BY Vince Cooper

FEW players earn the accolades and affection of two sets of fans so much that they are considered as the best-ever in their position by both. When that esteem is of two clubs who are bitter local rivals, and the respect and admiration extends to supporters across all of football it’s clear we are talking about no ordinary footballer. An apt description for Patrick Anthony Jennings.

Born on 12 June 1945 in the city of Newry close to Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic, Jennings attended The Christian Brothers and St Joseph’s schools and showed enough promise as a youngster to play for the Shamrock Rovers under-18 team at the age of just 11. He was one of eight children – 7 boys and a girl – and brother Brian would go on to play for Coleraine in their homeland for 13 years.

Pat recalls growing up in a sporting household. His grandfather on his mum’s side, Willie Cunningham, played Gaelic football for County Armagh and there was another hero just down the road. “We all looked up to Peter McParland who lived on the same street as us in Newry”, he says. “We followed his career at Aston Villa. He scored two goals in the 1957 F. A. Cup final against Manchester United.

”Back then we went to a house that had a television to watch the F. A. Cup final and all crowded around. That’s how it was and that’s why the F. A. Cup final meant so much”.

However Pat then turned his attention to Gaelic football and for a while he focused on that game, playing in midfield and representing County Down at junior level. Handling the ball is, of course, important for every player in the Gaelic version of the game, with midfield the pivotal position and Pat’s skills in this regard, along with those booming pitch-length kicks were no doubt honed.

Returning to football at the age of 16, he first joined local team Newry United where, within a couple of months he had been part of the team that won the Irish Junior Cup. He quickly moved on to the more senior Newry Town and started to show his potential in the Irish League ‘B’ Division. At this time though, there were no thoughts of a career as a professional footballer and he started his working life as a forester.

The Northern Ireland youth squad

But his displays at The Showgrounds and perhaps more importantly in the International Youth Tournament where he starred in the Northern Ireland team brought him to the attention of Watford manager (and former Spurs skipper) Ron Burgess as well as a number of other clubs.

Northern Ireland topped a group which included Belgium, Sweden and Czechoslovakia before ousting Bulgaria on the toss of a coin in the semi-finals and then losing to an England side which included future foes Tommy Smith, Ron Harris, Jon Sammels and Johnny Sissons among others, in the final

Whilst others dithered Burgess swooped, beating Coventry City to the punch and signing the 17-year-old on 3 May 1963 just a few days after that Wembley appearance.

Pat of Watford

Pat then had to bide his time, waiting for almost all of the 1963-64 season until his relegation-threatened team had eliminated the threat of dropping into the 4th Division before getting his chance. Then towards end of the season and with the Hornets safe he replaced the experienced Dave Underwood in goal for the last two matches of the campaign.

Making a save against QPR on his debut at White City

The first of those two came against QPR at the White City in a match that finished 2-2 and Watford then lost their final match of the season 2-1 to Port Vale at Vicarage Road. Not the most auspicious of starts for the youngster.

There was a managerial change during the summer at Vicarage Road with Burgess resigning and Bill McGarry coming in as his replacement.

The new boss immediately installed Pat as his first-choice ‘keeper, showing his faith in the youngster by selling the experienced Underwood to QPR. That faith was paid back with an outstanding season. He played in every game as Watford went from relegation fodder to promotion contenders. In fact they missed out on the move up to the 2nd tier only on the season’s final day when suffering a 2-1 defeat at local rivals Luton Town.

The side went from conceding 85 goals in 1962-63 to letting in just 59 in the following campaign and Pat was obviously a big part of that improvement.

Jennings was already making a huge name for himself, astonishing fans as he saved with nonchalance, caught crosses one-handed and started his team’s attacks with long throws and prodigious kicks.

Such was the ability already being displayed that by the end of that season Jennings replaced another vastly experienced ‘keeper in Harry Gregg as Northern Ireland’s first choice. The first cap came in a 3-2 win over Wales in Swansea when he was still only 18. But Pat wasn’t the youngest debutant that day as a 17-year-old George Best with whom he roomed, also made his first start.

