Putting one past Pat Jennings!

A once-in-a-lifetime memory from Peter Hughes, who works as a librarian in Summerhill, Co Down . . .

‘I was born on 26th March 1967.  I grew up in the town of Newry in Northern Ireland during the height of the ‘troubles’.  It was just like any other working class town anywhere in Britain (apart from the noise and large military presence) and like other kids in these areas, we played football every day after school in our street.  There were a lot fewer cars to contend with in those days so we normally had most of the street to ourselves.

One particular afternoon my best mate Martin Gill and I were aimlessly kicking the ball to each other up and down the street when we noticed a large brown Jaguar car coming towards us.  It pulled up right outside my next door neighbour’s house, little old Mrs Toner.

‘Whose car was it?’ we thought.  We’d never seen such a flashy motor.  We both thought we were dreaming when we saw who emerged. It was none other than the ‘towering’ figure of Pat Jennings – goalkeeper extraordinaire, who had recently joined Arsenal from Spurs.  He was the biggest person we had ever laid eyes on.  Turns out that Mrs Toner is his mother-in-law !

Pat himself is from Newry (though we had never expected to see him in the flesh) and was home for an international match.  It was back in the days of the old ‘Home Championship’ which England nearly always won  (except for one year, 1980 I think when Northern Ireland won it and Stiff Little Fingers appeared on Top of the Pops wearing Irish football tops).

Anyway after about ten minutes or so, Pat appeared at Toner’s front door and came over to us.  I thought he was going to tell us to b****r off and get away from his car (we’d been looking in through the windows and bouncing the ball off it).  Nothing of the sort.

In the deepest voice imaginable, he asked,

‘Fancy a wee kick around, lads?’

We spent all afternoon taking penalties against the great Pat Jennings and even managed to put one or two past him (though I don’t think he was really trying his best).

The gates to the builders’ yard across the road served as nets and my proudest moment came when my dad arrived home from work in time to see me put one into the top corner past the big fella.

From that day forward we had a new-found respect for Mrs Toner and lived in hope of another visit from her son-in-law, though it wasn’t to be.  She moved away a few years later and we never saw Pat again.

The street isn’t there either now. It got flattened a few years ago to accommodate the latest road widening/traffic calming scheme.

Though I’ll never forget that June afternoon.’

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