A goalkeeper with a long and distinguished international career with Northern Ireland
The soft-spoken Newry native was one of the best goalkeepers in the world in a career that spanned three decades. With Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, Pat Jennings played more than a 1,000 games in league football and was fortunate that the later years of his long career coincided with Northern Ireland’s blossoming as an international side under Billy Bingham. Jennings earned his first international cap against Wales in 1964 and ended his career a record 119 games and 22 years later against Brazil at the World Cup in Mexico on his 41st birthday.
Pat Jennings was born in Newry, County Down on June 12 1945 and began his playing career with his hometown side Newry Town as a 16 year old. After impressing with the team he moved to English Third Division side Watford in May 1963. Jennings again impressed in his first season in English football, during which he played every league game for his club, and was bought by Tottenham Hotspur for £27,000 at the end of it.
The Ulsterman spent 13 years at Spurs, playing in 472 league games. The late 60s and early 70s proved successful for him as he earned a formidable reputation with his performances for club and country. After helping Tottenham win the FA cup in 1967, he was also part of the team that defeated Aston Villa in the 1971 League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. The following season Jennings tasted European glory as English rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers were defeated in the two-legged final of the UEFA Cup.
1973 proved a truly memorable year for him, Norwich City were defeated 1-0 in the League Cup Final, and the Football Writers’ Association named him as its footballer of the year. Three years later he won the Professional Footballers’ Association’s version of the award, thus joining an elite group of footballers talented enough to win both awards, such as the only other Irishman to do so, Roy Keane.
A move to ‘the gunners’
In August 1977, Jennings was sold to North London rivals Arsenal. During his eight years with the Gunners he appeared in 237 league games. There was a strong Irish contingent at Highbury during this time, with fellow Northern Irish internationals Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson, joined by Liam Brady, John Devine and Frank Stapleton from the Republic. Whilst at Highbury, Jennings helped Arsenal to three successive FA Cup finals, in 1978, 1979 and 1980. However, Arsenal only managed to win the second of these finals, a 3-2 victory against Manchester United.
Jennings had a long and distinguished international career with Northern Ireland, making his debut as an 18 year old, whilst playing for Watford. This game was on April 15th, 1964, a British Home Championship game against Wales, with NI winning the game 3-2. As well as being part of the NI team that won the final British Championship in 1984, Jennings played in two World Cup Final tournaments – Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986.
World Cup memories
The ’82 World Cup was undoubtedly the most memorable for NI fans – with the Green and White army defeating the hosts Spain 1-0 in Valencia. Jennings played a leading role in the victory. This amazing performance could not unfortunately be repeated against France in the Quarter Final, with Michel Platini’s men winning 4-1.
The Mexico ’86 tournament included Jennings' final game for his country – against the mighty Brazil. It took place on his 41st birthday, and he and his colleagues had no answer to the Brazilians who cruised to a 3-0 win. Jennings won his 119th cap, a record for a NI international, and at the time he was in the top 5 most capped footballers of all time.
Jennings retired from professional football immediately after the 1986 World Cup Finals. After initially making guest appearances at public events, he returned to his former club Tottenham Hotspur in 1993 in the capacity of goalkeeping coach. He currently coaches the Tottenham and England goalkeeper Paul Robinson, who has recently claimed his country’s Number 1 jersey. He has undoubtedly been tutored well by his Newry mentor!
© Cathal Coyle 2005