Astonishingly, it would be the last goal anybody put past Jennings for the rest of the qualifying round. In four successive games, the last three on opponents' soil, Northern Ireland shut out Turkey (twice), Romania and England. Since then, Jennings has extended this extraordinary run to six international games without conceding a goal.
And now, in a country hotel near Belfast on the eve of the Denmark game, there will be some recognition of all this—not for Jennings alone, but for his teammates also. Says John Carson, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, "The name of our little province is going round the world—for the right reasons for once." And he begins handing to each player a ceremonial velvet cap bearing the crest of the Irish Football Association. Instead of saying Jennings represented his country or played for his national side, an Englishman or Irishman would say that he was "capped" or, as of this evening, had "won 115 caps for Northern Ireland."
The next morning, match day, icy rain volleys in; coach Bingham hopes the rain will turn the Windsor Park turf into ground suitable for trench warfare, which the Irish relish. "Uh, we play a kind of committed game," Bingham says. The Irish break fast, and by halftime they are up 1-0. Big Pat knows what that means. For him the second half will be spent in the trenches, under siege again as the Irish fall back in defense to hold the lead. They almost succeed. But 12 minutes before the end, Flemming Christensen heads home the tying goal from close in. The 1-1 result is fine for Northern Ireland, but it means the end of Jennings's streak. Still, he has played 10 hours, 33 minutes of soccer without conceding a goal in international competition. As ever with Pat, a naive question after the game gets a dusty answer: Was it, uh, a relief when that goal went in and took the pressure off? "Nah," says the big fella. "I feel terrible about it."
A couple of hours later, though, he can laugh again. In the hotel lounge he says, "It's take-your-coat-off time," and somebody starts singing a dreadful ditty the team recorded, called Who's Gonna Win? Bingham's Boys!—a sort of soccer equivalent of The Super Bowl Shuffle. The minute he has the chance, he gets the company going on the old songs, Sweet Rose of All and ale and The Boys of the County Armagh.
Old songs, indeed, that may puzzle the citizens of Guadalajara when they hear them on June 12. And hear them from Pat and the boys they certainly will. Win, lose or tie.