Tottenham Hotspur legends: Pat Jennings

There aren’t many players who can claim legendary status on both sides of the North London divide, but Pat Jennings was no ordinary footballer.

The Northern Ireland icon had spent 13 years at Tottenham Hotspur when, in 1977, manager Keith Burkinshaw allowed him to depart the club for rivals Arsenal, anticipating that his career at the top level was reaching its end.

As it transpired, Jennings went on to make 327 appearances for the Gunners across the next eight years, and was equally loved at Highbury as White Hart Lane.

While he was plying his trade down the road, Spurs went on to enjoy some of the most successful seasons in the club’s history, sealing two FA Cups and a second UEFA Cup triumph.

However, there will always be the sense that the Lilywhites missed a trick letting him leave and could have perhaps added a league title to their haul had they still had his presence between the sticks over that period.

Having briefly given up soccer to pursue Gaelic football as a youth, Jennings returned to the game with local side Newry Town, where he was spotted by Watford scouts and signed for the then-Third Division outfit in 1963.

The youngster’s talent was obvious and after just one season playing for the Hornets, during which time he made his international debut in a British Home Championship win over Wales, Tottenham swooped in to snap him up for a fee of £27,000.

Standing in the way of his place in the starting XI was Bill Brown, Scotland international and one of the heroes of the 1961 double-winning campaign.

However, the veteran was beginning to succumb to injury as he entered the twilight of his career, and Jennings started the 1964-65 term as boss Bill Nicholson’s number one.

The stopper got off to the perfect start, with a 2-0 win over Sheffield United on his league debut, and in October 1964 played in his first North London derby, with Tottenham triumphing 3-1.

An imposing and reliable presence, Jennings became known for his slightly unorthodox style, with his intuitive reading of the game and expert positioning meaning he rarely had to pull off great acrobatics to keep the ball out of the net.

Instead, he relied on closing angles down early and pressuring the opposition, which helped to earn him a reputation as one the game’s calmer and more collected individuals in his position, far from the ‘all goalies are crazy’ mantra that followed others in the sport.

While he picked up five honours during his time at Spurs, the most memorable campaign by far was 1966-67, in which the team won the FA Cup in the first all-London final, beating Chelsea 2-1.

That year was also as close as Jennings came to lifting the Division One trophy; Tottenham placed third overall, but only four points behind eventual champions Manchester United, who were defeated at the Lane early in the season.

The 70s started with promise as the team won two League Cups trophies in 1971 and 73, and on a personal level, Jennings seemed to be getting better with age.

Named as the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year in 1973, he backed that up by claiming the prestigious PFA Players’ Player of the Year, voted for by his contemporaries, three seasons later.

He was the first goalkeeper to receive the award and remains one of only two, along with ex-England star Peter Shilton.

However, a clear-out of key players such as Mike England, Martin Peters and Martin Chivers resulted in Tottenham’s relegation from the top flight in 1977, and with it the short-sighted decision to allow Jennings’ departure that summer.

A successful spell at Arsenal saw him add another FA Cup to his cabinet, as Spurs bounced back at the first time of asking and re-established themselves as a force in English football during the early 1980s.

Jennings retired from club football in 1985, rejoining the Lilywhites and playing in the reserves to maintain his match sharpness for Northern Ireland’s World Cup campaign the following summer.

The iconic keeper had impressed at the tournament in 82 in the run to the knockout stages, notably keeping a clean sheet as his side defeated hosts Spain in Group 5 despite playing most of the second half with 10 men.

However, there was to be no repeat in 86, as Jennings brought the curtain down on his career at the top level with the 3-0 defeat to Brazil.

He went on to work as a goalkeeper coach at Tottenham and now, at 73, he still stands as his country’s record caps holder.

In an era of great goalkeepers, Jennings stands alongside the likes of the late Gordon Banks and Germany’s Sepp Maier as one of the very best of his generation.

Hero-worshipped across North London, he is perhaps the only player to have appeared so often for each the two sides and retain the universal affection of both sets of supporters.

That alone is testament not just to his ability as a player, but also his character as a man.

Simply put, Pat Jennings is more than just a Tottenham legend; he’s a true giant of the game.