Former Tottenham and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings appeared fit and well as he unveiled a statue of himself in Newry on Wednesday, two days after being taken into hospital.
The 78-year-old was taken ill at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Monday night ahead of Spurs’ match against Chelsea, but was released later than evening and travelled back to his home city for Wednesday’s unveiling.
Jennings, accompanied by his wife and children, took part in the ceremony to reveal a new bronze likeness of him on Kildare Street in the centre of his hometown.
Former Northern Ireland players Billy Hamilton and Gerry Armstrong, ex-Tottenham captain Ledley King, and former Arsenal and Republic of Ireland midfielder Liam Brady were among those in attendance.
During the unveiling Jennings, who played more than 550 times for Spurs and earned 119 caps for Northern Ireland, said he “couldn’t believe” he was having a statue dedicated to him.
“I’d have seen people who are getting statues unveiled of them and never thought it would ever happen to me,” he said.
“Having said that, I’ve had an unbelievable career in football from leaving here as a 17-year-old to join Watford I never dreamt that I’d be back 60 years later, over 60 years, unveiling a statue…
“This is basically my home city, where I wouldn’t want it anywhere else.”
Jennings played for Newry Town before joining Watford in 1963. He signed for Tottenham in 1964 and won the FA Cup, UEFA Cup and League Cup twice at White Hart Lane before switching to rivals Arsenal, again lifting the FA Cup in 1979.
Jennings’ former Arsenal team-mate Brady said Jennings was a “very special person”.
“He’s been a great friend down through the years, he is probably the best goalkeeper in the world at one time, without any doubt,” he said.
“As you say when he left Tottenham, he came to Arsenal and I wanted to be here today to tell everybody that he is an Arsenal player as well. And it’s just unique because he’s loved by both Tottenham and Arsenal supporters and I think he’s the only one in the world that can say that.”
King said he had been able to get to know Jennings personally since his own retirement 12 years ago.
“First of all, what a gentleman and also an icon and a legend of the football club. I love hearing his stories about the great players that he’s played with and against.
“One of my favourites was when he represented his country at 41 years old at a World Cup in his last cap against Brazil, which is amazing to hear.
“It’s a pleasure to be here and what this statue will hopefully do is inspire young people that no matter where you come from in the world that you can achieve anything and go on to be the best.”
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill paid his own tribute to Jennings, telling the PA news agency: “The fact that Pat finished playing in 1986 and still when you mention his name everyone automatically recognises who you’re talking about shows the level of goalkeeper he was.
“What he means to the people of Northern Ireland, what he means to supporters of both Tottenham and Arsenal, he’s probably unique in being loved by both sets of fans and it shows what Pat stands for in the game.
“He’s a giant of the game. Wherever you go in Europe if you mention Pat Jennings, people automatically recognise who you’re talking about.
“He’s one of those iconic players and it’s great to still have him around, and it’s great he’d had that recognition today.”