Pat with George Best and Billy Bingham

“It was a big thrill for me to get a call up for the international squad”, Pat would later recall. “My dad had been taking myself and my brother up to the Northern Ireland matches at Windsor Park.

“Northern Ireland had lost 8-3 to England at Wembley in the previous game and I was brought in to replace the great Harry Gregg. Harry had forgotten more about goalkeeping than I knew at the time, but he never played again”.

The young Northern Ireland side started fast that day and were 3-1 ahead by half time thanks to goals from Jim McLaughlin, Sammy Wilson and Martin Harvey. Wales fought back in the second period and pulled one back through Ron Davies with over half an hour still to play. The hosts attacked relentlessly after narrowing the deficit but a string of fine stops by Jennings secured the win.

A couple of weeks later Pat made his home debut and kept a clean sheet as his country shocked Uruguay, winning 3-0 at Windsor Park.

Jennings had already clearly shown that his talents were worthy of much more than the 3rd Division and it came as no surprise when Spurs and Bill Nicholson, who had flown over to watch the Uruguay match (‘I didn’t learn much, he didn’t have much to do’ Bill Nick would later say) bid £27,000 for his services in June 1964. Other members of the Spurs staff had scouted Jennings and Nicholson no doubt received glowing reports from his former teammate Burgess.

Watford accepted the offer and McGarry called the player at home in Newry, telling him to come back and report to Vicarage Road. Pat thought he was being called in for extra training but was instead introduced to Nicholson. “I said ‘Hello Mr Nicholson”’, recalls Pat. “He said ‘forget the Mr, just call me Bill’ and the barrier was broken.

Pat and Bill

Later in life Pat showed his manager the ultimate respect when saying of him: “There’s no doubt – not only in football during my career, but he’s had the biggest influence on my life generally”.

So it proved to be a short stay at Vicarage Road as he quickly outgrew the club but Jennings later acknowledged that it played an important role in his development.

“Having those early games at Watford was very valuable for me”, Pat would later recall, “It was a short stay but an enjoyable one. I think everybody benefitted from it. Watford made a decent bit of money when they sold me on to Tottenham.

“Watford gave me my break in football and I’ll always be grateful for that”.

The 1964-65 season started on a tragic note for Spurs when star midfielder John White was struck by lightning and killed at Crews Hill golf club. What had already looked set to be a difficult season for the North Londoners with Danny Blanchflower having retired (and Alan Mullery signed as his replacement), and Dave Mackay on the comeback trail from a broken leg got a whole lot harder with sad loss of White.

Newly of Spurs

For Jennings the task was to usurp double winning ‘keeper Bill Brown. The Scot was unsurprisingly between the posts when Spurs kicked off the season with a friendly in his homeland against a Glasgow XI in the Glasgow Charity Cup before which the players held two-minutes silence for White. 

When the 1964-65 campaign kicked off with a home match against Sheffield United, Jennings took over in goal and immediately started to impress Spurs fans when catching a cross one-handed. He kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 win with Cyril Knowles, recently signed from Middlesbrough also appearing for the first time. But the first-team place wasn’t yet automatic with Brown getting the call soon after and remaining in the team until Pat won his place back towards the end of the campaign.

Spurs would go on to finish 6th that season, 16 points behind champions Manchester United in a campaign where the difference between performances at home and away was extreme.

White Hart Lane was a fortress, Spurs going unbeaten with 18 wins, 3 draws and 65 goals scored against just 20 let in. On the road however, they managed just a single win whilst conceding 51 times and in the F. A. Cup they fell at the last-16 stage when Chelsea beat them by a single goal at Stamford Bridge.

In action against England at Windsor Park

Meanwhile it was a clubmate who proved his undoing at Windsor Park in October when Jimmy Greaves hit a first half hat-trick past Pat for England in a 4-3 win over the hosts.

