An exceptionally agile goalkeeper for a big guy, Patrick Anthony Jennings’ (O.B.E.) outstanding all round ability as a goalkeeper made him a hero to so very many fans of football, and a hero he continues to be to so many, regardless of the team which they support. Born in Newry, Northern Ireland, in 1945, Pat Jennings grew up in the Chapel Street area of Newry and was a talented GAA (Gaelic football) player and basketball player during his youth. Not to mention the fact that he was also a very talented goalkeeper in the sport of football, Jennings played for his local teams Under 19 side as an 11 year old! For a man who never dreamt of playing football for a job because he never thought that it was possible, Jennings would enjoy a very long career in the game, and one which very many goalkeepers would have loved to have had. Having played for local clubs Newry United and Newry Town during his youth, the Northern Irishman was spotted by a number of clubs playing for a Northern Irish youth team in England. Among those interested were Watford and Coventry City, but Pat opted to sign for Spurs legend Ron Burgess’ Watford in the May of 1963. He played just over a season for the then Third Division side, and in his only full season at the club he played every competitive game during that season. Spurs came calling in 1964 and young Pat signed for Bill Nicholson’s side in the June of that year. Bearing in mind that the furthest away from home that Pat had been was Derry, prior to coming to England for that first time, it was totally understandable that he took a little bit of time to adapt to Spurs (he made his competitive debut against Sheffield United in the August of 1964) at the beginning, having jumped two divisions in the process.
Success soon followed though, and the man who would replace double winning great Bill Brown in goal, was soon a hugely important member of the Spurs first team. His many outstanding saves wowed and endeared him to the Tottenham faithful, and during an over 13 year association with Spurs as a player in his first spell with the club, the Ulsterman helped to contribute to the many successes which Spurs enjoyed during that period. Starting with the 1967 FA Cup final against Chelsea, where Pat made some important saves as Spurs won the game 2-1. He also scored a goal against Manchester United from long range, as Spurs won the 1967 FA Charity Shield. Additionally, Pat was also a member of the Spurs sides which won the 1971 and 1973 League Cup’s, and also the 1972 UEFA Cup, as well as playing a massive part in helping the club to avoid relegation to the Second Division on one occasion during the mid 1970s. Pat stayed at the club until the summer of 1977, when he was sadly no longer wanted by the club at the time, despite his many years of phenomenal service to Spurs. A move to Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town came very close to happening, but ended up breaking down. So Pat decided to cross footballing rivalries in north London and join Arsenal in the August of 1977. And the man who would win 119 international caps for Northern Ireland (he played in two World Cup finals for his country) helped Arsenal to win the 1979 FA Cup final. He is also somebody who despite playing for both Spurs and Arsenal is so greatly appreciated to this day, by both sets of supporters. Pat Jennings was awarded an MBE in 1976, which was later upgraded to an OBE ten years later.
After a very good spell with Arsenal, Pat returned to Spurs in the August of 1985, where he was one of the backup goalkeepers to the great Ray Clemence, although he would play a number of games for the Spurs reserve side. He finished off his club career with a short loan move to Everton towards the end of the 1985/86 season, as backup to Bobby Mimms, after Neville Southall was injured, as Pat was preparing for the 1986 World Cup with Northern Ireland (he signed non-contract forms with Spurs for that tournament, to be able to play). Just like in all of his footballing career, Pat performed with class, and he represented his country so well in Mexico. It brought to an end a wonderful playing career, but this would open another door for Pat, one as a goalkeeping coach, something that he never had in his footballing career. Jennings was Spurs’ first team goalkeeping coach when Ossie Ardiles was manager of the club in the 1990s, and he would later become a goalkeeping consultant for the club during the same decade. Goalkeeping coaching roles at Northern Ireland and also Oxford United followed, before Pat returned to his beloved Spurs in a coaching capacity. And at the age of 75 he still works for the club on a part-time basis, as Academy goalkeeping consultant, and he is a familiar face at Hotspur Way. So greatly respected by the young goalkeepers that he coaches and has coached in the past, Pat is also greatly respected by the outfield members of the Spurs youth teams. I remember once that Pat arrived to watch an under 18’s match at Hotspur Way and he was standing a little further back than the rest of the spectators. The Spurs under 23 side were making their way across to another pitch for their afternoon training. Each member of the squad came up to greet Pat, and their genuine respect for a true great of the game was clear to see.
