Meeting Big Pat Jennings

The year was 1985. I was employed by Fords at Dagenham and I happened then to be player manager of a departmental football team.

It was a Sunday morning and as usual my team was playing a league game at the Ford Sports Centre, Rush Green in Essex. We were allocated one of the pitches adjacent to the main arena. On that day, the Arena itself was the venue of a Cup Final. This game featured representative teams from Ford plants at Halewood and Swansea. The day’s Guest Celebrity to present the Trophies was our own Pat Jennings.

My oldest son Mark who always accompanied me to all my games, was then aged 9 and was a keen Spurs supporter (as was his Dad) and a big Pat Jennings fan. He was absolutely ecstatic knowing his hero would be no more than fifty yards away. You can imagine a little boy’s excitement when told by his dad,

 ‘I’ll take you over later and introduce you to Pat’.

Dagenhams itself was the cradle of many ‘Soccer Greats’ and I had encountered disbelief when recounting our association with Big Pat. I was particularly proud of his reputation as one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers. In fact we hailed from the same town, were born on the same street and attended the same school. I admit I often related this to my work colleagues and fellow Spurs fans but I would frequently get expressions of disbelief from some cynics.

 Half-time came in our own game.  Our side was already 4-0 to the good so I substituted myself. I donned a tracksuit over my full kit and took Mark along with Jeffrey (son of our team’s assistant manager) into the main stadium.

There sitting in the middle of The Stand with two Sports Club Officials was ‘The Man’ himself. I ushered the two boys to the vacant seats directly behind him and sat down.

On glancing behind Pat gave a seemingly surprised look.  I asked,

Excuse me for interrupting Pat, but can I have a moment please?’

He replied,  ‘I know you, don’t I?’ To which I answered,

‘Yes, I’m one of the Dean family from River Street‘.

‘Ach aye, but are you Jim or Brian?’ says he.

I told him who I was and at that point he shook my hand and sat down beside us. 

I then introduced him to Mark and not only did Pat sign his autograph but agreed to my request of a photo with the two little boys.

We chatted for a while and even though being reminded by one of the officials about his schedule, Pat turned to him and stated,

‘This man here comes from my home town’.

After that, we shook hands and with the two boys we made tracks back to my own team’s game. On our short walk from the stadium, young Jeffrey (the other boy) asked Mark,

‘Who was that big guy?’ to which Mark replied,

‘If you don’t know the name of the best goalkeeper in the world, you’d better tell your dad to stop supporting West Ham’.

Later while we were driving home, Mark still in awe of his earlier experience turned and said to me,

‘Dad, Pat Jennings really does know you’.

 That day 20 years ago, ‘Big Pat’ made a nine year old boy very happy and to this day Mark still treasures the photograph his dad took of him and Pat Jennings.

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