This was followed by a 1-0 win over Switzerland in a World Cup qualifying match. But the Irish then lost the return 2-1 in Lausanne and a point dropped in a goalless draw in Rotterdam against the Netherlands proved the difference, the Swiss winning the group by a single point to qualify for the 1966 finals.

When the 1965-66 campaign started it was Brown who was in goal at White Hart Lane with Jennings having to wait until the twelfth match of the season to get his opportunity. Spurs beat Manchester United 5-1 in that match and from then on the Irishman took over as Bill Nicholson’s first choice. 

The season took similar path for the North Londoners, though the home/away splits were less pronounced. A slight drop to 8th place in the league was coupled with another 5th Round F. A. Cup exit, this time at 2nd Division Preston where that rarity, a Jennings error, led to the winner and left the team again with nothing to show for a season’s endeavour.

But the following campaign brought silverware to White Hart Lane and to the Jennings household.

Frank Saul, Bill Nicholson, Joe Kinnear, Terry Venables and Pat

The 1966-67 league season started well and after 11 matches Bill Nicholson’s side topped the table. But a tally of just one point from their next five matches scuppered title hopes and an early  League Cup defeat to West Ham United left the F. A. Cup as the only hope of silverware.

With wife Eleanor

Before the cup got underway Pat had another important date in his diary. On 3 January 1967 he married Eleanor Toner, also from Newry and a singer in a band, in Hampstead. The couple would go on to have three daughters, Mairead, Siobhan and Ciara, and one son, Patrick Jr.

First up in on cup trail in 1967 was a trip to South London to play Second Division Millwall at The Den and here, Jennings showed his mettle to keep the would-be giantkillers at bay in a goalless draw. In the replay it was opposing ‘keeper Lawrie Leslie’s time to shine and he produced a number of outstanding saves before a glaring mistake by Lions defender Tom Wilson gifted Jimmy Greaves with the chance to set up Alan Gilzean for the only goal in front of over 58,000 fans.

Spurs stayed in London again for the 4th Round and they recorded a relatively comfortable 3-1 win over another Second Division team, Portsmouth and then it was the turn of a third second tier team to have their cup dreams ruined at White Hart Lane with Bristol City seen off 2-0.

The quarter-final draw sent Spurs out of London for the first time with yet another Second Division opponent as they travelled to St Andrew’s to face a Birmingham City side who had knocked Arsenal out in the previous round.

In the match Birmingham packed their defence but did have one really good chance when Jennings appeared to have carried a cross over his own goal line. City manager Stan Cullis said after: “Several of my players thought that Jennings carried the ball over the line”, but those big hands obviously kept it safe, no goal was given and the teams headed to White Hart Lane for the replay.

Much has been made of the size of Pat’s hands and whilst this was clearly an asset to him in his position (Liverpool boss Bill Shankly would later say; “It should be illegal for goalkeeper to have hands that big!”), perhaps even bigger assets were his command of the box and the confidence his unflappable style instilled in those around him.

In the replay against Birmingham, Spurs overwhelmed their opponents. An all-ticket crowd of 52,304 saw Terry Venables and Jimmy Greaves score two apiece with Alan Gilzean and Frank Saul also finding the net, whilst Jennings was rarely troubled as the hosts eased to a 6-0 win.

So it was on to the semi-final where with Spurs drawn to meet Nottingham Forest and Chelsea facing Leeds United, the prospect of a first-ever all-London final at Wembley remained on.

The Spurs – Forest match took place at Hillsborough and it was a tough, no-nonsense, entertaining encounter. Jimmy Greaves gave the Londoners an early lead with what was either a brilliant banana-shot or a fluke depending on who you believed and Frank Saul doubled the advantage with a 20-yarder.

Dave Mackay had taken out Forest centre-forward Frank Wignall with a crunching tackle early on and in the 56th minute Mackay was floored by Bob McKinlay and left the field almost immediately, suffering from concussion with Cliff Jones his replacement.

Terry Hennessy halved the deficit and the Spurs defence, with Jennings at his unflappable best, just about held on to their slim advantage. With Chelsea ousting Leeds United at Villa Park, the stage was set for the first ‘Cockney Cup Final’ of the professional era.