As a goalkeeper Pat Jennings was one of the very best. He was a big, well built and physical goalkeeper, who was confident and very vocal on the pitch, despite being softly spoken off it. His positional sense was unrivalled, while the composure which he showed in challenging situations was remarkable. Dominant and very good from crosses and corner kicks, Jennings could command his box very well, and he would often come out with ease and gather the ball with one hand! A determined and very competitive footballer, Jennings could read and anticipate situations like Spurs legend Steve Perryman would as an outfield player. In addition, he was also a fine kicker of the ball and as John Pratt mentions below, he also had good control with the ball at his feet. He was so fast on his feet and former Spurs man Wayne Cegielski recently told me that Pat used to win all of the sprinting races at Spurs. But Pat’s reflexes were absolutely sensational and perhaps his greatest attribute, as old video footage will prove. Jennings literally had no faults to his game whatsoever as a goalkeeper, and like all goalkeeping legends he is respected and admired by supporters of all clubs. As a youngster I never got to see Pat play live, but for a very long time I’ve always been aware of Pat, and the legend that he is in the game, especially as my dad is also Northern Irish, and Pat is his footballing hero! As I’ve got older and when I was at school I really used to study old videos of Pat as a goalkeeper. I used to think to myself how did he make that save? And how did he anticipate where the ball was going to go? As it was moving at such pace. Two of my Spurs heroes are two players from Northern Ireland who I never got to see play live, but who I have grown up watching old videos and reading books on – Pat Jennings and Danny Blanchflower.
To this day Pat Jennings still loves Spurs and the fact that he is still working fo the club to help their promising young goalkeepers, just proves that. He has been associated with the club as a player and as a coach, for over 40 years. And the supporters of this great club still adore him to this very day.
Some memories/thoughts on Pat Jennings from former Spurs players and staff members that I’ve recently talked to:
Peter Corder (former Spurs youth and reserve goalkeeper during the 1980’s): My time at Tottenham as a youth and reserve team goalkeeper was between 1983-86. During this period, I was very fortunate to have the great Ray Clemence to watch in the first team. In my last season at the club, Pat Jennings returned to train and play in reserve games in preparation for the 1986 World Cup Finals. I can remember when Ray introduced me to Pat and we shook hands, it suddenly dawned on me that stood before me were arguably two of the best goalkeepers to have played the game of football and both were Tottenham goalkeepers. Whilst Pat’s return actually did me no favours as I was unable to play any further games in the reserves as these were shared between Tony Parks and Pat, the experience of watching Pat in training and in reserve games was an opportunity to try and learn more about the art of goalkeeping. Pat was always willing to talk and pass on advice.
Charlie Freeman (former Spurs youth goalkeeper, who was at Spurs as recently as 2019): Friday’s were always one to look forward to, the main reason being Pat would take us goalkeepers for a session, always filling us boys with nothing but confidence and advice from his personal experiences, Pat is an all round legend to sum him up! The training sessions he put on were always tough and he had us all working hard! But equally fun and it was great to be taking shots from him!
Roy Brown (Playing once for the Spurs first team in a competitive game, Roy Brown was at Spurs during the 1960’s): I realised that he was special and I would never take his (Pat Jennings) place, so after eight years at Spurs from a 15 year old Brighton schoolboy to Spurs reserves, I asked to leave to get first team football.
Steve Outram (a Spurs youth player during the late 1960s and early 1970s): I was in awe of Pat, he had a real presence about him. We would be cleaning the boots in the boot room and Pat alway came through with a friendly “ good morning lads ”. He was a true proffessional and always encouraged us younger players. A true gentleman, and I never understood why Spurs let him go. A true great!
Thomas Dudfield (former Spurs youth player during the early 1970s): The man with the big hands, and a heart even bigger. Big Pat is a legend!
Robert Walker (Spurs’ former Northern Ireland scout): As a young boy Pat played mostly Gaelic football until local side Newry Town FC asked him to sign on the dotted line, to begin what has been an incredible career. Pat spent two years at Newry before arriving in N17 (via Watford) where the big man became a genuine Spurs legend. The best thing of all about Pat is that he never lost his humility or forgot where he came from. Always had time to talk to the fans and who else could have played for Spurs and then sign for Arsenal, and get a standing ovation from the Spurs crowd when he came back to play at the Lane. A true legend and in my humble opinion Northern Ireland’s greatest ever sporting ambassador.
