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Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin backs calls for statue at Windsor Park of legend Pat Jennings

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Former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings

Former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings

Support: Caral Ni Chuilin

Support: Caral Ni Chuilin

Former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings

A campaign to erect a statue of former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings outside Windsor Park has been backed by a Stormont minister.

Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin indicated her support in response to a question from DUP MLA Robin Newton, but said it was ultimately a matter for the IFA and the fans.

Legend Jennings, the former Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal shot stopper, won a record 119 caps and played at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.

Ms Ni Chuilin, whose remit covers sport, said: "Pat Jennings was a remarkable and extremely talented footballer. Erecting a statue at Windsor Park in recognition of his achievements would be a matter, in the first instance, for the Irish Football Association to consider.

"I would be happy to lend my support to any campaign that recognises achievements.

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Support: Caral Ni Chuilin

Support: Caral Ni Chuilin

Support: Caral Ni Chuilin

"I would be delighted to extend an invitation to Pat to attend the department's annual Celebration of Sport event, which recognises sporting achievement while also promoting opportunities for participation and inclusion in sport among our young people."

Mr Newton said fans backing the campaign should be encouraged by the minister's support.

"Pat's record as a world-class goalkeeper, 119 caps for his country, stands favourable comparison with renowned goalkeepers across the world," he said.

"His 22 years playing at international level is a record others can only stand back and admire. A statue erected at Windsor Park would, I believe, find favour with the vast majority of Northern Ireland supporters and football fans in general.

"It's for those supporters who respect the achievements of Pat Jennings and for the IFA to take the matter forward."

Lifelong fan Doug Nash (54) from Aldershot is leading the campaign and said he was delighted by the latest development.

He also revealed that the response from the IFA had been encouraging so far, with more talks expected as business continues to return to normal in the coming months.

Mr Nash added that the proposed bronze statue would likely be 7ft tall, and that he was also calling for a knighthood for the big Newry man.

"I have spoken to one member of the IFA who is really keen on the idea and said he couldn't see why it couldn't happen," he said.

"I have about 4,500 followers on Twitter and not one person has a bad thing to say about the campaign or Pat.

"In my opinion he's not only one of the best goalkeepers ever, but he does so much behind the scenes that people don't know about.

"I'm sure Pat will live to be 100, but I would love for him to be there when it's unveiled."

Mr Nash said he will now wait to hear more from the IFA before starting any fundraising activities.

He has since spoken to sculptor Andrew Edwards, who created the statue of England World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks outside Stoke City's stadium.

"His work is amazing and he said he would be honoured to help create a statue of Pat. He said he's willing to create a miniature version of the statue I could use at any presentations.

"Interestingly enough, he said as well that statues are made one-fifth bigger than real life because bronze appears smaller.

"Obviously Pat is 6ft tall, so the statue would end up being 7ft tall."

Belfast Telegraph