PNE skipper: Lilywhites in tune for start of the season
Tom Clarke has no doubts about the football talents of Preston North End's summer signings but he is not so sure about their singing ability.
A common initiation ceremony for new players at clubs up and down the country is to belt out their favourite song in front of team-mates.
It is no different at North End, last month’s training trip to Fota Island the perfect chance to test out the vocal abilities of the new lads.
PNE skipper Clarke said: “Ireland was the chance for the lads to get their songs out of the way.
“New signings always have to sing a song, it is a bit of a football tradition.
“Here, they stand up, sing and either get booed or cheered off.
“Chris Maxwell had quite a good voice but Ben Pringle was bad – he got booed after a couple of lines!
“It is all part of the lads bonding as a group, we want the new signings to settle in as quickly as they can.
“The gaffer is careful to bring in the right type of characters, so usually they bed-in very well.
“As skipper, I play my part in helping new lads feel at home but we have some very experienced players in the dressing room – Paul Gallagher, Jermaine Beckford, John Welsh – who do that too.”
The singing and the pre-season training is out of the way now, North End’s focus firmly trained on Saturday’s season opener at Reading.
For Clarke, it is the start of his fourth season in Preston colours and he is looking forward to the challenge ahead.
“We all had a good break in the summer, the seven weeks off was the longest time I’ve had for quite a while,” said Clarke.
“The training has been tough but it has got us into good condition and we are ready to start the season.
“I’m looking forward to the season, we did well in the Championship last term and we want to do that again.
“There are big teams who have come down from the Premier League this time to add a bit extra to the division.
“We are going to be playing in front of some big crowds home and away – I can’t wait for it.”
First-day opponents Reading have undergone a big change since PNE beat them 2-1 at the Madejski Stadium on April 30.
Jaap Stam has taken over as manager, with the Dutchman succeeding Brian McDermott.
There has been plenty of wheeling and dealing with the squad, with seven new signings and some significant departures.
Oliver Norwood, a former team-mate of Clarke at Huddersfield, was sold by the Royals to Brighton in midweek.
Said Clarke: “Reading have a new manager and a lot of new players.
“They are different to when we beat them at the back end of last season.
“The staff behind the scenes here have been watching their pre-season games and getting us the necessary information about them.
“Norwood was a big part of their midfield but he has gone now and it will be interesting to see what they are all about.
“The big thing is that we concentrate on what we do, while also having the knowledge of how Reading play.
“We have had a good pre-season, everyone has got plenty of minutes in the system and we are looking forward to it.
“Last season, we did unbelievably well, finishing in the top half and with a level goal difference.
“We didn’t have the best of starts but we grew in confidence as we went along and got stronger.
“This season, we are looking to improve and hopefully go higher.
“We have strengthened the squad and we know the challenges.
“Clubs will know more about us, maybe we went under the radar last time and surprised people.
“It is a case of trying to improve and seeing where that takes us.”
Clarke is likely to be predominantly used as a centre-back this season.
Playing in the middle, in a flat back four or in a three-man defence, best suits his game.
But he also provides an option for the current right-back vacancy.
That was created last month by the serious knee injury suffered by Calum Woods.
He underwent surgery in London this week and is set to miss the whole of the season.
North End boss Simon Grayson is chasing a new right-back but until some business is completed, it is a case of turning to others.
Clarke said: “There are a few os us who can fill in on that side – we have got Liam Grimshaw and Chris Humphrey.
“It is a big blow to be without Calum. He had a great season at right-back and wing-back last time.
“Calum is a big mate of mine – we share a room on away games.
“I spoke to him the day after his operation this week and everything had gone well with that.
“When the surgeon went into his knee, there wasn’t any unexpected damage in there.
“They knew what needed to be repaired and that has been done.
“Calum can now crack on with his rehab work. It is a long road ahead for him but he will come back stronger for it.
“We are all here to give him any support he needs, cheer him up and help get him back.”