Monday, 3 September 2012

Joe Kendrick


Trouble in Baku

2003 - 2004 : 1860 Munich (Germany)
2009 : Netfchi Baku (Azerbaijan)

The great-nephew of a great footballer, Joe Kendrick is an Irish left-back currently on the books of Mansfield Town. His great-uncle and namesake represented Everton and Dolphin in the 1920s and 1930s, and played for the Irish Free State. Joe Jr's career has by and large followed the usual path of a League of Ireland / English lower-league footballer. 

That is with the exception of two stints in Europe, first in Germany and later in Azerbaijan.

He was born in Dublin in 1983, 23 years after the death of his great-uncle. As a teenager, he moved to England to sign for Newcastle United. His youth career at the club was promising and the future looked bright for the young man. However, as with many Irish players in the tough world of English football, he never made the step up to first team football. In the summer of 2003, aged 20 he was released by the Toon. Thanks to the kindness of Magpies scout Charlie Woods, Kendrick was assisted in finding a new club. Unusually, he was snapped up by German club TSV 1860 Munich, in a deal arranged by Woods. 


Turn und Sportverein Munchen von 1860 began life as early as 1840 as a gym in the Southern German city. Banned after the 1848 Revolutions for inciting republican activity, it was recreated in 1860 again as a fitness and gymnastics club. In 1899, the club established their first ever football team and entered the German league system three years later. They have played a majority of their existence in the Bundesliga Division Two, but did manage to win the top division in 1966. They have also won the German Cup twice in 1942 and 1964.

From 1995, they played their matches at the 69,000 capacity Olympiastadion.

Joining the same club as high-profile players Benjamin Lauth and Harald Cerny, Kendrick was told to target a first team appearance within six months. He signed a three year contract and was even handed a squad number of 16, unusual for a young player. He became only the second Irish born footballer to ply his trade in Germany, after Noel Campbell left Fortuna Koln in 1979. Another Irishman in Germany at the time was the Dortmund-born Irish Under 21 international Patrick Kohlmann. Both defenders would represent the Irish Under 21 side over the coming year.

He linked up with the club's reserve team, 1860 Munich II, and played for the club at their 10,000 seater Grunwalder Stadion, formerly the home ground of 1860 prior to 1995. His coach was former 1860 player, Reiner Maurer, who would later coach the senior side. 1860 II were playing the Oberliga Bayern, a regional division on the fourth tier of German football. Three years previously, they'd been relegated from the tier-three Regionalliga Sud, and were now aiming to get back up again.

Kendrick's career with 1860 II began brightly, until a foot injury early in the season halted his progress and ruined his chances at the club. Without him, the side won the Oberliga Bayern and secured promotion. The senior team, which Kendrick was a member of but never played for, were relegated from the Bundelsiga after finishing in 17th.

A year after arriving in Munich, he was released and signed for English lower league outfit Darlington. The following four years would see him become a journeyman footballer as stints with Tamworth, Torquay, Workington and Newcastle Blue Star followed. In 2008 he returned to Ireland and signed for champions Drogheda United. His stint at Hunky Dorys Park reinvigorated his career, and he 45 appearances for the Drogs, also appearing in the Champions' League for the club. By winter of 2009 however, Drogheda were in financial dire straits, and Kendrick was released along with other members of the squad.

January 2009 would see the Dubliner brought in by Azerbaijani giants PFC Neftchi.  He was offered an 18 month contract by the club's well-travelled German couch Hans-Jurgen Gede. He moved to the former Soviet state that month with his wife and baby daughter.

Neftchi are based in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku. They were founded in 1937, and enjoyed three seasons in the Soviet Top League between 1949 and 1988. Following the independence of Azerbaijan in 1991, they became the first Azerbaijani club to ever win five domestic titles and four cups. Home matches are played at the 32,000 capacity Tofiq Bahramov stadium.

Gede had been scouting the League of Ireland for a while, and brought over Kendrick as well as Drogheda's Australian striker John Tambouras. Attempts to sign Fahrudin Kudozovic, Adam Hughes and Eamon Zayed from Ireland proved unsuccessful however.

Kendrick's time in Baku was horrifying. Not long after he was signed, Gede was forced out of the club. The new manager took an instant dislike of Kendrick. "They didn't like outsiders", Kendrick said. "The new manager only wanted Azerbaijani players". This began a process of the club attempting to force the Irishman out.

The Soviet monstrosity Tofiq Bahramov stadium
Threatening phone-calls from anonymous sources and 'journalists' began, even Kendrick's wife was targetted. His phone was also bugged, and the police didn't seem able to help. On one occasion, his wife rang FIFA to complain, only to receive a threatening phone-call later that day warning her of her conduct.

The club were trying to get Kendrick and the other foreigners to quit, or to give them an excuse to have them sacked. Even their Azerbaijani team-mates began to turn on them. Possibly motivated by jealousy over the larger wages earned by the foreigners, they regularly threatened them and even used to feed them false information about training times and schedules. Kendrick was even punched in the head during training by his captain. A horrible experience for any footballer, especially one with a young family. 

To cap it all off, his wages were withheld regularly. Sometimes the chairman wouldn't pay the players if results were poor. On another occasion Kendrick's wages were withheld apparently because he hadn't watched the reserve team play.

On the pitch, the Dubliner put in 12 appearances for the side. The club finished the season in 8th place, rather disappointing by their standards. 

In June, without warning Neftchi cancelled his contract. With no help from FIFA, Kendrick attempted to have his back wages paid, and personally took his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Thankfully, the Irishman won the legal battle and in July, he returned to Ireland.

Boyukaga Agayev, Kendrick's second coach at Neftchi
Agayev issued the witch-hunt to remove foreign players
"It was an absolute nightmare", he said. John Tambouras had also left the club, escaping to North Queensland. 

He would play for Sligo, Drogheda again and Bray Wanderers, before signing for Mansfield Town of the English Conference in the summer of 2011. He is still at the club today.

Kendrick has found happier times at Mansfield
A country like Azerbaijan should be dumped out of FIFA, if this is the conduct of their leading club. Thankfully Kendrick and his family got out unscathed, but his treatment was a disgrace. Fair play to him for going out there and trying something new, pity about the club he went to. Here's wishing him a lucrative and happy career, and hopefully finding a permanent home for his obvious talent.

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