Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Pat Rice a true Arsenal legend

Pat Rice with Arsene Wenger, who described his retiring assistant as 'loyal and devoted'
Pat Rice with Arsene Wenger, who described his retiring assistant as 'loyal and devoted'

He is the epitome of Arsenal and has committed almost the whole of his life to the club, which indicates his huge loyalty and devotion.

Those were the words of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as he announced the immediate retirement of his loyal assistant, the former Northern Ireland full-back Pat Rice.

“I will always be indebted to him for his expert inside knowledge of Arsenal and football generally,” added Wenger.

“On training pitches and at matches Pat has always been a passionate, devoted colleague who will be missed by us all.”

There was a hint of emotion in Wenger’s demeanour, for his partnership with the Cockney Kid was rated among the most successful in the game.

I watched Pat in all his 49 international appearances, profiled him frequently during his career. When you interviewed him you heard the vibes of Wenger. Same thoughts, same football philosophies but different accents. The pure cockney of Pat and the French guttural tones of Wenger, who had joined the London club from Grampus Eight in Japan.

Rice is a true Gunner. In fact he admits still getting a feeling of awe when he walks into the Arsenal stadium, the Emirates, like he did at Highbury, and sees that statue of Herbert Chapman.

He epitomises the Arsenal image — clean cut, the impeccable family lifestyle and that joker-in-the-pack, impish personality who was always the life and soul of the party when travelling with Northern Ireland.

Rice, now 63 and wearing glasses, was brought up in the shadows of Arsenal’s ground where his father had a greengrocer business selling fruit to the fans at home games.

He steered Arsenal to the 1971 League and Cup double as a player and appeared in a total of six FA Cup finals with Arsenal and later Watford.

As a coach his medal collection includes three Premier League titles and accolades from various organisations.

It was at Highbury where he made a decisive impact first as a player, then the youth team coach and finally long-time assistant to Wenger.

His counselling was invaluable during trauma periods at the club — the George Graham bung accusations, Paul Merson’s drug problem and Tony Adam’s alcoholism, both now rehabilitated.

He collected 49 Northern Ireland caps, the last against England and his one regret is not reaching the half-century mark.

He formed a magnificent fullback partnership with clubmate Sammy Nelson and was a devoted to his country as his club.

He was transferred at the end of his Highbury reign to Watford, helping them gain promotion to the first division in 1981-82 but it is a Gunner that he will always been remembered — and by Ulster fans as the Cockney Kid who was born in Belfast and not under the sound of Bow Bells.

I leave the last word to one of the Arsenal faithful: “No matter what your allegiances are it is clear that to devote 45 years of your life to something in any walk of life (let alone the fickle football world) is something to be admired. Enjoy your retirement.”

Rice, who captained Arsenal to the FA club triumph in 1979 and made 528 appearances over 14 seasons, will be succeeded by defender Steve Bould who spent 11 seasons with the Academy set up.

Arsenal believe keeping it in the family.

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