Preston Schools' FA has helped develop a wealth of football talent down the years

Local school teacher Paul Whelan reaches for his phone, clicks on Whatsapp and reels off a long list of names which have been sent to him on request.

Saturday, 10th July 2021, 8:00 am

What they all have in common is that over the years they have played for Preston Schools.

It’s an impressive list, one which includes Sir Tom Finney, David Lucas, Andrew Lonergan, Rhys Williams, Ronnie Clayton, Kevin Kilbane, Alan Kelly, Lennie Johnrose.

They are just a snapshot of players who played for the town team or city team as it is now known, at various age levels, and have gone on to have a career in the professional game.

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Preston Schools' FA chairman Paul Whelan (back row, far right) with the Preston City Under-11s team in 2016

There are many others who have played or are playing pro football.

Younger lads just starting out as scholars or are currently at school in the city, will no doubt add their names to that list in the next few years.

Whelan is the chairman of Preston Schools’ FA, a role he took in 2014 after the passing of Dick Clegg who is remembered so fondly for his dedication to the organisation.

“I sent out a message to the people involved in Preston Schools, asking for the names of players who came through and went on to make a career in football,” said Whelan.

Liverpool defender Rhys Williams played for Preston Schools

“The list which came back was impressive.

“Nathan Pond, Elliot Watt, Ethan Walker, David Lucas, Andrew Lonergan, James Hill, Tyler Forbes, Dion Charles – he’s been flying at Accrington – Jamie Proctor, Harrison McGahey, Lennie Johnrose, Rhys Williams, Josh Morris, Luke Mulholland who has played in the MLS, Kevin Kilbane, Farrell Kilbane, the great man himself Sir Tom.

“That’s just a few of the first lot of replies I got, there’s plenty of others.

“We are proud of every single lad who has played for Preston Schools, whether they have gone on to play professionally or not.

Sir Tom Finney played for Preston Schools and played in one of their cup finals

“You look locally at Fulwood Amateurs or Longridge Town, a lot of their players played for Preston Schools.”

Perhaps the most high profile ‘graduate’ of Preston Schools’ FA just at the moment is Rhys Williams.

Once of Ashton High and Lea Endowed Primary, he made his breakthrough into the Liverpool team last season and played for England Under-21s.

Whelan, who teaches at Sherwood Primary in Fulwood, said: “Rhys played for our Under-11s and there was a game we played against Chester I think it was. We were 4-0 down and got it back to 4-3.

“Towards the end there was a long ball downfield, one of the dad’s who was the linesman, gave the opposition striker offside.

“It bounced through to the keeper who threw it to Rhys to take the free-kick.

“Rhys caught the ball and put it down on the floor. Just as he was about to take the free-kick, the referee blew and gave a penalty for handball!

“The ref said he had played advantage. These lads were Under-11s and you felt sorry for them.”

Preston Schools run teams from Under-11s through to Under-15s.

Whelan oversees the primary school age group, with Stu Horn from Corpus Christi running the secondary school section.

Another big part of their operation are the Preston Schools’ Cup Finals which are played at PNE’s Deepdale.

Covid-19 has stopped the finals for the last two seasons, so too the running of the city teams.

Hopefully when the new school term starts in September, the ball can start rolling on both.

“Preston is district six in Lancashire,” said Whelan outling the organisation of local school football.

“We got as far south as the River Ribble, so St Stephen’s is as far as we go in that direction for primaries, while Christ the King is the last secondary school.

“Then it becomes South Ribble – you’ve had Clarke Carlisle and Jack Armer playing for them.

“Going north, we go as far as Barton, west it is up to Ashton High, then east as far as Longridge. But there is a primary school out in Ribchester which falls under us. I think it is 66 primary and 10 secondary schools we can pick from.

“Like every walk of life, Covid has hit us. With having bubbles in schools, we had to work with the headteachers and agree we couldn’t be breaking those by having matches.

“In the spring we did bring back the Under-15s to play in the North West Cup. That was a nice way for them to finish and with it being an established side, we didn’t have to trial players.

“As an organisation we work closely with the clubs who lads are attached to through the academy. PNE are very good with us.

“We play a lot of the games at Fulwood Amateurs and we’re so grateful to Paul Eastwood, Adele Pitt and Tony Hesketh for allowing us to play there.

“Also we use Cadley’s pitches at Conway Drive and Sherwood Park, so many thanks to Dave Burrow and Steve Flynn.

“We’ve not been able to have the Schools’ finals this year or last. That funds us for the year so we really want to get it back going.

“To play the finals at Deepdale is huge, it is something the kids remember. The finals go back so many years, Sir Tom played for his school. I’d love to know more about the history of the cups and shields they play for.”

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