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THE BIG INTERVIEW: GEOFF TWENTYMAN

Famous faces: Now sports editor at BBC Bristol, Geoff Twentyman is pictured with Manchester United legend Eric Cantona

Famous faces: Now sports editor at BBC Bristol, Geoff Twentyman is pictured with Manchester United legend Eric Cantona

It is with a chuckle that Geoff Twentyman recalls the moment when he was told his services were no longer required by North End.

Such news is usually delivered after players have been summoned to the manager’s office, pleasantries exchanged before they are told no new contract will be forthcoming.

Things didn’t quite happen that way as centre-half – and occasional striker – Twentyman learned his three seasons at Deepdale were up.

“Preston had just been forced to apply for re-election to the Football League,” said Twentyman, recalling events more than a quarter of a century ago.

“There were six of us whose contracts ended that season, and as there was no manager in place at the time, it was the chairman and board making the decision.

“A black-tie dinner was being held in a marquee on the pitch at Deepdale.

“All the lads were there mixing with supporters, and during the evening PNE’s secretary Derek Allan tapped me on the shoulder and asked for a quiet word.

“He was having to let me know that the club weren’t going to be keeping me on.

“Derek was a super bloke, someone who I’m still in touch with, and it shouldn’t really have been up to him to tell me.

“But I smile when I look back on it – after all it was a bit of a different way to be told.

“None of the six players coming to the end of their contracts were kept on.

“We all got released and I was the only one fortunate enough to get myself fixed up with another league club.

“I joined Bristol Rovers and went on to have seven-and-a-half years with them.”

Twentyman’s three years with North End didn’t come during a good time in their history.

There was a relegation, re-election and a record low crowd during that era.

But it is still with great fondness that he looks back on his time at Deepdale.

His route to Preston came via Liverpool’s reserves, Formby and Chorley.

Said Twentyman: “My dad played for Liverpool, and I was on their books as a youngster, combining football with studying for my A levels at school.

“During the day I’d be in the classroom studying French and English literature, then in the evening I’d be training with the reserves.

“Sammy Lee was the big name who came through the Liverpool ranks in that era.

“Eventually I drifted into non-league football, playing for Formby and working at Girobank.

“Then there came a time when I had to decide whether to stay playing with my mates and having a good laugh, or try and do something in the game.

“I knuckled down and Chorley signed me, giving me the chance to play in the Northern Premier League.

“Looking back, it was the best thing I ever did.

“The manager who took me there was Les Rigby, although not too long after he had a fall-out with the chairman and left.

“Peter Wragg replaced him as manager and he really whipped us all into shape.

“He got all the squad fit, we started winning and my game improved as a result.

“I’ve got to credit Peter for really pushing me forward.

“In my second season at Chorley, I scored 24 goals from centre-back, including a few penalties.

“That brought me to Preston’s attention.

“I believe it was Alan Kelly Snr, the assistant manager at the time, who scouted me.

“And I’ll never forget PNE manager Gordon Lee ringing up and telling me in his distinctive Black Country accent that he wanted me to sign for them.

“Did I want to sign? It took me a millisecond to say ‘yes’ and I agreed a two-year contract.

“Preston thought that they were getting a goal-scoring centre-half, but I think I only managed one goal in my first season!

“My debut came against Oxford United at Deepdale in October 1983.

“For some reason Steve Elliott, who was one of the main men at the time, wasn’t available for that game and I was picked to play up front.

“I thought I did okay against Malcolm Shotton and Gary Briggs who were big strong old-school style central defenders.

“Our goal in a 2-1 defeat came when I put a header back across goal for Peter Sayer to score.

“While we did lose the game, it was still a very special day to make my Football League debut for such a big club, however tough they were finding it at the time.

“My next game was a few days later at Wolves in the League Cup.

“We won that 3-2 and I played at centre-half.

“At the time, Wolves had some big-money signings in their team including Andy Gray, and it was a big result.

“That era was a difficult one for Preston. There wasn’t any money around and the crowds were low.

“Gordon Lee was one of five managers I worked under in just under three years.

“He was followed by Alan Kelly, then Tommy Booth.

“Brian Kidd had a short spell in charge before Jonathan Clark became caretaker manager at the end of my last season.

“During that era we had this battered old three-quarter length coach to get us to away games.

“Plastered all over the outside was the PNE logo and the engine just about had enough power to get us to places like Plymouth and Torquay and back.

“There were some great characters at the club. I’ve mentioned Derek Allan, who was the secretary and seemed to do every job under the sun.

“Then there was Harry Hubbick, who was the kitman and doubled up as the physio.

“He was a great old guy who had been at North End for years.

“When you were injured, you’d hop on to the physio table for treatment.

“Harry would treat you with the ultra-sound machine, totally unaware that the other lads had pulled the plug out for a joke!

“What a thrill it was too when Sir Tom Finney used to be at the club.

“He’d call in most days and to spend time with him was fabulous, a real honour.”

In Twentyman’s first season, Preston finished 16th in the Third Division.

Lee, the manager who had signed him, had been replaced by Kelly within a couple of months.

The 1984/85 campaign saw the club relegated to the bottom tier for the first time.

Yet the campaign had started quite well, with four victories in the first five league games, together with a two-legged League Cup success over Tranmere – Twentyman scoring in the first leg.

