The die had seemingly been cast on Brian Stock’s Preston North End career – almost as soon as it had begun.
The cultured midfielder joined PNE from League One Bournemouth in the 2006 January transfer window – signed by Billy Davies.
Having just turned 24 the previous month, Stock arrived at Deepdale as a player boasting a huge amount of talent and potential.
Confident that they had landed a player who would be a mainstay of their midfield for years to come, North End signed him on loan initially but not before committing to pay the Cherries £125,000 at the end of season.
With a four-and-a-half year contract in the bag, Stock was looking forward to becoming integral to PNE’s future plans.
Unfortunately, things did not quite work out the way everybody envisaged.
Less than nine months later, Stock was shipped out to Doncaster Rovers – having played just six times for the Lilywhites. Rumour has it that the playmaker’s days at Deepdale were numbered as early as his second game for the club.
Picked to start away to Burnley in a white-hot derby, Stock was hauled off at half-time amid speculation he had become embroiled in an almighty bust-up with the manager.
Leading the Clarets 1-0 at the time courtesy of a 13th-minute strike from David Nugent, North End sealed a 2-0 victory over their arch-rivals four minutes from time when Graham Alexander smashed home a penalty.
But for Stock, that first half would be the last anybody would see of him in a North End shirt for months – he would go on to make just one further start for the club.
While disappointed at the way his career at Preston panned out, Stock is eager to set the record straight.
He insists there was no falling out with Davies in the dressing room under the Cricket Field Stand at Turf Moor that day and revealed he has nothing but respect for his former manager.
“You have to remember I was a young lad who had just come up from the south,” said Stock, who went on to play more than 200 times for Donny, captaining them to promotion to the Championship in 2008.
“I had never really experienced anything like this sort of derby before.
“Billy did try to give me a heads-up on what it might be like coming in to that sort of environment.
“Taking me off at half-time in that game was purely a tactical decision. There was certainly no bust-up.
“I do remember a couple of weeks later, I went into the manager’s office and asked him what’s happened, why am I not playing?
“That is something I have always done throughout my career.
“The manager firmly put me in my place, but at the same time he put his arm around me and made me feel part of the club.
“I was actually gutted when he left the club at the end of the season.”
Indeed Davies quit North End in the summer to join Championship rivals Derby County.
His last act as PNE manager was the play-off semi-final defeat to Leeds United when he famously told the Press after drawing 1-1 at Elland Road that it was “job done” – only to lose the second leg at Deepdale 2-0.
Stock did not feature in either of those games, although he had been brought back in from the cold in the final month of the campaign– playing and scoring his only goal for club in a 2-0 win, ironically against Leeds at home in the final game of the season.
“I had a choice of three clubs when I left Bournemouth,” said Stock, who represented Wales three times.
“I could have gone to Swansea, Nottingham Forest or Preston – I chose Preston purely on the basis they were kicking on and possibly trying to get in the Premier League.
“That was the case that season – we got to the play-offs again and did well in the away tie at Leeds.
“But what was said to the Press and the way we acted after the game, fuelled their momentum and desire to come out and beat us on our home patch.
“Our form at Deepdale at the time was remarkable but Leeds came out and defied all the odds which the bookies would have put down to actually beat us.
“Leeds pinned up all the articles and wrote messages on the walls in the dressing room afterwards.
“I really liked Billy. I thought he was fantastic man manager and he always made you feel part of things.
“When you played he always made you feel like you could light a stadium up and that was a major strength of his.
“But, personally, I think on that night against Leeds, sometimes you say the wrong things and what Billy came out with in the Press only fuelled their fire.
“You also saw him come on the pitch at Elland Road and celebrate.
“Looking back at it all, you think, ‘Mmmm was it the right thing to do’?”
Stock was disappointed not to feature at all in the play-offs especially as he felt he had done well in the last match of the campaign against Leeds.
“I felt I did okay in that game and had done enough to be involved in the play-offs,” said Stock.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the squad and I felt Billy played one or two players who were nowhere near match fit.
“In fact they hadn’t even brought their boots to the game because they didn’t think they were going to play.
“It was an eye-opener in terms of one or two of his selections but you always have to back the manager.”
Stock – who made more than 450 Football League appearances across his career – made two substitute appearances for PNE the following season before new manager Paul Simpson decided to let him go to Doncaster.
Despite the way his time at North End ultimately turned out, he has no regrets about his decision to sign for the club.
“ When I came to Preston – it was a real eye-opener as to how big the club was certainly in comparison to Bournemouth,” said Stock, who now owns a coaching academy .
“I know it’s hard to believe now when you see Bournemouth playing in the Premier League, but we didn’t know from one month to the next whether we were going to get paid or not.
“It was the right time to leave and Preston was a good move for me.
“I absolutely loved my time there and I took a big gamble when I left.
“I had four years on my contract – the chairman said I couldn’t leave unless he got his money back.
“Fortunately Doncaster came in and I just felt I needed to drop down a level with a club that was ambitious like me.
“But with the friends I made and what I learned, I do not regret going to Preston one bit. They are a fantastic club.”