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Pat's 70 for 70 - 119 caps and glory days with NI

10 June 2015|Tottenham Hotspur

Pat Jennings, the greatest goalkeeper of them all, turns 70 on Friday and to mark the occasion, he has answered 70 questions on his wonderful career.

This time around, we're focusing on Pat's international career - and what a career!

First called into the Northern Ireland squad for the match against Swansea in 1964 - at the same time as George Best, they made their debuts together - Pat went on to win a then-world record 119 caps.

After four World Cup qualifying campaigns, Pat finally helped the Irish reach their first World Cup Finals since 1958 in 1982 and they famously beat hosts Spain 1-0 in the group stage in Valencia.

That wasn't all though. Four years later and they were back on the world stage and Pat drew the curtains on his playing career in the best-possible way - a match against Brazil in Mexico, 1986.

What a journey!

Can you remember your debut for Northern Ireland?
“Yes, I’ve never let Cliff Jones (fellow Spurs legend, Welsh international) forget it! George Best and myself made our debuts on the same night (April, 1964), a 3-2 win against Wales at the Vetch Field, Swansea. I didn’t really know George that well then, he was in Manchester and I was with Watford. Once I got in amongst it at the training ground I just thought ‘what a talent this is going to be’. It was great to win our first caps. I was picked to replace the great Harry Gregg, who had forgotten more about goalkeeping than I knew! That’s how it was in those days. I don’t think I’d get near the team these days at 19.”

Below: Pat in action in the 1986 World Cup Finals in Mexico


What was it like to reach the 1982 World Cup Finals?
“I must be honest, I thought the World Cup had passed me by. I’d been in every qualifying campaign from 1964 and once I’d got to 1982, aged 36, you just think ‘it’s not going to happen’. It was incredible the night it did happen, we beat Israel to finish second in the group.”

You had an injury though leading up to the finals in Spain. Were you ever a doubt?
“I pulled my groin all the way back in January, 1982 and right up to May I was thinking I wasn’t going to make the World Cup. It got to May, I played a half against Wales and Billy Bingham said ‘right, we’ve got a month to get you fit’. The groin tightened up again during the tournament and I missed the first match of the second group stage against Austria, then came back against France.”

What do you remember most about the famous night when Northern Ireland beat hosts Spain in the 1982 World Cup Finals?
“We drew against Yugoslavia, a good team and then drew against Honduras, everyone had written them off but they gave us our hardest game, I had to make a few saves in that one. A lot of our players had packed their bags, thinking there was no way we were going to beat Spain. Gerry Armstrong scored and we then had Mal Donaghy sent off with half-hour left. The whole team was brilliant that night. Our name was on it.”

You eventually went out in the second group stage after losing against a great France team.
“Martin O’Neill scored an early goal that was disallowed. We all thought ‘what if’, but they were brilliant. To go out to that French team was no disgrace.”

Below: Pat with his special 100-cap award from UEFA


How proud were you to reach 100 caps?
“It was a special occasion and made even more special when UEFA presented me with a commemorative cap for reaching 100. It was against Austria at Windsor Park in 1983. Anyone would be proud to reach 100 caps."

Your last competitive match was against Brazil in the 1986 World Cup Finals. What a way to go!
“If you could have picked a team to finish against, that would have been it. Not that the result was great - it was 3-0 and we were lucky to get nil! Josimar scored that goal (from 40 yards, top corner!) and the ball was really flying in the Mexican air. I was shouting to Norman Whiteside to get a yard closer to Josimar, I could have then covered that side of the goal better. I might have got near it then! Actually, if I’d had wings, I wouldn’t have got near it.”

What was it about that Northern Ireland team that made it to the 1982 and 1986 World Cups?
“It was all about togetherness. I was back at Spurs for 1985-86, and we had six clean sheets on the trot in the reserves. We were also keeping clean sheets for Northern Ireland, we did it against Spain, France, Romania and then England at Wembley, when we needed a point to qualify for Mexico ’86. It was all about the team.”

Below: Pat with George Best and Billy Bingham


When did you first come across the great George Best?
“The first time was when we were called up together for the game against Wales in 1964. As I said, he was in Manchester and I was at Watford at the time, so I didn’t really know him then. But you soon realised what a player he was.”

How good was he?
“He was the best, a special talent and a great lad as well.”

How do you look back on your time with Northern Ireland, 119 caps, two World Cups?
“I played from 18 until 41, 23 years. People often asked if I had regrets about not playing for a bigger nation - never. They were special times, especially reaching the World Cups. Great days."