The Wembley line-ups

The foes were evenly matched. Chelsea had won the first league encounter between the pair that season, triumphing 3-0 at Stamford Bridge whilst the return finished all-square at 1-1. Spurs had two former Chelsea men – Venables and Greaves – in their line up and would finish the season in 3rd, six places above their rivals.

Jimmy Greaves, Terry Venables and Pat at Wembley

The scene was set and with top-class players scattered around the pitch, a classic was confidently predicted.

Parading the Cup

In fact, the match itself proved something of a let down, though not for Spurs fans.

Two unsung heroes, Jimmy Robertson and Frank Saul gave the North Londoners a two-goal cushion and although Jennings spoiled an otherwise faultless display when missing a cross and allowing Bobby Tambling to pull one back that came in the 86th minute and there was to be no late drama as skipper Dave Mackay marched proudly up the steps, with Pat close behind, to collect the trophy.

He won’t drop it

The 1967-68 season started in remarkable fashion for Pat.

The traditional curtain-raising Charity Shield saw Spurs travel north to take on champions Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Jimmy Robertson gave Spurs an early lead when pouncing on a loose ball in the box to rifle home and then Jennings did the remarkable, albeit with United ‘keeper Alex Stepney showing a little charity of his own.

Alex Stepney retrieves the ball

After a George Best foul on Dave Mackay, the Scot was about to take the resulting free-kick and launch it up the pitch. But Pat called for a pass back and sent the ball long, aiming for the head of Alan Gilzean. The ball cleared Gilzean, then bounced up and over the advancing Stepney before nestling in the net. There was a stunned silence at Old Trafford as fans and players alike tried to digest what they had just seen.

The Charity Shield

United fought back from the two-goal deficit, largely thanks to a fine double from Bobby Charlton, and the match finished all-square at 3-3 meaning that the shield was split between the pair with each holding it for six months. But the result seemed irrelevant with much of the talk after focused on the Jennings goal.

Aside from their Charity Shield exploits the 1967-68 season proved to be a disappointing one for Spurs. In league action they dropped from the previous campaign’s third to seventh whilst after seeing off Manchester United in a replay in the 3rd Round of the F. A. Cup and then beating Preston in the next, their hold on the trophy was removed when Liverpool beat them 2-1 in an Anfield replay.

Spurs didn’t enter the League Cup in 1967-68, preferring to focus their efforts on the European Cup Winners’ Cup but after seeing off Hajduk Split in the First Round they were knocked out by French team Lyon, going out on away goals after a 4-4 aggregate score.

The programme for the match in Moscow looks like a Jennings tribute

The 1968-69 campaign was a crucial one for Northern Ireland as they attempted to qualify for the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico. A pair of victories against Turkey set them up nicely but a goalless draw with the Soviet Union was followed by defeat in Moscow keeping Jennings off the world stage once again.

At club level Spurs threatened on all fronts. A sixth place finish in the First Division, a quarter-final F. A. Cup defeat at Manchester City and a last-four exit at the hands of fierce local rivals Arsenal in the League Cup left Jennings and his teammates empty handed again.

In 1969-70 results took a downturn. A season which saw Spurs drop to 11th in the league and suffer early exits from both cups had Nicholson looking at changes.

Pat and Eleanor with daughter Siobhan

The big one saw the arrival of Martin Peters from West Ham United with Jimmy Greaves going in the opposite direction.

So, with Martin Chivers now installed as the team’s main goalscoring threat, it was the two Martins, along with the ever-dependable Jennings between the sticks who would lead Spurs into the new decade.

Pat of N17

Pat had missed just two matches in the previous four seasons at White Hart Lane, his durability being another asset to put alongside shot-stopping, positional sense, distribution skills and those huge hands to cement his position right up with the very best goalkeepers in the game.

Part two of ‘You Need Hands’ will see Pat get those hands on more trophies, and then undergo a career resurrection as he switches postcodes from N17 to N5.