley took over, he gradually changed players and earned a reputation for for his ability to renew the squad. Status, and age, did not protect a player from Paisley’s continual assessment. “A birth certificate doesn’t tell me a player’s age,” he said. “The training ground and match day does that. That’s how I knew when to unload. A player isn’t necessarily finished when he leaves us, he’s just finished here.”
Of the team that won the FA Cup in 1974, only Ray Clemence, Phil Thompson and Emlyn Hughes started the European Cup final of 1978. Phil Neal, Alan Hansen, Jimmy Case, Graeme Souness, Terry McDermott, David Fairclough and Kenny Dalglish were all added by Paisley.
By the 1983 League Cup final, only Neal, Hansen, Souness and Dalglish started. Bruce Grobbelaar, Alan Kennedy, Mark Lawrenson, Sammy Lee, Ronnie Whelan, Craig Johnston and Ian Rush had been brought in. “It’s always fascinated me how Liverpool have let players leave the club without causing even a little ripple,” said Brian Clough. “A star drops out but the team keeps on winning.”
Clough sang loudly of Paisley’s achievements, but while Paisley was voted Manager of the Year five times by his peers – and received and rejected a job offer from Real Madrid – there was a broader sense that he was under-valued. Every season the Rothmans Football Yearbook nominated six people or clubs for awards. In his nine years at Anfield, Paisley was not nominated once individually. When knighthoods began to roll into football, Paisley was again overlooked. On Merseyside, there was a failed petition to have him posthumously honoured.
But Brian Clough knew. “There is no magic formula, there is no mystery about Anfield, it’s just down to pure talent,” Clough said as Paisley approached retirement in 1983. “Bob Paisley epitomises that and I am amazed that people in football, who ought to know better, do not just accept the fact.
“He is on the same level as Sinatra in his field and nobody should question his talent. It’s not the fact that he’s got a bigger band or sings on bigger stages, it’s just down to ability. The man oozes talent and he talks more common sense than 10 of us other managers put together. He probably works harder than the ten of us put together as well.”
Clough was particularly smitten by one unforeseen Paisley decision: his conversion of Ray Kennedy from striker into left-sided midfielder: “An absolute masterstroke.”
Even the unassuming Paisley was prepared to note, “Ray Kennedy was one of the best moves I ever made.”
Ray Kennedy was a graceful tank of a player. He had balance and power. Kennedy had won the double with Arsenal in 1971, when he was 19, and in 1974 had become Shankly’s last signing at Anfield. He arrived on July 12, the day that Shankly left, but Shankly was not worried what his sudden departure would do to the player. Kennedy, Shankly said, “reminds me of Rocky Marciano.”
Paisley inherited Kennedy who was bought to play up front. When Paisley eventually got round to his autobiography after leaving Liverpool in 1983, he wrote, ”Apart from all the other problems I had to contend with so soon after succeeding Bill Shankly as manager, I was left with the legacy of harnessing Ray Kennedy’s talents to Liverpool’s pattern of play.”
Kennedy was supposed to rival John Toshack as Keegan’s partner but Paisley quickly discovered that “Ray had really lost his appetite for playing up front.”
Kennedy came from Seaton Delaval, north of Whitley Bay. His father Martin, a miner, worked at the local pit, then at Longhirst Drift pit near Morpeth. Paisley reached back into North-East past to speak to a schoolteacher of Kennedy’s and “learned that he had played midfield as a schoolboy.” Paisley added that Kennedy “was surprised I had found that out.”
Kennedy was impressed, too. He was not an easy man at times, according to others at Anfield who had nicknamed him ‘Albert Tatlock’, after the grumpy Coronation Street character. But Kennedy played superbly well for Bob Paisley. Converted to left midfield, Kennedy missed five league games in five seasons and won five league titles, those three European Cups, the Uefa Cup, League Cup and 17 caps for England.
“In my view he was one of Liverpool’s greatest players and probably the most under-rated,” wrote Paisley. “At England level he was totally misused.”
This is scorching criticism from someone like Paisley. “At Liverpool things were built around him, and we played according to his abilities, which were recognised throughout Europe – except in England. He never received the acclaim he deserved in this country and at international level England wrongly asked him to ‘pick people up’.”
Not receiving due acclaim may have felt familiar to Paisley. “I had a lot of time and respect for Ray,” he wrote. “With both of us being from the North-East we could talk to each other and we had a good rapport – something that is not too common between a manager and a player.”
Paisley’s affection for Kennedy flows off the page. But when Kennedy’s form began to dip, the rapport did not prevent Kennedy being moved on to Swansea City. No one knew then that Kennedy was suffering from the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
Kennedy joined Toshack at Swansea, then returned to the North-East, moving to Hartlepool United in 1983. Kennedy made his Hartlepool debut in a 5-1 defeat at Reading’s Elm Park, scoring Hartlepool’s goal.
