Remembering Mark Kendall, gone but never forgotten at Wolves

Friday morning training sessions on the car park in the late Eighties became the stuff of Molineux legend.

Cars literally shunted off the ‘pitch’, a couple of cones chucked down at either end, and the players who provided the springboard to Wolves’ revival charging around amid the loose chippings and manhole covers preparing for action the following day.

It all started because the normal training facility was frozen over one day, and victory 24 hours later, and the predictable footballing superstition, meant the car park sessions became an integral part of the unbreakable team spirit of Graham Turner’s squad at the time.

Another notable feature of the car park shenanigans was the opportunity it gave goalkeeper Mark Kendall to dispose of the gloves and try his luck as an outfield player.

“I don’t think Kendo wanted Bully blasting balls at him on a Friday morning,” said the keeper’s then understudy Vince Bartram, who would instead find himself ‘stuck defending the cones’.

“I was probably a little bit more expendable!”

“He fancied himself as a striker, even in those horrible conditions on the car park,” recalls Turner.

“He couldn’t trap a bag of cement but nonetheless he still enjoyed it.

“We used to play the old ‘uns against the young ‘uns so it would be a battle between Mark and myself as to who would play up front.

“He fancied himself as a goalscorer and so did I!”

“We would often stitch Mark up with the car park training,” adds Andy Thompson.

“He loved getting out of goal and always thought he was the best player, doing his little stepovers and everything else that he did.

“So every now and again we would all get together and vote for him to receive the yellow jersey as the worst player, as we knew it peed him off!”

A sign if ever there was one of Kendall’s status right in the thick of the unshakeable dressing room togetherness of the era.

And all during a time when goalkeepers were often regarded as the mavericks, the eccentrics, even a little bit crazy?

It feels these days that times are changing when it comes to the personalities and goalkeeping attributes of those between the sticks.

For those who liked their goalkeepers mad, bad and dangerous, the likes of Manchester City’s Ederson pinging 70-yard passes with the power and panache of David Beckham doesn’t help. Keepers are now seemingly far quieter, less brash, just getting on with their jobs without any frills or frivolity.

Gone perhaps are the times of John Burridge warming up in a Superman costume or sitting on the crossbar or Marcus Hahnemann flying a plane.

Kendall however was still cut from that wonderful cloth of being a character, a personality, but also a damned fine goalkeeper as well.

A last line of defence who was trusted by his manager, appreciated by his team-mates and loved by the fans.

And that is why his dreadfully sad and untimely loss from a heart attack at the age of 49 was so tough for so many to take, primarily of course his family who doted on him but also the world of football as a whole.

And why he continues to be so fondly remembered by fans of those clubs he so cheerfully represented, including not just Wolves but Sunday’s Premier League opponents, Tottenham Hotspur.

Son Lee, who followed in Dad’s footsteps, or hand prints, by becoming a goalkeeper himself, posted a tweet back on April 30th, the 13th anniversary of Mark’s sudden passing.

‘We never had time to say goodbye, always in our thoughts and hearts,’ Lee wrote.

Over 1,000 likes, and a flurry of replies, showed that it’s not just Lee and mum Gaynor and sister Lori who continue to remember Kendall senior with so much affection.

A host of good wishes and good memories ensued, and not just from football fans but also those who worked alongside Kendall in his second successful career, as an officer with Gwent Police.

The first career, however, was always going to be football.

Brought up in the town of Blackwood in South Wales, Kendall had earned Welsh youth honours by the age of 14, joining Spurs as an apprentice two years later and making his debut as a 20-year-old at Norwich.

Kendall was aiming to maintain the White Hart Lane standards set by the great Pat Jennings, and one lucky Spurs fan replied on Twitter to recall the day he was able to watch those two working together at close quarters.

In four years as a professional at Tottenham Kendall made 36 first team appearances and, having spent a short time on loan at Chesterfield, it was back not far from home at Newport – where he then moved for a club record £45,000 – that he continued to shine.

