Brian was king of the plastic!

Brian Mooney in action on the plastic pitch
Brian Mooney in action on the plastic pitch
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It WAS a chilly November afternoon in 1988 when Brian Mooney was sent crashing to the Deepdale plastic by a robust challenge from the Mansfield Town defender tasked with marking him.

Off he went to the dressing room to have a head wound sealed with eight stitches, the winger rejoining the action as quickly as the club doctor’s handy work allowed.

Within moments of being back in the game, Mooney collected possession on the right wing, in front of the old West Stand.

He weaved inside a couple of Stags defenders before curling a delightful shot with his left foot into the far corner.

The goal had the North End supporters on their feet, as it helped them to a 2-0 victory in a season when they were to reach the old Third Division play-offs.

‘Moons’ was the king of the plastic, a player who perhaps better than anyone mastered the artificial surface during the eight years it was laid at Deepdale.

The Irishman was a Lilywhites player for around three-and-a-half years of the plastic era.

Plucked from Liverpool’s reserves by John McGrath, he was a huge favourite of the Preston supporters.

While it is 23 years since he last wore the PNE shirt, Mooney is still fondly remembered in the city.

His boots are long hung up, with the Dubliner’s career now in education welfare.

But when we chat this week, Mooney’s passion for his time at Preston still comes clearly across.

“My most memorable game for North End was probably that one against Mansfield,” Mooney told the Evening Post.

“I got bashed on the head and needed eight stitches in quite a big cut.

“Straight away after coming back on, I got the ball and stuck it into the top corner with my left foot.

“It wasn’t a bad way to pay Mansfield back for injuring me was it?

“The time at Preston was my most successful spell in English football.

“I was there for a few years and we just seemed to suit each other nicely.

“Even now it is the results of Preston and Liverpool which I look out for first.

“When Preston played Liverpool in the FA Cup a few years ago, I got invited to the game and did the half-time draw.

“I got a great reception from the supporters, even though it had been many years since I played there.

“While at Preston I got to play with good players and great characters.

“Frank Worthington and Sam Allardyce were there when I first joined.

“I signed at the same time as Tony Ellis, while Gary Brazil and Warren Joyce were two excellent team-mates.

“We got to the play-offs when I was there, came close to getting to Wembley in the Sherpa Van Trophy, only to get beaten by Burnley.

“John McGrath and Les Chapman were two great characters.

“McGrath’s methods were a bit different but his 
man-management skills were very good.

“He got the best out of players in different ways and came out with some odd statements to say the least!

“I have only got fond memories of Preston and they were a big part of my football career.

“The plastic surface they had laid at Deepdale at the time was one which really suited my game.

“But ironically, it did come back to haunt me because I eventually needed three operations on my knee. It was very hard and didn’t have the bits of rubber in the surface like the modern pitches do.”

Mooney was a product of the famed Home Farm club on the outskirts of Dublin.

He followed a well-worn route across the Irish Sea to Liverpool, Joe Fagan the Reds manager who signed him.

Said Mooney: “Liverpool were a very successful club at the time and it was a big moment when I joined them.

“I got into their first-team squad a couple of times but there were some very good players there.

“So it was mainly the reserves in the Central League.

“After a while I just keen to try and play some first-team football somewhere.

“I went to Wrexham on loan for a bit, and then the following season I was told that Preston were interested in me.

“There was a good affiliation between the two clubs, Preston wasn’t too far away, so I jumped at the chance.

“During the week I had digs in Fulwood and would go home to my house in Liverpool after the game at the weekend.

“I think my debut was against Port Vale, we won that game. Tony Ellis also played for the first time that day.

“The loan was for a month or two, and after that I signed a permanent deal.

“Liverpool was a big club to leave but I wanted to play first-team football and Preston were giving me that chance.”

It was a couple of months into the 1987/88 season that Mooney moved to Deepdale.

At the time North End were having a bit of a rocky time settling into the third tier after their promotion the season before.

But they gradually found their feet, finishing securely in 16th place and getting to within an ace of Wembley in the Sherpa Van Trophy.

After holding Burnley to a goalless draw at Turf Moor in the first leg, they were beaten 3-1 after extra-time by the Clarets at Deepdale.

The following season was much better, with PNE finishing in sixth place to make the play-offs, which were very much in their infancy then.

They played some fantastic attacking football that campaign, and in successive home games beat Chesterfield 6-0 and Brentford 5-3.

With Mooney, Ellis, Joyce, Mark Patterson and Tony Philliskirk all on song, Preston were an attacking force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately the play-offs were to prove a step too far. After drawing 1-1 with Port Vale at Deepdale in May 1989, they lost the away leg 3-1.

Mooney said: “It was quite tight against Port Vale from what I remember.

“We drew at our place and it was 1-1 down there for a while before Vale scored twice more.

“It was disappointing not to get up because we had a strong side that season.

“We played some good football, John McGrath liked us to get it down and play.

“There is no doubt that we were a better side on the plastic than when we played away. We would train at Deepdale every day and got used to the surface.

“The grass pitches weren’t very good back in those days.

“One week we would be playing at home where the ball ran smoothly and you knew where it was going.

“But the next you were away on a pitch which was like a cow field and it was difficult to adjust between the two.

“So sometimes we didn’t play too well in away games.”

After finishing sixth in 1988/89, North End slipped to 19th the next season.

Mooney scored his one hat-trick for Preston in that campaign, the treble coming in a 5-0 thumping of Chester.

Twice that season he found the net against Blackpool –always a plus point for a PNE player.

The 1990/91 campaign was to be his last at Deepdale – he was sold to Sunderland for £225,000 in January 1991 after a loan move to Sheffield Wednesday had fallen through a few months before.

“Les Chapman had taken over as manager by then, and money was tight at Preston,” said Mooney.

“At the start of the season Sheffield Wednesday agreed to pay a few bob for me to go on loan there with a view to signing me permanently.

“I went to Wednesday in the summer but unfortunately during a pre-season tour to Italy, my knee swelled up and I ended up needing a cartilage operation.

“So I came back to Preston on crutches to do my re-hab and never kicked a ball for Sheffield Wednesday.

“It took me a while to get fit but eventually I got back into the Preston side.

“I played a few games and then Sunderland came in for me, Dennis Smith was their manager. Things didn’t really work out for me at Sunderland mainly because of injuries.

“I broke a metatarsal bone in my foot which should only have been an eight or nine-week job. But it was misdiagnosed and they kept bringing me back too early. I think I actually broke it three or four times. I managed to get fit in time for when Sunderland reached the FA Cup final against Liverpool at Wembley in 1992.

“Unfortunately I didn’t get picked that day, which was so disappointing as I would have been facing Liverpool.

“When I left Sunderland, I moved back to Ireland and played for Shelbourne and then Bohemians.

“Later I signed for UCD (University College Dublin) when I did a business degree and then a Masters degree in education.” Now 48, Mooney works in the education welfare service, looking after school attendance. He has two sons, aged 17 and 15 – the youngest is a centre-half playing at regional development level.

Said Mooney: “My son’s position in the defence means that he would be kicking me if I was still playing!

“I’m still active in the football community, coaching a local boys’ team.”