Craig Salmon talks to ex-PNE, Blackpool and current Bamber Bridge striker Brett Ormerod
Brett Ormerod broke out into a jovial bout of laughter when I informed him of the very first time I became aware of his presence on this planet.
It was an Under-12s junior football match nearly 30 years ago and my team Borrowdale United were up against Hyndburn Academicals.
Unfortunately for me, I had been handed the job of keeping this diminutive, blond haired winger quiet.
It proved to be a thankless task as I spent the entire duration of the game tied up in knots as Academicals ran-up a cricket score against us.
As I threw Borrowdale’s all-green strip into the middle of the dressing room after the game, I enquired – in desolation – as to the identity of my nemesis.
For the next few years, I dreaded our fixtures against Academicals – and the prospect of facing ‘the little lad on the wing called Brett’.
“Those were the days,” Ormerod said.
“Not for me they weren’t, Brett,” I muttered under my breath.
Even if Ormerod, who was born in Blackburn and raised in Great Harwood, had caused me a number of sleepless nights in my youth, I have taken a great deal of interest in the way Ormerod has developed from that raw, scrawny adolescent, which I remember, into a striker of some repute in adulthood.
He has featured in the Premier League, played in a FA Cup Final, scored the winning goal in a Championship play-off final and has worn the shirts of some of English football’s most illustrious clubs.
Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Southampton have all utilised Ormerod’s skills during his 15-year professional career.
But around these parts, he is most famed for his spells wearing the colours of Blackpool and their arch rivals Preston North End.
His spell at Deepdale was sandwiched in between two stints at Bloomfield Road.
Very much a fans’ favourite with the Seasiders after scoring 62 goals in 150 appearances from 1997 to 2001, Ormerod did the unthinkable in 2006 when he signed for North End boss Billy Davies on a free transfer after being released by Southampton. Three years later, he returned to Bloomfield Road – famously helping the Tangerines into the Premier League under Ian Holloway.
By his own admission, Ormerod will accept that his spells with Blackpool were more successful than his time at Preston
But it’s a measure of his popularity and his down-to-earth attitude to life that he is highly thought of by both sets of supporters.
“There’s no secret of the rivalry between Preston and Blackpool,” said Ormerod, who turns 39 next week
“There will always be fans who will never forgive you for playing for one club after playing for the other.
“But in retrospect, I always had a good relationship with both the Preston and Blackpool supporters.
“I am very appreciative of that because I know not many players get that.
“I remember going back to Preston not that long ago as a guest of honour for the play-off semi-final against Rotherham. I came on the pitch at half-time half-expecting to get booed, but I got a standing ovation, which was amazing.
“The same has happened at Blackpool and so I consider myself very fortunate that I have played for both clubs and that I have always had a good relationship with both sets of fans.
“I think scoring on my debut for Preston against Crystal Palace helped me get in the fans’ good books,” he added with a chuckle.
If Ormerod has any regrets about his years at Deepdale, then it’s the amount of time he spent on the treatment table which prevented him from showing the PNE faithful what he could really do on a consistent basis.
He suffered a badly broken leg in the 2006 Championship play-off semi-final defeat to Leeds United, less than six months after joining the club.
He also sustained a number of other injuries, including a nasty fractured cheekbone, and other niggling issues.
“Unfortunately, I think the one thing which blighted my time at Preston ware injuries,” he conceded.
“I had a couple of very bad injuries and every time I seemed to get myself going with a run of games, something else would come along.
“Obviously I had the disappointment in the play-offs when I broke my leg against Leeds.
“Then the season after, I had got back fit and in the team and we missed out on the play-offs, when really we should have got into the top six because we had spent most of the season in the top two.
“Overall, I enjoyed my time at Preston, it’s a great club.
“But like I say, we had the play-off disappointments and from a personal point of view for me, just having bad injuries throughout the time I was there.
“I just could never get fit enough to have a good run in the team.
“I don’t like talking about what happened with my leg because I don’t want to curse myself.
“To be honest, when I broke my leg against Leeds I thought it might end my career. I had broken it at Blackpool a few years earlier, but fortunately on that occasion it was a clean break straight through both bones and I managed to recover.
“But the one with Preston, I think I broke it in five or six places and I tore my ankle ligaments as well.
“I honestly feared the worst.
“I saw my X-ray after I had the operation and my leg looked like it had been built out of a Meccano set.
“There were that many screws and plates in it.
“Thankfully, I had a good surgeon and really good physiotherapy.
“Obviously, it’s never nice having accidents like that, but I count myself fortunate that I was able to come back because I was aware that injuries like that have finished a lot of other lads’ careers.
“But along with that, I fractured my cheekbone and there were other injuries too.
“I think I ended up spending more time in Preston Royal Infirmary than I did on the pitch!
“By the end of my time at North End, I think I knew all the doctors on first-name terms.”
It is perhaps more than a little ironic that despite being raised in Great Harwood – a small town nestled in between Blackburn and Burnley – Ormerod went onto spend a significant part of his career at the two Lancashire clubs further west in the county.
