Big Interview: Kevin Kilbane

Mark Lawrenson, Kevin Kilbane and Sean Gregan at the recent fans' forum
Mark Lawrenson, Kevin Kilbane and Sean Gregan at the recent fans' forum
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You can take the lad out of Preston but you cannot take Preston out of the lad.

It is nearly 18 years since Kevin Kilbane last pulled on a North End shirt but the passion for his home-town club still burns brightly.

He was happy to take on England manager Roy Hodgson and former Everton team-mate Phil Neville when arguing PNE’s case as a pundit for February’s FA Cup clash with Manchester United.

Backing down was not on his agenda as the ‘evasive action’ taken by Wayne Rooney when hurdling Thorsten Stuckmann got discussed a touch heatedly post-match in the temporary BBC studio above the Invincibles Pavilion.

“Of course I was going to be biased,” Kilbane told the Evening Post.

“I played for a few clubs during my career but it is always a bit different when it comes to Preston.

“This is my club – I supported them as a boy, was a ball boy at Deepdale and started my career here.

“I felt Preston had a case for being hard done by for all three of United’s goals that night.

“When we were discussing the game on television afterwards, you would have seen that I was looking over at Phil Neville most of the time.

“I used to play with Phil and get on with him well, so it was more with Phil that I was trying to argue Preston’s case.

“Roy Hodgson is a decent fella, a lovely man, but he was never going to come out and slate the England captain live on television.”

Kilbane is a winger turned pundit and commentator, someone highly regarded in the broadcast industry.

He was part of the BBC team at last summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

Every weekend you will hear his voice or see his face on radio and television, commentating on the Premier League and Football League.

On Ireland’s TV3 channel, he works on Champions League matches.

The boy from Holme Slack has carved out a very good second career after hanging up his boots as a player.

Kilbane’s career started with North End, 55 appearances coming in the Lilywhites shirt before a £1.2m move took him to West Bromwich Albion.

He was later to cost both Sunderland and Wigan more than £2m, with Everton in between paying £750,000 for his services.

Kilbane won 110 caps for the Republic of Ireland, playing in the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.

Such experience would lend itself to a move into coaching or management but he chose the media for the next stage of his life and a good choice it looks too.

“It was probably by a bit of luck that I got into the media side of things, the right place at the right time” said the 38-year-old.

“When I was still playing I did a few things around the Ireland games, a bit of work for Sky and 5Live.

“Injury meant I missed Euro 2012 and I was asked by 5Live to cover the Ireland games.

“At the time, I was a player at Hull but was coaching the reserves while I tried to recover from a back injury.

“I got myself fit after the Euros and tried to start playing again but my back wasn’t right.

“I started doing bits and bobs again for Sky and the BBC and fortunately the BBC wanted to keep me.

“Some players don’t like watching if they are not involved but throughout my career I always loved sitting down and watching games.”

As well as Kilbane, Preston has a representative in the broadcasting world in the shape of Mark Lawrenson, a veteran of Match of the Day and 5Live commentaries.

The pair were recently guest panellists at Simon Grayson’s fans’ forum, held to raise funds for the Prostate Cancer UK charity.

Said Kilbane: “I can honestly say that Lawro is the best person to take advice from in our business.

“Some of the others can be a bit cagey but Lawro is just the opposite.

“It was a big thing for the pair of us when we did Match of the Day together on the night of the third round of the FA Cup in January.

“North End had won 2-0 against Norwich that afternoon and the goals were shown quite high up the show.

“It was great for Lawro and myself to be able to talk about North End that night, two proud Preston lads.”

Commentating at the World Cup was an unforgettable experience for Kilbane, so too a demanding one.

He flew from city to city in Brazil, commentating for BBC TV and radio.

“The only problem was the lack of sleep,” said Kilbane.

“But the buzz I got from working at such a major event more than made up for that.

“There were some big journeys to make – Brazil is such a vast country.

“Probably the highlight was commentating on Brazil’s game with Chile – that was some occasion. It was a game which really brought it home to me how big the event was.

“I’d played against Brazil a couple of times but watching them in their own country with the support they got was something else.

“I got to see 10 or 12 games, flying almost across a continent and losing a couple of bags along the way.

“That was something I half-expected to be honest. I was warned beforehand that it would be carnage at the airports and not to expect things to run smoothly.

“It didn’t bother me, I can survive with a pair of shorts and a t-shirt!

