by Tony Attwood
Pat Rice (who was born on 17 March 1949 and who has just left Arsenal, after a lifetime’s service), made his first-team début in the League Cup match against Burnley on December 5 1967. I believe that the game against Norwich last week is counted as his last match. An astonishing man, an astonishing record.
I feel very much moved to write my own tribute to Pat because at the moment with colleagues I am working on a book of Arsenal in the 70s, of which Pat was very much part. What’s more my dad and my uncle – solid north London men both – both told me about meeting Pat. Of course they would remember meeting such a famous guy – Pat wouldn’t – but that’s how it goes.
Thinking of those games, one thought has come back to me: what was Pat’s song? Did he have a song? If he did you’ll have to remind me, because I have forgotten it.
Pat played 397 games for Arsenal and scored 12 goals, before going to his only other club: Watford, for whom he played 112 times. He also played 49 times for his country: Northern Ireland.
Pat worked in a greengrocers on Gillespie Road (you can’t get much closer to the old stadium) and became an apprentice in 1964, and a pro in 1966.
Like most players who have come up through that route he played just a few games in his early years, but even so he was picked for N Ireland in 1968. Eventually when Storey moved into the centre of midfield to become the ultimate enforcer Pat took over at right back. He won the Double and had three seasons where he played every game.
He was the last of the 70/71 side to leave the club, and was made captain – and as such was presented with the FA Cup in 1979. He played in five FA Cup finals and the Cup Winners Cup final.
He left us in 1980 and helped Watford gain promotion to the First Division, again playing as captain. He retired from playing in 1984.
(I am going to pause at this moment and reflect. In 1966 when he started playing, I was just starting out on my first job sharing a flat in East Finchley. By 1984 I had a nice house, three daughters, and a number of books published. I had moved from uncertainty about my future to a world where my life was established – and throughout that whole period of change Pat Rice had been there, playing football. For such was the affection a lot of us felt for the guy, we followed his exploits, even at Watford.)
So, 1984. Pat came home, and was youth team coach, a job he kept until 1996. He won the Youth Cup twice.
And then the big time: he became manager after Houston resigned (Houston was caretaker after Rioch had been sacked. He managed three league games – and won the lot, and I remember saying to my old pal Roger at the time, “that makes him not only the best right back we ever saw, but also the most successful league manager.” OK, not very funny, but if you’ve been involved at times with long journeys to games you’ll know how the conversation goes.
Then along came Arsène Wenger who made Pat his assistant manager and that led him to being one of only two men who have been part of the three Doubles. The other of course is Bob Wilson.
At the end of the 2010/11 season it was announced that Pat was about to retire, and the disgraceful AAA ran stories that Pat could no longer stand working with Mr Wenger. But Mr Wenger got Pat to do one more season – and now he steps down after 48 years service to the club we love.
In tribute Mr Wenger has said, “‘Pat is a true Arsenal legend and has committed almost his whole life to Arsenal Football Club, which shows huge loyalty and devotion to this club…I will always be indebted to him for his expert insight into Arsenal and football as a whole. On the training pitches and on matchdays, Pat has always been a passionate, loyal and insightful colleague, who we will all miss.
“He’s just been tremendous. It’s a sad, sad, sad day. His life was linked with Arsenal and Arsenal have been privileged to have him as a player, a captain, a coach, and personally I’m very grateful for his contribution to my period here.
“I would like him to forgive me the bad moments I’ve given him as well, Mr Wenger added. “He’s been a constant, loyal supporter. I’m just very grateful and privileged to have had him at my side for such a long time.
Thanks Pat, it has been an honour to watch you play and to see the throughput of your work with the youth team, and alongside Mr Wenger.