It takes a special talent to transcend the North London rivalry. Pat Jennings was a special talent.
The Irish goalkeeper was Tottenham's custodian for 13 years before spending eight years with Arsenal. Others who have crossed the divide tend to be loved and hated in equal measure, but not Jennings. He can expect a warm welcome whether he strolls around White Hart Lane or Emirates Stadium.
|Arsenal Career||1977 - 1985|
|Appearances||327 (327 starts, 0 as a sub)|
The reason is simple. Jennings is one of the finest players ever to pull on a pair of goalkeeping gloves. He won a record 119 caps for Northern Ireland in an international career which spanned 22 years, he played more than 1,000 games at the top level, was named Footballer of the Year in 1973, won five major trophies, received an MBE and an OBE and even scored a goal in the 1967 Charity Shield.
Calm and assured, Jennings was blessed with a positional sense which meant he barely needed to resort to the spectacular. He was simply in the right place at the right time to pluck crosses out of the air or push shots aside. Jennings was a master of the one-on-one, standing up long enough to narrow the angle and make things as difficult as possible for onrushing strikers.
Jennings' biggest connection to Arsenal before 1977 was the role he played when the Gunners clinched the first half of their League and Cup Double in 1971. The Irishman was in goal when Ray Kennedy's header flew past him at White Hart Lane as Arsenal famously wrapped up the title. Within six years he would be playing alongside some of those former rivals.
The fact that Arsenal enjoyed some of Jennings' finest years was largely thanks to a miscalculation from Tottenham. Spurs manager Keith Burkinshaw suspected that Jennings was approaching the end of his career when he let him leave for Highbury in 1977. But the Irishman made 327 appearances for the Gunners and was still going strong when the 1986 World Cup rolled around.
The timing of Jennings' move across London was impeccable. His first three seasons ended with appearances in the FA Cup Final, although only the 1979 showpiece would spawn a winner's medal following a thrilling 3-2 win against Manchester United. Jennings' clean sheet at Juventus helped Arsenal into the 1980 Cup Winners' Cup Final too but, despite a valliant effort, he finished on the losing side after a penalty shoot-out against Valencia.
Jennings found himself out of favour in 1982 as Scottish keeper George Wood assumed the No 1 spot at Highbury but the Irishman bounced back and regained his starting place until his retirement from club football in 1985. His long career ended in style with an appearance, at the age of 40, at the World Cup Finals in Mexico. It was a fitting finale for one of football's greatest goalkeepers.
WHAT THE FANS SAID:
Pat was a major favourite of mine and came to visit my High School in the late 80s. I think the excitement was too much for me and I forgot my school tie (which meant I got detention all day) on the day of his visit. Fortunately the teacher took pity on me and loaned me a tie so I could go to his presentation (still didn't stop me from finishing the detention later). I walked past Pat and his wife last year at Trinity University on Grafton Street in Dublin but didn't manage to ask him for a autograph. Was too awe-struck. To me he never played for that lot down the road, he'll always be a Gooner.
Aidan Corey, Aghagallon, Northern Ireland