Today, Saturday 5th of May 2012, may well be Pat's last appearance on the bench at a home game and I can't let that go without some form of tribute, so:
To some Pat Rice is simply that bloke who sits next to Wenger, but Pat is also numbered amongst that very rare breed of players who has lifted a major trophy as captain of his team. His team of course being the Arsenal.
As a kid Pat lived nearer Highbury Stadium than any player before or since and he once worked in a green grocers in Gillespie Road. Although born in Belfast and thus subsequently gaining 49 caps for Northern Ireland Pat's parents had moved to London while he was very young.
Pat only ever wanted to be a footballer but as a player he was never a gifted natural. So he simply worked his rocks off to earn his place as an apprentice in 1964. Rice signed as a professional in 1966 and matured into a solid, dependable and quite excellent right back. Relentless training and the will to succeed always played a larger part in his career than pure talent, but his drive, work ethic and will to win have been of paramount importance to the Club ever since his debut as an 18-year-old. He was 21 when he finally established a regular first team berth. This at the same time Mee and Howe moved Peter Storey, our then right back, into midfield. Pat took over the fullback slot and stayed there for a decade. That fabulous season in which he established himself just so happened to be our 1970-71 Double winning season, a season in which Pat Rice played a staggering 63 of our 64 competitive matches. He went on to total 528 games for the Club, bagging just 13 goals.
Rice is one of just three Arsenal players to have played in five FA Cup Finals, his first being on May 8th 1971 when he won his second major winners medal that week. Apart from Sammy Nelson, his fellow Northern Ireland full back, Pat was the only long-term survivor from our first double team and having been made captain in 1977 it was Pat who got to lift the trophy when we next won the Cup by beating United in 1979. By which time Rice was one of a core of Irish players at the Club that included himself, Nelson, Brady, O'Leary, Stapleton and Devine.
Rice finally left Arsenal in 1980 at the age of 31 and went on to play some137 games for Watford under Graham Taylor. Returning to Arsenal as a coach on retiring as a player Pat has thus far amassed an incredible 42 years at the Club as player, youth team coach, caretaker manager and assistant manger. Apart from his four years at Watford this accounts for his entire footballing career. Probably uniquely Pat managed to win all three of the league games played whilst he was in charge at Arsenal. He also has the distinction, alongside Bob Wilson, of having taken part, as player or coach, in all three of Arsenal's Doubles.
When Pat Rice was voted 17th in the Gunners' Greatest Players poll in 2008 his reaction was one of shock. "I could run off 30-odd players who were better players than me," he proclaimed. Maybe so, but players don't only get remembered for their silky skills at Arsenal. Honesty, dedication, the will to win and pure hard graft also count for a great deal.
This piece is one of a series about the 32 Arsenal legends who can be seen on our Stadium's cores linked arm in arm. Pat was number 3 of 32 whom I've already written about and this piece originally appeared in issue 204 of 'The Gooner' fanzine but has not previously appeared online - for further details of 'The Gooner' or its website, the very excellent Online Gooner go HERE.