Big interview: Richard Chaplow

Richard Chaplow admits Alan Irvine did not have to sell the name of Preston to him.

The gifted midfield general, born in Accrington, supported Burnley from the Turf Moor terraces as a youth, and knew all about Deepdale's rich tradition from years of keen rivalry between the Clarets and Preston North End, both founder members of the Football League.

"It's funny, when I got the call from my agent and he said Preston were interested, I didn't think about their league position for one second," said Chaplow. "Straight away I was interested, though, and Preston ticked all the right boxes.

"It was like Preston equalled play-offs, a progressive club with a great potential, and who had a very fine Championship team.

"It is a surprise to everyone, I think, to see them down there struggling.

"A relegation battle is not something you associate with Preston, but I have no doubt that they will stay up.

"For some reason we are in this situation, and we've got to try to get out of it.

"But Preston's position didn't put me off signing for them at all. Not one bit.

"They had missed out on the play-offs by a point last season, and year after year they've challenged hard for honours.

"Sometimes, though, things can go stale quite quickly in football and that's why they brought Alan Irvine in."

Chaplow talks with quiet authority about a game that has changed beyond

recognition in recent years.

"I've worked under Stan Ternent, Steve Cotterill, Bryan Robson and Tony Mowbray, but I'm extremely impressed by Preston's manager," he said.

"A couple of the lads at West Brom, Kevin Campbell and Steve Watson, who had played at Everton, had told me what a fantastic coach he is.

They couldn't speak highly enough of him and it is obvious he has played a big role at Everton with David Moyes.

"I've certainly seen that already with the excellent training sessions that he has put on.

"Technically, he is a superb coach and has a vast knowledge of the game. I'm pretty sure that Preston have found a very fine manager indeed.

"He has made three signings in the window, and I'm sure he is going to bolster the squad further.

"Alan certainly didn't have to sell North End to me.

"I'm a Lancashire lad and I was very aware of Preston's rich tradition and history.

"I like that about a club and I'm really excited to be at this

famous club.

"There is a good feeling in the dressing room and the lads are definitely up for the battle.

"Hopefully, we can begin to prove our worth by climbing up the Championship table."

Chaplow made an assured debut in Preston's 1-0 win over promotion-chasing Watford, and will surely go from strength to strength under Irvine's guidance.

Utterly fearless in the tackle, he powers the midfield engine room with guile and craft.

"I've hardly seen Preston in action this season, so I really don't know what they've been playing like.

"However, I thought we were excellent against a very good Watford side.

"Chris Brown was superb in attack and any supporters who saw that game will know that Preston's players are up for the battle ahead, because there was no bigger test than Watford in this league, they are a strong and physical side with a tremendous record on the road.

"We showed a lot of resolve and our forward play was excellent, but there's a lot more we can give yet.

"First and foremost, we are in this position together, and we'll battle and scrap for every point."

Chaplow cannot remember a time when he wanted to be anything other than a footballer.

"I feel very privileged to be a pro footballer, and I've certainly never run away from a challenge in my life.

"I love a challenge and I'll be taking this challenge on head-first.

"Look at all the lads who want to be footballers. It's a dream for most of them.

"Then you see how many actually make it, and even if they get to sign for a club, maybe one in 40 make it.

"That's a staggering figure, and a lot fall by the wayside. That's the reality that sometimes bites deep in football.

"I remember the careers teacher asking me, 'what do you want to do Richard, when you leave school'?

"My reply was – a professional footballer. She said, 'what do you really want to be then?'

"I just knew I had to do it and I knew I could do it if I worked hard enough.

"Everybody has their path that they follow in life, but I'm intensely proud of fulfilling that dream of becoming a professional footballer.

"I feel blessed by that, playing for Burnley, West Bromwich

Albion, Southampton and Preston.

"I'm a lad who likes a laugh and a bit of banter, but I take my football incredibly seriously.

"I always have done since I was a kid."

He signed junior forms as an eight-year-old at Turf Moor, and he remained at Burnley, progressing through the youth and reserve ranks until Bryan Robson paid the Clarets 1.5m for him on transfer deadline day three years ago.

He had played 74 games for the Turf Moor club, including a five-star show when Burnley dumped Liverpool out of the FA Cup, and a performance that displayed his vast potential to a national audience.

He was Burnley's first England Under-21s international when he came off the bench against Holland in 2004, and then skippered the England Under-20s team, also against the Netherlands.

"I was at Burnley so long I think they owed me a testimonial," he joked. "It was an incredible experience, playing for the club I supported as a lad.

"I'm a Claret, everybody knows I'm a Burnley fan, but that doesn't mean I will not be giving 100% for Preston.

"I know what football means to the people in Lancashire and I love the healthy rivalry that exists between all our clubs.

"My dad would take me all over the country watching Burnley, and I saw Burnley play at Deepdale when they had the artificial pitch.

"My heroes were guys like David Eyres, Steve Davis, Roger Eli, John Pender and Adrian Randall, who was a tremendously skilful midfielder.

"He was one of my dad's favourite players, and I remember Randall would do keepy-ups in the warm-up for about half-an-hour. I'd count how many keepy-ups he did, and I always loved watching the midfield players at work.

"Coming back to Burnley as skipper of England was an incredible experience."

Chaplow made his Burnley debut against Norwich City at Carrow Road during the 2002-03 campaign.

"I came on as a substitute but it was still an incredible moment in my football life," added Chaplow. "I played the last seven games of that season and I was just living the dream.

"My first manager Stan Ternent put his belief in me and I never looked back. I was only young when I came into that first-team environment but Stan always backed me.

"Alan Irvine has done the same, and I want to repay that faith by helping Preston to stay in the Championship.

"Ronnie Jepson, who was my youth team coach at Burnley and also had a spell at Preston, had a great influence on my development too.

"You take different things from different people in the game, and you are always learning and nurturing your skills. In the end, it was right for Burnley to cash in and sell me.

"I didn't want to leave Burnley. It was a hard thing for me to leave Turf Moor, but I'd like to think my transfer fee helped them out and they certainly made a good profit on me."

There is a calm quality about Chaplow, and he seems purposeful and modest.

"When West Bromwich Albion came in it was an easy decision really, because Bryan Robson was their manager. He was probably the greatest midfielder of his generation. He was a great mentor for me when I went to The Hawthorns and what a person to learn the midfield art from.

"Although I only played 42 games in three years for West Bromwich Albion, it helped my career development and education.

"I'm a lot more composed as a player now than when I left Burnley. I was just learning the ropes at Turf Moor, but I'm able to handle a lot more situations better on the football field now.

"I didn't play as much as I would have liked at West Bromwich, but it was a constant learning curve."

Chaplow, 23 next month, has signed a three-year contract at Deepdale, in a deal that could top 1.3m.

"Preston's a fantastic football club and I'm convinced my best footballing years are still ahead of me. First, we've got to make sure we stay in the Championship, and I'm convinced we will."