Remembering a legend: Tales of an all-time Portsmouth great

Mick Kennedy, front row, second left, with the legendary 1986-87 Pompey promotion-winning team.
Mick Kennedy, front row, second left, with the legendary 1986-87 Pompey promotion-winning team.
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His place in the greatest Pompey XI is assured, the role of midfield enforcer long reserved in his name.

The monikers varied depending on your standpoint. Scully to supporters of his era, the Mongrel to many of his team-mates, undoubtedly many unpublishable titles to the rivals who shrunk in his presence and, of course, the undisputed leader of Alan Ball’s Gremlins.

Mick Kennedy separates Terry Hurlock and Paul Mariner

Mick Kennedy separates Terry Hurlock and Paul Mariner

Michael Francis Martin Kennedy: A true Blues legend.

The Legend himself, in self-effacing manner, summed up the intense emotion permeating Pompey folk in the wake of the great man’s death on Saturday, at the age of just 57.

‘People talk about legends but the outpouring for Micky shows that’s what he was,’ Alan Knight said of his captain.

‘Micky was the yardstick supporters measured players who came to this club by. They wanted a Micky Kennedy.’

Mick Kennedy takes the microphone at the promotion celebrations

Mick Kennedy takes the microphone at the promotion celebrations

And it was undoubtedly the fact the man from Salford was a footballer firmly in the image of the people he represented, which was behind that.

If ever there was a Pompey player who was the personification of the ‘tough street-fighting city they send people to war from’ his manager spoke of, Kennedy was it.

It didn’t take long for that to become abundantly apparent after Alan Ball made the Republic of Ireland international one of his first signings, when he paid Middlesbrough £100,000 for his combative services in 1984.

These eight-year-old eyes were romanced by the goalscoring prowess of Mick Quinn, one of the many team-mates to speak emotionally of the impact of Kennedy on their life and deep sadness at his loss in recent days. But there was quickly an understanding you didn’t mess with my football team, and at the heart of that lied the force of nature in the middle of the park.

Soon the midfield battles became an attraction and the importance of these snarling sub-plots to winning the war increasingly apparent to a youngster in thrall to Bally’s troops.

None more than the days Millwall, and later Reading, came to town and Mick Kennedy v Terry Hurlock became the main event, of course, fully worthy of its headline billing.

For the new generation, these were hard men of the kind you simply do not see in the game today. The anticipation at the match-up was palpable, but perhaps it was a heavyweight duel which could only be truly felt by those at close quarters to combat.

‘There was Micky, and Terry was an old friend I grew up with in east London,’ said Blues hall of famer Vince Hilaire of the showdown.

‘Graeme Souness was a hard man in a good team at Liverpool, and so was Jimmy Case.

‘But I remember Hurlock v Kennedy. I stayed well clear! They were the epitome of hard men.’

It may have been Vinnie Jones and Wimbledon who had the reputation as the game’s tough nuts of the time, but as one letter to a football magazine noted back then: ‘Compared to Pompey that lot are choirboys!’.

Indeed, as many of that Dons side admitted in later years, much of their famed Crazy Gang ethos was taken from their foes at the other end of the A3.

No doubt, that attitude would have been noted by Jones himself the afternoon he left the away dressing room at Fratton Park after the interval to be greeted by the seething presence of Kennedy.

‘I was coming out behind Micky for the second half,’ said Blues club stalwart Barry Harris, picking up the tale.

‘Him and Vinnie had been having a go at each other in the first half.

‘Wimbledon hadn’t come out and Micky stood there waiting for them.

‘Vinnie came out and Micky was there for him. He got told in no uncertain terms he’d better stay out of his way - or he’d put a hole in him!

‘I’ve spoken to Vinnie since then and he’s got a lot of respect for Micky, a lot of respect.’

Of course, it was Kennedy as Bally’s leader who had everything to do with that mentality being instilled in one of the club’s all-time great sides.

And in doing so that meant being at the heart of off-field bonding which made his comrades such a tight-knit group.

Yet, it’s often surprising for many to hear the rabid, snarling presence on the pitch was a unassuming gentleman off it, a mild-mannered figure with a penchant for football quizzes and talking about the game.

That didn’t stop the budding Sinatra being at the centre of all the sing-songs, as he was joined by legendary director Jim Sloan and a few crates of lager on the journey back from away games.

Out of the despondency which enveloped Pompey and all those Kennedy touched in the wake of his death, it’s been an uplifting experience to hear the catalogue of anecdotes on his Fratton life and a privilege to document the emotion-drenched tales of Quinn, Knight, Hilaire, Kevin Dillon and those who so loved their general.

There is a sorrow, however, at Kennedy being taken prematurely, and the difficulties he faced adjusting to life away from the game. His was a quiet existence near Ennis, County Clare, one he chose to live. As ever, it was all on Mick’s terms.

It’s the events of recent days which has seen a WhatsApp group formed by Noel Blake to reconnect some of the heroes who’d become strangers in recent years. You can imagine some of the memories flowing back and forth on that platform, of late.

Likewise, the milk of Pompey kindness has been upliftingly evident in the fan fundraising to cover their idol’s funeral costs. A quick fire £4,500 had been collected at the last count, with that figure rising all the time. Awe-inspiring.

On the mantlepiece of Kennedy’s home in his later days sat a framed, famed picture of the Boys of ‘87 team on the final day of the promotion season against Sheffield United. It’s an image which epitomises the happiest days of his well-travelled career in the game.

‘You can see how much we’re sweating in that picture,’ smiled Dillon, this week. ‘We’d been drinking since the Tuesday!’

Sadly, his hall of fame award never joined that image following his inclusion last year, an evening the inductee was unable to make. Those close to him weren’t surprised Kennedy was a no show. ‘I don’t think he knew the high esteem he was held in,’ asserted Knight this week.

But perhaps there is a poetry, that it’s his trusted lieutenant who is the first of Bally’s Boys of ‘87 to join the manager who was taken nearly 12 years ago now.

Their deaths mean the soul of one of the great Pompey sides - a side in the image of the island city they represented - now lies elsewhere.
RIP Mick Kennedy: Loathed by rivals, feared by opponents, loved by the Fratton faithful and respected by all.