Magpies boss Andy Preece has one eye on the club’s future
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“I am sure he said two minutes and that was four minutes ago,” the Chorley boss added as he threw his arms in the air while turning back towards the action.
After a few more nervous glances at his watch and some last-ditch defending by his team, Preece finally heard the sound he wanted – the referee’s final whistle.
Relief, delight and satisfaction are always the overriding feelings for Preece when the Magpies win – whether that is at first team level, the Under-19s or any of the club’s junior sides.
And there was certainly some pride in the smile of the former Crystal Palace and Stockport County striker after witnessing the club’s Under-19s team defeat their Liversedge counterparts by the narrow margin of 1-0 – thanks to a late winner – on the artificial pitch at West Way Sports Hub on Wednesday afternoon.
While Preece – a UEFA pro licence-qualified coach – may now be best known for his role as Chorley’s first-team manager, he also takes a hands-on approach across the club’s playing spectrum.
Indeed, since 2020 he has been the driving force behind the creation of the club’s young player development set-up which aims, among many other things, to provide a potential pathway for youngsters to progress to the club's first team.
It was a role he undertook while combining his position as first-team assistant manager to Jamie Vermiglio – and its a commitment he continues to fulfil even after becoming boss in the summer following Vermiglio’s defection to Buxton.
Not many youth team players at other clubs benefit from the wise words of their respective first-team manager but for Preece it’s a responsibility he relishes.
Following a 15-minute debrief with his young players after the game, Preece emerged from the dressing room and puffed his cheeks. “That was a great win,” he said. “It’s a non-league youth competition; so clubs from the National League, Northern Premier League – there’s a northern section, north east, southern – it’s a competition covering all across the country.
"I think the final is held at a Football League ground – it’s been held at MK Dons in the past.
"We got to the last 16 last season.”
If anything the young Chorley stars went one better than the seniors by getting the better of Liversedge at the first time of asking.
Ironically, the first team drew the West Yorkshiremen in this season’s FA Cup – and were held to a 1-1 draw in the original tie, although they went on to win the replay by a whopping 9-0 scoreline at Victory Park.
Preece was remaining tight lipped as to whether any of the current crop could perhaps be part of his first-team dressing room in years to come but the idea behind the programme is to develop the all-around skills of the youngsters no matter what the future holds.
"This is something which I love doing,” he said. “I love seeing them progress.
"I have been doing this all the way through – we started it pretty much from when I first came to the club.
"Slowly, it’s progressed – the first year we only had 12 kids and were training on any bit of grass that we could find.
"But now we have got 50 students and we have got decent training facilities at Bamber Bridge now.
"It has come on a lot. We were struggling to compete with any team. I don’t think we got a win until our second season but last year we did really well.
"It’s progressed with numbers and beginning to progress with quality – the biggest thing is the outcomes.
"We are trying to get lads to come through and get into the first-team squad. We have had a few who have done that like Liam Birchall and Callum McHale.
"Those lads are out playing in the North West Counties and doing well. Ultimately, if we can develop our own players through this path, which is a two-year programme, then that would be brilliant.
"The outcomes for the lads who have been on the course has been great, not just in football but in life. We have lads who have won scholarships, gone off to university – so as an educational programme I don’t think we can be matched.”
A steady conveyor belt of talent coming through the ranks would certainly make life easier for Preece in his more high-profile role of Chorley’s first-team manager.
A manager in his own right since he became player-boss of Bury in 1999 in his early 30s – the 55-year-old has racked-up hundreds of games in the dugout.
He has even managed in Europe when he took Welsh Premier League side Airbus UK Broughton into the Europa League.
It was certainly a change in dynamic when he agreed to become Vermiglio’s assistant at Chorley in 2018.
The pair had worked together previously when Preece was manager at Norwich Victoria and Vermiglio was a player.
Despite having reservations, the duo formed a fine partnership – guiding the club to promotion in 2019 and who could forget the memorable FA Cup run in 202/21 when the part-time Magpies knocked out Wigan, Peterborough, Derby County before bowing out to Premier League Wolves 1-0 in the fourth round.
"I made no secret in all the time that I was Jamie’s assistant, that I wanted to be a manager,” said Preece. “At first I wasn’t sure and Vermo wasn’t sure how it would work because I had always been a manager.
"But it just clicked, it worked. I don’t think it would have worked with anybody else but Jamie is very good at managing other people.
"He’s a primary school headteacher during the day obviously and even though I have been a manager for 20 years, I still learned a lot off Jamie in terms of leadership qualities and different ways of doing things.
"I have changed a little bit in respect of that. I think sometimes I could be a little bit too intense and sometimes there are things you just can’t control.
"Sometimes you just have to take a breath, take a step back and Jamie is a very good people person. I think that is one of my strengths – I am a people person but there are different ways you can approach situations.
" You can always learn. You can learn off older people but you can learn off younger people too.”
Next week: In part two of the Andy Preece story, he talks about taking over as Chorley manager and his ambitions for the future.