Born 22 May 1946
With Blues from 1974-1977
134 appearances (18 goals)
Take a moment and imagine being the youngest-ever player to appear in the FA Cup final. At the tender age of 17, you're thrust into the Wembley spotlight for a game that the world is watching. This is the fate that befell former Blues midfielder Howard Kendall.
Kendall was just 17 years and 345 days old when he became, at the time, the youngest-ever player to appear in the FA Cup showpiece as West Ham defeated his first side Preston North End 3-2. However, Kendall’s place only came around following a misdemeanour by regular defender Ian Davidson, who took an unauthorised trip to Scotland in the build-up to the game and was consequently suspended.
“A lot of people think that was my debut for some reason. But I had played a few league games and scored the winner in the semi-final replay to get us there,” Kendall reflects. "It was a harsh punishment considering what Ian had done. But it took some of the pressure off the team too. We were a Second Division side playing against a top-flight team and we did brilliantly. We were ahead twice and lost in the last minute. My inclusion took some of the heat off the rest of the players as they were looking out for me and making sure I settled. Overall, I had a good game. I didn't make any major errors and for that I was very thankful!"
However, the young talent that had convinced North End he was worth his final place was evident to the rest of the football world too and it was not long before Kendall was on the move to a bigger club. Everton were the side who won the battle for his services and it was there, firstly as a player then manager, that he made his name.
After being converted from a defender to a midfielder by manager Harry Catterick, he became integral to The Toffees and was nicknamed a part of the ‘Holy Trinity’ by fans alongside Alan Ball and Colin Harvey. Although circumstances dictated the trio only played around 140 games together, between them they racked up more than 900 appearances and more than 100 goals for Everton. “It was brilliant playing alongside the likes of Alan, who was already a World Cup winner. We also had Harvey and the likes of Joe Royle so had a really good team as a whole,” recalls Kendall.
That triumvirate was enough to help the Merseyside club win the league and Kendall regards this as his greatest achievement as a player. However, Everton failed to replicate that form and, as they slid down the league table, Kendall made the move to St. Andrew’s along with team-mate Archie Styles in a deal which saw forward Bob Latchford go in the opposite direction and Blues receive a payment of £80,000.
“The team at Everton that won the league began to break up with Alan going to Arsenal and then Colin, Joe and I all leaving in 1974,” he continues. "Blues had a raft of great forward players like Trevor Francis, Latchford and Bob Hatton, but seemed to be missing bodies in midfield. The move to Blues was good for all parties really. In the long term, Everton got themselves a great striker and Blues got help for their midfield and eventually avoided relegation.”
Kendall rates staving off relegation as his greatest achievement in a Blues shirt, not reaching the 1975 FA Cup semi-final against Fulham. "That's wasn't the pinnacle, no. That was disappointment,” he insists. “I was captain at the time, so could have led the side out at Wembley. The best moment for me at Blues was avoiding relegation. We went 1-0 down in a game against Norwich we had to win and fought back to finally prevail 2-1. It was a brilliant feeling. After the game the fans refused to go home. We were in our baths after the game when Freddie Goodwin came in and told us to get dressed and do a lap of honour for the fans. I was a little embarrassed as we had done one when we won promotion, but not when we had narrowly avoided relegation! But the fans were really happy - they were even outside renewing season tickets afterwards!”
However, the lure of working with one of Kendall's idols proved too tempting to turn down and he left to join Stoke City in 1977. "I used to sit in my shorts at home watching George Eastham play for Newcastle as a child, so the chance to join him was too much for me to reject,” he says.
His spell at the Victoria Ground also coincided with his first taste of life after playing football. Following a poor start to the 1977/78 season, Alan Durban was appointed manager and quickly moved to make Kendall a coach. He seemed to thrive in this new role and, as a result, his performances on the pitch drastically improved. Not only did he win the club’s Player of the Year accolade, but he also became the focal point of the Potteries team. Inspired by Kendall, the following season saw Stoke finish third and win promotion. But the offer to play in the top flight was one he passed up when Blackburn Rovers approached him in 1979.
Rovers offered Kendall his inaugural managerial role and still allowed him to don his boots and select himself when necessary - which acted as a double-edged sword. “It made my job easier as I only had to choose another ten players instead of 11,” he jokes. "I dropped down to the Third Division with Blackburn because it was a level where I felt I could still play too. To begin with, everyone is looking at you on the pitch when things go wrong as you're the manager. But the players quickly realise that you're one of the team.”
Kendall led Rovers to promotion in his first season at the helm, with current Blues first-team coach Derek Fazackerley a rock at the heart of his defence. He almost repeated the achievement 12 months later but the side missed out on a second successive elevation by the thinnest of margins - goal difference. It would have been the perfect send off for Kendall, who had assented to continue his managerial career back ‘home’. “I had already agreed that I would return to Everton at the end of the season. I would have loved to have taken Blackburn into a higher league as a goodbye, but it was all in place before that happened,” he admits.
The move back to Goodison turned out to be an inspired one as Kendall went on to win two league titles, one FA Cup and one European Cup Winners Cup - for which he still remains the last Englishman to win a European trophy. But he reveals that management was never on his mind until receiving the call from Blackburn and offers some advice to current players looking to take a similar route: “What I would say to players now is to take your badges before you retire. When a job interview comes up, you need to make sure you have the relevant qualifications already. I never really thought about management. I was more interested in the coaching side of the game, but the chance came up and I took it on and it spiralled from there.”