PNE is poised for success

New manager: Peter Ridsdale is confident new North End manager Graham Westley can bring success to the club
New manager: Peter Ridsdale is confident new North End manager Graham Westley can bring success to the club
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No one could accuse Peter Ridsdale of allowing himself a settling-in period in his first two months as Preston North End chairman.

Among his first jobs was to sack Phil Brown, with that followed by a detailed search for a new manager, which eventually brought Graham Westley to Lancashire.

In the last few days, Ridsdale finished overseeing one of the busiest transfer windows seen at North End.

Bearing in mind that work ethic, it wouldn’t have been a surprise had he offered to roll up his sleeves to fix the electrical fault which cut the power and lights at Deepdale earlier in the week.

Fortunately, the winter sunlight was streaming through the window as we chatted in his office, Ridsdale reflecting on a busy introduction to the PNE hot seat.

Eyebrows were raised when the 59-year-old succeeded Maurice Lindsay at the start of December.

But it was his quarter of a century of experience in football’s boardrooms – at Leeds, Barnsley, Cardiff and Plymouth – which tempted North End owner Trevor Hemmings to pick up the phone and dial Ridsdale’s number.

He has his critics in the game – many of them sporting the colours of Leeds – although it has to be said that the dissenting voices at Preston have steadily quietened over the last few weeks as his new regime has taken effect.

A North End tea mug never far from his grasp – empty on this occasion as the power cut prevented the kettle going on – Ridsdale talks candidly about life at Deepdale.

“I think it’s been quite a strange period really since I came in,” said the one-time managing director of retail giant Top Man.

“One of the first things I did was make the big decision to change the manager, then we had the four-week period without a permanent manager.

“Now we are into a phase which I hope is the start of some exciting times to come.

“What have I found here? I’ve found a big club with massive expectation that we have not been able to satisfy in recent times.

“This is a club which deserves success, a club which is poised for success if we can get it right.

“It’s very exciting, there’s going to be a lot of hard work ahead, some of which has already started.

“I honestly believe we can bring success back to Deepdale sooner rather than later.

“The appointment of Graham Westley is testimony to the fact we just didn’t go out and do more of the same.

“We didn’t go out and get a well known manager just for the sake of it, we put a lot of thought into it.”

Ridsdale had only recently steered Plymouth away from the brink of liquidation and into the hands of a new owner, when the call came from Lancashire.

With his home just over the border in Cumbria, the job offer from Hemmings was one he wasn’t going to refuse.

Said Ridsdale: “Trevor is a fantastic guy, he’s given me an opportunity which I was grateful for and since the day I walked in, he’s been 100% supportive.

“It will give me no greater pleasure then to achieve promotion sooner rather than later because he’s been involved at this club since 1971.

“Preston North End fans have to realise that without Trevor Hemmings, the club wouldn’t be here.

“He’s a very interested owner, everything we have done has been with his full knowledge and approval.

“My job is to make sure that if a cheque is written by Trevor, it is because he has a freedom to decide he wants to do it as oppose to it has to be done otherwise we’d go out of business.

“The challenge is to run the club as a business – in the last couple of years the cheque has been written as a necessity rather than because it is nice to do.

“I don’t want to put words into Trevor’s mouth, but I would have thought he was frustrated that the amount of money he has put in hasn’t shown a return on the field.

“We don’t want to assume that a cheque will always be written every time we lose money, and at the same time we want to build a winning mentality and a winning football club.”

In an attempt to come up with this much sought-after winning mentality, Westley succeeded Brown in the manager’s office three weeks ago.

It would be going over old ground to debate the reasons why Brown was potted, save to say Ridsdale wasn’t impressed with what he found at the club and had been in office just a week when he called time on the manager he inherited.

And so he turned to Westley, luring him away from Stevenage after a careful recruitment process which lasted the best part of a month.

“What the supporters see is the tip of the iceberg, they see what happens for 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon,” said Ridsdale.

“What I see and what other people inside the club see is what happens Monday to Friday.

“It became clear to me that unless we made a change, the discipline, fitness and the things that make you win on a Saturday weren’t in place.

“Once we sacked Phil, what we couldn’t do was rush off and make an appointment without a lot of thought going into it, then 12 months later realise we had made a mistake.

“This club has a recent history of doing that.

“That’s why we took our time, realised we had a good opportunity on our hands to put things right.

“In Graham Westley we have the most professional, disciplined and thoughtful manager that I have met in 25 years.

“He knows what he wants and is focused. Some people don’t like it because he is very clear in what he needs to achieve.

“Graham has a different way of achieving things in terms of a work ethic, but when you sit back and look at results, his methods win matches.”

Westley’s methods have come under public scrutiny since swapping Stevenage for Preston, attracting some criticism from outside the club and some resistance within it.

The players are working longer hours, although nothing approaching what some rumour merchants would have you believe.

Ridsdale isn’t bothered by the stories which have done the rounds, although legal action was dispatched in the direction of one tabloid newspaper this week over a story it ran.

He said: “People who don’t like change will add fuel to the fire and start a whispering campaign. I see what happens every day at this club and I’m very impressed.

“Part of the flak has been built on myths which is disappointing.

“Some of the stuff I have had fed back to me about things which have supposedly happened, has been utter nonsense.

“It’s sad because some people clearly have an agenda and delight in spreading rumours.

“When you actually get down to dealing with facts rather than rumour, what I see is a professional man and a professional team around him focusing on trying to win matches.

“Much has been made about the hours the players are working. I know what hours I work and what hours the average supporter works.

“With due respect to any footballer, the hours worked under Graham aren’t anywhere near the hours the average man in the street works.

“I don’t think anyone can criticise the hours which Graham expects the players to train.

“They start later in the morning, it’s a considered and thoughtful programme.

“Do they work until 4.15-4.30pm? Absolutely. That is afternoon tea time for me, then I start the next shift.

“I suppose the frustration about all of this is that I would like to think that everyone connected with the club wants us to succeed.

“If they do, they’ll support the decisions taken because they have been done in a very thoughtful manner.

“I think a lot of myths are actually being spread by those who are probably scared that we might succeed.

“There are a number of competitors out there, whether they be in the same league or geographically close to us, who are fearful of a successful Preston North End.”

One of the biggest tasks facing Ridsdale is to reduce the wage bill which has built up way beyond the means of a League One club. Some of the wheeling and dealing done in January has chipped away at it, and a number of contracts coming to an end this summer presents another opportunity to bring things more into line.

“We can’t afford to be paying Championship wages at a League One club,” said the PNE chairman.

“You can only afford to do that if your income supports paying that kind of wages – our income in League One doesn’t support it.

“We lost £4m in television revenue when we were relegated.

“I don’t believe that from a business point of view, we should be organised where a cheque is put in from someone else every month.

“There are plenty of clubs out there succeeding without someone putting money in, there are a lot of clubs with lower crowds than we get who are succeeding – the club Graham left behind is a classic example. We’ve been sensible with the players we’ve brought in during the last couple of weeks.

“There’s a quality threshold – if they weren’t good enought to take us where we want to go, we wouldn’t have signed them.

“What we’ve got to do is get our wage bill into line with our income.”

Read more from Peter Ridsdale in Sport Monday