THE BIG INTERVIEW:Mark Rodgers

Mark Rodgers
Mark Rodgers
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Dave Seddon talks to Mark Rodgers who made his only appearance for Preston North End’s first-team in an infamous game against Scunthorpe United in November 1985

Preston North End’s Tuesday afternoon contest with Scunthorpe United in November 1985 is a tale well told by Lilywhites fans of the era.

Former PNE midfielder Mark Rodgers in Central Park, New York, earlier this year

Former PNE midfielder Mark Rodgers in Central Park, New York, earlier this year

North End were on their backside at the time, the 1985/86 season the lowest point in the club’s history.

They finished second bottom of Division Four, only Torquay below them.

Such a lowly position meant PNE had to apply for re-election to the Football League, that the final time the rule was used before automatic promotion and relegation between the league and Conference began.

Earlier that campaign, the floodlight pylons at Deepdale were condemned as unsafe by the council.

Match action from  PNE's game against Scunthorpe on November 5 1985

Match action from PNE's game against Scunthorpe on November 5 1985

It meant 2pm and 1pm kick-offs to ensure there was sufficient daylight in the latter stages of matches.

That worked well when games were scheduled on a Saturday but Scunthorpe’s visit came on a Tuesday.

North End were forced to kick-off at 2pm, a time when most supporters were at work or school – the crowd was 2,007, the lowest for a PNE home league game.

If the start time was a big problem, so too was the injury crisis faced by Preston manager of the day, Tommy Booth.

We all know that Mel Tottoh clocked-off work at British Aerospace that lunchtime in order to be on the bench for North End.

But who remembers the player he replaced in the second half?

It was Mark Rodgers, a young lad from Broxburn in Scotland who had been scoring goals in North End’s reserves as a trialist.

He was handed his PNE debut that day, wearing the No.8 shirt in an attacking midfield role.

It proved to be his one and only game for Preston’s first-team, with the 18-year-old freed soon after and returning to Scotland.

Although it was a short stay south of the border, it is with much fondness that Rodgers recalls his time at PNE.

And what about that Scunthorpe game?

“It was on the morning of the game that I heard I was playing,” Rodgers told the Post.

“There wasn’t the biggest of crowds for the game which was not a surprise as it was an afternoon.

“But it was still a decent size, far more than I was used to playing for the reserves.

“The game went past quite quickly and we got beaten 2-1.

“Neil Pointon was playing for Scunthorpe, he later signed for Everton and did well there.

“I remember a few of my team-mates who played, Gary Brazil, Simon Gibson, Geoff Twentyman, Nigel Greenwood and Bob Atkins.

“We had a lot of injuries at the time I think, that is why I got my chance.

“Mel Tottoh came on in my place during the game, he had played with me in the reserves when I first came on trial to Preston.”

Rodgers’ time at North End had started some weeks before the Scunthorpe clash.

Had things turned out differently, he could have been on Arsenal’s books.

Said Rodgers: “During the school holidays, I used to train with Arsenal and I nearly signed for them.

“But sometimes it was a bit difficult because the school holidays in Scotland didn’t match those down in England.

“Terry Neill was Arsenal manager at the time and he was very good with us.

“As you can imagine it was tough competition at Arsenal.

“The last game I played at Arsenal was against Tottenham and we won 4-3.”

Rodgers later came on trial to North End, staying in digs close to Deepdale.

“I stayed at a house in New Hall Lane,” said the Scotsman.

“I’d walk to Deepdale in the morning or sometimes get a lift off Brian Kidd who was the assistant manager to Tommy Booth.

“I played a few games in the reserves, the first was against Doncaster Rovers at Deepdale and we won 3-2.

“In that game I scored two goals and then we got a penalty.

“Brian Kidd said ‘let the kid take it’ – I took it and missed!

“Before that game, there had been some trouble in getting my registration through.

“It arrived in the end but not too long before kick-off.

“There were a few other young lads in the reserves at the time, Nigel Jemson, Alan Kelly, Andy Pilling and Danny Phillips.

“We’d train at Deepdale or on Moor Park.

“My trial period with Preston came to an end at Christmas.

“I thought I had done quite well, scored a few goals in the reserves and played that first-team game.

“Buy the youth-team coach took me into the office and said I wouldn’t be getting a contract.

“That was disappointing, I thought I could have done okay and stepped-up.

“I ended-up going back to Scotland and playing for Stenhousemuir and Patrick Thistle.

“I was also into boxing and had a good amateur career as a welterweight – I only had one defeat.

“Unfortunately I did my cruciate ligament playing football and later snapped it a second time.

“All these years on, I still look out for how Preston are doing. I’ve been back to the city two or three times but not to a game.”