With 119 appearances, Pat Jennings is the most capped Northern Irish player of all time. Although he had a very distinguished international career, it is Jennings time at the two London football giants, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal which is remembered by fans of the game. Even though he played for these fierce traditional rivals, fans of both teams still revere Jennings for his contribution to both outfits.
Jennings is widely regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers of his generation and played over 1097 games of top-level football, an incredible achievement.
Perhaps his most remarkable achievement, however, is the fact that he played in the 1982 World Cup at the age of 41. He was not only the oldest player to feature at a World Cup, but he had not played any competitive football for an extended period, having retired a year earlier.
The Early Years
Although Jennings began his football career relatively early (he played for Shamrock Rovers under-18’s at the age of 11), he preferred to play Gaelic football. At sixteen, however, the football bug bit and Jennings turned out for firstly Newry United and then Newry Town.
His playing career in his native country didn’t last long. In 1963, aged just 18, he was quickly snapped up by Watford, who at the time were in the third tier of English football. At around the same time, Jennings made his international debut, winning two caps for Northern Ireland in the 1963 season.
Seeing his undoubted potential, Jennings was bought by Tottenham Hotspur. His life in London had begun.
Tottenham Hotspur 1964 – 1977
Jennings spent the next thirteen years at the famous London club. He played 673 times in all competitions for Spurs (including friendlies). In his time at the club, he won numerous silverware. This included the 1967 FA Cup and the League Cup in 1971 and 1973. He even tasted European glory when Spurs were victorious over the two legs of the 1972 UEFA Cup, beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-2 on aggregate.
The Northern Irishman also had the honour of scoring a goal for Spurs during his time at the club. This came in the 1967 Charity Shield against Manchester United. Jennings had cleared downfield, only for the ball to bounce over the head of the United keeper, Alex Stepney and find its way in the back of the net. The match ended 3-3.
Perhaps one of Jennings best seasons for Spurs was during the 1966/67 season. Other than defeating London rivals Chelsea in the FA Cup Final, Jenning’s fine form in goal saw Spurs finish 3rd in the English First Division. The goalkeeper had played a massive part in their success and he managed to keep 15 clean sheets during the campaign. Spurs also achieved the double over traditional rivals Arsenal and even defeated eventual champions, Manchester United.
In the 1970/71 season, Jennings again proved his worth as Spurs finished in the top 3. During this campaign, he kept 18 clean sheets in 40 league games, an incredible ratio of 45%. He also kept a further six clean sheets in all cup competitions.
However, Spur’s run near the top of English football had come to an end. Over the course of the next four seasons, they were a team in decline. Even the athletic abilities of one of the world’s best goalkeepers proved unable to raise the team from the bottom half of the table. Spurs avoided relegation by a single point in 1974/75 but at the end of the 1976/77 season, Spurs could not avoid the drop and were relegated.
With the Spurs hierarchy believing that Jennings best goalkeeping days were behind him, he was placed on the transfer market. He moved to rivals Arsenal for a fee of £45, 000. A new chapter had begun.
Arsenal 1977 – 1985
Jennings played 327 matches during the next eight seasons he spent at the Gunners. Here he featured in three FA Cup Finals over three consecutive years from 1978 to 1980. Unfortunately for Jennings and his team-mates, the Gunners were only able to win the 1979 Final, defeating Manchester United 3-2. Defeat in 1980 to West Ham was a very hard pill to swallow with the Gunners heavily fancied to win the tie with ease. West Ham, who were still in the Second Division at that point, had other ideas, scoring the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory.
More disappointment was to follow in the European Cup Winners Cup Final in the same year where Jennings was unable to prevent Valencia beating Arsenal on penalties after the final had ended 0-0.
Jennings had to fight for the No 1 jersey at the Gunners, however. In 1982, he found himself no longer part of first team plans after he was replaced by the younger George Wood. Many players his age (he was 37 at the time), would have probably retired at that point, but Jennings believed he still had years ahead of him. Eventually, his exceptional form in the reserves forced Arsenal to once again include him in the first team. He did not relinquish his position until his retirement in 1985.
Tottenham Hotspur 1985 – 1986
Although he had retired, Jennings returned to Spurs where he kept himself fit by playing reserve team football.
Capped on 119 occasions for Northern Ireland, Jennings remains the countries most capped player. His international career, which started against Wales in 1964 spanned an incredible 22 years. It ended at the age of 41 at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. What made his appearance at this event even more spectacular was the fact that he had not played first team competitive football in over a year following his retirement.
Perhaps Jennings most famous outing for his country came at the 1982 World Cup hosted in Spain. Northern Ireland beat their more fancied rivals 1-0, but it was Jennings who made it possible by producing a masterful goalkeeping display. He is also remembered for ensuring that Northern Ireland qualified for the 1986 World Cup by holding off a rampant England at Wembley, forcing a draw and the point that his team needed to qualify for the showpiece.
Awards and Honours
Both during his time at Spurs and Arsenal, Jennings won numerous awards and honours.
1000 Senior Appearances – 1983
Jennings became the first ever player to reach 1000 senior appearances in English football. He achieved this feat on 26 February 1983 when Arsenal visited West Bromwich Albion.
Football Writers Association Footballer of the Year – 1973
Jennings was voted the Football Writers Association Footballer of the Year towards the end of the 1972/73 season. This award, voted on by over 400 football journalists in the United Kingdom, is given to the player that they deem to be the best in England over the course of the season. Jennings is only one of five goalkeepers to have won the award since its inauguration in 1948.
PFA Footballer Of The Year – 1976
The Professional Football Association Footballer of the Year award is given to a footballer that fellow professional deem to have been the best player that season. Jennings won the accolade in 1976 and is only one of two goalkeepers ever to have won the award.
PFA Team of the Year – 1972/73 and 1975/76
Jennings was twice included in the Professional Football Association team of the year for his outstanding achievements in goal for Spurs.
English Football Hall of Fame Inductee – 2003
For his achievements, contribution and longevity in English football, Jennings was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
Jennings spent a few weeks on the books of Everton where he acted as cover for Neville Southall who had returned injured from international duty. He was never called upon to play, however.
Jennings hosts various corporate suites at White Hart Lane on match days when Spurs play at home. Since 1993, he has also been a goalkeeping coach at the club.