Liverpool legend Alan Kennedy on his shock winner against Real Madrid

EXCLUSIVE: My shock winner in 1981 paved the way for Jurgen Klopp’s amazing side: Liverpool legend Alan Kennedy on his goal against Real Madrid in Paris, being a flying full back and his 60-second medical!

  • Liverpool face Real Madrid in the Champions League final in Paris on Saturday
  • Alan Kennedy scored the winner the last time Madrid lost a European Cup final 
  • The flying full-back was once Britain’s most expensive defender at £333,000
  • Kennedy, and Ray Clemence, won three European Cups in the space of five years

The traders selling flags on Liverpool’s Paradise Street this week have been earning their money from the face of Luis Diaz, and the film playing on loop at a museum near the Albert Dock features the miracle of Istanbul. The early 1980s seem a distant memory now.

But in so many ways, the team who defeated Real Madrid 1-0 in Paris 41 years ago, in the same city where Saturday’s Champions League final takes place, delivered a miracle too. In the process, they helped build the kind of global fanbase that, to this day, Manchester City can only dream of. Jurgen Klopp’s players stand on the shoulders of those giants.

A sense of what the 1981 final delivered is apparent in walking near the Liver Building with Alan Kennedy, whose iconic goal won the game for Liverpool. Men of a certain age ask for pictures, to which he unfailingly agrees. We talk before his evening meeting with Norwegian Liverpool fans, which he must leave promptly for early travel to a corporate event in London the next day, representing the club.

Liverpool are aiming to win their seventh Champions League against Real Madrid on Saturday

Alan Kennedy scored the winner the last time Real Madrid were beaten in a European Cup final in a 1-0 victory for Liverpool – a match that also took place in Paris on May 27, 1981

Liverpool’s Phil Neal (left) and Kennedy (right) hold the trophy after their legendary victory

Kennedy has a mural of him holding the European Cup on display close to Anfield

Kennedy did not, of course, foresee any of this when leaving his native Wearside to meet Liverpool manager Bob Paisley in the summer of 1978, travelling in his unreliable white Triumph TR7 with dodgy windscreen wipers. 

The story of how Kennedy was forced to stop in a rainstorm near Leeds, keeping Paisley waiting at the Burtonwood Services on the M62, is part of the legend of those days.

Less well known is how what Kennedy had expected to be an interview quickly became a drive in Paisley’s car to the Atlantic Tower hotel, where he was presented as a Liverpool player before three reporters.

‘There was always a bit of cloak and dagger about Liverpool,’ he says. ‘Leeds were interested as well and I liked that club and Don Revie, so perhaps it was Liverpool getting in first. I didn’t really know what was going on. I didn’t have a telephone at the time.’

The mural is inspired by this picture of Kennedy after his match-winning goal against Madrid

Kennedy (left) holds the European Cup with Liverpool team-mate Sammy Lee after their win

Phil Thompson waves a flag as he and Kennedy celebrate their legendary win over Madrid

He was no budget signing. At £333,000, Kennedy became Britain’s most expensive defender. But the medical in a side room at the hotel that night reveals more about those modest days.

‘The doc had been enjoying a whisky before I arrived and he was asking people where he’d put his glass down,’ Kennedy relates. ‘I stripped off and he just took a look at me, took my pulse and said, “You look all right.”’

As far as he knew, Liverpool’s players were not huge earners. ‘Some people called us superstars but you could say we were on the minimum wage,’ he says. 

He earned £200 a week plus a £100-per-point bonus and a £150 bonus for every match won in the European Cup. ‘I guess they may have put that up to £200 when we won the final,’ he reflects.

He drove around in a sponsored Lada, having agreed to attend a promotional event for their new model which improbably also involved Red Rum. Kennedy cannot recall what role Ginger McCain’s 1977 Grand National winner played, only that the car, with ‘Alan Kennedy drives Lada’ emblazoned down the side, was not so fast.

‘If you put your foot to the floor it would just about do 60,’ he says, still mildly gloomy at the memory. ‘I ended up with it for two years.’

This was by no means the only unpromising part of the backdrop to Liverpool going to the Parc des Princes and eclipsing a Madrid side with Laurie Cunningham and Juanito in their ranks.

Liverpool parade the European Cup in Merseyside after returning from their win in Paris

Though the club’s immaculate scouting and player trading allowed them to fork out on big money transfers if necessary, the ’81 final took place against the backdrop of crisis in Liverpool — high unemployment, rising food prices and the escalating social and racial tension which would bring the Toxteth riots within a month of the match.

Liverpool’s home game against Manchester United a month before drew an attendance of just 31,276, the lowest Anfield crowd against that opposition since the war. The League Cup final replay, against West Ham at Villa Park, did not sell out either.

