Ramsbottom United defender and captain Tom Kennedy has decided to call time on his footballing career after some 20 years in the professional and semi-professional ranks.
The 36-year-old can count 432 professional appearances for six different clubs in a career that saw him play across the Football League but moving into non-league at AFC Fylde and Bangor City.
Tom started out at his boyhood club Bury, playing 143 games for the Shakers from 2002 to 2007 before crossing the M66 divide and joining local rivals Rochdale.
Four seasons with ‘Dale’ and 137 appearances, he would be named in the League Two Team of the Year at the end of the 2009-10 season and a number of clubs looking to snap up his services, such were his performances at left-back.
Championship side Leicester City, under Sven-Göran Eriksson, got his signature but he would only play six times for the Foxes, being sent out on loan back to Rochdale and then to Peterborough United in 2010 and 2011.
He would then move on to Barnsley, playing 68 times for the South Yorkshire club in 2012 to 2014 – a spell that he enjoyed despite seeing the club relegated to League One in April 2014.
A move back to Rochdale would see out his professional days, playing another 41 games for them as well as a handful of games on loan for Bury and Blackpool.
After being released by them, Tom would help AFC Fylde to win the National League North title in 2017 but would move on to play in the Welsh League with Bangor City in 2017-18 season.
He has already retired once – that was from full-time football. But for a call from a good mate from his time at Bury, John Blackley, saw him join up with Ramsbottom United and 126 appearances later, he has decided the time is right to hang up the boots, once and for all.
“I still enjoy getting out on game day and getting away from the manic house but I am not getting any younger and you always get to that point when you know that you want to go out on your terms,” he said whilst walking his dogs prior to match day.
“My Dad (Bury FC legend Keith Kennedy) also dropped out of the pro game and went into non-league at Walshaw Sports and he, like me, always said that you want to go out when you still believe you are one of the better players who can hold their own.
“I wanted to do that, rather than let myself and other people down by going on too long so I just think this is the right time for me.
“It was always my wish to play until I was 35 but with two years ruined by Covid-19, I felt I could carry on a bit longer. I will be 37 in June so I think I got good use out of my age and my body for 20 odd years.
“But I have loved the last four years. When I left Bangor City, I had no idea where I was going to go until Blackers got in touch.
“I thought I would give it a month or so just to see how it went. I suppose there is a bit of snobbery when you come out of full-time football and go semi-pro but I have loved my time at Rammy, with some great people, a great Chairman who runs the club with his heart and it’s a family within a family which reignited my love for the game. I wouldn’t change a thing.
“This season has been difficult, it hasn’t been what we wanted it to be but that’s football for you, you have to get on with what you can. We need another point to be absolutely sure of survival and that’s still the ambition. Sometimes you don’t get the rub of the great but that’s the game for you. We started this season from a standing start, where as previously we have had players who wanted to be here, this season we have seen players with one foot out of the door all the time so it has not been easy.”
Looking back on his stellar career, he looks back at his time with Leicester City with some greatness. “I was playing with some unbelievable players there, players who had played in World Cups and Champions Leagues and was managed by a former England manager too in Sven-Göran Erikssen. We had some great times there but the best times were when you felt a part of something.
“That is what Rammy is. The people who are there want to be there. My time at Rochdale, my first spell under Keith Hill and Dave Flitcroft, everyone bought into it. From the Chairman, the directors, the tea lady, sports scientist, everyone, they were the greatest times. When we went up in the third season I was there, having missed out in the play-offs in the previous two, the fans who were there every week would smile and say hello and you just felt like a part of the club. It wasn’t about money, it was about people being on the same page.
“And I can’t forget my time at Bury as a youngster – cleaning the stands, cleaning the boots and the crazy nights out! It was an unbelievable upbringing and gave me character. My best times were definitely at Bury and Rochdale and I had great times at Leicester too.
“That has made me able to transition from a pro footballer into normal working life – those hard pros would certainly tell you if you weren’t doing things right so that has held me in good stead.