“The travel chaos was all part of the experience and knowing it would happen meant I coped with missing bags and delays.

“Another of the games I saw was the quarter-final tie between Germany and France.

“It wasn’t a brilliant game but I enjoyed it from a tactical point of view and it was a bit different to some of the others.

“My last game at the World Cup was Holland versus Costa Rica in the quarters.

“Again, it was not a classic, but I saw an underdog push one of the top sides.”

Kilbane’s schedule sees him covering a number of games each week, together with interview features.

Sometimes he does not get given too much notice as to where his next match is.

“With the TV it is not too bad, you get a decent-enough time to plan ahead,” said Kilbane.

“As far as the radio work is concerned, it is probably no more than four or five days’ notice.

“For example, 5Live like to follow the big story. If a manager is sacked during the week, they want to be at that club’s next game.

“I’m actually a freelance but I have a contract with the BBC to cover a certain amount of matches.

“In Ireland I work for TV3, doing their Champions League commentaries, which are great.

“I covered the Real Madrid versus Bayern Munich semi-final last season, which was a fantastic experience.

“What I like about the job is the variation in a week.

“In midweek I can be away doing a Champions League game then a couple of days later I’m back doing a Championship game.

“This week I did Wigan versus Derby on Monday afternoon, Aston Villa and QPR on Tuesday, then the Blackburn v Liverpool FA Cup replay on Wednesday.

“I’m going to United against City on Sunday, then it’s the Champions League next week.”

When time allows, Kilbane takes the opportunity to watch North End in action and is hoping that this season is the one when they get promoted.

As a teenager, he was part of the PNE squad which won promotion under Gary Peters from the old Third Division in the 1995/96 campaign.

His debut came that season as a substitute in a 4-0 away victory over Torquay.

A few months later, Kilbane scored his first goal, coming off the bench to head the winner against Wigan at Springfield Park.

He started the final three games of that season, a trio of matches which all resulted in 2-0 wins.

Leyton Orient were beaten to secure promotion, the title was wrapped up at Hartlepool the following week, then PNE beat Exeter on the day the trophy was presented to them.

Kilbane was a regular in the 1996/97 season before being sold to WBA that summer for a then club-record fee.

Turning his thoughts to the current Preston side, he is quietly confident about their promotion chances.

Kilbane said: “I don’t want to get carried away but from what I have watched in League One this season, I think the best two sides are the top two at the moment - Bristol City and North End.

“I’m impressed with Bristol City I’ve got to say. They have been strong all season.

“North End had that lull in January when things weren’t quite working.

“But in and around that Manchester United game, they got themselves going again and now have some great momentum.

“I like Simon Grayson and what he’s about – you don’t get any rubbish from him.

“Some managers come out with stuff just to try and sound intelligent and it’s nonsense.

“Simon is an intelligent guy and wants the best for the players in the team.

“When he got the job I knew he would come in and look after the club in the right way.

“If they could get promoted, Simon would deserve it, as would the players and the supporters.

“There have not been many promotions down the years.

“The 1986/87 promotion was the one I remember as a kid growing up – I was a ball boy that season.

“It was nine years until the next promotion – that was the one I was involved in.

“David Moyes got the club promoted in 2000 and that’s been it, in my lifetime.

“A club of Preston’s size should be in the Championship but the hard part is getting there.

“The last couple of years have been about the club taking steps again in the right direction.

“You look back at the previous couple of regimes and the last one in particular caused a lot of negative feeling around the place.

“They now have the right man at the helm in Simon, and he’s got a good staff around him.

“I know Alan Kelly very well and the pride he has in the club with being a Preston lad is clear to see.

“Whenever I get the chance I come back to watch the games.”

Kilbane has some gruelling challenges to fit in between his commentary duties over the coming months.

“I’m doing the London Marathon on April 26 although the training hasn’t been great,” he said.

“I did it two years ago when I trained really well.

“In May I’m running the Manchester 10K and then the Humber Bridge half marathon in June.

“Then in September it is the Great North Run in Newcastle and in November, I’m doing the Sea2Summit endurance race in Ireland.

“Again, I did that last year and it was great fun to do.”

He is running the races to raise money and awareness for the Down’s Syndrome Association – his eldest daughter Elsie has Down’s Syndrome.

Anyone wanting to sponsor Kilbane can do so by clicking on