A boyhood Blackburn fan, he was released by Rovers in 1995 – just after they had won the Premier League title.
He drifted into non-league with Accrington Stanley, scoring a glut of goals in a two-year spell at the Crown Ground, which caught the attention of Blackpool.
Barring Fleetwood and Morecambe, who are relative newcomers to the Football League, Ormerod has represented all of the Lancashire clubs during his career except Burnley – something which he is not too disappointed about.
In fact one of his favourite personal moments while wearing a PNE shirt was scoring at Turf Moor in 2006 although North End went on to lose a thriller live on Sky 3-2.
“Being Blackburn born and from Great Harwood, if you had told me that the one club I would not play for would be Burnley, I don’t think I would have cried too many tears,” Ormerod said.
“I do remember one of the first games I played after coming back from the broken leg at Preston was against Burnley.
“I came on and scored, which put us 2-1 up.
“I think I also set Simon Whaley up for the first.
“It was a great Lancashire derby which went back and forth and, although, we lost I was pleased to get back in the team and score.”
As well as all the injury setbacks he has suffered, Ormerod admits being told he had no future at Blackburn at the age of 18 was a bitter pill to swallow.
At the time he thought his professional football dream was over for good.
He said: “When I was released by Blackburn, did I think I would go on to do what I have done in the game? Did I heck!”
“Blackburn had won the Premiership and I just had a double hernia operation.
“I think I stopped playing football that summer and was low on confidence.
“One of my dad’s friends asked me if I fancied going down to Accy Stanley .
“I did pre-season there and everything just stemmed from there really.I went there not really expecting to play for Accy, it was about trying to get some fitness back.
“There were a lot of good experienced ex-pros there at the time and they put a lot of confidence back into me.
“I thought if they think I’m half-decent, I might just be.”
It was Gary Megson who enticed Ormerod to the Seaside, paying £50,000 for his services in March 1997.
After suffering his first leg break, he recovered to help lift the club out of the bottom rung of English football, scoring in the play-off final victory over Leyton Orient at the Millennium Stadium in 2001.
His eye for goal was being monitored by Gordon Strachan, who had first seen him in action at Stanley and had vowed to sign him once he had got a job back into management.
The current Scotland boss kept his promise by paying £1.75m to take him to Southampton.
“At the time I was scoring goals at Blackpool and it’s probably the most confident I have ever been,” said Ormerod, who is dad to Dylan (15), Kenzie (11) and Riley (8).
“I managed to get a big move down to Southampton and to be fair, it frightened the hell out of me.
“Myself and my wife Lisa had never lived outside of Great Harwood.
“So it was a bit of a culture shock at first, but I ended up having four fantastic years down there.
“I scored on my debut in a 2-0 win at Sunderland.
“At first I was in and out of the side, but then I remember playing in a reserve game against MK Dons and scoring a hat-trick.
“That got me in the first team for the midweek Carling Cup game against Tranmere.
“I scored a hat-trick in that game in a 6-1 win and the following Saturday, Southampton were playing Manchester City at St Mary’s.
“It was when Kevin Keegan was the manager and Peter Schmeichel was in goal.
“I managed to score two goals in a 2-0 win that day and that really set me going.
“But I remember when I went to Southampton, it was all a bit surreal.
“One minute I was playing at Blackpool, the next I was sitting on the bench at Old Trafford and looking across and seeing Ryan Giggs and David Beckham.
“I remember thinking what am I doing here?”
Ormerod, of course, would taste the Premier League again with Blackpool after being released by North End.
The Tangerines won promotion from the Championship in 2010, when they overcame Cardiff City 3-2 at Wembley.
In a breathtaking opening period, Ormerod struck the winning goal in first-half injury time.
“I thought I had missed my chance of playing at Wembley,” Ormerod revealed.
“I got to the FA Cup final in 2003 with Southampton against Arsenal, but that was at the Millennium Stadium.
“The other play-off final with Blackpool was at the Millennium Stadium.
“So to go to Wembley and not only win, but score the goal which was the one which took us to the Premier League, it was just an absolute dream come true.
“It was a fairytale...if you wanted to write a script, you could not have written it any better.
“It has to be the biggest highlight of my career. I was so proud of the squad because we were the relegation favourites before the season started, but we went and proved everybody wrong and did the impossible.”
Today, Ormerod renews his acquaintance with the FA Cup when he will turn out for current club non-league outfit Bamber Bridge – a team he joined in the summer – in the third round of qualifying against Kettering Town.
While during his professional playing days,Ormerod was just one win away from lifting the trophy – Southampton unfortunately lost 1-0 to the Gunners in the final – his aim today is helping Brig win through to the first round proper.
“It’s an important game for us today,” he said. “We would love a good cup run. It’s going to be tough against Kettering, but if we can win and then get into the proper rounds, it can bring a lot of money into the club.
“Bamber Bridge is such a good set-up, that it would be nice to bring to him in some much-needed revenue.”