“But my time at Rammy has been one of the best times – I have loved it.”
The tributes have come in thick and fast, starting with his current manager Lee Donafee.
“TK has been a rock for me this season in so many ways, on and off the pitch and shown real levels of class and loyalty, not just for me but also for the lads in the dressing room.
“Some of the current group won’t realise it yet but they will eventually. His leadership as captain has been no easy feat but for me, he’s represented his home town club with honour and pride and he will be welcome back with open arms in any capacity.”
A player who has played more matches with Tom than anyone else across his time at Ramsbottom United is Jamie Rother and he heaped praise on his good friend and team mate.
“Having played non-league football for 15 years, you come across a lot of players and some becomes friends for life.
“It has been an absolute honour to play and travel with him. He is some player and an even better lad. Just a shame he can’t drink!!”
His old team mate at Bury who sold him the Rammy idea, John Blackley, also pitched in with his gratitude.
“Tom is great lad on and off the pitch. He has been outstanding for Ramsbottom United and we have all seen games at Rammy where he has dominated games from that left back position which shows how good he is.
“I am sure he will look back on his career with great fondness when he sits back and looks at it. He went on a great journey professionally. Whoever you speak to about Tom always has good things to say (apart from 1 or 2 Bury fans!!).
“It will be a big void for Rammy to fill but he has been outstanding for the club and we have been lucky to have him at the Riverside.
“Personally I did my YTS with Tom at Bury and I am lucky to call him a friend. Got some good memories from back in the day with him. He has done well from carrying goals down to Goshen everyday like we did!!!
“Good luck on the next chapter.”
Domaine Rouse also added his congratulations on a stellar career.
“What a player! His CV speaks for itself, a great on and off the pitch and a leader by example. I wish him all the best in his new chapter.”
And former Rammy man Richie Baker, another to have played with Tom at Bury, AFC Fylde and at the HWRS, added, “I first met TK as a young 18-year-old naïve boy at Bury too many years ago to admit, when we were all young pups – myself, Nicky Adams and TK. He and a few others made me feel welcome instantly and part of the group.
“TK went on to have an unbelievable career playing for a number of great clubs before meeting back up again some 10 years later at Fylde – not so young anymore and too many stories together by this time and most can’t be mentioned.
“He helped me out of a sticky situation a few years later and got me to sign for Rammy and now he is a massive local legend! Now he’s gained another disciple in Jamie Rother and the Rammy car school was born!
“Football is a fickle sport and not many team mates you can call a true pal. But I must say that TK is a top lad, a true football legend and will be missed to the game and more importantly, drink club!”.
Club secretary Tony Cunningham, who watched him as a player at Bury and at Rammy, wanted to thank him for his efforts.
“It has been a pleasure to have him play for and captain his local club. He has had a superb career and his quality and class has been obvious to us all here at Rammy and greatly appreciated.
“I sincerely hope he is not lost to the game as he has so much to give back. His presence in the team will be greatly missed and I personally thank him for his efforts on behalf of Ramsbottom United.”
A father of two girls, Amelia who is nearly five and Lottie, who celebrated her second birthday on Easter Sunday, Tom also wanted to spend more time with them.
“What’s next for me – spending more time with the kids and the missus (fiancée Abie). Work has been really busy (Tom works for Rammy sponsors Rosebridge as a financial planner in Pro Sport Wealth Management) so it will give me a chance to go and watch some football on a Saturday or Tuesday night but I will always be a Rammy fan, get down to watch when I can and cheer the lads on. I have already told the lads that they will see me giving them a few words of advise from the side-lines!
“I also love my golf so will get a few rounds in too but I will still be around the Rammy area, getting behind the lads and I will always be thankful to Ramsbottom United for a brilliant four years.
“I will miss football, how can I not miss it when it has been a part of me for over 20 years. But it is the right thing to do at the right time for me.”
Tom, you have been outstanding. Thank you for every single one of the 126 appearances you have made for the club. And good luck with your future career.
Written by Richard Isaacs and Adam Clark