The club was on the brink. Finishing second-bottom of the old Fourth Division meant another bout of seeking re-election. Kennedy travelled to London to help make Hartlepool’s case. They won and the club’s official history records, “He played just over 20 games for Pools, but his respect and standing in the game probably kept the club in business during the re-election vote.”
Kennedy had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s by then. He took over a pub in his native Seaton Delaval and remains in the area.
Kennedy’s 1982 exit from Anfield meant that he missed Paisley’s final season at Liverpool, who won the league by 11 points and the League Cup at Wembley against Manchester United. Alan Kennedy, no relation to Ray, scored Liverpool’s opener that day.
At the final whistle, the Liverpool players, knowing it was Paisley’s last Wembley appearance, broke with tradition and pushed him up the 39 steps to receive the trophy ahead of the captain Graeme Souness. It was Souness’s idea. Paisley looked flattered and embarrassed, but he took off his cap and skipped up those steps to collect the trophy and shake hands with the occupants of the Royal Box. “The honour was theirs,” observed Dalglish.
The man who scored the only goal of the 1981 European Cup final came from Sunderland.
Alan Kennedy was born and raised in Shiney Row, on the city’s southern outskirts. Kennedy was playing for Liverpool, managed by a man from nearby Hetton-le-Hole, and to score his historic goal, Alan Kennedy received a throw-in from a lad from Seaton Delaval, Ray Kennedy.
Given what Bob Paisley said to Alan about his erratic Liverpool debut in 1978 – ‘They shot the wrong Kennedy” – he might have called this goal a North-East conspiracy.
It was the 83rd minute in the Parc des Princes, Paris, 27 May 1981; Real Madrid were the opponents. As the Real defender Vicente Del Bosque looked on, Alan Kennedy did what came naturally. Until his late teens when he was converted to a left-back, Kennedy had been a left-winger. Now he raced into the Madrid area and scored from a tight angle to give Liverpool, and Paisley, their third European Cup. It was the third in five seasons.
Three years on, back in Rome where Liverpool had won their first European Cup in 1977, Liverpool and AS Roma drew 1-1. The 1984 European Cup final went to penalties.
Liverpool led 3-2 and needed one more successful kick to reclaim the trophy. Joe Fagan had become Liverpool manager but he had the left-back signed by Paisley. Alan Kennedy stepped forward and scored. Once again he had produced the decisive strike in a European Cup final.
Kennedy came to mean a lot to Liverpool and Bob Paisley. There had long been one-way appreciation and it began before Alan Kennedy was born. Conforming to a Paisley pattern, it started in Hetton-le-Hole, where Alan Kennedy’s mother and her six sisters grew up.
In an upstairs restaurant at Anfield called the Boot Room, Kennedy recalls his North-East childhood: “My mother knew Bob Paisley back in the 1940s – I was aware of him probably from the early stages of my life. He lived in the same village as my mother and her sisters and many a time I’d hear my mother say, ‘Oh, I remember Bob Paisley.’”
Sarah-Anne Donnelly, later Kennedy, worked in Worlock’s fish and chip shop in Hetton and would see Bob Paisley, then an aspiring player, on a Friday. It is uncanny – or canny – that decades later Paisley would sign her son for Liverpool. “There wasn’t much to Hetton,” says Alan Kennedy. “My uncle used to go into the local bar and have a couple, and inevitably the talk would be about football, and about Bob. ‘Oh, Bob did this, Bob did that, Bob made good.’
‘They were very proud of him and what he did at Liverpool – though they would have loved it to have been done at Sunderland or Newcastle. My grandmother used to talk about him playing for Bishop Auckland. But Bob decided that his future was away. It was tough back then to get a job. So they understood. In the area – Easington, Hetton-le-Hole, Houghton-le-Spring – they were proud of him. These were all mining people, my uncle was a miner. They were hard, rugged people but good, honest and homely. That was epitomised in that village.
“Around the time I got into the youth team at Newcastle, I used to go back to Hetton to see my grandmother. She still lived there and two of her daughters still lived there. By then everything was about Bob Paisley, what he was doing, and I felt pride about him coming from Hetton-le-Hole, very much.”
Kennedy had still not met the man he heard so much about, and would not until, remarkably, they shook hands at Wembley Stadium.
The 1974 FA Cup final which ended Liverpool 3 Newcastle United 0 provokes many and varied memories: Kevin Keegan’s two strikes against the club he would later save, David Coleman’s “goals pay the rent” commentary, the fact it turned out to be Bill Shankly’s last match in charge of Liverpool.