Part of the team which won promotion and the Welsh Cup, and then reached the quarter finals of the 1981 Cup Winners Cup, it was as Newport were later heading towards Division Four that Kendall moved on loan, to a club already there, in Wolves.

“I think both Newport and Wolves were in a bit of a pickle at the time financially,” recalls Lee, who wasn’t born until after Kendall’s spell with Tottenham but certainly has fond memories of Newport and then his days at Molineux.

“While he was on loan he would drive up early in the morning and sometimes stay over and then get back home when he had a day off in the week.

“I can remember the day he came back and said we were moving to Wolverhampton as his loan was being made permanent.

“We went up and had a drive around and ended up in Madeley in Telford, and that was where I went to school.”

Kendall senior’s Molineux debut on New Year’s Day of 1987 was a 3-0 defeat against Peterborough – he responded with clean sheets against Wrexham, Cambridge and Cardiff that did more than enough to convince Turner and Wolves to secure a permanent deal.

The rest, for the next few seasons, was history. Eagerly-acclaimed and glorious history.

Prior to Kendall’s arrival midway through that season three keepers had already played in goal for Wolves – Scott Barrett, another loanee Eric Nixon and Bartram.

At the time Bartram was 18 and had progressed from combining a day’s training a week with studying for his A-levels to going full time at Wolves, making his league debut and several cup appearances before caretaker boss Brian Little suggested he needed a bit more time to develop.

Training with Kendall, initially with part-time goalkeeping coach Peter Williams and then Eric Steele, who later worked with Manchester United and now England’s junior teams, offered a transformative education to the ambitious Bartram.

“I was young and naive, I wouldn’t say I was an aficionado of the game so Kendo wasn’t someone I knew massively about when he arrived,” Bartram recalls.

“But he came in, and really took me under his wing.

“Tim Flowers had been at the club before, and he was great and helped me when he could, but I hadn’t been training too much at that time.

“It was working with Kendo and Eric Steele on the coaching side that really pushed me on.

“Kendo was the first goalkeeper I really looked at and thought, ‘wow, this is what I have got to do, week-in week-out’.

“He was a larger than life character, with a tremendous attitude to working, to training, and working under Steely we had some great times.

“As goalkeepers you spend a lot of time together, and there was a time when the three of us were a little group.

“It was the days of training at Castlecroft, and then Dunstall Racecourse, Aldersley, wherever we could.

“We would get changed at the ground and then head off to train and you can imagine after two hours diving around we’d be caked in mud coming back in the car afterwards.

“Even though I was a young guy and Kendo was a bit older we got on well and he always had that great sense of humour.”

Those Wolves years were also special times for a rather younger goalkeeping hopeful slightly closer to home.

“Dad used to take me with him into training during the holidays,” Lee recalls.

“I remember watching those car park sessions, and going in on matchdays with the old players’ lounge which was very tight and compact.

“I’d go into the dressing room and people like Garry Pendrey would chat to me. and Fozzie (former Wolves press officer) and Graham Hughes - everyone would be so welcoming and make a fuss of the family.

“Nigel Vaughan would come up and stay with us sometimes when he was at the club, I remember players like Keith Downing, and Dad was in a car school with Mutchy (Andy Mutch) and Gary Bellamy.

“There was a real family feel about the squad at the time and everyone was part of it.

Mark Kendall saves from Lee Chapman.

“We would go off to people’s houses and lots of barbecues and so on – just great memories for me as a kid.”

The memories were equally as cherished for the Molineux fanbase with Kendall part of that squad under Turner and Pendrey which returned from the dark depths to sweep all before them thanks to back-to-back lower league titles and the Sherpa Van Trophy success in front of over 80,000 at Wembley.

Kendall, capped by Wales at Under-21 level, made 177 appearances for Wolves in all, including 127 out of the first 128 after his arrival, and proved a hugely reliable last line of defence.

Sometimes on the end of an odd bit of criticism for not coming for crosses, such were the qualities of Kendall’s instincts and reflexes that very often he didn’t need to.