Martin O’Donnell (former Spurs youth player during the 1960’s): I first came across Pat Jennings in 1963. I went to the Little World Cup Final, which was held at Wembley Stadium. It was a mini World Cup competition for Under 18 teams, and Pat was in goal for the Northern Ireland team that had reached the final and were playing the England team, and the score I think was 4-0 to England. I think it could have been a lot more but for Pat Jennings the Northern Ireland keeper. He was at the time on the Watford books having joined them as a youth from his local club in Newry, Northern Ireland, I was an apprentice at Tottenham Hotspur when he signed for the club in 1964/65. He was an amiable guy who always had time for you, and he used to call me “ Big Fella ”. He had enormous hands and once he had settled in it wasn’t very long before he made his debut in the first team, and would come out for corners and pluck the ball out of the air with one hand. It was breathtaking! He was an outstanding goalkeeper who shone throughout the early/mid sixties, and he went onto become in my view the best goalkeeper in the world. His move to Arsenal was sad because I believe there was an issue with regards to giving him a wage increase and a longer contract.
I have bumped into Pat on occasions at Spurs home games as he does the hospitality with the older players, and he is good friends with Phil Beal, who is a long standing friend of mine. Pat plays golf regularly and is a member of the Variety Golf Club of Great Britain, who meet up once a month and do a tremendous amount of charity work.
Gerry McKee (Spurs’ former Northern Ireland scout): Friday afternoons and running out of school to travel to Newry with a family friend (Paddy McCarthy). Paddy drove a coal lorry for a local distributor and each Friday collected the coal from Fisher’s in Newry. I would stand on the back of the lorry and just stare up at Pat’s family home wondering was he there. That was in the late 60’s. Later in the mid seventies he was credited almost single handed as he kept us in the first division. In 1987 Pat was an ambassador for International Youth Year and the YTP scheme I was managing had raised some funds for charity, we invited Pat to make the presentation on our behalf, he accepted, that was the first time I met him face to face. The presentation was to the local Hospital Mother & Baby Unit and unknown to us Pat, I believe was Honorary President of that Charity. I remember driving him home to Newry that night in thick dense fog and rather than jumping out of the car in relief he asked me to hold on while he got some autographed photographs. Later on during the period I was scouting I was fortunate to meet him on several occasions and latterly in my role with the Irish Football Association I have been to several presentations where he has been in attendance. I have seen him at McDonald’s events where children by the 100s line up for autographs and he patiently and diligently treats every child the same from first to last and I am sure that has been the case throughout his career.
As a goalkeeper for me Pat has no equal he has gone from Newry to Watford to Tottenham and then missing in action for a few years!! Acknowledged in his prime as the best in the world by his peers. I was privileged to live in the era that he played and got to meet my hero and was never disappointed.
Paul O’Donoghue (former Spurs youth player and professional during the early 2000s): Pat Jennings was as an absolute legend around the place. He worked with the goalkeepers, and all our lads who worked with him used to say how down to earth he was. He had a sort of iconic feel to him. Tall, longish hair with sideburns and a deep voice that when he said something to you, you were mesmerised. I remember in a training game we were up against the first team and I done okay, and he came up to me after to let me know I done well. I felt ten foot tall after that.
John Pratt: Pat joined Spurs as a pro from Watford in 1964, and I joined in 1964 as an amateur. For someone who didn’t have a particularly good time when he first came to the club he later on proved what a shrewd buy he was from Bill Nicholson, and he’s a great lad but someone who could always look after themselves in situations in a quite dignified manner. As a goalkeeper in my opinion there’s no one better. Ray Clemence was a big mate of mine, and he was unfortunate that the England manager at the time used to pick Peter Shilton, and Peter Shilton was a great shot stopper but Ray would come and catch the ball and come for crosses. Whereas Peter hugged his line a bit more, but if you combine the pair of them together then Pat is the personification of all those in one, and those two players had about 200 international caps between them! Pat was just fantastic, and any ball that went over your head as a defender you knew that he was going to come and catch it. One of the unjust things is that two of the best players to have ever played the game i.e. Pat Jennings and George Best never got the opportunity to play on the big stage much. I think that Pat played at a World Cup twice and I don’t think that George played in a World Cup, and that’s what people judge people by which is ridiculous! Older people talk about Lev Yashin and Ron Springett and Peter Bonetti, and all of those are fine goalkeepers, but when you’re talking about the cream of the cream that was Pat.