‘There was a lot of tension and we were aware of it,’ Kennedy says. ‘We didn’t like it but we couldn’t do anything about it. Bob Paisley said, “Listen, we need to show them that we need to get on with our jobs. We can help get them back on track.” He was trying to ease things because it was very tense. The riots occurred just down the road. We were a team for the people.’

In many ways Kennedy, now 67, was the ultimate representative. He was 23 when he signed but had been full of insecurity about whether he would ever get a move from struggling Newcastle United.

He was a more instinctive, less calculating, player than many Paisley signed. ‘He reacts to situations rather than creates them,’ Paisley once said of him. To this day he is self-deprecating about his part in the team. ‘I could be a bit of dreamer,’ he admits. He relates Paisley instructing him not to ‘dive in’ on Cunningham, yet doing just that early on.

Liverpool legend Kennedy won three European Cups in five seasons during his time at Anfield

Assistant Ronnie Moran caught his eye as he walked off at half-time and said of Paisley: ‘He’s going to have you.’ Moran was right.

But the defender’s instinctive element served Liverpool unforgettably well when Ray Kennedy took a throw-in in the 83rd minute of the final. ‘When he picked up the ball I was dreaming, looking around,’ says Kennedy. ‘I just saw a little bit of a gap and moved into it to drag other players away.

‘Then Ray Kennedy threw the ball at me. I was never thinking it was coming for me. I didn’t even ask him for it but it landed perfectly on my chest.’

Rafael Garcia Cortes swung a foot at the ball, missed, and a second later Kennedy was blasting it past Agustin Rodriguez and racing towards Liverpool’s fans. It was a goal straight from the Andy Robertson playbook and you might say Kennedy was one of the prototype attacking full backs who are all the rage now.

Among the pioneers had been Leeds’ Terry Cooper, in his white boots and sporting a Mexican moustache. ‘I loved Terry, how he worked with his left foot and he worked well with the players inside him,’ Kennedy says. ‘I guess I followed him a bit.’

Kennedy was a flying full-back before Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson

Where Robertson and Kennedy differ is the responsibility to defend above anything else. Kennedy says: ‘Bob was very much, “You’ve got a job to do on the wingers.” That was the be-all and end-all, especially against certain clubs who had two wingers like Manchester United, who had Gordon Hill and Steve Coppell.

‘It also helped that opposition managers didn’t entirely know how Phil Neal and I worked going forward. Phil was consistent, I was a bit more careless in doing things. But other than that, if you look at Trent and Andy now, they are exactly what we were 40 years ago. If anything, I wish Andy would shoot a bit more because he has that skill.’

Kennedy does not disagree with the notion that the team were defensively more solid and less vulnerable to the ball over the top than they are today. ‘You could say that but it comes from what’s in front of you,’ he reflects. ‘Nobody got past Graeme Souness, Ray Kennedy and Jimmy Case.’

His namesake Ray did not live to see this final. The magisterial midfielder died last year, having lived with Parkinson’s for 37 years. Ray Clemence is another of the great ’81 side no longer here. It is 18 months since he passed away.

‘You feel their absence so much when something like this comes around because they were so central to everything,’ Kennedy says, the emotion etched across his face.

‘Clem was the one who reassured you, gave you that belief, gave us all confidence. Ray was someone I relied on. I could go forward in the way I did because I knew he was there. That’s two huge players from that team gone. For me it gives this game a kind of significance that even those other European finals didn’t have.’

Liverpool will be hoping to repeat the success of the 1981 heroes in Paris on Saturday night

Clemence and Kennedy delivered three European Cups in five years which underpins Liverpool’s absolute conviction — shared by Real Madrid — that this is their trophy.

The dreamer’s personality was still there when Kennedy was asked to take the vital fifth spot-kick in the final against Roma three years later. Joe Fagan, Paisley’s successor, asked: ‘Alan, are you all right?’ and it took him a moment to twig what he was being asked to do.

‘When it came to my kick, being useless at addition, I was trying to work out what it meant if I scored or missed. I could see the looks on the players’ faces, not fancying my chances, especially Alan Hansen.’ But Kennedy did the job he was asked to do.

He is as attached to the club as ever. He has bought his tickets for Paris and is paying his own way, just as he did to the 2019 final against Real. He hopes to get Liverpool season tickets for his family when his turn comes around. There is a waiting list.

Time moves on. The expanded stadium which dominates Anfield’s red brick terraces has changed the landscape of the place he once knew, though on a gable wall a few side streets away is a huge mural of Kennedy, clutching the European Cup those 41 summers ago.

‘I didn’t know they were creating it and I can still hardly believe it’s here,’ he says. ‘It means so much to have that connection to these people and these streets. I hope it tells people that we went before and that we maybe paved the way to what Liverpool have now.’

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