Spavin was our leader – Heppolette

Alan Spavin, second from right bottom row, with an all-star line-up: Bobby Charlton, Franny Lee, Martin Buchan, Gordon Banks, George Ross, Willie Donachie,  Peter Thompson, Archie Gemmill, Geoff Hurst,  Mick Martin

Alan Spavin, second from right bottom row, with an all-star line-up: Bobby Charlton, Franny Lee, Martin Buchan, Gordon Banks, George Ross, Willie Donachie, Peter Thompson, Archie Gemmill, Geoff Hurst, Mick Martin

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Alan Spavin will go down in history as one of Preston North End’s greatest ever servants.

The former PNE stalwart passed away this week at the age of 74 after a battle with ill health.

Spavin featured in almost 500 games in a near 20-year association with the club which was only interrupted by a three-year spell playing in the USA.

He was a prominent member of the last North End team to reach a FA Cup final – although his big day out at Wembley in 1964 ended in heartache as West Ham United emerged victorious 3-2.

Former team-mate Ricky Heppolette – who played alongside Spavin at Deepdale in the late 60s and early 70s – believes the Lancaster-born inside-forward will feature high on PNE’s pantheon of greats.

“He was a great, great player,” said Heppolette.

“Spav had quality on the ball and was our leader on the pitch.

“He would pull people here and push people there. He would tell everyone where to go and where they should be. I remember him as a player who had lots of skill.

“He would never give the ball away and always used to say to us. ‘Make sure you don’t give the ball away – we are playing in white, so give the ball to a man wearing white’.”

Born in 1942, Spavin joined the Deepdale groundstaff in 1959 and played alongside Dave Wilson, George Ross and John Barton in the team which reached the 1960 FA Youth Cup final against Chelsea. He quickly progressed to the first-team ranks at Deepdale, making his debut – and scoring – in a 2-0 win over Arsenal in the old First Division later that year.

He became an established player at the club over the next decade and captained the team to the old Third Division title in 1971 under Alan Ball Snr.

“I remember when Alan Ball Snr first came to Preston – he did not like Alan as a player,” Heppolette said.

“He did not play him in any of the friendlies, but somebody got injured and in the first game of the season, Spav played.

“From that moment on, Alan Ball Snr loved him.

“He would always say to us, ‘If you’re in trouble – give it to Spavvy’.”

“He ended up getting the division’s player of the year when we won the title.

“I have nothing but good things to say about him – he was a very popular member of the dressing room.”

Spavin was signed by American team Washington Diplomats in 1974, but returned to Deepdale in a playing and coaching capacity three years later.

After hanging up his boots, Spavin moved back to the US and lived in Florida.

A minute’s applause will be held before this weekend’s home game against QPR.