Big interview: Warren Joyce

Warren Joyce giggles with delight when he recalls one of John McGrath's more colourful Deepdale team talks.

"I was sat there, and the gaffer pointed to big Sam Allardyce, who was lacing his boots," said Joyce.

"'Sam', he said, 'I want you to be my chunk of granite, protecting my manicured lawn from the cold winter gales'."

Staring at Joyce, McGrath continued the hilarious gardening analogy.

"'Warren, you and Mooney are my bank of rhodendrums, and I don't want anything to damage that lovely turf. Then there's my prize roses, Tony Ellis and Nigel Jemson. I want people to come from far and wide to see my roses, because they will be the best in Lancashire'.

"Do you know, he was the master of motivation. I've seen big men hide in corridors to avoid him, but he was definitely the best manager I ever worked with. He made an immense impression on me.

"Most of all, he taught me that a football club manager is the boss. You can have your chairman, chief executive and the rest. They are nothing, nobodies unless the manager gets it right.

"Preston was truly a special club, though.

"Deepdale was the happiest spell in my career, and football seemed more real then."

Joyce, who was eventually appointed club captain at Deepdale, was a hard-working and conscientious midfielder, who the Deepdale faithful

playfully nicknamed Psycho.

He made his debut against Brighton and Hove Albion in a goalless draw at the Goldstone Ground, the day after the great storm of 1987 had devastated parts of southern England.

"I remember the Lancashire Evening Post used one of John McGrath's quotes in their headline, 'If my goalkeeper was a sky-diver, he'd have missed the world'.

"I still laugh about it because John had a 101 phrases for any situation. David Brown, our goalkeeper, had a fantastic game, diving here and there, but what a description."

I ask Joyce about a 5-3 victory over Brentford a couple of years later, when he came off the bench to score twice in a topsy-turvy Deepdale contest.

"That game, I think, was the turning point in my Preston career," he said.

"The big man had signed Ian Bogie a few weeks earlier, and God bless him, John McGrath said, 'Son, I'm leaving you out against Brentford.

'I know I need you in the team, but I want to see whether this lad Bogie can do it with Mark Patterson and Brian Mooney in midfield'.

"So there I was, sat on the bench fuming.

"The game was swinging this way and that, and all of sudden the gaffer barked, 'You're on'.

"I remember racing clear and chipping the Brentford goalkeeper and Tony Ellis crossed for me to score again with seconds left.

"Anyway, our next home game was against Swansea, and I was back on the bench.

"John said, 'I can't put you back in, or the lads will think I'm weak because they know you've been to see me'.

"From then on, I was a bit more stubborn.

"I did score a lot more goals and my profile increased.

"Maybe the team suffered a little bit, though, because nobody did the hard yards in the middle any more.

"It was a smashing midfield, because Brian Mooney was such a gifted player.

"The gaffer would say, 'I want you to win the ball, give it to Mooney and stand. Then when he's lost it, win it back and give it to Moons again' – and that was my role.

"I can hear him saying it in that rasping Manchester accent, 'Listen Warren, You're the piano pusher and Mooney's the piano player. Somebody has got to push the piano on the stage for him, otherwise he can't play the tunes'.

"I'd be going 'right boss, right boss' – for the first 18 months at Preston I hardly made a run. All I did was tackle and tackle and give it to Moons.

"For such a strong and aggressive man, he loved the flair players like Mooney, Ronnie Hildersley and Gary Brazil, and it was amazing how quickly he moulded the team together to win promotion at the first attempt from the old Division Four."

It was a roller-coaster five years at Deepdale for the son of the late Walter Joyce, the former North End coach.

Joyce junior signed from Bolton for 35,000 in October 1987, making 205 appearances before the bank manager forced cash-strapped North End to

accept a 160,000 offer from Plymouth five years later.

Joyce admits that the wear of Deepdale's plastic pitch took its toll and the embarrassing FA Cup defeat to minnows Whitley Bay signalled the end for McGrath, who a year earlier had guided North End to the


"It was a real low in my life when I left Deepdale, because it was a special club.

"But I had to get off the plastic pitch. I had no option but to leave. I fractured my back on the artificial surface and had to endure terrible pain for many months.

"At the time I thought I was finished, and I was never the same player again when I left Preston."

Joyce recalls that chilly December day when North End were dumped out of the FA Cup at Hillshead Park.

"Things weren't right before the Whitley Bay tie and we knew that Tony Ellis was going to be sold shortly after.

"Morale wasn't good, and the gaffer was raging before the match.

"He told us that he hated non-league players.

He said, 'They are playing non-league football because they let the fans down and they didn't make the sacrifices when some of them were in the Football League. Then for one game a year they want to come out and mug league players like you and show they are clever clogs'.

"In some ways he was right, because we got turned over by Whitley Bay and it was very hard to take indeed.

"I remember driving home to Lytham after the bus had dropped me off at Deepdale and the engine of my car blew up.