“His shot stopping was such a huge strength, especially from close range,” says Thompson, a regular part of the defence in front of Kendall during the games he operated at full back.

“Playing in front of him you always knew there was a good chance of him keeping the ball out.”

“He taught me so much about communication,” adds Bartram.

“Under Graham Turner we would often have a nine-against-nine game on a Thursday and when I was third choice keeper, if we didn’t have enough players I would go outfield and usually have to mark Bully (Steve Bull) and Mutchy. That was fun!

“I hadn’t got a clue what to do but Kendo would talk me through it and I would learn even by being in defence how important that communication is for a goalkeeper.

“It taught me what I needed to do as a goalkeeper, about positioning, how to talk to my defenders, and picking up things like that as a youngster are what stick with you.

“Kendo had great hands and was a wonderful shot-stopper but it was his distribution that I remember as well.

“He had such a wonderful half volley on him, and I’d love to know how many times his kicks were headed on by Mutchy for Bully to score.

“You see so much said about the ‘sidewinder’ kick from goalkeepers today, but Kendo’s half volley, drilled into the opposition half, was almost unstoppable.

“People might call it direct, but that’s football, it’s about scoring goals, and I think that ability of Kendo is something that went under the radar.”

There are so many highlights to remember.

Those back-to-back titles, Wembley of course and the 2-0 win in the final against Burnley which featured another clean sheet, one of a club record 28 in league and cup in that 1987/88 campaign.

The trophy for that particular record accomplishment remains on show at the Kendall family home.

Lee can also remember a particular save from Lee Chapman in a tension-packed home win against a Leeds side including Vinnie Jones and Chris Kamara.

Then there were the penalties.

Among the spot kick collection, one at Burnley where his celebrations enraged the home fans to such an extent that the local Police got involved, ironic given both his future career path and the fact he would later spend time at Turf Moor on loan!

A great New Year’s Day stop to deny Mick Quinn at Newcastle with the score at 0-0 to set the scene for Steve Bull’s four-goal salvo.

And how about the Hawthorns, denying Bernard McNally ten minutes from time to again pave the way for Bull to do his stuff with a dramatic late winner?

“At that time I was playing for Madeley Sports, and Dad was helping with the coaching,” Lee explains.

“It was a noon kick off at the Hawthorns and I remember Dad getting out quickly after and we were running up the road to get in the car and over to my match.

“As we were running up the road there were still a fair few Wolves fans around and he was giving them high-fives as we ran past.

“I would always support any of the teams my Dad played for and I loved following Wolves and that relationship he had with the fans.

“I will never forget the affection they had for him, not least with a couple of dodgy songs that the South Bank would sing.”

Ah yes, that song. Where Kendall would be asked to display a certain part of his anatomy, namely his backside. Albeit a different word was used from within the Wolves fan vocabulary.

“He loved that one,” says Thompson.

“He’d always go as if he was going to do it, show it, and then not, and the fans loved it as well.

“Mark was such a good laugh, always jolly, and fun to be around.

“He was definitely one of the comics around the place but also very serious about his job and got very frustrated if he conceded a goal.

“Another thing we used to throw at him was that great goal that Liam Brady scored against him in an Arsenal/Tottenham derby – we’d ask him what he was doing with that one!

“He was great though, the proper life and soul of the party throughout his time at Wolves.”

As a manager, Turner loved having Kendall both in the team and dressing room, and also recalls that special affinity with the fans.

“In the dressing room he was a real character – always chirpy, bubbly and effervescent,” he explains.

“You need that in your dressing room, you need some liveliness in there and some laughter and Mark added it in abundance.

“You want players enjoying coming to work in the morning not just for the football side of it but that comradeship and he was such a big part of the team spirit we had about the place.

“And he had a great relationship with the supporters.

“He would get them involved when they were behind the goal he was playing in and he had that appeal to them – they related to him.

“It was a great association and he played such a big part in the revival of the club.”

And returning to the subject of song, it wasn’t just the South Bank known for their good voice, as Turner reveals.

