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Pat's 70 for 70 - the early years

Posted on 6 June 2015  - 11:00

The one and only Pat Jennings turns 70 this Friday (June 12).


To celebrate reaching the milestone, our legendary former goalkeeper and all-time world great Pat has answered 70 questions covering his early days, his time at Spurs, some of the legends he played with, Northern Ireland and what is next for him.

He's also answered 10 questions each from our fans on Twitter and Facebook - look out for video specials of these Q&As coming next week.

Rated as the best goalkeeper in the world at his peak, Pat switched gaelic football for 'soccer' in his native Newry, Northern Ireland in 1961 and didn't look back.

He was soon scouted by clubs in England and was signed by another Spurs great, Ron Burgess, at Watford in 1963. A year later, he got the call from Bill Nicholson and began a 51-year association with us that lasts to this day in his work with the Academy and as a matchday host - Pat has his own lounge at White Hart Lane.

Second behind Steve Perryman in our list of all-time appearances with 590 between 1964-1977, Pat helped us win the FA Cup in 1967, the League Cup in 1971 and 1973 and the UEFA Cup in 1972. He also scored against United in the 1967 Charity Shield, was named PFA Player of the Year in 1976, Football Writers Footballer of the Year in 1973 and won a then world-record 119 caps for Northern Ireland. How apt that his last competitive appearance was for Brazil at the World Cup Finals in 1986.



What was it like growing up in Northern Ireland in the 50s?
“It was brilliant. My dad took me to all the sporting events - gaelic football, boxing, internationals - that’s what we all looked forward to. We all looked up to Peter McParland, who lived on the same street as us in Newry. We followed his career at Aston Villa, he scored two goals in the 1957 FA Cup Final against Manchester United and made it into the 1958 World Cup squad. Back then, we went to a house that had a television to watch the FA Cup Final and all crowded around. That’s how it was and that’s why the FA Cup Final meant to much.”

Who were your sporting heroes?
“I would say Peter McParland and then the players in the gaelic games. My team was County Down. My grandfather played for County Armagh, his name was Barney Cunningham, my mother’s father.”

When did you first play in goal?
“As youngsters, we just went to a field and threw our jumpers down. There were no proper pitches. There were five or six of us and they would all take shots at the goalkeeper, and that was me! That was my introduction to goalkeeping and I enjoyed throwing myself around. I got picked to play for an Under-19 team when I was 11. That was my first introduction to a league and we had 900 fans there watching the games! Where I started playing football is now called ‘Jennings Park’.”

What was it like going from gaelic football to 'soccer'?
“I didn’t realise at the time how beneficial playing gaelic football was going to be to me. I played in midfield, the position where you were most involved. It was a great upbringing for me in terms of doing everything with your hands. You had to take a few knocks as well. When I first played football, crosses used to come into the box with snow on them, people were trying to head it but I was three feet above them!”

How did you progress?
“I played for Newry United for a couple of months, we won the Irish Junior Cup and that was my first real introduction to football. I then played for Newry Town and I was soon selected for trials for the Northern Ireland youth team. We played against the South to see who would represent Ireland and 10 days later I was playing against England at Wembley! I’d never really dreamt of playing professional football but once I got in amongst those boys, I thought ‘I can do this’.”

How tough was it to come over to England so young?
“It was difficult for me because I’d never been away from home aged 17 but I was getting paid to play football and I couldn’t believe my luck! I went from earning four, five pounds a week working in a timber gang on a mountain to getting 23, 25 at Watford, plus bonuses. Twenty-five pounds a week to play football? I would have played for nothing!”

Did you get homesick?
“No, not really. Ron Burgess, the Spurs legend, initially signed me and then Bill McGarry took over. He was hard as nails, Bill, but three or four times during my one season with him he came to me on Friday morning and gave me an air ticket back home. He’d say ‘there you go son, go and see the family’. If he’d given me £1,000, it couldn’t be better than that. Time at home meant so much.”


What did you miss most?
“Apart from family, nothing really. I used to get calls from my mum two or three times a week but training every day, the time just flew by. I had a mate, Terry Mancini, who was in the Watford team when I arrived. He would come back to Vicarage Road, ask what I was up to - and I was no-one then - and invite me to Hammersmith, where he had a pub. I used to sit upstairs watching the TV. I'll never forget him for that.”

How did you settle into Watford on the pitch?
“I was a real learning process. When I joined, they had four games left and were in danger of being relegated from the Third to the Fourth Division. They escaped that threat with two games left and I played the last two that season and every game the next season. I was reading in the paper every week that I was doing well, we just missed promotion and all of a sudden, I was reading that one or two of the bigger clubs were looking at me.”

What was it like getting call from Spurs?
“Amazing. Bill McGarry, the Watford manager, told me he wanted me to come back to do some extra training. I got to the airport and he said ‘you know why you’re here?’ and I said ‘to do extra training’ and he said ‘no, not really, Bill Nicholson is waiting for you at Vicarage Road!’”

Next: The Spurs years...