"There was red lights, flashes and smoke, and it just summed up my black mood after that horrible defeat. I didn't sleep a wink I was so gutted.

"The amazing spirit that John McGrath brought to Preston had gone and the side had a soft centre."

Joyce is fantastic company, though, and a gulp of fresh air in a game that takes itself far too seriously these days.

Last year, Joyce was appointed coach of Royal Antwerp, and guided the Belgian First Division side to the play-off at the first attempt.

We were talking about the modern game and I asked what he thought about it.

"There's too much bull in coaching, too many imposters in the game now. Some of the coaching courses just teach them to network, profile and get noticed.

"I think a lot of them want to be in the game for reasons other than football, and you hear the same rubbish from the same people. Then you see these people get the jobs in football.

"There's a new generation of coaches that crave the glamour and razzmatazz, but the best ones in the business are not like that.

"The imposters are not in it for the love of the game, are they?

"It is a different world from those special Deepdale days.

"Today, I think people look to make change for the sake of it in football.

"Basically, though, it is a simple game, and when I look back to that Deepdale era we just did the basic things right.

"Those guys knew what it was like to be fit and hungry.

"It was graft, but we had fun.Nobody presented a false image and John McGrath, even though he could be off-the-wall and unpredictable, was miles ahead of his time.

"Every training session was done at a match tempo, and he was very methodical in his approach.

"It was very black and white. It was 'they play this style, and when we get the ball we'll do it this way to hurt them' – it worked most of the time, too.


"He also had a fine man-management technique, but some of the coaches I see today don't enjoy the dirty side of the job, fixing the nuts and bolts and getting their hands full of grease in the engine room.

"Look at Sam Allardyce and the success he had at Bolton.

"He did that through hard graft and application, and I'm sure Sam would tell you that he used what he learned from John McGrath as part of that foundation stone."

What is difficult to put in print is Joyce's great warmth and sense of humour, and an obvious talent for coaching.

I ask Joyce about the challenge of management.

"If the coach is there wearing a nice shiny tracksuit and a gold badge, and wants an easy life then the players will be like that.

"We look to blame the players in football, but it is up to you as a coach to mould them correctly.

"I wasn't the best player in the world but I know I was a good professional. I looked after myself and led the life.

"I've worked with lads who possessed miles more ability than I ever had, and I'd tell them, 'All you have to do is to get as fit as me and you can be a millionaire because the rewards are immense'."

Joyce's first managerial job was at Hull City, as their player-coach. "Hull was special, and I recruited the fittest, ugliest

characters I could find.

"They were a joy to work with and it was like the film The Dirty Dozen when they went out and got these grizzled characters from jail, and sent them out on a mad mission.

"Some of them weren't wanted by other clubs, and they were supposedly problem lads, who had a reputation for this and that.

"I signed Gary Brabin, who had a nightmare disciplinary reputation, but he was an inspirational character and a smashing fella.

"We created this awesome work ethic, just like we had at Deepdale.

"On the coach I'd show the lads a film called Snapshot, with Paul Newman.

"It was about an ice hockey coach, who signed three absolute nutters and revived the whole squad.

"Maybe I was a little bit naive, because some managers wouldn't have taken that job on.

"If you're relegated it is on your CV and there's a stigma that sometimes dictates that you don't get another job.

"When I took over Hull they were 15 points adrift at the bottom of the old Fourth Division, but I enjoyed the intense pressure of having to win games to survive.

"It seemed an impossible task, but we only lost once in 20 starts to stay up and Hull fans dubbed it the Great Escape.

"I'd say I'm a loyal and stubborn person.

"Eventually new owners came in at Hull and things changed.

"I suppose I was looking for a fight, and I went to war with them behind the scenes because I was not happy with the way they were treating people.


"I thought if I kept winning games then they couldn't get rid of me, but I suppose I should have known better.

"I'd won four in a row when I left Hull.

"I'm having a fantastic experience at Antwerp, and it is a big test.

"Everyone hates us because the other clubs don't like the strong link we have with Manchester United.

"Lads come over from Old Trafford to play for Antwerp, but they have got to earn the right to play like everybody else.

"We've had boys from United reserves – Danny Simpson, Ryan Shawcross, Jonathan Evans and Darron Gibson, plus Fangzhuo Dong, who made his first team debut against Chelsea last season.

"We were getting 20,000 gates and it was an amazing experience for these lads, who all developed for the experience.

"To see that cycle of a players development is a fantastic feeling for a coach.

"I want to go back and get Antwerp promoted this season."

Joyce chose football as his preferred sport after playing junior rugby and cricket at county level.

"I played rugby for England when I was a kid, and my school – Cowley Grammar School in St Helens – won the Daily Express team of the year.

"We never lost a game and I loved every second of it.

"My coach was Ray French, and he was very similar to John McGrath, a genuine enthusiast for life.

"They both had an intense love for the game, and it was more of a way of life than a job for them.

"They were John Wayne-type characters, larger-than-life men, and unlike so many modern coaches who are just in it for themselves now."