Joe Rafferty wants to play in the Premier League with Preston North End after leaving his boyhood Liverpool dream behind

Joe Rafferty in action at Swansea at the weekend
Joe Rafferty in action at Swansea at the weekend

Joe Rafferty had to put his dream of playing in the Premier League on the back burner many years ago.

But the 25-year-old defender is hopeful that he can realise his ambition of reaching the top-flight of English football with Preston North End.

It was seven years ago when Rafferty was released by Liverpool at the age of 18.

Attached to his boyhood club from the age of nine-years-old, the Liverpudlian grew up dreaming of representing the mighty Reds.

However, as the years passed, it soon became apparent to Rafferty that he would have to forge a career away from Anfield such was the galaxy of stars ahead of him in the pecking order.

He dropped down to League Two level when he signed for Rochdale – who were then managed by current Accrington Stanley boss John Coleman – in the summer of 2012.

Over the next seven years, Rafferty became a fixture in the starting XI at Spotland, helping them earn promotion in 2014 and subsequently establish themselves in League One.

After more than 250 appearances for Dale, Rafferty got his move to North End when boss Alex Neil swooped for him in this year’s January transfer window.

Now the former Liverpool Under-18s captain is keen to push on in the Championship and, who knows, maybe beyond?

“I loved every minute of my time with Liverpool,” said Rafferty. “It’s an unbelievable place. From the age of nine to 18, that is where I learned how to play football.

“I’ve seen a lot of good players there – probably the most outstanding was 
Raheem Sterling.

“Even though he was two years younger, he used to play with us.

“Then there was Jack Robinson, who is with Nottingham Forest now.

“Conor Coady – he’s at Wolves and doing really well for them in the Premier League.

“Jon Flanagan, who is up at Rangers now. There were some really good players, who I came through with. It was gutting to leave, but that’s life.

“Since I was young, I only ever had one dream and that was to play for Liverpool.

“I suppose we all want to play for the best clubs.

“When I got older, I kind of realised that it might not be on the cards really.

“It’s tough – at Liverpool they can spend a lot of money on just one position.

“I remember when I was coming through, they bought Glen Johnson for £20m or something like that.

“Then you’re thinking, it’s obviously going to be tough.

“But you can look at it a different way.

“You see players like Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has come through the ranks there at Liverpool and you see how well he’s doing at the moment.

“ I think a lot of it is about timing and taking your opportunity.”

Rafferty is certainly keen to take his opportunity at North End.

Having begun the season out of the squad altogether, an injury to left-back Andrew Hughes handed him a route into the starting XI.

A right-back by preference, Rafferty has played on the opposite side in the last two games – the 4-0 win over Bradford City in the League Cup and notching his first goal for the club on Saturday albeit in a 3-2 loss to Swansea City.

The former Republic of Ireland youth international took advantage of being naturally right-footed when he cut inside and fired home from 20 yards to give PNE an 11th-minute lead.

“Playing at left-back does give me a little bit more scope to score cutting inside on my right foot.

“I think most of the time, I am looking to pick out a pass, but it kind of opened up for me on Saturday.”

Despite his personal joy of scoring, Rafferty’s overriding feeling was one of disappointment as he ended the match on the losing side.

“I’ve seen an interview I did after the game and I said the word ‘frustrating’ a lot,” said Rafferty. “That’s what it was.

“I scored and you’re on top of the world and then next minute you end up losing the game, which was really in our hands to win.

“I thought we played really well in the first half . The killer blow was conceding just before half-time and that gave them a massive boost and knocked us a little bit.”

Rafferty is hopeful that he has done enough to keep his place for Wednesday night’s Championship clash with Stoke City at Deepdale.

“We are expecting a tough game,” said Rafferty, who used to play alongside Potters forward Scott Hogan at Dale. “Stoke are a massive club for the Championship.

“They have got some great players on show, some great strikers, but you want to test yourself against these kind of players.”