Arsenal legend Pat rewarded for 44 years club dedication
PUBLISHED: 12:43 02 January 2013 | UPDATED: 12:46 02 January 2013
»The phrase “club legend” is bandied around all too easily these days, but if there was ever a man deserving of that accolade at Arsenal, it would be Pat Rice.
Mr Rice, 63, has been made an MBE for services to sport in the New Year Honours, having retired from his role as Arsene Wenger’s assistant manager back in May.
He served almost 16 years in the job, but that doesn’t tell half the story of a man who grew up in the shadow of Highbury Stadium and went on to play for, captain, coach and manage the Gunners in 44 years at the club.
Despite this sterling service, he said he was surprised by the honour, adding: “Football and Arsenal have been my life and I have so many fantastic memories during my career. I have been lucky to have played and worked with so many great individuals and through hard work I have enjoyed some success along the way.”
Mr Wenger said: “I am absolutely delighted because if someone deserves it, it’s Pat Rice. Pat is someone you could go to war with, and you would love to be in the trenches with him. Pat is an Arsenal legend and a great human being.”
Although born in Northern Ireland in 1949, Rice’s family moved to Islington when he was a young boy, initially living in Gillespie Road, next to Highbury.
Like most Islington schoolboys, he dreamed of playing for his local club, but his dreams were to become true when he was taken on as an apprentice on leaving the former St William of York School, in Gifford Street, Barnsbury, in 1964.
Two years later he signed as a professional and in December 1967 he made his first-team debut for the Gunners in a 2-1 League Cup win at Burnley, aged just 18.
Pat was not a first-team regular until the 1970-71 season, when he was almost ever-present at right-back in Bertie Mee’s famous side that clinched the club’s first ever double triumph in May 1971.
By the late 1970s he had become captain of the side that reached three successive FA Cup finals from 1978-80, lifting the trophy in 1979 after the 3-2 win over Manchester United at Wembley.
After almost 400 appearances spanning 13 years, he was allowed to leave Highbury, aged 31, by manager Terry Neill and finished a playing career that also saw him win 49 caps for Northern Ireland at Watford.
However, on hanging up his boots, he returned to Highbury as a youth team coach in 1984 and stayed for a further 28 years, helping launch the careers of players such as Paul Merson and Ray Parlour from the youth teams, before a brief spell as caretaker manager in 1996 and then becoming assistant to Mr Wenger.
During his time as No 2 he helped guide Arsenal to two further double triumphs in 1998 and 2002, as well as the unbeaten Premier League title triumph in 2004.