That season saw them dumped out of the FA Cup at home by Telford United, the non-league side winning 4-1 on a miserable afternoon at Deepdale.

Twentyman said: “Telford were a really good non-league side at the time.

“The day before in training we’d been practising defending corners.

“One of our strikers, David Johnson, asked why we were practising them because Telford wouldn’t get any corners. What happened? They ended up beating us 4-1.

“I’ve got to say that while they weren’t good times, what always stuck with me was the passion of the supporters.

“We were down to the hard core by then, and they were a really passionate bunch, travelling up and down the country.

“When we got beaten, they weren’t too damning and would try and stick by us.”

North End’s first season in the Fourth Division saw them finish second-bottom, forcing them to apply for re-election.

They were dark days –particularly because the floodlights didn’t work for much of the campaign.

The now infamous Scunthorpe game on November 5, 1985, came in that season.

It was a midweek fixture, and with the floodlights condemned, PNE had no option but to play it on a Tuesday afternoon.

The crowd that day was just 2,007, which remains a club-record low.

Twentyman played at right-back in the 1-0 defeat to Scunthorpe, one of his team-mates being half-time substitute Mel Tottoh who played as an amateur after clocking off early from a shift at BAE!

“I played in a few different positions for North End,” said Twentyman.

“One season I played quite often up front, and I had a little spell at right-back too.

“Centre-half was always my preferred position, but I’d play wherever I was asked.

“The re-election season wasn’t good, although there were one or two bright moments.

“We beat Blackpool home and away in the League Cup, and I managed to score at Bloomfield Road.

“Then in the league we beat Burnley, who were going quite well at the time.

“I played right-back that day and remember tripping their winger when he tried to go past me.

“It should have been a penalty but the referee didn’t give it and that was probably one of the few bits of luck we got that season.”

Twentyman’s release by North End saw him start the next chapter of his football career at Bristol Rovers.

And to this day, the South West city remains his home.

“Signing for Bristol Rovers proved to be a great move,” said Twentyman. “Gerry Francis was their manager and I played for them for more than seven years.

“We were Third Division champions in that time and also got to a Wembley final.

“For some of the time I was their captain, and looking back, I became a better player for Bristol Rovers than I had been at Preston.”

Turn on the radio in the Bristol area and you’ll hear Twentyman’s voice over the airwaves. He is sports editor at BBC Bristol, and this week was his first as presenter of the station’s Drivetime show.

While the route these days from football into punditry normally involves an ex-player screaming at a television on Soccer Saturday, Twentyman’s move into the media was a proper change of career.

“I’d always enjoyed being interviewed as a player, and when captain at Bristol Rovers, I was often asked to give my thoughts on a game,” he said.

“Towards the end of my playing career, I went on a media course at what was then the local polytechnic.

“After finishing that, I got a six-month contract as a sports journalist on the radio.

“It gathered momentum from there and I’ve been at the BBC pretty much ever since.

“I actually left journalism for a year in 1996 to become Ian Holloway’s assistant manager at Bristol Rovers.

“Ian had been a team-mate of mine before leaving Rovers to go on his travels at various clubs.

“He was one of a few players to join Queens Park Rangers when Gerry Francis went there.

“Strangely, I was one who was left behind!

“Ian always regarded me as his big brother type, a bit more of a thinker than him.

“We were big buddies and still are today.

“When Ian came back to manage Bristol Rovers, he asked me to become his assistant.

“I signed a three-year contract but being assistant manager was a curious thing.

“You’re not really here or there, and don’t get to make many decisions.

“After a year I decided it wasn’t for me and I went back to the BBC.

“My mum, God bless her soul, always reckoned that I would one day work in the media. She used to tell me that when I was a kid, I’d play Subbuteo on the floor and would commentate on the whole game!

“I think I’ve been a lucky guy, playing professional football for a number of years and then forging a new career in the media.”

Twentyman (left) is now 53, a dad of two grown-up children and proud grandad to a 20-month old grandaughter

The accent is part Scouse from his Merseyside upbringing, and part Bristol now that he’s adopted the city as his home.

He is delighted to be presenting the drivetime show while maintaining his sports editor duties.

“As sports editor of BBC Bristol, I’ve been presenting the Saturday afternoon sports show for some time. I’ll still be doing that, and during the week I’m presenting the 4pm to 7pm show.

“There’s still sport involved in that, together with news and current affairs.

“You mix that in with a bit of a fun and it makes for an entertaining show.

“I love living down here and I’m accepted in the fabric of Bristol life.

“I feel I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to have good proper jobs – one as a professional footballer and the other as a broadcaster.

“While my three years at Preston weren’t the best of times for the club, they 
still have a big part in my 
heart.

“I always look out for their results and there’s actually a couple of fans who follow me on Twitter, so I must have done something right! Whether they saw me play, I don’t know.

“Over the years it’s been good to see North End back in the good times.

“Twice being one game away from the Premier League was a fine achievement, and it’s just a pity they couldn’t quite take that step.

“Although they are back in League One at the moment, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t climb again.

“I don’t forget my time at Chorley either.

“It was my form there which provided me with the chance of progressing into the professional game, so I’m thankful to them.

“I hear that they are going quite well at the moment and it would be nice for that to continue.”

 

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