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While born in the UK, Mick was always an Irishman at heart and lived in Kilmaley for over 20 years after his retirement from soccer. Photographs by John Kelly

Tackling the life and times of a Clare soccer legend

A FAN favourite with several English clubs, Mick Kennedy was heavily involved in Clare soccer, before his untimely death in 2019.

A biography entitled Tackle This? The biography of football hardman Mick Kennedy written by Halifax Town fan and club historian Johnny Meynell has just become available for pre-sale, ahead of its launch in October.

While born in the UK, Johnny says Mick was always an Irishman at heart and lived in Clare for over 20 years after his retirement from soccer.

“His family were from Clare, from what I’ve researched they moved over from Clare to Salford in the ‘50s and then they moved back in the early ‘80s.

“When Mick retired from playing in 1994, two years later he moved back to Clare and he lived in Kilmaley. He got into coaching in Kilmaley and later at Lifford and did summer camps.”

He remembers watching Mick from the terraces in the late ‘70s, when he was a teenager holding his own against far more experienced players.

“I started watching Halifax Town in 1979, and he’d have been about 17 then. He was in the first team and he became one of my favourite players. In 79/80, he played every single minute of every single game of that season, and we had a good cup run, we beat a first division team, Manchester City.

“He was part of that team, and I loved him, he used to get stuck in, he was all action, no nonsense. He was only about 17 or 18, playing against seasoned pros, but he just got on with it.

“Obviously, he was destined for better things. Then he moved to Huddersfield, I couldn’t believe it, why would he want to leave Halifax? He just kick started his career there, he had two years at Huddersfield, then a big move to Middlesbrough, then the big club was Portsmouth where he was captain under Alan Ball who had won the World Cup in 66.

“Alan Ball’s father, who was also called Alan Ball, was actually the guy who signed him for Halifax the first time around.”

In 1986 Ireland had a new manager called Jack Charlton and the man with Clare roots was included in his early squads, but didn’t feature very often.

“He won his first cap in May 1986, when they played this triangular tournament. They played Iceland in the first game and they won and in the second game he was a sub and he came on.

“He had an incident where he went up for a ball, swung his elbow back, and he caught this Czech player, he dislodged some of the guy’s teeth.

“Jack Charlton mentioned that in his book, he said he saw something in Mick he didn’t really like, but Mick always maintained that it was an accident, an honest attempt to win the ball, he just swung his arm back and caught the player.”

Kennedy was included in a few more squads as the Charlton era began, but never got on the pitch again and wasn’t part of the Euro 88 squad which memorably defeated England in Stuttgart.

The biography’s title is a nod to Kennedy’s robust style of play. “It’s Tackle This? and there’s no irony in it because Mick loved a tackle. He did a newspaper article once to say that he was one of the hardest players in football, it didn’t go down all that well, he got in a bit of trouble and got fined £5,000.”

He lost the captaincy at one club because of his disciplinary record, but Mick says he was a totally different man off the pitch, known for his warmth and widely popular.

“I never met him but people that I’ve spoken to, as soon as you mention his name they all say what a great guy he was.

“He wasn’t like he was on the pitch. As soon as the game finished he’d have a drink and socialise. There was a big drinking culture and he was part of that.

“He never forgot his roots. When he was at Huddersfield, on a Sunday him and his best mate Mark Lillis used always go into town and they’d mix with all supporters in the pubs, buy them drinks.
He always kept that, he didn’t think he was bigger or better than anyone.

“He was a down to earth guy, people just loved him. He loved talking football, he wasn’t what you’d think he was when you saw him on the pitch. He was a totally different guy, really sociable and everyone loved him.”

The affection was found when he spoke to people from everywhere Mick played.

“Alan Knight was a goalkeeper who made over 600 appearances for Portsmouth and saw all these players come and go, he had a lot of time for Mick.

“I spoke with people like David Pleat who signed him at Leicester, I spoke to people from all the clubs he went to, clubs like Bradford and Wigan, and they were all happy to contribute and say a few words about him.”

Johnny found the same thing when he spoke to people who dealt with him in Clare.

“I got in touch with a lot of people who played under him, and the people who helped on the summer camps he did, he set them up with a guy called Jim Madden (Clare District Soccer League PRO). I was on Clare FM lately and Jim Madden came on as well, Jim had a lot of nice things to say about Mick as well.”

In his latter years Mick struggled with drink, and the biography is unflinching about his issues and how alcoholism contributed to his early passing, at just 57 years of age.

However, Johnny says it also contains a lot of humour, with many entertaining anecdotes from Mick’s time in football.

“A lot of the tales are quite funny, it runs right through the book, even though his ending was quite sad.”

Johnny says that he really regrets the fact that he never spoke to a man who fascinates him, while he says the outpouring of affection for the teak tough midfielder.

“I read all the tributes that people put on obituary sites and the message boards of the different clubs that he played for and it was that that really showed me how much people loved him. It was really the spur to write the book.”

Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.