BIG iNTERVIEW: Gordon Coleman
Any Preston player – past or present – who has been fortunate enough to score the winner against arch-rivals Blackpool will forever be revered by North End supporters.
But perhaps Gordon Coleman deserves an extra special place in the hearts of the Deepdale faithful after scoring a winning goal against the Tangerines... while sitting on his backside!
The all-action midfielder vividly remembers a FA Cup second round tie against the ‘old enemy’ in December 1982 at Deepdale.
With the tie all-square at 1-1 and looking like it was heading for a replay at Bloomfield Road, Coleman decided to make another of his trademark lung-bursting forays into the visitors’ penalty area.
In the goalmouth scramble which ensued, Coleman found himself barged to the ground as he competed for the ball.
On the floor and trying to regather his senses, he looked up and noticed the ball was heading directly towards him.
In a split second – and straining every sinew in his body – Coleman managed to direct a header towards the Blackpool goal.
Fortunately for the PNE midfielder, standing on the goal-line was diminutive Blackpool full-back Terry Pashley, who was powerless to prevent the header looping over his head and into the goal.
It’s fair to say Coleman didn’t stay sitting on his backside for long as he raced away to take the acclaim of an euphoric Deepdale.
And when I caught up with him this week at his Fulwood home, Coleman had a little chuckle to himself when he remembered the moment he earned his place in PNE folklore.
He said: “I remember being in the penalty area, jumping for the ball and getting knocked over.
“There was a bit of a scramble and the ball looped up in the air.
“Everything just seemed to happen in slow motion and I remember looking up and seeing the ball coming down right on my head. I was still sitting down on the pitch and I managed to head the ball goalwards.
“Terry Pashley was on the line and the ball looped up over his head and dropped over the line.
“I don’t think the ball even touched the netting – it wasn’t strong enough to reach the back of the net.
“But I think the goal was the winner and we won the game 2-1.”
The goal handed Preston an attractive third round encounter against Leeds United at Elland Road – a match which Coleman missed through injury as North End lost 3-0.
In fact, Coleman’s match-winning derby exploits were to be one of his final acts wearing a PNE shirt.
Although he scored again a week later in a league match against Orient at Brisbane Road, a persistent back injury limited his appearances for the remainder of the season.
He eventually left for Bury in the summer of 1983 – ending a 10-year association with the club, which began when he was plucked from amateur football in his home city of Nottingham as a naive and inexperienced 18-year-old.
Indeed, his football career very nearly didn’t get off the ground.
Enrolled on a university course, Coleman had his heart set on becoming a teacher. It was only a last-minute intervention from the legendary Bobby Charlton, which persuaded Coleman to change his mind and try his luck in the professional game.
Coleman, now aged 59, said: “In Nottingham, which is where I am from originally, I went to a grammar school and we didn’t play football at all there.
“It was all rugby so consequently from the age of 11 to 16, I didn’t play football.
“So growing up I didn’t really have any ambitions about becoming a footballer.
“It was only after I left the grammar school and went to college to take my A-levels that I began to play football again.
“I was playing for a local junior amateur team called Padstow.
“It was then when I was spotted and asked to come up to Preston for a trial.
“Ex-Nottingham Forest player Tommy Capel, who was actually coaching our team, recommended me to Preston.
“I came to Preston initially for a week, but I ended up staying the entire six weeks of the summer holidays.
“At the same time, I had got a place at teacher training college, which was starting in September.
“So as the end of the summer holidays approached, I went in to see Bobby Charlton, who was the manager of Preston at the time, and said, ‘Thanks for everything, but I’m starting college next week’.
“Preston had not really said anything to me about signing so I just presumed I would be going at the end of the six week.
“But Bobby said he wanted to sign me and so I ended up agreeing a one-year contract.”
Although Coleman was initially unaware of the good impression he had made on Charlton during his trial, he soon discovered how much the former Manchester United great and England World Cup-winning hero rated him.
Within weeks of signing, Coleman made his debut in a 2-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthornes – where he lined -up alongside players such as Nobby Stiles, John McMahon, Francis Burns and Alex Bruce.
“I was awe-struck when I first came to Preston,” Coleman said.
“I had gone from amateur football to playing for Preston within a matter of weeks.
“I was in the same team as people like Francis Burns, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Charlton – people who just a few weeks earlier I had only ever seen on television.
“It was unbelievable and surreal in many respects.
“I remember one match – I think it might have been Charlton away – I went to hit a shot on the edge of the box and heard a shout to leave it.
“I hit the shot in any case and it went into the goal, but when I looked behind me it was Bobby Charlton who had told me to leave it.
“I remember thinking maybe I shouldn’t have hit the shot – it was a good job I scored.”
Coleman believes his rise to first-team football could never be replicated in today’s modern game.
“I made my debut against West Brom and looking back, I was very green,” he said. “I was basically an amateur player.
“But in those days, the team system was not that important, where as today it is.
“When I played, the game was more free-flowing, more individual. You were in the team because you had certain skills and you were allowed to express those skills.
“Nowadays the game is more systemic, it’s more team-based and everybody has to conform to the system which the manager wants you to play.
“So it made it easier for me to come into the team and play.”
After making sporadic appearances in those first couple of seasons, Coleman began to nail down a first-team spot towards the end of the 1976/77 season.
He began the following campaign wearing the No.7 jersey and was a virtual ever-present as North End won promotion from the old Third Division under the management team of Stiles and Alan Kelly senior.
Preston clinched promotion by finishing in third spot, beating Peterborough United to the final automatic spot by virtue of having a superior goal difference.
The next season saw Coleman play an integral role as North End enjoyed a great first season back in the old Second Division – finishing seventh.
However, cracks began to appear as the club started to sell some of their better players. It culminated in relegation the season after.
“We had a good team back then,” Coleman said. “We had Mike Elwiss, Alex Bruce, John McMahon, Gary Williams – some really good players.
“We thought we would go on from strength to strength, but then we started to sell our star players.
“Mike Elwiss went to Crystal Palace and I think Gary Williams was sold to Brighton.
“We were selling all these good players and not replacing them with players of similar ability.”
Academically minded, Coleman complemented his football career by studying for an open university degree in Social Psychology.
While his team-mates would organise card schools on the coach to away matches, Coleman would be found at the front of the bus studying.
It meant when his playing days finished in the mid-1980s, he had another career to fall back upon.
He has since completed a Masters degree and a post-graduate certificate in education.
“When I did my degree, I did get a bit of banter off my team-mates because most of them were not academically minded,” he said.
“It did take a lot of discipline to study, especially when there was other things I could have been doing.
“I used to get some stick when we would be on a long five-hour coach journey to some away game.
“They would be playing cards and I would have my nose in some psychology book.
“It was all friendly stuff. I am sure some of them would have liked to have done it themselves but it wasn’t in their interest.”
After graduating, Coleman worked in the leisure industry for Wigan Council before returning home to Nottingham to become the manager of a leisure centre. He then got involved with the PFA helping set up Football in the Community programmes at various clubs around the country.
For the past 17 years, he was the Director of Community at Nottingham Forest, but has left his post recently to move back to Preston with his partner Victoria, who hails from the city.
“I have been involved with 23 football clubs throughout my life, but Preston is the team that I support,” he said.
Coleman will be the guest of honour in the Invincibles Lounge for North End’s League One encounter against MK Dons this afternoon.