Oshor Williams smiles when he recalls one of John McGrath’s more colourful Deepdale team talks.
“I was sat there, and the gaffer pointed to big Sam Allardyce, who was lacing up his boots,” said Williams, ‘Sam’, he said, ‘I want you to be my chunk of granite, protecting my manicured lawn from the cold winter gales.
‘Oshor, you and Ronnie Hildersley are my bank of rhodendrums, and I don’t want anything to damage that lovely turf.
‘Then there’s my prize roses, John Thomas and Gary Brazil. I want people to come and see my best roses, because they will be the finest in Lancashire’.
Williams, alongside Thomas and Brazil, had fired PNE to promotion after the famous old club had been forced to apply for re-election from the old Fourth Division.
He said: “The dressing room at Preston was a mish-mash of characters – nearly men, has-beens, and a smattering of youngsters with potential.
“But John McGrath was an innovator, a master motivator whose football philosophies were ahead of their time.
“If you asked Sam Allardyce, now the manager of West Ham, I’m sure he’d say that John McGrath moulded many of the things he did later as a manager.
“John McGrath made an immense impression on me.”
Williams had journeyed through the lower leagues with Exeter, Stockport and Port Vale after cutting his teeth with Middlesbrough and Manchester United as a kid, before the call came from McGrath, who made him captain.
Williams said: “We stood on the pitch at Deepdale and John said, ‘Oshor. Do you want to be part of something special?’ – Preston, in the 1980s was the remnants of a once fantastic club.
“Everything smacked of past glory and elegant decay – and future struggle.
“But John re-lit those fires, bringing the club and the town to life.
“He understood the warmth of feeling and influence a football club can have in a town or city, and won promotion from the old Fourth Division in his first season.”
Later, Williams was part of the initial pilot scheme of the Football in the Community scheme at Preston, which the Professional Footballers’ Association helped fund.
Forced to retire at 29, he now uses that vast experience and know-how in his role as assistant director of education with the PFA in Manchester.
In between, he gained a BA Honours in politics and history from Salford University, teaching in further education before joining the PFA in 1996.
He is a football administrator with a clear vision for the future.
“Looking back to my career, it was a different world then,” said Williams.
“I made my debut for Southampton against Arsenal at The Dell.
“You can imagine how nervous I was, but as I walked into the dressing room, Liam Brady, who played for Ireland and was a wonderful talent, sought me out, shook my hand and wished me good luck.
“I was overwhelmed, and that gesture still touches me to this day 30 years later.
“Would that happen today? I’m not so sure.”
One of Williams’ roles with the PFA education centre is to ensure that both current and former members have access to as many education and training opportunities as possible in preparation for life after football.
“I didn’t have a plan when I was told I had to finish,” he said.
“My notion was I’d just keep playing, nothing else came into it.
“But then the panic, the insecurity and fear manifested itself in me, like so many players who have faced the same scenario.
“I’ve seen so many responses to career change, from financial issues to a lack of self-esteem – having lost their position in life – to addiction and mental health issues.
“For some it is a scary prospect, moving out of that cocooned dressing room environment, where so many things are done for them.”
Williams also co-ordinates the PFA programme – Making The Transition – enabling players to plan for the future and explore their next career option.
“Those who plan their exit strategy from elite football make it well, but for others it is a struggle,” he said.
“There are around 4,000 professional footballers and the exciting life they lead makes them the envy of every aspiring schoolboy footballer.
“But what we try and stress to them is that they are special, not because they are footballers, but because they’re a brother, husband, a father or a friend.
“They have the chance to use their place in society to do so much good for the community or for charitable foundations, which many do with great pride and commitment.
“Through the support provided by the Professional Footballers’ Association we’ve had players who have gone on to train as physiotherapists, doctors and solicitors, supporting thousands of players through higher education and trade skills qualifications.
“We’ve even had lads who have done ‘the knowledge’ and are now working as black-cab taxi drivers in London.
“Football is a game of wonderful uncertainty – but it is also a profession where things can go wrong at any time and players need to be prepared for that eventuality.”