PNE special: Pain and gain for Greenall

Colin Greenall in his Preston North End days
Colin Greenall in his Preston North End days
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The news which Colin Greenall received when he had his injured ankle scanned and X-rayed with the 1992/93 season just around the corner, was not what the Preston defender expected to hear.

He had stretched for a ball in a pre-season game against Blackpool and got caught by a challenge.

“I went for a scan the morning after I did it and I thought I would be fine,” said Greenall.

“There was very little pain when I went to get it checked-out.

“After I had the scan and X-ray, I went in to see the specialist.

“He held up the X-ray and said ‘I could pull your ankle out if I wanted’.

“It turned out that I had completely snapped the ligaments and I hardly had any feeling in the ankle.

“That is why I didn’t have much pain because I couldn’t feel it.

“I had an operation and was in bed for a week after it because it was such a bad injury.

“Fortunately, Preston had a physio called Mark Leather who was one of the best around and he got me back to full fitness in six months.

“He probably kept me out two months longer but his reasoning was that extra bit of time would see me recovered and back fully fit.

“Mark was right, I came back and played for a number of seasons after that.

“I got back early in the February – I played an ‘A’ team game on the Saturday, then in the reserves in midweek, before making my first-team return away at Bournemouth.”

The injury in the summer of 1992 in effect divided his time at Preston into two.

Greenall had arrived from Bury in March of that year as PNE looked uneasily over their shoulder at the Third Division relegation battle.

His debut came in a 2-1 home win against Bolton Wanderers.

In the nine games he played until the end of the season, PNE lost only two.

Paired up with Mike Flynn at the heart of the back four, Greenall gave the team the experience which was needed to see off the relegation threat.

It was Les Chapman who brought him to Deepdale, but by the time Greenall had recovered from his injury, John Beck was in charge.

“My move from Bury to Preston came at a time when Bury had money problems, my contract was due to run out and they got a bit of a fee for me,” said Greenall. “I spoke with Les Chapman about Preston and he sold the club to me.

“Chappy was a lovely fella and I wanted to sign.

“We played Bury on the last day of the season, just a few weeks after I signed, and they were relegated.

“Chappy was a brilliant manager to work for, he would let the players enjoy themselves but there was always the line they couldn’t cross and they respected it.

“I was looking forward to the new season when I got the injury in a game against Blackpool of all teams.

“A couple of months into the season, Chappy got the sack and Sam Allardyce was put in charge as caretaker.

“I was still injured and so I helped Big Sam out a bit.

“On a matchday I would sit up in the stand and be on the walkie-talkie to report to him in the bench.

“We won 3-2 against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road in the league.

“After that game, I thought Big Sam might get the job on a full-time basis.

“As it was, they gave it to John Beck.”

Beck’s appointment was as radical as anything PNE had done for years.

Said Greenall: “Beck was a different kettle of fish to what a lot of us had been used to.

“That said, he was ahead of his time with some of the off-the -pitch stuff – the ice baths, eating after games.

“What he didn’t do was let the players think or play, he had a system which we had to stick to.

“As a centre-half I knew the only thing he wanted me to do was put the ball down the channel where extra sand had been put on the plastic pitch.

“No one could express themselves, even in the final third of the pitch.

“If you got the ball on the edge of the box, you had to hook it on.

“Towards the end of that first season under Beck, we won 1-0 at Exeter and it looked like we were safe.

“But we lost our last five games and went down, we were relegated after losing 1-0 at Bolton on the final day of the season.

“I remember sitting on the bus with Mark Leonard after the game and saying to him, ‘What happened there?’, we were stunned.

“That was my time at Preston over, a few days later we were all at Deepdale and went to the office one by one to see Beck.

“He told me that I could leave as I didn’t want to play his way.

“I signed for Chester with Graham Barrow and we got promotion a year later.”

He went from Chester to Lincoln before returning to the region to join Wigan.

His time at Wigan was a success, Latics promoted from the Third Division in 1997 with Greenall then lifting the Auto Windscreens Shield at Wembley two years later.

He later had a brief spell as Wigan’s caretaker boss in 2001.

For the last 13 years, Greenall had worked for the Lancashire FA at Leyland, overseeing the development of grassroots coaches.

When his football days were over, Colin Greenall got a passion for golf and twice tried to qualify for the Open.

Greenall said: “I played in the qualifiers in 2013 and 2014.

“I was playing off scratch and decided to give it a go –anyone with a low handicap can pay to enter.

“I didn’t qualify but it was a great experience both years. I remember being really nervous the first time.

“When I stepped on to the first tee and my name was read out, I was shaking like a leaf.

“Golf was something I took up properly once I had finished coaching and playing football.

“I had more time to play and practiced regularly.

“I play at St Annes Old Links and it is a sport I enjoy.”