Pat Jennings: The Boys of ‘86

There is a question that arises in many football trivia quizzes which is; ‘Name Everton’s most capped player’? Answers are being thrown back to the question master with all sorts of names which are all announced incorrect. Okay, I give in. The correct answer infuriates the most knowledgeable of contestants when Pat Jennings becomes the answer. Okay, I suppose it’s a bit of a trick question but the fact is, Pat was actually registered with Everton for the FA Cup semi-final and final of 1986.

I don’t think I have ever seen any evidence of anything related to Pat’s association with Everton. Maybe there was nothing much to say, but I have a fascination with anything Everton related, so I had to dig deep to find the man with shovel-like hands, to get his version of events.

One Sunday morning I received a call from Tottenham manager Peter Shreeves to ask if I would help them as cover for Ray Clemence because they had no other ‘keeper. I had been back home in Northern Ireland for the previous seven weeks, having finished at Arsenal and hadn’t kicked a ball in that time. I told him that I would call him when I got back over to England the following weekend. Peter said, “Pat, we’ve got a reserve match against Chelsea on Tuesday and I need you to play, so I’m booking you a flight to come over in the morning”

Lawrie McMenemy also rang me. He had just taken over at Sunderland and asked if I would join them for a couple of years. During that conversation, Lawrie mentioned that he had spoken to Billy Bingham who was the manager of Northern Ireland.  Billy told Lawrie that I would be playing in the World Cup qualifying matches for Northern Ireland. I never dreamt we would qualify for the World Cup in Mexico.

I did play for Tottenham on the Tuesday against Chelsea in the reserve fixture then stayed on to play for the reserves.  I was traveling between England and Northern Ireland, where I had a contract in supermarkets doing promotional work for a pal of mine. At this stage I was told that Howard Kendall was trying to contact me, and I’m thinking, Howard Kendall? What does he want with me?

Eventually Howard succeeded in getting hold of me and asked if I could help him out, as Neville Southall had been injured on International duty in Dublin. He realised that the only eligible ‘keeper he had was Bobby Mimms, as Fred Barber was cup-tied, having played in an earlier round with Darlington.

I said to Howard, ‘You’d better keep looking because I’m finished. I’m literally doing the supermarkets in Northern Ireland to get money’.  That’s how much I had in football at that stage of my life. I never thought anymore about it until I came off a flight from Belfast around 10-10.30pm into Heathrow, where I got a pull on the arm. “Pat, I’m sorry to do this to you, but were absolutely struggling” It was of course Howard Kendall and his chief scout.

From the airport he phoned Peter Shreeves, but I think they had already spoken during the day.  Peter told Howard that if I wanted to do Howard the favour, it was my decision. I was told that I could sign for Everton on the Friday and go back to Spurs on the Monday. Basically, that was what they did. I never even got round to talking finances with Howard. I suppose I could have got anything from the club, we never spoke about money. Howard was desperate to get cover for the FA Cup, that was his concern.

I told Howard that I would do it and cover for whatever matches I was required. So, I joined up with the Everton squad for the FA cup semi -final at Villa Park and did the same for the final at Wembley. I sat on the bench at Wembley then went to the World Cup in Mexico as an Everton player.

I didn’t train with Everton at Bellefield; I didn’t have to as I was keeping myself fit playing for Tottenham reserves with the World Cup just over a month away.  I also played in a Screen Sport Super Cup match for Tottenham against Liverpool.     

I had an incredible six clean sheets for Northern Ireland in the qualifying rounds going into the world’s greatest tournament. We drew 0-0 with France, we beat Spain in a friendly where I kept a clean sheet too. My career games are 2 short of 1100 first-class games. I’m the only goalkeeper that’s won the Football Writers Player of the Year (in 1973) and the PFA awards (1976).

I asked Pat was he given a suit and the bottle of champagne like the rest of the squad involved in the Wembley final, to which he replied “No. I never got anything like that.  I did get a club tracksuit which I’ve still got to this day. 

These days, Pat is an ambassador for his beloved Spurs where he works in the hospitality lounges on match days.

By Steve Zocek

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