Kendall – the best player England never had

eeveton 1970BACK IN THE DAY, magazines like Goal and Football Monthly, a huge stash of which I have sitting in my conservatory courtesy of my brother-in-law, carried stories about the best uncapped player plying his trade in the Football League.

This was the age of Charlton, Bell, Ball, Mullery and Peters. Quality midfielders were not difficult to find if you were selecting England players. There was little room for the likes of Howard Kendall of Everton, even though he was a member of a vibrant team that won the Football League championship in 1969-70.

Today, the blue half of Liverpool is mourning the loss of a player who became, in their own words, the greatest manager Everton have had.

Kendall, as a player, was part of what Evertonians called “the holy trinity” of Colin Harvey, Alan Ball and the young lad from Ryton, County Durham. He was popularly tagged with being “the best player without a cap” by fans and pundits alike.

Kendall was a fine player and was tipped for glory when he appeared in the FA Cup final for Preston North End in 1964 at the tender age of 17 and 345 days. Nobody that young had played in the final since 1879.

He moved from Preston and between 1967 and 1974, played more than 200 games for Everton. In 1969-70, he was a crucial member of Harry Catterick’s title winners, playing 36 games. Many people felt that Kendall deserved a chance to be part of the England 1970 World Cup squad, but despite being part of the England set-up from a distance, he never got the call-up.

The Everton side of 1970 failed to build on its success and their defence of the title was tepid to say the least. Kendall left Everton in 1974 to join Birmingham and subsequently played for Birmingham City and Stoke City.

Kendall’s finest moments were still to come. As Everton manager, he won two Football League championships, in an era when the club’s Merseyside rivals, Liverpool, stood astride English football.

It was largely due to the behaviour of Liverpool’s fans that Kendall’s Everton were denied the chance to test their mettle against European opposition. English clubs’ ban from Europe meant that the world will never know how good that Everton team could have been

KendallIn 1984-85, a year after the FA Cup was lifted for the first time since 1966, Everton won the league and European Cup-Winners Cup. In 1985-86, Everton were so close to winning the “double”, finishing runners-up in the league and FA Cup, to Liverpool in both cases. It was arguably a better team than the one that had lifted both trophies in the previous two campaigns. In 1986-87, Everton bounced back by winning the league for the second time in three seasons.

Kendall moved on, first to Athletic Bilbao in Spain and then Manchester City and other assorted assignments before he had a second [and third] spell back at Goodison.

There was an air of decency about Howard Kendall and he was widely respected in the game. It is easy to speak in glowing terms about the departed, but Everton fans will feel they have lost one of their own. For those of us whose formative years in football were the late 1960s and 1970s, the passing of Kendall is another reminder of one’s own mortality.

twitter: @gameofthepeople

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