If we were defending a corner at Tottenham I would stand by the near post just out on the six yard line, and if the ball would go over my head then Pat would catch it and throw it to Alan Gilzean, and then Alan would lay it off to me and I’d mess it up and we’d start all over again! But there was one occasion where the ball went over my head and I don’t know what possessed me but I shouted “ keepers ”, and the next thing I knew after I had started to run there was Pat lifting me up with his hands around my throat and with the ball underneath his arm. He said “ I’ll tell you when it’s the keepers. You don’t need to shout. ” And when people say was Pat quick? Well he was electrifying, and we had Jimmy Greaves, Martin Chivers and also Jimmy Neighbour who was also very quick, but Pat was one of the quickest. There’s a board on the wall which was called a Sargent’s jump and it went up to ten foot, and Pat went about two foot over that! People say to me would he manage in this day and age? Well he had good enough control with the ball at his feet to be able to do that and that would have solved that problem, plus the fact that he wouldn’t give you the ball in dodgy situations. I couldn’t speak any highly of the man and I’m fortunate to have him as a friend.
Micky Hazard: He was simply the best. My everlasting memory of Pat at Spurs is as a 16 year old apprentice and virtually weeks after I’d joined the club full-time, and Peter Shreeves was taking a training session. Pat came across after the first team had finished training to ask for some extra goalkeeping work, so about ten of us who had been training with Peter put on this training session with Pat. Obviously the shooting practice became very tiring for Pat, as he had to dive and either save it or let it in, or whatever. With ten of us getting ready to take shots it became very tiring, and so he let some in as once you had scored you could go in to lunch. I was one of about three of us left out there and he’d let about five or six go in so they could go in and have their food, but then he just kept the rest of us out there all day! We were just hitting shots at him, into the top corner, bottom corner and you name it he was just making save after save after save. Until in the end he could save no more as he was just so tired! He was simply the best and also one of the most unorthodox goalkeepers that I’ve ever seen. I mean I’ve never seen a keeper come out to catch a ball with one hand but he did, and he was just simply the best and in my opinion one of the best two keepers that I’ve ever seen along with Gordon Banks. They were both just sensational keepers who were worth a lot of points during the course of the season.
Pat really was a special, special, special goalkeeper. And more importantly he is just a really wonderful human being, and a gentleman.
Eddie Clayton: I played with Ted Ditchburn, and my debut (against Everton in 1958) was his last game I think. Spurs then bought Bill Brown but before that Johnny Hollowbread also played. With Bill Brown and also Pat Jennings you just felt so comfortable with them in goal, and you knew that you were in safe hands and they were both goalkeepers who you could rely on. Pat Jennings was probably just as good as Gordon Banks, but I thought that Pat was just a terrific goalkeeper. I think that he was 18 when he came to us, and he was a very quiet and shy guy, but like Gilzean, Blanchflower and Mackay, Pat Jennings is a great.
Steve Perryman: Pat Jennings was the classiest man I’ve ever met in my 50+ years in football, in training, matches, travelling, in hotels, with supporters, charity events or socially in person or our phone calls to discuss latest events he’s been totally professional in all his actions + deeds. A calm thinker with a huge amount of common sense but an intense competitor and performer on the field of play where he was most comfortable. Pat never put his self forward first or to the front, unless for a good cause, someone else’s good, that he’s regularly involved with. I’ve heard experts on TV re football opinions and Pat has more knowledge backed up with experience, tinged with a large amount of humility in his (large) little finger than all those pundits put together. I’m extremely proud to know that I eventually passed his appearance record at THFC but, not stupid enough to know also that I wouldn’t have got anywhere near his eventual career total in terms of League + International matches. A truly wonderful family man + professional footballer with class in every action or step he takes. He eats, breathes + acts with pure class.