Big Interview: Ex-PNE forward Brian Greenhalgh

Brian Greenhalgh, right, remembers the good old days with PNE supporter and local league football stalwart Wilf Riley during a special reunion last month at Bamber Bridge's Sir Tom Finney Stadium

Brian Greenhalgh, right, remembers the good old days with PNE supporter and local league football stalwart Wilf Riley during a special reunion last month at Bamber Bridge's Sir Tom Finney Stadium

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Brian Greenhalgh reckons he has his own unique place in the history of football.

After all, there cannot be too many strikers out there who have scored a hat-trick in one game – and then been dropped for the next!

It was back in March 1966 when, aged just 18, he notched all three goals for Preston in a famous 3-1 away win over Bolton Wanderers at Burnden Park in the old Second Division.

But, unfortunately for him, being the deputy for Alex Dawson meant Greenhalgh had to make way when the legendary PNE centre-forward returned from injury the following week for the trip to Crystal Palace.

“I scored a hat-trick against Bolton Wanderers and was dropped for the next match,” said Greenhalgh, who is now aged 69.

“That can’t have happened too many times.

“But Alex Dawson was the top man for PNE in those days and it was only really when he got injured that I got a chance in the team.

“So even though I scored a hat-trick, he came straight back in for the next game.

“It was just the way it was. I never really thought much about it.

“In my mind, I was 18, I was probably thinking I was lucky to get a game.

“Alex was obviously a great player. There were people like him, Brian Godfrey; these lads were the top players and strikers.

“You didn’t throw a wobbly or anything, like they probably would nowadays.

“In those days you would not have the manager or a member of staff coming up to you and saying, ‘Come on, keep your head up, your time will come’.

“You had to keep your head up yourself.

“I suppose it just made you more determined, ‘I’ll show them’ sort of thing.

“I remember all the goals against Bolton.

“They were all knock-ins – being in the right place, at the right time, which was what I was about as a player.”

If Greenhalgh’s goalscoring exploits did not quite curry favour with PNE boss of the time Jimmy Milne, it certainly did not impress his father Arthur – a Wanderers supporter!

“My dad used to take me to watch Bolton when I was a kid,” Greenhalgh said. “Nat Lofthouse and players like that.

“So after I scored the 
hat-trick, my dad collared me, ‘What do you think you’re doing? Three goals against Bolton Wanderers? My club?’

I said, ‘I was just doing my job, dad’.

“Secretly he was obviously very happy for me.

“He said, ‘A hat-trick against Bolton – and you haven’t even got the match ball’.

“I’d forgotten to get the match ball after scoring the three goals.”

Greenhalgh had broken into North End’s first team a few months earlier – making his debut in a 1-1 draw at Bristol City.

He had flitted in and out of the team before the final couple of weeks of the season saw him handed a run of games.

With Dawson injured once more and seemingly wanting a move away from Deepdale, Milne gave Greenhalgh the opportunity to spearhead his attack for the final three games of the season – the last of which is part of PNE folklore.

The final game of the 
1965-66 season saw Cardiff City arrive at Deepdale – and return to Wales having been thumped 9-0!

The victory is North End’s second biggest league win – behind the 10-0 victory recorded over Stoke City in the 19th century.

Greenhalgh was on the scoresheet twice, along with Godfrey and Ernie Hannigan – who each got hat-tricks – and Nobby Lawton.

“Nine-nil. I don’t think I have ever played in a game before or since which ended in that scoreline,” he added

“It’s funny. My dad, after the game, rung the Lancashire Evening Post and got pictures of all the goals from that game.

“So I have a record of it. The pictures are in a folder and my dad’s written on the side.

“I am on quite a lot of the pictures and my dad’s written, ‘Brian’s here’ with an arrow pointing towards me.

“I don’t remember too much about the game, it’s that long ago.

“But the good thing was, it was the last game of the season and the fans went away happy. It probably helped sell a few season tickets for the following season.”

Greenhalgh had arrived at Deepdale a couple of years earlier as an apprentice after being scouted playing for his school Meols Cop, of Southport.

He played in the same town team as Jimmy Rimmer, who went on play in goal for Manchester United, Arsenal and Aston Villa, and ex-Blackpool and Oldham ace Alan Groves, who tragically died young at the age of 29.

His time in the youth ranks coincided with North End’s famous run to the FA Cup final in 1964 when, as a Second Division club, they were narrowly beaten 3-2 by West Ham United at Wembley.

