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Pat Jennings: My First Football Hero



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I can’t remember how old I was when I first became aware of Pat Jennings, but I must have been pretty young since I remember my Dad laughing at me because I used to call him Pat Jenkins. My first memories were of stories my dad told me: how Jennings had once scored a goal at Old Trafford, or how he had kicked Mick Jones up the backside at Elland Road.

When I saw him play he very quickly became my first hero. His famous big hands would deal easily with crosses, he could even on occasion catch the ball one-handed. He seemed like no other goalkeeper, he was brilliant at one-against-ones, more often than not saving unconventionally with his feet. And it was a very rare thing to see Jennings beaten from outside the penalty area, admittedly the ball didn’t swerve around as much in those days but his consistency was remarkable.

Then one day in August 1977 I came home to find out that Spurs had sold Jennings to Arsenal. Spurs had just been relegated and nobody blamed Jennings for making the move, I believe the Tottenham board had turned down Jennings demands for a better contract, they were infamously stingy at Spurs at the time and really didn’t appreciate what they were letting go.

I still liked him when he was at Arsenal, I think everyone at Spurs did, the crowd always gave him an ovation when he came back to White Hart Lane. Then in January 1982 Arsenal came to Spurs for a third round FA Cup match. Spurs won the match one-nil thanks to a Garth Crooks goal which came from a soft shot that Big Pat inexplicably allowed to slip under his body. The crowd was stunned and it seemed that a second passed before the roar for the goal came. Nobody could believe that the great man could make such an error.

Jennings was born in Newry Northern Ireland on June 12 1945. He played a total of 472 league games for Spurs which was a club record until Steve Perryman passed him a few years later. With Spurs he won the FA Cup in 1967, the League Cup in 1971 and 1973, and the UEFA Cup in 1972. He was voted Football Writers’ Player Of The Year in 1973 and Players’ Player Of The Year in 1976. He played 119 times for Northern Ireland including the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, his last first class game was against Brazil in the 1986 Mexico World Cup on his 41st birthday.

I was delighted that he should return to Tottenham as goalkeeping coach in 1993. I can’t say how he would get on in the modern game but all these years later I can honestly say that he is still the best goalkeeper I have ever seen.