Today, June 12th 2020, is the 75th birthday of Pat Jennings, who was one of the all-time great goalkeepers.
The term legend is often misused in football: a striker scores one goal against your local rivals and he is immediately “a ledge“!
In Pat Jennings’ case, the phrase “footballing legend” is meant for someone like him.
Pat Jennings OBE – A True Legend at 75 Years Old
Everyone Over 40 Has a Pat Jennings Memory
Many younger fans will have never seen him play, despite his goalkeeping career lasting 22 years. However, ask a parent, grandparent or anyone over 40, and they will have a story or first-hand memory of seeing him play.
If not, visit YouTube and look for the footage of Jennings scoring a goal against another great: Alex Stepney of Manchester United.
Jennings was born in Newry, County Down in 1945 and had expected to pursue a career in forestry. When people think of Jennings, most would only list Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal as his domestic clubs.
However, he originally joined Watford, who were then in the third tier of English football, as a 17-year old in 1963. Jennings played in the last two matches of 1962/63 season to prevent Watford’s relegation. A year later, following an ever-present 1963/64 league campaign, he signed for Tottenham. The North London club paid £27,000 for his services.
It was in 1967 that Jennings scored his only goal. It came from a clearance inside his own area during the Charity Shield final. Spurs drew that match but Jennings would go on to enjoy other success. He helped them win the FA Cup in 1967, the League Cup in 1971 and 1973, plus the UEFA Cup in 1972.
After making 591 appearances for Spurs during 13 years, it was deemed, by then Tottenham manager Keith Burkinshaw, that Jennings was past his best. He was aged 32. Remember, at this time, most footballers, including goalkeepers, were deemed to be in sudden decline once they hit 30.
Jennings, though, had other ideas. He paved the way for future goalkeepers such as Peter Shilton, Jim Leighton and Gianluigi Buffon to continue representing their respective countries at the age of 40.
Following his controversial switch across North London, Jennings helped Arsenal to three consecutive FA Cup finals, although they would only win the 1979 final. He would also be one of the very few players to represent both Arsenal and Tottenham in the North London derby.
Many will have heard the chant “1-0 to the Arsenal…”, this was partly due to Jennings being in goal. He managed world-class saves in nearly every match.
In February 1983, Jennings would become the first player to make 1,000 first-class senior appearances in English football. Aptly, he marked this milestone with yet another clean sheet, this time against West Bromwich Albion.
In total, Jennings would play 327 times for Arsenal during his eight-years at the club.
Jennings’ Northern Ireland career was not too shabby either, for he played in six World Cup qualifying campaigns, although many would end in failure to qualify. In total, he represented Northern Ireland in a record 119 games.
If you do ask “a younger, older fan” about Jennings, and they do not answer the goal against Manchester United as their memory, then this next one will be the story that they tell you.
In 1982, six years after Spurs deemed him ‘past his best’, Jennings would almost single-handedly defeat Spain during the World Cup Finals. To make this 1-0 victory even more impressive, remember that Spain were the host nation in 1982.
Jennings would end his career during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, which again, saw Northern Ireland play Spain. This time, there was no fairy-tale victory thereby perhaps, marring Jennings’s 41st birthday, which coincided with the fixture.
By 1986, he had left Arsenal and returned to Tottenham where he played reserve football. This was to keep his fitness levels up ahead of the Northern Ireland matches.
Did You Know?
A little-known fact is Jennings joined Everton as unused cover for Neville Southall prior to the 1986 FA Cup Final against Liverpool. His last appearance was for Shamrock Rovers as a guest player in Shay Brennan’s testimonial.
After retiring from playing, Jennings would help coach future goalkeepers at Tottenham for many more years. Even today, he remains a part of Spurs’ matchday family.
So, here’s to wishing Pat Jennings OBE a happy 75th birthday, for you truly are a footballing legend.