The match was particularly notable for the fact that North End fielded a certain player by the name of Howard Kendall.

A contemporary of Greenhalgh’s in the PNE youth team, Kendall – who was 20 days short of his 18th birthday – set a record for the youngest player ever to play in the FA Cup final in the 20th century.

Greenhalgh well remembers his good mate making history at Wembley, although perhaps has more vivid recollections of the holiday they enjoyed together a few weeks later.

“Howard and me were around the same age,” he said.

“I think he was about 10 months older than me.

“Howard obviously played in the cup final at 17 and we all went down to Wembley.

“I was only a kid so I wasn’t really part of it all, but it was still a great day out. For getting to the final, the club had promised all the senior players and their wives that they would be taking them away on holiday during the summer.

“It was an award for getting to the cup final.

“Obviously we had lost in the final, but we had put up a good performance.

“A Second Division club, like Preston were back then, getting to the FA Cup final was pretty impressive.

“I obviously had no idea about this holiday; I was just one of the younger lads.

“But I got called into the manager’s office a few days after the final.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh heck what have I done now?’

“Anyway Jimmy Milne said to me, ‘You know that we are taking the lads on holiday?’

“I looked at him and said, ‘No’

He replied, ‘Well we are and you are coming too’.

“I was taken aback, ‘Am I?’

“Jimmy said, ‘Son, all the players are taking their wives and girlfriends, but Howard has not got a girlfriend, so you’re coming instead’.

“Jimmy did not say that I had to be Howard’s girlfriend, but he told me I had to go with him because I was his mate.

“I was like, ‘Oh brilliant – great’.”

The trip to the Pontins Holiday Camp in Cala Mesquida, Majorca, was Greenhalgh’s first venture abroad.

“I had never been abroad – never been on a plane before, so it was all really exciting,” he said.

“Spain was Spain, I had heard of it but I did not really know where it was.

“Me and Howard had a great two-week holiday.

“But on the last day, the manager of Pontins came over to us and told us that we could stay for another week, but he said that we would have to earn our keep.

“We said, ‘What do you mean?’

He said, ‘You will have to be bluecoats.

“Me and Howard looked at each other.

“We didn’t really fancy doing that.

“But anyway, the manager said, ‘Look we have got some really good activities coming up this week.

“Me and Howard looked at each other again.

“He said, ‘Including the final of Miss Pontinental – and you two are going to judge it.’

“So that was it, we were staying!

“But we ended up organising the table tennis competitions, the darts and we called the bingo.”

In total, Greenhalgh made just 19 appearances for North End over a three-year period, although he found the back of the net nine times.

Despite a decent goals-to-game ratio, he was sold to Aston Villa in 1968 by new PNE boss Bobby Seith.

“My thought is that I was quite small and lightweight and that’s why I didn’t play more,” he said.

“In those days, centre-forwards were always big, strong, powerful lads.

“I was not that type. I was more about movement. Don’t get me wrong, I was reasonably decent in the air and scored a few goals with my head.

“We always used to practice that day in and day out in training.

“I just think it was that element of my game which probably didn’t help.”

Greenhalgh enjoyed a relatively successful time on a personal level at Villa, who had dropped into the Second Division.

He formed an excellent partnership with Godfrey.

He netted 12 times in 40 appearances before a new manager came in and 
deemed him surplus to requirements.

“Tommy Docherty came in and replaced the previous boss Tommy Cummings,” he said.

“Tommy Doc just didn’t fancy me.

“On my 21st birthday, Doug Ellis – the chairman at Villa – told me he was going to give me a two-year contract.

“I remember thinking ‘Great’ because I was happy there. But then he brought in the new manager and Tommy just called us all in one by one.

“All he said to me was, ‘You’re leaving’ and that was it.”

Greenhalgh later signed for Leicester City and fulfilled a lifetime ambition when he played a handful of games in the top flight for Huddersfield, after helping them win promotion from the Second Division.

The most prolific period of his career occurred in the colours of Cambridge United when he notched 47 goals in 117 appearances in the old Fourth Division.

He would finish his professional career with spells at AFC Bournemouth, Torquay United and Watford, before moving into non-league.

After a number of years in business, Greenhalgh became involved in the game once more when he accepted an invitation from Kendall to become the chief scout of Everton in the 1990s.

Nowadays, he scouts for Newcastle and travels Europe compiling scouting reports on players for Rafa Benitez’s men.