From PNE ‘solicitor’ to England manager

Sam Allardyce Playing for North End
Sam Allardyce Playing for North End
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If Sam Allardyce lands the England job, it would seem a lifetime ago from the era when he was a rock in the centre of Preston’s defence and later overlooked in the Lilywhites’ search for a new manager.

Big Sam is the front runner to be the next England head coach, having met on Tuesday with the three-man FA panel who will choose Roy Hodgson’s successor.

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce

North End form a chapter in Allardyce’s early years in coaching and managing.

As a player, he wore PNE’s white shirt for three seasons, having arrived at Deepdale in the twilight of his career.

Following coaching spells with West Bromwich Albion and Irish club Limerick, Allardyce returned to Preston in 1992 as youth-team coach.

Within three months he was caretaker manager and in line for the post full-time.

But he was pipped to the post by John Beck, reverting to his job coaching the youngsters before leaving for Blackpool.

Allardyce was part of the Lilywhites re-build done by John McGrath in 1986.

Following re-election that summer, McGrath put together a new squad at a cost of just £15,000 – a sum raised by the sale of striker Nigel Greenwood to Bury.

In just 11 months, Preston went from finishing 91st in the Football League to being promoted as Fourth Division runners-up.

McGrath favoured a 3-5-2 formation, with Allardyce, Alex Jones and Bob Atkins the three centre-halves.

Himself a centre-back in his playing days, McGrath dubbed the trio his ‘solicitors’.

Alan Kelly was the keeper behind Allardyce, Atkins and Jones for part of that promotion season, sharing the gloves with David Brown.

Three decades on, the PNE goalkeeper coach is in no doubt that Allardyce would be the right appointment for England.

Kelly said: “I was just an 18-year-old kid then, starting out in my career.

“Big Sam was a kingpin in that team, he used his height, experience and maturity to lead us on the pitch.

“I remember him putting an arm around my shoulder at the start of the season and saying he would help guide me through.

“We played some really good football that promotion season, playing out from the back and passing it around.

“People might forget that Sam could play a bit, the ball would come out from the keeper and he could see and play a pass as well as anyone.

“When the England job came up, I said Big Sam would be brilliant for it.

“He has worked with big players, knows how to handle egos and players with different levels of ability.

“The sheer force of his personality can galvanise a team.”

Allardyce stayed at PNE for two more seasons after the promotion campaign, his final game being in April 1989.

He came back in the summer of 1992 to work under Les Chapman and Walter Joyce, with him appointed caretaker in late September after the sacking of Chapman.

For two months Allardyce stayed in temporary charge, playing in three of the 12 games he was at the helm for.

He was a shortlist of four for the job full-time, but the board went for Beck.

Allardyce reverted to youth team coach, Kevin Kilbane one of the players under his charge.