THE BIG INTERVIEW
Former Preston North Endwinger Barry Dunn can claim an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
It came a couple of years before the winger moved to Preston from Sunderland during Tommy Docherty’s brief reign as Deepdale boss.
While playing for Newcastle Blue Star in the Wearside League, his talents came to the notice of Sunderland.
They persuaded Dunn to move to Roker Park and with it he wrote his name into the record books.
“At the time I was the oldest amateur footballer to turn professional – I was 27,” Dunn told the Evening Post.
“I got presented with a copy of the Guinness Book of Records with my name in.
“At the time I was working for British Gas as an engineer during the week and playing for Newcastle Blue Star – the local brewery team – on a Saturday.
“I loved it. Blue Star were in the Wearside League, which was of a very high standard.
“It wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill league, there were some quality players and the games were tough.
“We played Sunderland’s reserves and I tortured them that day.
“About 20 minutes after the final whistle there was a knock at the dressing room door and it was one of the Sunderland staff inviting me for a trial.
“I went there to train for a fortnight and after the first week they offered me a contract.
“It was only quite recently that I found out why they signed me part-way through my trial spell.
“Frank Clark was assistant to Ken Knighton and when we had a catch-up a few years ago Frank told me that Newcastle had also come in for me.
“That forced Sunderland to act quickly and they signed me up after that first week.
“I would have signed for Newcastle had they offered me something before Sunderland, because it was on my terms and was local.
“Had a club from outside the area have come in at the time, I wouldn’t have gone.
“I joined Sunderland. I was a local boy signing for the club I had always supported from the terraces so it was a dream move in many ways.
“My first game was in the League Cup I think, then my debut in the league was actually against Preston at Roker Park in 1979 – I came on as a substitute that afternoon in a 1-1 draw.
“That was a proud moment, going from the old Paddock as a supporter to playing for Sunderland.”
Dunn stayed at Sunderland until the autumn of 1981 when North End came calling for his services.
Nobby Stiles had been sacked as PNE manager that summer following relegation to the old Third Division, his replacement being Tommy Docherty.
The Doc was lured back to England by the Deepdale board, having been managing Sydney Olympic in Australia.
They saw the former Manchester United boss as the man to lead Preston back to the second tier.
Docherty admitted that he had come full circle, having made well over 300 appearances for PNE during a nine-year stay as a player.
Results had been poor in the early weeks of the 1981/82 season and that prompted a dip into the transfer market.
Dunn was one of four new arrivals in a week, with Tommy Booth, John Kelly and Gary Buckley also signing on the dotted line.
Preston supporters of the time might well remember them making their PNE league debuts together in a goalless draw against Bristol City at Ashton Gate which was featured on Match of the Day.
Dunn’s first game in a Preston shirt had actually come a few days earlier in a League Cup tie against Leicester.
Said Dunn: “I loved my time at Sunderland and in that first season I scored a couple of important goals for them.
“We got promoted that year to the First Division, so it was a big thing for me to have gone from the Wearside League to the top division in England.
“Preston’s interest in me came at a time when Sunderland needed a bit of money to help them bring in new players at a time when they had started to struggle in the First Division.
“Mick Docherty was on the Sunderland staff at the time and he asked me whether I would be interested in talking to his dad, who by then was manager at Preston.
“The Doc was such a well-known figure in football and who wouldn’t want to talk to him?
“I was 29 going on 30 and if Tommy Docherty was going to offer me something, I was certainly going to listen.
“By now, Alan Durban was Sunderland manager and we did not really see eye-to-eye in terms of football.
“Alan was a nice bloke but had other ideas of how he wanted us to play and he was bringing in players from Nottingham Forest like Ian Bowyer and needed a bit of money to spend.
“I went to meet Docherty for the first time at the Tickled Trout hotel.
“His assistant Ken Shillito was there and a couple of the Preston directors too.
“We had lunch together and I agreed to sign. But it couldn’t be done that day.
“The next day I went to watch Preston play at home and they were terrible!
“But that didn’t matter to me, it was a feather in my cap that Tommy Docherty wanted to sign me.
“The Doc liked his wingers, wanted to play a 4-2-4, and with me being a left-winger it suited me fine.
“One of my proudest moments at Preston was being able to meet Sir Tom Finney.
“We had a good chat not too long after I signed and talked about wingers.
“I made plenty of good friends in my time at Deepdale, there were some decent players in the squad. Don O’Riordan, Steve Doyle, Andy McAteer and Peter Lichfield were there – Alex Bruce and Steve Elliott too.
“I got on really well with McAteer, who was a great lad, while I still see John Anderson now – he does media work at Newcastle United.
“The problem at Preston was that the Doc had said a few things about the squad when he took over which hadn’t gone down well in the dressing room.
