FOOTBALL fans around the world have rushed to show support for Irish footballing legend Pat Rice after he was hospitalised with cancer.
The news that the 64-year-old was being treated for the illness prompted a wave of support on social media websites.
“It’s very sad news,” said Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger of his long-serving deputy. “Not only do we love him but of course we are very grateful for what he has done here. We are in touch with him but I trust his legendary strength to get over it.”
Belfast-born Rice started his career at the north London side in 1966. In the 44 years he dedicated to Arsenal, including 14 seasons as a player, Rice featured in one of the most Irish teams in the history of English football and led the club to FA Cup glory in 1979.
Between 1966 and 1980 the defender lined out alongside the likes of Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton, as well as David O’Leary, Pat Jennings, Sammy Nelson and John Devine.
He also won 49 caps for Northern Ireland.
Rice finished his playing career at Watford before returning to Arsenal as a youth team coach in 1984. He rose through the ranks to become Wenger’s assistant in 1996, helping the club to win seven trophies before he retired last year.
Thousands of fans rallied behind Rice online, including several famous Irish ‘Gooners’.
“Thoughts going out to one of my childhood heroes Pat Rice today. Hold fast big fella,” wrote TV personality Dermot O’Leary.
Broadcaster Piers Morgan said: “Very, very sorry to hear about Pat Rice’s fight with cancer. Lovely man, and one of the great legends in Arsenal history.”