Ricky passes on wise words to PNE stars

Ricky Heppolette lined up against United 43 years ago
Ricky Heppolette lined up against United 43 years ago
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Former North End fans’ favourite Ricky Heppolette has one simple nugget of advice for Preston’s current crop of players when they face the might of Manchester United on Monday night.

“Try not to give them a kick”, said the ex-PNE midfield dynamo, with a hint of a smile.

The 65-year-old – who was the first ever player of Asian heritage to play in the Football League – will be an interested spectator when North End take on the Red Devils in the fifth round of the FA Cup at Deepdale.

Heppolette was in the Preston starting XI the last time the two clubs met in a competitive fixture – which was also an FA Cup tie at Deepdale – more than 40 years ago.

On that occasion in February 1972, North End – who were in the old Second Division at the time – produced a spirited performance against their illustrious opponents, who included George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law in their team.

However, despite keeping United at bay for the majority of the match, Preston were eventually undone by two Alan Gowling strikes in the final five minutes.

The memories of the actual game have faded slightly over time for Heppolette, but he will always remember PNE manager of the time Alan Ball senior’s final words in the dressing room before the game.

“I think it’s important that Preston get off to a good start on Monday night,” Heppolette said.

“All they need to do is win their tackles and pass the ball to a white shirt.

“I’ll always remember our manager saying, ‘Pass it to a white shirt and when that somebody else has the ball to pass it to another white shirt... try not to give them a kick’.

“But I think Preston did wonderfully well against Sheffield United in the last round – it just goes to show that the magic of the FA Cup is still alive.

“I think they have a chance of causing an upset.”

More than 35,000 fans crammed into Deepdale in 1972 for the visit of United and Heppolette remembers being given a torrid time by the legendary Best.

“United had a really good team out that day,” Heppolette said. “I could not get close enough to George to kick 
him.

“He would show me the ball, invite me to tackle him but then he had gone.

“He was that fast – I could not really tackle him.

“But they had some great players...Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Alan Gowling – a great team.”

All this week there has been a real buzz around Deepdale as fans queue for tickets and Heppolette well remembers the excitement United’s last visit to Preston created.

“They were as big back then as they are now,” he said.

“I’ll always remember the excitement when we got drawn with Manchester United.

“There was a buzz around the place and everybody wanted to talk about the 
game.

“I remember the number of people packed inside the ground and the atmosphere.”