PNE’s Foxes’ tale

Calum Woods with Jamie Vardy
Calum Woods with Jamie Vardy
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It is less than two years since Leicester City rocked up at Deepdale as a club newly promoted to the Premier League for a pre-season friendly with Preston.

On Sunday, the Foxes will bring a remarkable campaign to a close against Chelsea – the side they have succeeded as champions of England.

Riyad Mahrez and Andy Little battle for the ball at Deepdale in August 2014

Riyad Mahrez and Andy Little battle for the ball at Deepdale in August 2014

Players you took little notice of a few months ago are now household names.

Jamie Vardy will be going to Euro 2016 with England, Danny Drinkwater likely to be on the plane too.

Both played in that friendly against North End in August 2014, a game which was the final warm-up for Simon Grayson’s men ahead of the 2014/15 campaign.

Vardy lasted 35 minutes of the match before hobbling out of the action, his replacement from the bench being Riyad Mahrez.

Two seasons on, midfielder Mahrez was to be named the PFA Player of the Year.

Probably the player who many Preston supporters had their eye on that afternoon was David Nugent.

Deepdale’s former favourite son was on Leicester’s bench and was to join the action during the second half instead of Leonardo Ulloa.

Others on show for the Foxes included Kaspar Schmeichel, Drinkwater, Wes Morgan, Andy King and Marc Albrighton.

It was a mistake from Schmeichel which gave North End their equaliser in a 1-1 draw, the keeper misjudging the flight of a Will Hayhurst free-kick, Tom Clarke taking full advantage to head home.

Leicester’s goal had come in the first half through Liam Moore’s volley.

Grayson used 21 players in that game as he gave the majority of his squad a run. There was the sight of new signing Andy Little putting in a challenge on Mahrez – what contrasting paths their careers have taken in two seasons.

Leicester’s title success this campaign has had a sprinkling of Lancastrian help.

Steve Walsh, who combines the job of being No.2 to Claudio Ranieri with that of the club’s head of recruitment, was for many years a PE teacher in Chorley.

He scouted part-time for Chelsea while working in education then joined their staff full-time.

Walsh – not to be confused with Leicester’s former skipper of the same name – then went to work under Sam Allardyce at Newcastle before joining Leicester.

In his recruitment role, Walsh was the driving force behind the signings of Vardy, Mahrez and N’Golo Kante.

The ‘other’ Steve Walsh, who played for Leicester and Wigan, and was born in Preston, does media work in connection with the Foxes.

Leicester’s goalkeeper coach is one-time Leyland Motors player Mike Stowell.

As a youngster, he turned down a contract with PNE in favour of completing an apprenticeship outside of the game and playing for Motors.

Stowell eventually got a move into full-time football with Everton.

In February 1990, Stowell joined North End on loan from Everton and played in the last two games of John McGrath’s reign.

Those were his only two games in the Preston keeper’s jersey and he was later to move from Everton to Wolves, playing 400 times for the Molineux outfit.