Big Interview part two: Roy Tunks

Roy Tunks played more than 300 games in goal for Preston North End
Roy Tunks played more than 300 games in goal for Preston North End
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The art of goalkeeping has changed immeasurably since Roy Tunks used to patrol the Deepdale penalty area in the seventies and early eighties.

As someone who made more than 800 Football League appearances as a No.1 – including 300-odd games for Preston – before moving into coaching, Tunks can speak with authority when it comes to discussing the remarkable transformation of football’s last line of defence.

Once upon a time, catching crosses and making saves – as well as being able to punt the ball long downfield with some degree of accuracy – were the only real prerequisites of any aspiring goalkeeper.

However, the advent of the back-pass rule in the summer of 1992 – which banned goalies from picking up the ball when it had been purposely touched back to them by one of their own players with their feet – changed the whole complexion of the goalkeeper role for good.

Nowadays a keeper’s ability with the ball at their feet is considered just as important as their handling skills.

Tunks’ playing days ended two years prior to the back-pass rule being introduced, so he has no first-hand experience of it.

But having spent the last 25 years as a goalkeeping coach, the 65-year-old is all too aware of the impact the law change has had on the game.

Tunks has held coaching positions with both Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United over the years – working with household names such as Brad Friedel, Tim Flowers, Shay Given and Steve Harper.

He has also spent time helping the FA develop England keepers at youth level.

Currently, he is the head of the goalkeeping department of Manchester City’s academy set-up, although he is set to retire from that position imminently.

Tunks admits that such is the importance given to a shot-stopper’s ability on the floor in the modern-day game, academies are now looking at young outfield players with a view to turning them into goalkeepers.

“Goalkeeping has changed from my day and continues to change,” said Tunks.

“They are becoming more and more like outfield players. The way the position has changed over the years, you can sort of compare it to the wicketkeeper in cricket.

“Once upon a time, a wicketkeeper was somebody who was excellent at keeping wicket and could bat a little bit.

“Now they are after a batsman, who can put the gloves on.

“The same kind of thing is happening in football.

“Goalkeepers need to be really good with the ball at their feet now.

“They do have a different role to when I played.

“It’s less physical than it was in my day, but the game is a lot quicker and if you can’t use your feet you are struggling.

“The back-pass rule has changed football enormously and it has been great for the game.

“In my day, you could pass the ball back to the keeper, he would pick it up and it would kill the game.

“But now the game is more end-to-end because keepers when under pressure have to get shut quickly.

“We have actually created a programme at Manchester City where we look at some outfield players who are not going to be quite good enough to make it.

“But if they have the necessary physical attributes, we ask them if they fancy having a go in goal.

“There are a few goalkeepers coming through at City now who started out at the academy as outfield players.”

Supporters of Preston will relate to Tunks’ thoughts – especially after watching Jordan Pickford play at Deepdale this season.

The Sunderland keeper produced some outstanding performances for North End after being borrowed by manager Simon Grayson over the first half of the season before being recalled back to the Stadium of Light earlier this month.

Impressive in all aspects of his craft, Pickford’s exquisite use of his left foot was something which particularly stood out.

“I have seen Jordan about five times when he was playing for Preston,” said Tunks. “I produced reports on him back to City. Jordan’s got a terrific chance of going a long way in the game.

“He’s another who is really comfortable on the ball.

“His left foot is like a rocket and he is able to set up a lot of attacks.

“Soon we will have the creative goalkeeper.

“I think you will see goalkeepers taking the ball out even further and further up the pitch.

“When they kick the ball these days, it’s not a clearance – unless they are under pressure – it’s usually a pass.

“When you see the pass completion rates of goalkeepers in games now, it’s amazing, whereas once upon a time, a keeper would just launch the ball down the other end of the pitch.”

Despite playing in the days before the back-pass rule, Tunks reckons he would have flourished in today’s game.

And he believes there are many top-level goalkeepers who could have made the grade as outfield players.

“I think I would have been quite comfortable with the back-pass rule because I was an outfield player initially,” he said.

“I reckon I could have got a professional contract as an outfield player if I had a yard of pace more. I was a striker, but just wasn’t quite quick enough.

“But I was good on the ball, two-footed and so I would have been okay in today’s game.

“Brad Friedel would have caused some problems as an outfield player – as a striker.

“He actually scored a goal – I was his coach at the time when he scored at Charlton for Blackburn Rovers.

“There are one or two others who would be pretty decent as outfield players.

“When I was at Blackburn and Newcastle, we would always let the keepers join in with outfield training in the five-a-side and little possession games.

“I think they used to enjoy it and most of them could play a bit.”

The role of a goalkeeping coach is something of a modern-day phenomenon, although Tunks revealed he used to benefit from the advice and expertise of the late Alan Kelly Snr.

Kelly is widely regarded as North End’s greatest ever goalkeeper and obtained legendary status as the club’s No.1 throughout the 1960s.

When Tunks joined North End in 1974, he was clever enough to utilise Kelly’s talents.

“I was very fortunate because I worked with Alan at Preston,” Tunks said.

