PNE star Laird feels a sense of duty

Scott Laird

Scott Laird

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The joke was not lost on Scott Laird as he walked across the Invincibles Lounge to collect his prize after being named Community Player of the Year at Preston North End’s awards night last Sunday.

Josh Brownhill and Joe Garner made the same walk with Coldplay’s atmospheric anthem ‘Paradise’ booming out over the speakers.

It was a Wurzels tune which accompanied left-back Laird’s stroll to the front – ‘I am a cider drinker’ a nod to his West Country roots.

He loved it, sporting a huge grin as he turned to face the room.

Laird loves life, loves being out on the pitch doing his best for North End.

When the 25-year-old is not hurtling up and down that left wing, he is equally at home mixing with those who cheer him on from the stands – or trying to raise a few quid for charity.

If there is a visit to a local school on the agenda or bingo numbers need calling at the Young North Enders party, Laird’s hand will shoot straight up to volunteer. That approach has landed him the Community Player of the Year award two seasons running.

You would not bet against him making it three in a row in 12 months time.

“I love getting out there into the community and meeting our supporters,” Laird told the Evening Post.

“Sometimes I get a bit of light-hearted stick from the other lads but I think it is something which should be done. It is something which has gone out of the game a little bit these last few years.

“The gap between fans and players has widened in football slightly, and it needs to be brought back closer.

“I go back to the story of when I was a kid and supported Plymouth Argyle.

“Back then I used to be in Plymouth’s equivalent of the Young North Enders.

“The Plymouth first-team squad would always have time for us and I thought the world of that.

“I always thought that if ever I became a professional footballer, then I would be the same as that.

“If you take time to speak to a youngster, they will always remember that.

“The young fans look up to us here at Preston. We are not Premier League footballers earning massive money.

“But they come to watch us on a Saturday afternoon, cheer us on, and we are so grateful for that support.

“To see the young kids with a smile on their faces is brilliant.

“Sometimes they act more mature than I do at the events which are put on!

“It is great to muck in and the other week, myself and a few lads were calling bingo numbers at the Young North Enders party.

“This club does some great work in the community. Andy Haythornwaite and his team from the community department deserve a lot of credit for their hard work.”

Laird will have his serious head on later today as North End tackle Rotherham in the first leg of their play-off semi-final at Deepdale (5.15pm).

The season hinges on the double-header against the Millers and – hopefully – beyond that, a date with either Leyton Orient or Peterborough at Wembley.

More than a dozen of the Preston squad have experienced the play-offs before with other clubs. So too has manager Simon Grayson.

Laird was in the Stevenage side which won the League Two play-off final against Torquay at Old Trafford in 2011.

The following year, Laird got to the semi-final stage in League One with Boro, losing out to Sheffield United.

His last appearance in a Stevenage shirt before joining North End was the second leg of the 2012 semi-finals.

Said Laird: “I like the play-offs, they are a brilliant idea.

“You always aim to go up automatically but the play-offs are the best way to get promoted.

“However, they are the worst way to lose and see your promotion hopes dashed.

“I have had experience of both at Stevenage. We beat Torquay at Old Trafford – John Mousinho scored a great goal for the winner.

“Losing at Sheffield United the following season wasn’t nice at all.

“I would love to help get Preston to Wembley – playing there is what you dream of as a kid.

“Twice I played there in the FA Trophy final for Stevenage and it’s an unbelievable place.

“But before we can think of anything like that, we have an extremely good Rotherham side to play over two legs.

“We will have to be at our best to beat them and it is all about who handles the next 180 minutes the best.”

Kevin Davies is another of the PNE players to have had experience of the play-offs.

That came at the start of his career at Chesterfield, the Spireites beating local rivals Mansfield in the semi-finals and then winning 2-0 against Bury at the old Wembley.

Since January, Davies has played a lesser role in PNE’s fortunes, having been one of the first names on the team sheet before Christmas.

But the 37-year-old could be a key figure as North End try to get the better of Rotherham.

Said Davies: “It has been a little bit frustrating for me in the last couple of months.

“But I like to think I have played my part in getting us to this stage. Hopefully I can play in the next two or three games.

“There is a lot of competition because we have some good strikers here.

“Craig Davies has come in on loan from Bolton and Stuart Beavon has done well since getting back into the side.

“So I can’t really have many complaints about not starting too often recently.

“Since I got sent off in January it has been a bit difficult, with me in and out of the side a little bit.

“I keep doing my work in training. The manager has some big decisions in terms of shape and the formation he is going to play.

“I’m sure he will get it right because he has done that all season.”