The rivalry that exists between North London giants Arsenal and Tottenham is such that any player brave enough to make the switch between the sides needs a certain strength and resolve, not to mention sheer bloody-mindedness.
Not many have been brave enough to make the short journey and those that have been so minded have normally been forced to pay a high price. Loathing and derision have been the very least the majority have faced if the cases of Sol Campbell and George Graham are anything to go by.
Yet there is an exception. One man who is uniquely revered by both clubs as a bonafide legend and whose name lives on the Hall of Fame of both clubs.
When Pat Jennings was informed by the Tottenham Hotspur board in the summer of 1977 that he was being offered a contract on reduced wages because they harboured doubts regarding how long Jennings had left in him, something inside the usually genial Irishman snapped.
Having believed an agreement was already in place, Jennings was of the view that the deal was now being reneged on and after 13 years of the most sterling service he deserved better.
Absolutely convinced in his own ability, Jennings knew there would be no shortage of potential new suitors. Indeed, Aston Villa, Manchester United and Ipswich Town were all ready to move in and take advantage of the Tottenham’s board’s folly, yet all three clubs were to be disappointed.
In no doubt as to Jennings’ worth was his former Spurs manager, Terry Neill, who had made his own switch from White Hart Lane to Highbury a year earlier. When Neill got wind of Jennings’ availability, he moved quickly and from there on in there was only one place Jennings wanted to go.
It was a sad end to Jennings’ time at Spurs and totally unbefitting for a man who had been such a loyal servant over the better part of a decade and a half.
It was at Tottenham where Jennings made his name following a £27,000 move from Third Division Watford in 1964, and he would go onto play almost 600 games in all competitions, famously scoring one goal in the 1967 Charity Shield.
Early Days and Transfer To Spurs
Born in Newry, County Down in Northern Ireland in 1945, Jennings shone at football at an early age before seemingly falling out of love with the game and spending several years of his youth playing Gaelic football instead.
For a while, it looked as though he might be lost to the game before rediscovering his spark and love for the game and signing for his hometown club, Newry Town.
A successful spell back between the sticks brought the English scouts running and it was for Watford that Jennings signed in the summer of 1963.
Any ideas that Jennings might need to serve an apprenticeship in the reserves were quickly dispelled as he was instantly installed as first-choice ‘keeper at Vicarage Road and was an ever-present in league games in his only season with the Hornets.
By the time Spurs’ bid was accepted a year later, Jennings had already made his full international debut for Northern Ireland. In a match against Wales in the old British Championship played on 15 April 1964, Jennings lined up alongside another player making his bow at international level in a 3-2 Northern Ireland victory.
The name of that other youngster was none other than George Best.
Once at Tottenham, Jennings took to the bigger stage naturally and was the very picture of reliability and professionalism. Sometimes perceived as being a little bit laid back, perhaps both on and off the field, Jennings was nevertheless highly regarded as a gentle giant.
Rarely if ever did Jennings let his emotions show. Not for Big Pat was the tiresome pantomime performances displayed by other goalkeepers, back then as well as now, of shouting and berating defences on the rare occasions he was beaten.
No, whenever Jennings conceded a goal he was as likely to give a simple shrug of the shoulders and a rueful shake of the head as anything else.
An Unconventional Manner
He was in some ways an unconventional goalkeeper, however, as he made the art of saving with his legs a trademark move.
Often a player would break through the Spurs defence and be one-on-one with Jennings.
The player would then look up and find that the goal had seemingly shrunk and what had appeared to be an odds-on ceratin goal only a matter of seconds earlier was now heavily weighed in the goalkeeper’s favour.
Being a big man, Jennings was not perhaps the most mobile of ‘keepers in getting down and so that is why in such circumstances he developed a style of spreading his legs to block low shots.
Another unique party trick that Jennings developed during the 1960s with Spurs was the ability to come yards off his line to gather crosses and corners one-handed.
As he established himself and his career continued its upward trajectory at White Hart Lane, honours at both club and personal level came his way.
A further 66 caps for Northern Ireland were won over the next 13 years as were the FA Cup and Charity Shield in 1967, the League Cup in 1971 and 1973, and the UEFA Cup in 1972.
In 1973, Jennings won the Football Writer’s Player of the Year Award and three years later made history by becoming the first-ever goalkeeper to win the PFA version of the award.
Also in 1973, Jennings pulled off what is surely also another unique feat when he saved two Liverpool penalties from different players in the same match at Anfield, foiling first Kevin Keegan and then Tommy Smith.
It seemed Jennings would play the remainder of his career at Tottenham until his unhappy and untimely parting of the ways in August 1977.
To be fair to the powers that be at White Hart Lane at the time, Jennings was 33 that summer and Spurs had just been relegated following a terrible season in which they had finished rock bottom of the First Division.
While Spurs decided to go with the talents of first Barry Daines, then Mark Kendall and Milja Aleksic in the coming years, Jennings prepared himself for the short journey across North London to Arsenal.
If Arsenal fans had any doubts about accepting a man so deeply locked into the fabric of Tottenham, these were quickly dispelled by Jennings’ performances.
Determined to show his small band of critics that he still had plenty to offer with many miles left in the tank, Jennings was instrumental in Arsenal reaching three successive FA Cup Finals from 1978 to 1980 as well as the 1980 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final.
The unfortunate fact is that the 1979 FA Cup was the only trophy secured in this period.
Many keepers came to Highbury and tried to replace him over the years but found the door firmly shut. One that did get close, though, was Scottish international George Wood.
Wood was signed from Everton in 1981 as Jennings’ intended long-term replacement and came with a rather sterling reputation himself. He’d first made his name at Blackpool in the mid-1970s before Gordon Lee brought him to Goodison in time for the 1977-78 season.
Some impressive performances over the next three seasons as Everton threatened to challenge for the major honours without ever quite managing it, persuaded Arsenal Manager Terry Neill to bid £140,000 for him in August 1980.
Despite some prolonged spells in the Arsenal side over the next three seasons, Wood was ultimately unsuccessful in his efforts to displace Jennings and moved on.
Next up to try was John Lukic who was signed in the summer of 1983 to replace Wood as Jennings’ deputy. Again, the signing was made with the long-term in mind, and even though Lukic had already amassed more than 150 appearances with Leeds United over the previous four seasons he had to settle in for a long spell of reserve team football.
Jennings, meanwhile, kept on keeping on and continued to defy Old Father Time with sterling performances for both Arsenal and Northern Ireland.
By now, of course, Jennings’ fellow Northern Ireland debutant from all those years ago, George Best, had long since fallen by the wayside.
For a long time, it looked like Jennings was going to join Best in the annals of Great Players to Have Never Played in a World Cup but then Northern Ireland qualified for the 1982 tournament in Spain and again four years later in Mexico.
By the time the Mexico tournament came round Jennings had finally lost his place in the Arsenal first team to Lukic for good and had, in fact, returned to Tottenham to play for the reserves to keep fit for international duty.
And in the End
Jennings did turn out once for the Spurs first team in a 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool in the Screen Sport Super Cup and was then signed by Everton as cover for the rest of the season following a long-term injury to Neville Southall.
So it came to pass that Jennings’ last appearance in English club football was on the Wembley bench as an unused Everton squad member for the 1986 FA Cup Final.
That summer, Jennings bowed out of football for good when he played for Northern Ireland against Brazil in the World Cup on his 41st birthday.
After his retirement, Jennings worked as a goalkeeping coach, mostly back at his beloved Tottenham and although the pain of his 1977 departure lingered for quite some time, bridges have been rebuilt over the years and Jennings is a familiar face around the club again.