Sunday 18 February 2018

Obituary: Howard Kendall, Everton footballer and manager

Born : May 22, 1946; died: October 17, 2015

Howard Kendall: The Everton midfielder who went on to manage the Merseyside club to two championships.
Howard Kendall: The Everton midfielder who went on to manage the Merseyside club to two championships.

Howard Kendall was the most successful manager in Merseyside club Everton's history and one of the city's finest footballers. As a ­manager in the first of his three Goodison Park reigns, he created one of the outstanding teams of the late 20th century, guiding it to two League championships, the European Cup Winners' Cup and the FA Cup in the mid-1980s, punctuating an era of crushing Liverpool supremacy.

As a player he was an inspirational cocktail of creativity and strength in the Toffees' midfield, part of a revered trinity with Alan Ball and Colin Harvey which was at the core of Harry Catterick's lovely side which lifted the League title in 1970. That he never played for England was a source of dismay and astonishment bordering on outrage among many Everton fans, who viewed him as the most complete wing-half in the land.

An exceptional performer for England Schoolboys, Kendall was targeted by most of the country's major clubs as a 15-year-old in summer 1961, but joined Preston North End, newly relegated from the top flight, as he reckoned it would be easier to break through at a lower level. He made his senior debut in May 1963, then a year later became the youngest FA Cup finalist of the 20th century when, three weeks short of his 18th birthday, he faced West Ham United at Wembley after Ian Davidson was dropped for a breach of club discipline.

Preston lost 3-2 in injury time but, unaffected by nerves on such a momentous occasion, the new boy shone in an enthralling encounter and soon became one of the most sought-after young footballers in England.

Liverpool coveted him passionately, but in March 1967, Kendall was snatched from under Bill Shankly's nose by his rivals from across Stanley Park in an £80,000 deal, and it became rapidly apparent that Everton had pulled off a colossal coup.

A calm, stylishly inventive passer who made the game flow, he was also a selfless worker, an executor of ferocious but immaculately timed tackles, a brilliant reader of the unfolding action and an intelligent organiser.

Though never a prolific scorer, he laid on plenty for team-mates and there were a few vital goals, notably the winner in the Merseyside derby at Goodison in February 1968. His influence as the League title was captured in 1970 was profound, and he continued to contribute impeccably as captain even as Catterick's side declined unexpectedly over the next three campaigns.

In February 1974, somewhat surprisingly, the 27-year-old north-easterner accepted a switch to fellow First Division side Birmingham City, valued at £180,000 in the transaction which took centre-forward Bob Latchford to Merseyside. Kendall became the hub of that team, a role he also filled for Stoke City, whom he joined for £40,000 in August 1977 and helped return to the First Division in 1979.

That summer he took over as player-manager of Blackburn Rovers, whom he led upliftingly from the third tier to the brink of the first before accepting the challenge of replacing Gordon Lee as Everton manager in May 1981.

Having inherited a sorry mess, he set about the transformation process in a shrewd and businesslike manner, but progress proved too slow for many supporters and in January 1984 it seemed likely that he would be drummed out of the club.

Then one of his hitherto unsung purchases, Adrian Heath, equalised in a League Cup quarter-final at Oxford and a fateful corner had been turned. The final of that competition was lost to Liverpool, but the FA Cup was won, beating Watford 2-0 at Wembley, and a wonderful team, fluent and spirited, was up and running.

With the likes of goalkeeper Neville Southall, centre-half Kevin Ratcliffe, midfielders Peter Reid, Ireland's Kevin Sheedy and Trevor Steven, and strikers Graeme Sharp and Andy Gray, the Toffees stuck it to the Anfield Reds, becoming League champions in 1984-85, when they also lifted the Cup-Winners' Cup by beating Rapid Vienna 3-1 in Rotterdam and lost the FA Cup final to Manchester United, a game famous for Kevin Moran's dismissal.

A season later they were runners-up to Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool side in the race for both major domestic prizes, and champions again in 1986-87. So followers were stunned that June when Kendall, frustrated by the banning of English clubs from European competition following the Heysel disaster, accepted the invitation to manage Atletico Bilbao. Though restricted by inflexible tradition to signing only Basques, he improved a floundering team, but that wasn't enough, and having rejected approaches from Barcelona, Leeds and Newcastle, he was sacked in November 1989.

Within a month Kendall had taken on the task of rescuing Manchester City from bottom spot in the top flight, but after saving them from relegation - and refusing to be interviewed to succeed Bobby Robson as England coach after making a shortlist of three, principally because he disagreed with the selection procedure - he infuriated his Maine Road admirers by returning to Everton in November 1990.

Back at Goodison he arrested an alarming decline, but when the expected steady improvement failed to materialise, and disillusioned by the board's transfer policy, he resigned in December 1993. Thereafter, amid tales of alcoholic excess, Kendall's career went downhill. An unhappy 10-week stint at Notts County ended in dismissal, though he was back on his mettle after taking over at Sheffield United in December 1995, steering them clear of the second-tier relegation zone, then taking them to the promotion play-offs in 1997.

That earned him a third tenure at his beloved Everton, then ravaged by boardroom turmoil, but he left by mutual consent after a torrid struggle against relegation was won only on 1997-98's final day. Kendall's last hurrah culminated in the sack after four months in charge of Ethnikos with the club well adrift at the foot of the Greek first division. It was a poignantly inappropriate exit

He was married with two daughters and one son.

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