Happier times with ‘Uncle’ Howard

Howard Kendall was a close friend of former national newspaper sports journalist Colin Wood
Howard Kendall was a close friend of former national newspaper sports journalist Colin Wood
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Howard Kendall’s name will forever be etched in English football’s hall of fame.

The revered former player and manager of Everton, who began his career at Preston, passed away last weekend at the age of 69.

Having won the league championship as both a player and manager with the Toffees, Kendall will always be remembered as one of the greats of the game.

But to former football writer Colin Wood’s children, he was simply known as ‘Uncle Howard’.

As the Daily Mail’s man on Merseyside for many years, Wood forged a close relationship with Kendall during his many stints at the Goodison Park club.

But Wood’s links with Kendall go back further than that – to when he was a rising star with North End.

“I got to know Howard way before he went to Everton, when he was at Preston North End,” said Wood, who lives in Tarleton.

“I remember when he came back with England Youth from the little World Cup. I was sent by the Mail to go and interview him.

“He would only be 16 or 17-years-old.

“I met him in Preston and he took me back to his landlady’s house.

“From that moment on we became friends.

“His mum and dad then moved to Preston and they had a house down near the 
docks and I remember 
going to see Howard there as well.

“I got really friendly with Howard and his parents, so much so that it was Howard’s dad who took my children Lynne and Andrew to their first ever football match – I don’t recall exactly who Everton were playing that day.

“But it was a special memory for them and from that moment on he was known as ‘Uncle Howard’ to my children.

“Last Saturday, my daughter, who is away in California, rang me to say, ‘Isn’t it sad about Uncle Howard?’

“Lynne is 50-years-old now and Andrew is 47.”

One of Wood’s most memorable exclusives during his journalism career occurred on the morning of the 1964 FA Cup final.

North End had won through to Wembley, where they met West Ham United in the final.

Perhaps the biggest story of the day – apart from the Hammers going on to win a thrilling final 3-2 – was the fact that Kendall became the youngest player ever to feature in a FA Cup final.

Although the record has since been broken, he was just 17 years and 345 days old when boss Jimmy Milne decided to select him in the team at wing-half.

Unknown to most people at the time, as well as being a fine footballing prospect, Kendall was also an organist of some repute.

Every Sunday, he would play the organ at the Guttridge Memorial Methodist Church, in Deepdale Road, Preston.

And Wood decided his musical talents would make a great feature on the day of the cup final.

“We got an exclusive photo of Howard playing the church organ, which went in the Daily Mail on the morning of his appearance at Wembley, when he became the youngest player ever to play in the final,” said Wood, who shed tears when he heard the news of Kendall’s passing.

After four years at Deepdale and more than 100 appearances, North End could no longer keep hold of their prized asset and Kendall was sold to Everton in 1967.

His midfield partnership with Colin Harvey – who would later go on to serve as his assistant when Kendall became manager of the Toffees – and 1966 World Cup winner Alan Ball became an integral component of the great Everton team which won the First Division Championship in 1970.

The trio were affectionately nicknamed ‘The Holy Trinity’ and Wood admits he used to love watching Kendall and his team-mates play.

“As a player, Howard was fantastic,” Wood said.

“In my opinion, he was the best player never to have played for England.

“He was a member of the famous ‘Holy Trinity’ at Everton – him, Colin Harvey and Alan Ball.

“That 1970 Everton side was one of the best British teams I have ever seen in my 60 years of watching football.”

Kendall departed Goodison Park as a player in 1974 when he joined Birmingham City in a swap deal which saw striker Bob Latchford sign for the Toffees.

“I remember the day he left Everton for Birmingham,” Wood recalls.

“At the time I also worked for Granada TV and I did an interview with Bob Latchford at the junction of the East Lancs Road and the M6.

“I lived near Warrington back then and when I got home, the first thing my daughter said to me when I walked through the front door was, ‘Everton have sold Uncle Howard...I won’t be supporting them any more.”

Despite everything he accomplished as a player, even Kendall would probably concede that he will be most remembered for his achievements as a manager. After spells with Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers, where he was player-manager, Kendall returned to Goodison Park in 1981, initially as player-boss.

He made just four appearances before retiring from playing to focus solely on management.

Thereafter, Kendall led the club to the most golden period in their history, as they broke the stranglehold of city rivals Liverpool at the top of English football.

The Toffees won the Football League championship twice – in 1985 when they finished a huge 13 points clear of the Reds and then again in 1987.

The FA Cup was won in 1984, with a 2-0 victory over Watford, and they agonisingly missed out on achieving the double a year later after a late Norman Whiteside goal saw them lose to Manchester United at Wembley.

They also conquered Europe, winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1985 when they beat Rapid Vienna 3-1 in the final.

In 1986, they did the double that nobody wants – finishing runners-up in the league and FA Cup to Liverpool.

“Gary Lineker has said that Everton team of 1986 was the best club side he has played for,” Wood said.

“Peter Reid always says 
that Howard would always talk a lot to them and encouraged them to play good football.

“He always wanted them to play a passing game – there would be no kick and rush.

“He led them through some terrific times.”

The way Kendall conducted himself publicly in the media reminded the respected journalist of the greatest football orator of them all – Bill Shankly

“From my point of view, he was one of the best managers I ever dealt with,” he said.

“We had a very close relationship professionally and personally.

“He had a very close relationship with the Merseyside media. The way he dealt and communicated 
with the media, he had a ‘Shankly-esque’ ability.”

One of Wood’s fondest memories of Kendall was his fun-loving personality, which would always be evident at social functions. Every year the press pack on Merseyside would organise a Christmas party – usually at a restaurant in Liverpool’s Chinatown district – and invite the management teams from both the Reds and the Toffees.

It was a tradition which started with Shankly and continued over the years.

“It was something we, the Merseyside media, would give to them,” Wood said.

“Howard would always come and he would always be the life and soul of the party.”

Said Wood: “There is an inscription on Bill Shankly’s statue at Anfield which reads: ‘He made the people happy’. The same could be said of Howard too.”

Howard Kendall’s funeral will be at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral on Thursday at 1pm.