Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: Goodbye to Alan Kelly

Alan Kelly.
Alan Kelly.
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It was the end of an era when this week Alan Kelly chose to end his long association with Preston North End – as an employee that is.

he news that time was up for Kells was delivered on Thursday morning and came somewhat out of the blue.

However, I think we can safely assume that although the keeper coach duties will no longer be done by him, his association with North End and love for the club will never go away.

The message he posted on Twitter said it all.

Kelly tweeted: “I return to the stands as a life long fan and wish our great club every success in the future. Thanks to all @pnefc.”

One of the Deepdale stands he refers to, carries his late father’s name – Alan Kelly Snr’s face is designed into the seats.

Kelly Snr looks down over the pitch 24/7 and hopefully we will see Kelly Jnr pay a regular visit as a supporter in due course.

Not that I don’t expect him to be back in football in some capacity soon, after all he has so much to give to the game still.

PNE have been a big part of Kelly’s life near enough since the day he was born.

On a press day at the training ground last season, he leafed through a pile of old photographs he had come across in his loft.

One of them showed him as a baby at his christening, cradled in his dad’s arms with three other North End players – Alex Dawson, Les Dagger and his godfather George Ross.

Growing up, he spent a lot of time at Deepdale, his dad having joined the coaching staff – he went on to be PNE’s manager and assistant boss.

Kelly joined North End as a player in the mid 1980s, at first combining training with doing an apprenticeship at Leyland Motors.

His debut in the first-team came during the season when North End had to seek re-election to the Football League after finishing 91st.

One of his early games in the keeper’s jersey was one which the Preston fans of the era will recall well.

For a chunk of the 1985/86 campaign, the floodlight pylons at Deepdale were condemned as unsafe by the local authority.

New towers were finally put in place and switched on for a night match against Cambridge United.

Unfortunately they had been angled incorrectly and part of the pitch was starved of proper light.

‘Put 50p in the metre will you ref?’ was one of the more polite shouts that came from the stands that night.

Kelly was between the posts as North End were beaten 2-1.

A better time was had by all the next season, Preston promoted from the Fourth Division under the astute guidance of John McGrath.

There wereplenty of games for Kelly, including on a bone-hard St James’ Park pitch when PNE pushed First Division Newcastle all the way in an FA Cup tie.

Kelly suffered for the North End cause, literally in 1988 when he was run over by a motorbike in the town centre when out buying a new pair of goalkeeping gloves!

In 1992 Kelly moved on and joined Sheffield United.

But he was to return to the club’s academy in 2011 and had a spell as keeper coach when Graham Alexander and David Unsworth were in caretaker charge.

It was a role he took up again soon after the arrival of Simon Grayson in February 2013, one he filled until this week.

Why Kelly chose to leave is not 100% clear – that will remain private between North End and himself.

He has made it clear that it was his decision and that there had been no fall-out or bust-up.

People have different ways of working and are not always going to dovetail.

Kelly leaves a fine legacy at Deepdale from his time looking after the keepers.

All those who work with him have had nothing but praise for the way Kelly has helped them develop.

Jordan Pickford, Sam Johnstone, Declan Rudd, Chris Maxwell and Thorsten Stuckmann are just five he worked with.

Pickford has gone on to be a £30m goalkeeper and has kept in touch with Kelly since their five months working together.

The search will now be on for his replacement, a time once again to embrace change.

Another departure from Deepdale on the day Kelly went, was that of Stevie May.

The striker’s move back to Scotland to join Aberdeen will be a new start for him, one he needs after a torrid time with injury at PNE.

Just three months into his stay here, he suffered the most horrific of injuries to his right knee.

Three ligaments were torn when he was hit by a tackle in a Championship game at Fulham.

For a while it was touch and go whether he would play again but he slowly got back to fitness.

Tearing three ligaments is quite rare, the surgeon May saw advising that one of them had to heal naturally before he repaired the other two.

I had a long chat with the Scotsman about his injury after the Rotherham game in April – one in which he scored his only goal in North End colours.

It was not a conversation for the squeamish, nor was the post-surgery photo he posted on social media.

The injury was suffered when his leg hyper-extended downwards – the force of the impact over-straightened his leg and took three ligaments with it.

The fact that May got back playing football is testament to the skill of the surgeon and much hard work by the lad himself.

Aberdeen is a new start for him, the chance to work with the manager who gave him his first-debut when he was 16-years-old.

I hope the lad gets back to full sharpness and back to what he did a lot of before coming to England – scoring goals.

Some moves don’t work out for a reason, for May at Preston it was because of a split-second occurrence in the penalty box at the Putney End of Craven Cottage.

North End got a decent fee for him – although not what they paid for him – and the player has the security of a four-year deal.