Alan Kennedy, as with all Newcastle’s players, had reason to rue the team performance. He had reason, too, to rue the purple tracksuits and the pre-game photo-op of him dressed as a zebra in a Durham wildlife park. But it was also the day he met Bob Paisley. Kennedy was 19.
“Of all things, I got to meet Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly at Wembley in 1974,” Kennedy says, impressed still. “It was amazing to me that this man from Hetton, who my mother had talked about, who’d played football and gone on to do well at Liverpool, that I’d be meeting him at an FA Cup final. We didn’t realise then that he was going to be the Liverpool manager.”
Neither Paisley nor Kennedy knew in 1974 that one would be signing the other. But in August 1978 a north-eastern journalist, Bob Cass, turned up at Kennedy’s parents’ council house to tell him Liverpool wanted to sign him. Kennedy still lived at home and for 18 months Terry McDermott lived there with them.
Kennedy, by then an established Newcastle United player, had his TR7 parked outside: “It was white with a go-faster stripe. I bought it in Newcastle. Cars were very important in those days.”
Yet while Alan Kennedy had a TR7 and his older brother Keith had also made it as a professional at Newcastle, then Bury, the Kennedy home did not have a telephone. Kennedy had the number at Anfield of the chief executive Peter Robinson, but no phone.
“Some people probably had phones in their house then, but I didn’t know anybody who had,” Kennedy says. “We’re talking 1978. We were in a council house. It was a case of finding the nearest telephone box, which was at Barnwell shops, and going down there and phoning up Anfield. I was shaking like a leaf, I really was, like.
“I remember the number, it was 051 then, not 0151. I remember dialling slowly and thinking, ‘Who’s going to be on the line, like?’ The secretary came on and I asked: ‘Can I speak to Mr Peter Robinson, please?’
“Peter then said the deal was more or less done but that I would go into training with Newcastle the next morning as normal. Then I would go down to Liverpool. It was amazing how it happened. Bob Cass knew Liverpool were interested in me. I thought I was going to Leeds United, they were number one to sign me – or so I thought. It wasn’t like that. Liverpool came along, offered the money.
“The Barnwell shops at Penshaw: my mother worked in the fish-and-chip shop there. Before that she’d worked in the fish-and-chip shop in Hetton.
“I walked down to the phone box, 60 or 70 yards – this is a true story. There were three or four people in front of me using the phone. I was standing there, like, telling people Liverpool want to sign me. They’re going, ‘Huh?’ I was trying to get them to hurry up, but their telephone calls were important too. I must have waited an hour. It must have been an hour.
“If you remember, at six o’clock it used to get cheaper, didn’t it? Half-price, something like that. You’d be there with your 2ps.
“That was about your background and Liverpool knew that. We couldn’t afford very much, we lived in a three-bed council house. We had a washer, an old-fashioned one, then you’d use your mangle. We’d a coal fire. We lived basic.
“But it was great. And everything was about football. We were on the River Wear, it was close, near Penshaw Monument. Plenty of hills. We actually played football on a hill, it sloped away to the river. I’d go on cross-country runs, miles.
“The shipyards were too far away to see, it was more rural. I felt more of a country lad than anything else. Yet everywhere around us was work, work, work. There was an ironworks near us, a factory that made iron. I could see it from my bedroom window. It glowed at night, every night, until they closed it down. We’d get wood from the local joinery about half a mile away. I’d push my barrow down, get the cut-offs, wheel it back up. The things you did – but it was physical, all physical.
“In County Durham there were lots of little villages, all linked by one road. There was Shiney Row, Philadelphia, Newbottle, Houghton, Hetton, Easington and on. I’ve run that road. It’d cost tuppence on a bus, and you didn’t have tuppence.”
The £330,000 transfer was concluded within 24 hours of his 2p phone call. Kennedy was thrilled to be joining Liverpool, the European champions, and also to be leaving Newcastle United.
“The players at Newcastle felt the problem at the club was the directors interfered too much. They appointed Gordon Lee as manager, who came with Richard Dinnis. He wasn’t up to it and we knew that. We lost 10 of our first 11 games. The club was going nowhere. After Dinnis, they said they’d get a trouble-breaker in – Bill McGarry. I was off. I didn’t like McGarry. He didn’t like me. The club wanted a lot of money for me.”
Newcastle’s demand caused a delay in Kennedy’s sale. Increasingly frustrated, he chose to express himself in an unusual fashion. There was no knock on the manager’s door or the chairman’s. Alan Kennedy describes what he did next: “I grew a beard.
“‘Look at me! I’m a rebel, I’m tough. I’ve got a beard on.’
“When I came to Liverpool I’d a beard. I looked 36, I was 23.”
