The Watford Observer has again teamed up with its friends at The Watford Treasury to share stories from previous issues.

David Harrison looks at a true Watford treasure, although his tenure at the club was all too brief.

Watford have been blessed throughout the modern era (not unreasonably defined here as the period I can remember), with outstanding goalkeepers.

Tony Coton remains the best I’ve seen at The Vic, but Andy Rankin, Steve Sherwood, David James, Kevin Miller and Alec Chamberlain were all Watford goalkeepers of distinction. Current players are excluded from a retrospective piece, but no doubt both Heurelho Gomes and Ben Foster will earn a place in that list.

However, one man launched this pantheon of ‘Excellence in Green’, and although he made just 48 league appearances and was still in his teens when he departed, left an indelible impression on those fortunate enough to have seen him represent the club.

Big hands, deep voice, seemingly unchanging hair, Pat Jennings will forever be remembered as the superb Tottenham goalkeeper inexplicably permitted to cross North London, where he continued winning accolades and trophies with Arsenal. But that glorious, 1,000-plus game career began with us, here at Watford.

Pat joined Watford from Newry Town in County Down, Northern Ireland, on May 3, 1963, for a reputed £6,500. He was six weeks short of his 18th birthday.

The excellent Dave Underwood kept his place in goal for the next couple of games, but within ten days Pat was judged ready for his first team debut. Big Dave, double his replacement’s age, never played for the club again, as Pat racked up 52 consecutive appearances.

Pat Jennings in action at the White City Stadium during his debut against Queens Park Rangers

Pat Jennings in action at the White City Stadium during his debut against Queens Park Rangers

Jennings made his Watford debut in the cavernous surroundings of the White City Stadium, then acting as a temporary home for QPR. A meagre 5,000 huddled together in what could justifiably be regarded a fine athletics venue, or the prestigious home of the Greyhound Derby, but most certainly not an atmospheric football ground.

The name ‘Jennings’ appeared on the team line-up in the programme, but with no further identification. The write-up on the visitors included a lengthy section on goalkeeper Underwood, but no word of young Pat.

We drew 2-2 that day, before ending a forgettable, weather-ravaged season with a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Port Vale. It was hardly an auspicious start but Pat’s subsequently glittering career was off and running.

A few weeks prior to that White City outing, we’d seen Pat represent Northern Ireland in the European Youth Championships at Wembley. It was my first visit to the stadium, and any vague recollections relate to the venue and not the action. However, records show that England beat Northern Ireland 4-0 in front of 34,000 on April 23, 1963, a few days before Pat put pen to paper and became a Horn.

Bill McGarry replaced the hapless Ron Burgess during the summer of 1963, and a genuine promotion-seeking squad was created. Charlie Livesey was the goal-scoring Golden Boy but Jennings the defensive rock on which opposing teams foundered, as the Hornets lost just one home game all season.

Quite apart from a textbook goalkeeping technique, Pat’s confidence was astonishing. Without the merest hint of arrogance, he would come out and collect corners, out-jumping far taller opponents before catching the ball one-handed above their heads. I’d seen nothing like it before, or indeed since. At his age I struggled to cross the road without assistance, but this man was extraordinary.

In one of the season’s less surprising results, we lost 2-1 at Luton Town in our final game, thereby falling agonisingly short of promotion. Following which, very suddenly, Pat had gone. He was clearly too good for Watford and, to be honest, we were privileged to have enjoyed his contribution and presence for as long as we did.

In a departure mirrored to some degree, four years later, by the exit of Tony Currie, Pat left Vicarage Road and joined Tottenham for £27,000. He had already made his senior international debut, but was still aged just 18 and embarking on a wonderful career, which would see him win trophies galore before ending with his 119th international appearance, against Brazil in the 1986 World Cup. Not a bad way to bow out.

People will rightly tell you that Pat Jennings achieved great things for club and country, but you should never miss the opportunity to remind them that he learnt his trade here with us, at Vicarage Road.

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