Obituary: Howard Kendall, footballer and manager of Everton

Born: 22 May, 1946, in Ryton, County Durham. Died: 17 October, 2015, in Southport, Lancashire aged 69
Howard Kendall: Football manager who achieved legendary status with European victory at Everton. Picture: PAHoward Kendall: Football manager who achieved legendary status with European victory at Everton. Picture: PA
Howard Kendall: Football manager who achieved legendary status with European victory at Everton. Picture: PA

The most successful manager in Everton FC’s history and arguably one of the best footballers never to play for England, Howard Kendall was renowned both as a gentleman and the possessor of a rare footballing intelligence as a player and coach.

He featured as a player in one of the great Everton sides, and then created an even better team during the first of his three spells as manager of the club.

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One of that rare breed to win a championship medal as a player and then manage his club to win a title, Kendall would later try his hand at management abroad with lesser success, but at Everton he displayed a grasp of man management, attention to detail and forward thinking that was only later surpassed by Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

Born in Ryton near Gateshead, now in Tyne and Wear but then in County Durham, Kendall was a footballing prodigy who was tipped for a career in the professional game while still at school.

He signed as an apprentice for Preston North End in 1961 at the age of 14, and turned professional two years later – indeed, he was not quite 16 when he made his debut against Newcastle United.

The following season Kendall began to feature in the team managed by Dundonian Jimmy Milne. It was another Scot, Ian Davidson, who was to play a bizarre role in Kendall setting the record as the youngest player ever to appear in the FA Cup final. Davidson claimed to the club that he had to attend a funeral in Edinburgh, but this turned out to be untrue and Milne promptly dropped his fellow Scot as punishment, Kendall featuring in the final at the age of 17 years and 345 days.

Kendall felt sorry for Davidson, recalling in the last of his four volumes of memoirs: “Three days before the final Ian’s world collapsed and I was catapulted centre stage… 50 years later, I am none the wiser as to what went on.”

He left Wembley with a loser’s medal, West Ham United having won 3-2, and was again on the losing side on his next visit to Wembley with Everton in 1968, having signed for the Toffees for a fee of £85,000 in March, 1967, after 104 league matches and 13 goals for Preston.

He was joining a superb line-up at Everton. There was Alex Young, the Scot known as the Golden Vision who was such a figure on Merseyside that Ken Loach made a documentary about him. Brian Labone was an inspirational captain, and two of England’s World Cup winning side, Ray Wilson and Alan Ball, also featured.

With the irrepressible Ball and Colin Harvey, Kendall made up a midfield that came to be known as the Holy Trinity, and manager Harry Catterick moulded them all into a team that reached its full flowering in season 1969-70.

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Everton won the First ­Division in fine style, winning many admirers for their attacking football in which the Holy Trinity was outstanding – that side earned the nickname the School of Science. Kendall played 36 times in that league season, scoring four goals, but having represented England at youth level he was overlooked for the national side at a time when England had an embarrassment of player riches in midfield, including Alan Ball.

The sale of Ball was one of the reasons that Everton diminished in succeeding seasons and Kendall himself left in February, 1974, sold to Birmingham City whose First Division survival he helped guarantee. After a spell at Stoke City, Kendall joined Blackburn Rovers in the Third Division as player manager before returning to Everton in the same capacity, though he retired from playing in September, 1981. He immediately began to build a new Everton, recruiting the likes of goalkeeper Neville Southall, Gary Stevens, Peter Reid, and Trevor Steven to add to the Scottish striker Graeme Sharp.

Kendall believed in moulding the side on and off the field, and encouraged team building with a few refreshments, to put it euphemistically.

It was another Scot, the mercurial Andy Gray, who would prove to be a major signing by Kendall in 1983. Season 83-84 started badly, but ended with Everton reaching the final of the League Cup, then known as the Milk Cup, in which they lost to deadly Merseyside rivals Liverpool after a replay, before the FA Cup was captured with a 2-0 win over Watford, then owned by Elton John.

Season 1984-5 proved to be Everton’s finest, Kendall leading the side to the FA Cup final – lost only in extra time – the League Championship and the European Cup Winner’s Cup, in which Gray and Sharp were at their best, the former scoring in the 3-1 victory over Rapid Vienna of Austria in the final. It remains Everton’s only European trophy.

Kendall was named Manager of the Year, and came close to following up that great success in the next season, when the Toffees finished second to Liverpool in the championship and runners-up to the Reds in the FA Cup.

The following season saw Kendall’s Everton regain the league title but the Manager of the Year, again, was eager to sample life abroad and went off to manage Athletic Bilbao in Spain. He was tempted back to manage Manchester City but when Everton came calling in 1990, he went back to Goodison Park for three years, and after brief interludes in charge at Notts County and Sheffield United, he then had a third spell at Everton for a season in 1997 when he managed to rehabilitate the wayward Duncan Ferguson after the Scot’s spell in prison but saw the Toffees survive relegation only on goal difference.

Kendall took up punditry after leaving Everton for the final time, and was always a welcome figure at Goodison where he was elected one of the club’s inaugural Giants. He was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2005.

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Howard Kendall is survived by his wife Lil and three children, Hailey, Lisa and Simon.