“We had a great relationship with the London Wolves Supporters Club and every season we would meet them after a game in London and have a few drinks and a bite to eat,” he adds.

“At one of those events, Mark just completely out of the blue got up on the microphone and started singing.

“Everybody was dumbstruck, but he had a good voice so he just got up there, started singing and he was brilliant!”

Time unfortunately never stands still, and Kendall was hugely disappointed to eventually be handed a free transfer, when, having seen off the challenge of Tony Lange, the impending arrival of Mike Stowell – who went on to become the club’s most used goalkeeper – meant he would no longer be first choice.

He returned to Wales for spells which included Swansea and another Welsh Cup success and subsequent Cup Winners Cup appearance against Arsene Wenger’s Monaco – who won 8-0 – before retiring at 34 and joining the Police.

In typical Kendall fashion, he devoted himself to his new job just as he had his football - whilst enjoying a spot of fun with colleagues along the way - and was also back among the awards.

He was named national Police Trainer of the Year in 2007, and also picked two commendations, one for an off-duty arrest when he witnessed an assault by four men and one for bravery when he was confronted by a man wielding a chainsaw.

He was still in excellent shape thanks to a continuing active career and had returned from a 12-mile walk shortly before suffering the heart attack in 2008.

“We were all shocked, it was devastating when we heard,” says Thompson, one of several among Kendall’s former Wolves team-mates who attended the funeral in the village of Ynysddu.

“He always thought a lot about making sure he kept himself in good shape and still looked very fit.

“The funeral was very sad, but also a chance to remember, and celebrate his life.

“There were Police officers out in the valleys lining the route for the funeral which was a poignant moment, and showed how much they thought of him as well.”

It was a shock and sadness shared so much by the Wolves fanbase, and when Gaynor returned to a game with the family 25 years from the Sherpa Van Trophy success, the Molineux faithful reserved a specially emotional reception as she took to the pitch alongside Bull, Thompson, Ally Robertson, Micky Holmes and Barry Powell.

This was a special team, a special group of people who reinvigorated not just a football club, but also a whole town, as Wolverhampton was then.

“You only have to look at the photo of us celebrating the Sherpa Van Trophy to show the affinity we had with each other and the way we felt about each other,” adds Thompson.

“We all got on really well and we looked out for each other on and off the pitch, and we trained hard and we played hard.

“Mark was hugely involved in all of that, such a key part of the dressing room.”

“As I said when I replied to Lee’s tweet, Kendo meant so much to me and to my career,” adds Bartram, who made ten appearances for Wolves and went on to play for Bournemouth and Arsenal, among others.

“I learned so much from him and he was such a good influence on me as a young lad.

“I can still hear and picture him now, with his moustache, in that Welsh accent, telling me he was going home for a beef salad.

“He is still so sadly missed.”

For Lee and the family too, the pain is obviously still there, but so too the pride and the memories, accompanied by the heartfelt well-wishes from so many.

He became a goalkeeper himself, including making a senior Cardiff appearance in the same team as Thompson, and also once lining up against his Dad for Barry Town against Cwmbran in the Welsh Premier League.

Lee also now boasts an extensive coaching CV, and is currently Head Coach overseeing the performance programme for the men’s team at the University of South Wales.

“I will always be very proud of my Dad as all the family are,” he says.

“He loved football, and had an infectious personality – he was always there to be seen.

“There are people who have their first footballing moments that they remember in which my Dad was involved and that is so good to know.

“I am not sure there is anyone who would have a bad word to say about him, and it is always lovely to see the reaction from people who care.

“For us, it is about keeping his memory alive as much as we can.

“He has got four grandchildren now, but unfortunately he only got to meet one of them.

“But when they go to Grandma’s house, he is always mentioned and there will always be stories about what he was like, and memories which will never go away.”

Just like those infamous car park sessions which he loved so much, stepovers and all, Mark Kendall will certainly never be forgotten, as Turner poignantly concludes: “From my point of view, it was just a privilege to have had him as a player.”

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