Craig Salmon talks to former PNE midfielder Simon Davey
Simon Davey chuckles slightly when he considers how his career has been inextricably linked to a certain global footballing superstar.
It was back in 1995 when Davey made his debut for Preston at Deepdale against Doncaster Rovers.
And that game will also forever be remembered as the moment when David Beckham pulled on the famous Lilywhites shirt for the very first time.
Aged just 19 at the time, the future England captain was sent out on loan by his manager at Manchester United Sir Alex Ferguson to gain some much-needed first-team experience.
Fellow midfielder Davey meanwhile had arrived from Carlisle United after being signed on a permanent deal by PNE boss Gary Peters.
Beckham went on to feature in five games for PNE – making an indelible mark on everyone connected with the club.
He scored on debut – direct from a corner – and then enlisted the help of Davey when he scored a trademark free-kick against Fulham at Deepdale a few games later.
With both of them lining up to take the kick, Davey left his position to ensure that the defensive wall had moved back 10 yards and by the time he had returned to his mark, Beckham had stepped up and curled the ball into the top corner.
“I was going to take the free-kick but David goes and puts it into the top corner,” Davey recalled.
Beckham’s return to Old Trafford signalled the start of an incredible career which saw him win league titles and the Champions League with United as well as more honours when he subsequently moved to Real Madrid and AC Milan.
The free-kick specialist also went on to appear in three World Cups and make more than 100 appearances for his country, before he retired from the game in 2012 after a stint playing for LA Galaxy in the USA.
It is fair to say Welshman Davey’s career did not quite hit the heights of Beckham, although he did star the following season as North End stormed to the old Third Division title before a back injury forced him to retire at the early age of 27.
A career in coaching and management then followed before his life followed a similar route to Beckham’s once more when he moved across the pond in 2012 to run a football academy in the City of Atlanta.
Davey, who also played for Swansea and Darlington, often pricks the ears of a number of people Stateside when he discusses the time he played alongside Beckham, whose profile is still high after his spell playing in the MLS.
But he admits since moving to America his path has not crossed with his former illustrious team-mate, who is also planning to set up his own MLS franchise club in Miami – something which could happen within the next couple of years.
“I signed on the very same day as Beckham at Preston,” Davey said. “He obviously came from Manchester United on loan and I came from Carlisle.
“We made our debuts together and played together in the time he was at the club.
“His career obviously went through the roof after his spell at North End.
“Coming to Preston and playing alongside us was the kick-start he needed in league football.
“He had a good time with us and then went back to United and the rest is history.
“Beckham’s been out here to the US; in California where played for the Galaxy.
“There’s talk of him setting up his own MLS franchise in Miami.
“But I think that is as far as the comparisons go between me and him.
“He was obviously world class and a fantastic player.
“I have never come across him since I moved out here, although I have bumped into a few ex-North End players such as Eddie Lewis and Brian McBride.
“The network of coaches out here is unbelievable.
“We have a convention every year and that’s where you see a lot of former players.
“The former PNE manager Craig Brown has come out and taken a few coaching seminars.
“I see a lot of players who I used to play with and against back in England.”
Davey, who went on to manage Barnsley, Darlington and Hereford, made more than 100 appearances for North End, scoring 21 goals.
He was an influential figure during the championship-winning season of 1995-96 and was recognised by his peers, who named him in the division’s PFA team of the year. “It was a great time,” said Davey.
“I left Carlisle, who were top of the league in League Two at the time and went on to win the league that year.
“It was a big decision but it was the right decision for me.
“I was going to a club which was bigger with a better infrastructure.
“I could see what was happening there under Gary Peters.
“Then obviously David Moyes took over and took the club on even further, although unfortunately I got injured.
“I had three or four great years at Preston as a player.
“We had some success by winning the old Third Division championship.
“I was also named in the PFA team of the season.
“I think that has got to be my highlight as a player and my fondest memory. We were a group of players who just clicked with each other.
“At times we seemed unbeatable and even when we had a blip, we would bounce back straight away.
“The players all believed in each other and that is crucial in any successful football team.
“We all knew our roles and responsibilities and we just felt invincible.
“We would never walk out on to the pitch and think, ‘This is going to be a difficult game for us’.
“Gary Peters managed to get the right blend together and when you have that, everything becomes enjoyable.”
Davey also admits he enjoyed playing under Peters, who had taken over from John Beck in 1994.
“Gary was a very strong and very disciplined,” he said.
“He was very focused and tough – he expected a lot of his players.
“You don’t appreciate the level of commitment of a manager until you become a manager yourself.
“It’s only then do you realise what a manager has to put up with.
“I have total respect for Gary and what he achieved with that group of players.
“I learned a lot from him.”
When Peters left the club in 1998, he was replaced by his No.2 David Moyes, who Davey had played alongside at Deepdale.
Although his playing career was coming to an end, Davey was encouraged to take his coaching badges and ended up being offered a job by Moyes to run the club’s youth academy.
It was the start of a long career in management and coaching which saw him take the first-team reins at Barnsley in 2006 and culminated in landing the plum job in America.
“As a player, David was very focused and disciplined and when he became the coach, you could see his drive and ambition,” said Davey.
“You could see he wanted to become a No.1.
“I played a few games under him when he was manager but then got injured.
“I then became one of his backroom staff.
“The level of detail he has as a manager is phenomenal.
“The work ethic and professionalism was tremendous.
“It gave me a great grounding and showed me the level of detail required to be a manager.
“I absolutely believe he would have been a success at Manchester United if he had been given more time.
“You only have to look at what’s happened since to see that he should have been given more of a chance.”
Davey still keeps in touch with his contacts in Preston and has pencilled in a return to the North West for a holiday next summer.
“I have a lot of fond memories of my time at North End and not only that I lived in Preston a long time,” he said.
“I was involved at the club for 11, 12 years.
“It is the club that I stayed the longest time at.
“Even when I managed Barnsley, I didn’t move out of the area – I still lived in Fulwood.”