“When I arrived I could tell that there was a bit of an atmosphere among some of the more experienced professionals.
“Maybe some of them didn’t quite pull their weight because they didn’t like the manager.
“The Doc had big ambitions, saying he had money to spend.
“He brought in Tommy Booth from Manchester City at the same time, so too Gary Buckley and John Kelly.
“I’ve got to say that the Doc looked after me, put me on decent money and I got a little teaser to make sure I signed.
“Something else he also sorted out was my training arrangements.
“My family were settled in the North East and my missus didn’t want to uproot our two kids – she wouldn’t move down to Lancashire.
“Preston and Sunderland struck a deal where I could train with Sunderland on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then come down to Preston on a Thursday and Friday before playing a game on a Saturday.
“To start with I would stay at the Tickled Trout and then I moved into a B&B on Blackpool Road.
“I played 11 matches for Preston, and one of them was against Burnley which marked the club’s centenary.
“We struggled for results but it was still a great club to play for, with all its traditions.”
With only three league wins to his name and North End dropping towards the foot of the Third Division, Docherty was sacked in December 1981.
That was the beginning of the end for Dunn as far as his Deepdale career was concerned.
His final game in Preston colours had been a 4-1 FA Cup defeat to Chesterfield – the Doc’s penultimate match in charge.
Alan Kelly had a short spell as caretaker manager before Gordon Lee was appointed as Docherty’s permanent successor.
It is fair to say that Dunn and Lee – previously in charge of Newcastle and Everton – did not see eye-to-eye.
Dunn said: “Gordon Lee came in and it was horrendous. I thought that some of his coaching was just ridiculous.
“He had a very dominant, school teacher-type manner in my book.
“In the first couple of weeks we trained in the big gym at Kirkham Prison.
“Some of the exercises he had us doing were ridiculous.
“If you are a manager or coach, I have always felt that you must be prepared to have a go at what you want your players to do.
“What Gordon Lee didn’t like was the arrangement I had about training with Sunderland three times a week and then at Preston towards the weekend.
“There was nothing he could do about it because it was in my contract.
“But he told me that either I trained with Preston all week or he would not pick me for the first team. I wouldn’t budge and I never played a game for Gordon Lee.
“He made things a bit difficult, having me training here over Christmas, that kind of thing.
“Towards the end of the season I negotiated with Preston to end my contract and left them.”
The next step of Dunn’s career involved Docherty too.
“At the end of the season I went to the PFA awards night in London with some of the Sunderland players,” said Dunn.
“During the evening there was an announcement saying there was a phone call for Barry Dunn at the hotel reception desk.
“I went to take the call and it was the Doc.
“His first words were, ‘How do you fancy playing in America’?
“My immediate reaction was, ‘I’ll have a bit of that’, and I ended up playing for Tulsa Roughnecks in the United States.
“I went there for six months and that was a great time.
“Duncan McKenzie and Dave McCreery played with me – at the time America was a big attraction for players from England.
“The lifestyle was good and the games attracted some big attendances.
“Tommy Docherty had some connections over there and he was good to me again by sorting the move out.
“It was only a six-month arrangement but I really enjoyed the experience.
“When I came back from the United States, there was a bit of speculation in the local papers about what I would do next.
“A couple of clubs were said to be interested in signing me, then my old club Newcastle Blue Star came in for me.
“They put me on a contract which I agreed to on condition that if a professional club wanted to sign me, I could go.
“I signed the contract, turned out a few times for Blue Star – but then Darlington came in within a month!
“So off I went to Darlington and stayed there for two years.
“I played in all four divisions in the Football League – for Sunderland in the First and Second Divisions, Preston in the Third Division and Darlington in Division Four.
“After Darlo, I went to Gretna as a player-coach and finished off my playing days there before doing a bit of management at local level.”
Now 62, Dunn still lives in Sunderland. He has kept his hand in as far as football is concerned by working for Opta Stats and Premier League productions.
Reflecting on his playing career, he said: “I would not change it for the world.
“I was happy with what I did in my career, playing for some great clubs and over in America.
“Having played for Preston, I always look out for their results. Last season I came down to watch a North End game with my mate Simon Crabtree, who works at the club on matchdays.
“I liked what I saw. Preston played well and the stadium looks superb these days.
“It was a shame that they lost in the play-offs the other week. I’m a Sunderland fan and what happened there last season was a fairy tale.
“I had them dead and buried with a few games to go – I couldn’t see them avoiding the drop.
“But they avoided relegation fairly comfortably in the end and there was also the bonus of getting to the Capital One Cup final.
“You have to say that Gus Poyet did a great job and hopefully Sunderland won’t struggle next season.”