Preston North End defender Paul Huntington talks to Dave Seddon about his six seasons at Deepdale, his new contract, a spell in the PNE wilderness and those black boots
The drive from Yeovil to Carlisle is long and one which Paul Huntington made regularly for two years.
The centre-half played for Yeovil Town and when the chance allowed would head back to Cumbria to see friends and family.
That journey took him past Preston on the M6 and was to plant the seed of a transfer which has led to such a significant spell of Huntington’s career.
It is six years since he joined PNE, and he was part of the revolution which swept Deepdale in the summer of 2012.
He is the sole survivor of that era, one which saw the squad overhauled during Graham Westley’s eventful reign.
This week, Huntington put pen to paper on a new three-year contract which will extend his stay further.
It was news greeted with much joy among the North End faithful who sing about the ‘Cumbrian Cannavaro’ and marvel at the fact he bucks a trend in football by wearing black boots.
Bearing that in mind, the Springfields’ boot room was an appropriate place to chat with ‘Hunts’ on Thursday morning, ahead of another double training session which forms part of the build-up to the new campaign.
Looking back to how it all started with Preston, Huntington said: “I was playing for Yeovil and at the back end of my last season there I got the heads-up that North End were interested.
“Whether they had been watching me play I don’t know, but I had played against them that season and done all right.
“When we got a day off at Yeovil, I used to drive home to Carlisle and would go past Preston on the motorway.
“There is a point on the motorway when you can see the stadium.
“I always used to think to myself about playing there and the opportunity did come up.
“It was good to be back up north although that wasn’t the be-all and end-all – the fact was Preston are a big club.
“People say we are one of the smaller clubs in the Championship but I don’t go along with that.
“You look at the history and stature of the club, we were one of the founder members of the Football League.
“I was really pleased to be asked to be part of that.
“That summer there was a big turnaround of players.
“At one stage there were a group of players training elsewhere, it was something of a transitional period.
“Time has flown by since then, I’m about to start my seventh season here.”
It has not always been plain-sailing for Huntington at Deepdale.
He was out of the picture for much of the second half of the 2013/14 season when North End got the play-off semi-finals and were beaten by Rotherham.
That summer he could easily have left and was still out of the team for the first couple of months of the next campaign.
A windy Tuesday night away to Gillingham resulted in a change of fortune.
He ended that season by scoring at Wembley and with the player of the year trophy in his hands.
Huntington said: “At the back end of the second season I didn’t play much at all.
“That summer the manager was sort of saying, ‘How do you feel about going elsewhere’?
“Glynn Snodin spoke to me a few times that summer about various clubs. I was playing golf with my best mate and got a call to say that they wouldn’t stand in my way if I wanted to leave.
“My head was spinning at the time and I couldn’t focus on my round of golf.
“I came back with a point to prove but broke my hand in pre-season.
“That kept me out for a while and when I was fit I still wasn’t getting a game.
“But then a few injuries and I think Bailey Wright being ill, meant I got a recall against Gillingham.
“I scored the winner that night and stayed in the team from then on.
“With us wining in the play-offs, doing well in the JPT and having a good run in the FA Cup when we played Manchester United, I ended up playing nearly 50 games.
“Considering I didn’t play until October, that was quite a turnaround.”
Huntington scored PNE’s second goal in the 4-0 win over Swindon in the League One play-off final.
“As a stand-out moment, Wembley was brilliant, it was the best way to go up,” said the 30-year-old.
“We had gone through the Colchester experience, losing there and missing out on automatic promotion.
“But we bounced back so well in the play-offs and played well at Wembley.
“It was a very special day without doubt and I have fond memories of it but you always want to get better.
“If we could have that day again in this league, it would be unbelievable.”
So what about those black boots in an age when footballers grace the turf in footwear of many different colours?
Said Huntington: “It is getting difficult nowadays because the manufacturers bring out these super-bright coloured boots.
“They are not for me, I’ve never gone through a proper spell of wearing anything other than black boots.
“That goes back to when I was a kid, my dad was maybe a bit old-school and told me to stick to what I know.”