“I actually sought him out because he was working for the club in some kind of part-time capacity.

“Alan agreed to do a couple of sessions a week with me.

“He would absolutely beast me!

“He used to work me so hard and it was great for me.

“I am sure it had a massive influence on helping me play until I was 40.

“His sessions were always very good.

“As well as being very entertaining, they were very beneficial and very specific to my needs as a goalkeeper.

“It was great to speak to somebody like him who understood the nuances and the particular problems of playing in goal.

“Kells was my first port of call and it was probably around about this time that clubs began to see the advantage of having a specific goalkeeping coach.”

Ironically, when Tunks returned to Deepdale for a second spell as a player in 1988, he ended up coaching Kelly’s son Alan Jnr, who went on to play for Preston and is now, of course, the club’s current goalkeeping coach.

Tunks’ first spell at Preston started in 1974 when he was signed from Rotherham United by Bobby Charlton with the club recently relegated to the old Third Division.

“I think I was one of Bobby Charlton’s last signing for Preston,” Tunks said.

“He was still playing, which was great for all of us in the squad at that time.

“To play in the same side as two World Cup winners was amazing because obviously Nobby Stiles was playing also.

“You also had Dave Sadler and Francis Burns, so there were European Cup winners as well.

“We had some quite well-known people and some very good players too.

“Nobby would surprise you. To look at him you would think he can never be a player, but then he would do something in training or in a game and you would think, ‘That was bloody good’. He could play.

“Bobby was fabulous. He used to just enjoy training.

“He would leave a lot of the training to Norman Bodell, who was his first-team coach.

“Bobby was still playing so even though he had an influence, he needed to be involved in the training.

“But I would always remember Bobby would stop everyone in the middle of a training session and say, ‘No no, no...don’t do it like that, do it like this’.

“He would then get the ball and ping a ball 50 yards with his right foot inch-perfect to the left-winger.

“Then he would say, ‘Now if he’s not on then there’s him over there’.

“Then he would look over to the right wing, ping another 50-yard ball, this time with his left foot.

“He would then just quiff his hair over and walk away saying, ‘Just do that’.

“We’d be like, ‘Yeah okay just like that’?”

Charlton’s spell at Preston as boss – his only spell in management – was to prove to be a largely unsuccessful one.

He left in 1975, frustrated by the board’s decision to sell his captain John Bird to Newcastle United, with Alex Bruce arriving in the opposition direction.

Many people have suggested that Charlton struggled as a manager because he found it difficult working with players who did not have his 
God-given talent.

However, Tunks believes he could have been successful if he had stayed on as manager.

“I don’t think Bobby gave himself long enough,” Tunks said.

“He resigned over the John Bird and Alex Bruce transfer.

“He did not want to lose John because he was his captain and the kingpin of his side, although I am not saying he did not want Alex back at the club either.

“But I think he could have done okay.”

Tunks helped North End win promotion back to the old Second Division in 1978 under Nobby Stiles.

He has fond memories of that period and particularly the camaraderie in the dressing room.

“At Preston, we had a very close bunch from Bobby’s time at the club right through to when Nobby was manager,” said Tunks.

“I always remember playing against Wrexham on Boxing day at Deepdale.

“I think it was a top-of-the-table clash and there were about 17,000 or 18,000 on Deepdale..

“I remember a cross coming in and I went out to collect it, but our left-back Harry Wilson came in from behind me and smacked the ball away, nearly taking my fingers off.

“The ball went out for a corner and by this time myself and Harry started to have words.

“We then started to swing punches at each other as the corner started to come over.

“Thankfully Dixie McNeil – the Wrexham striker – put a shot past the post.

“I remember putting the ball down for the goalkick and looking over at Harry – he was laughing all over his face.

“It was just one of those heat-of-the-moment things which can happen in games.

“But we had a great team spirit.

“I think the season after we got promoted, we finished seventh.

“That is a regret because I think if we had just gone out and got a couple of more players to just gives us that extra push, who knows what could have happened.”

Tunks’ days at Deepdale were numbered once Tommy Docherty arrived as manager in 1981 and he joined Wigan Athletic.

“I was disappointed when Tommy came in because there were 10 or 11 of us that 
went into the away dressing room – we called it the leper colony.

“I don’t know why he wanted rid of us, but he obviously did not last long as manager.

“I always remember he came in at Rotherham and did the same.

“He told the chairman, he would get them out of the division and he did – they got relegated.”

After spending seven happy years at Wigan, before a short spell at Hartlepool United, Tunks – who still lives in Longton – finished his career back at Deepdale after phoning then PNE boss John McGrath.

“I rang John McGrath. I asked him if I could come down to Preston to train – I must have been about 38 at the time.

“John said, ‘Never mind train, you can come in and play’.

“So I had a few games in the reserves and then got back in the first team. I must have played another 20-odd games for Preston under John.

“At the same time I was starting to take the ‘A’ team and work with some of the younger players coming through at that time, players like Lee Ashcroft.

“So that really got me into the coaching side of things.”

Tunks also enjoyed a short stint as assistant manager at Deepdale when Les Chapman was installed as boss.