Kennedy’s facial hair did not put off Bob Paisley. He collected his new signing from a Liverpool hotel the next morning and drove him to training.
“We didn’t talk about the North-East, he talked to me about getting into the team. I remember Bob saying, ‘I can’t promise you anything. Work hard. I’ve got Joey Jones and Emlyn Hughes still here. But I’ve brought you here to make that position your own. If you can’t do it, we’ve got two others. Although we won the European Cup three months ago, no-one here is guaranteed their place. I’ve changed it around before and I’m looking at better players all the time.’
“You were immediately under pressure, that first day. That was in the car from the hotel in town where he picked me up. That’s pressure. Straightaway. I’d not had that at Newcastle. There, I knew I’d be playing.
“I’d had a bad injury in 1977 and Liverpool were a bit sceptical as to whether they should take me. But the knee was fine. I didn’t know then, but it was the best day of my life.”
Kennedy would go on to play for England, but what he and Paisley had in common – knowledge of Hetton-le-Hole and Kennedy’s mother – did not translate into favouritism.
Kennedy says Paisley had “a soft centre” but he saw other characteristics.
“When I first arrived at the club in ’78 he wanted to look after me. I looked at him, cardigan, tie, jacket, hair brushed back – he was like a fatherly figure, a grand-fatherly figure. I was 23. He was nearly 60. But he didn’t care how he dressed and he didn’t say much until you talked about football, then you’d see his eyes light up.
“When he first talked about Liverpool to me, it was like he was telling a story about his family. It was about the love of Liverpool Football Club. It was his, though he had so many good lieutenants around him, it was family-run. Bob was the reluctant leader thrust into the limelight. He wouldn’t like it today.
“He was an intelligent man but he didn’t like speaking too much. He didn’t want to speak to the media. He always said the players did the talking. He would speak to fans one-to-one but in front of people he looked uncomfortable.”
At other times Kennedy experienced Paisley’s toughness. That was a reference to the day in 1982 when Sunderland needed to win at Anfield to stay up and did so, Stan Cummins scoring the only goal. Paisley’s support for Sunderland was quiet but there was champagne in the away dressing-room and the rumour was it had been sent in by the home manager.
Kennedy was there and he says it wasn’t like that because “Bob Paisley wasn’t sentimental when it came to things like that. Listen, Bob loved the North-East, he loved the people, but when it came to business, he would want to win the game. He’d always pick his strongest team. He picked a strong team that day.”
Kennedy already had direct experience of Paisley’s hardness. It came three months after scoring that winning goal against Real Madrid. That was the last game of season 1980-81. For the first game of season 1981-82, Kennedy was dropped.
“I’d scored that goal in Paris and I was in every newspaper in the North-West, pictures of me with champagne, whatever. We’d won the European Cup but when we got back to training we’d a practice match at Anfield. It was the younger players versus the older and established players. I was in the young team, so was Ronnie Whelan, Ian Rush. Others. We beat the first team 6-1.
“As far as I know, the manager summoned the coaches and said, ‘That wasn’t good enough. We’re going to get rid of him and him and him.’ Gradually they all went.
“I was left out for a while. Mark Lawrenson came in. Mark was a great player. He could play anywhere. When I came back into the team he was at left midfield in front of me. Then Bob decided to play him at centre-back. I knew then that if I missed a game I’d never get back in the team. I didn’t miss a game for four years – 205 games.”
Alan Kennedy stayed seven years at Anfield. He won five league titles, four League Cups and two European Cups.
After Paris in 1981 he took his medal back to Sunderland. “I was very proud. I was in the Penshaw, the local CIU working men’s club – I was a member. I showed the medal off and the look on the faces: ‘God, is that all it is?’ They went back to talking about greyhounds.”
After Liverpool, Kennedy joined the doomed Lawrie McMenemy experiment at Roker Park which ended with Sunderland in the Third Division.
Kennedy had returned to the North-East, as he had done “most weekends” while at Liverpool and though he briefly later played for Hartlepool, Kennedy would re-settle in the North-West.
And he recalls one North-East to North-West journey after a victorious Liverpool trip to St James’ Park. “Bob was very proud. He told the driver to go by Penshaw Monument. We didn’t go into it but Bob was pointing at it saying, ‘That’s where I used to roll me eggs down.’ He’d also organised [the scout] Alex Smailes to sort out sandwiches. Ham and pease pudding. The lads were looking at them thinking: ‘What’s this?’
“I was loving it. We’re driving by Penshaw Monument eating ham and pease pudding.
“Bob said, ‘This is it.’”
This is an edited extract from Michael Walker’s book Up There: The North-East, Football, Boom & Bust, published by BackPage Press.