Three decades in the game for PNE stalwart

Alan Kelly
Alan Kelly
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Anyone who enjoys talking football would enjoy the company of Preston North End goalkeeper coach Alan Kelly who has just celebrated 30 years in the professional game.

Preston’s goalkeeper coach tells some wonderful tales from his three decades in the sport, first as a player and then with the tracksuit on.

I could never tell mum what the actual smell was or she would never have lent me the car again

Picking out a few of the highlights, Kelly shared a training pitch with a flock of sheep, was mown down by a motorbike, banjoed one of his own team-mates and took the full force of an iron gate being shut in his face by one-time team-mate and manager Les Chapman.

A football career which started in combination with an apprenticeship at Leyland Motors, went on to include more than 400 club games, 34 appearances for the Republic of Ireland and two visits to the World Cup.

In May, he was doused in champagne as North End won promotion in the play-off final at Wembley, Kelly a key part of Simon Grayson’s coaching staff.

Wind the clock back to the early 1990s, and it was something else which he regularly got covered in.

Recounting a somewhat whiffy story, Kelly told the Evening Post: “When the plastic pitch was laid at Deepdale, for years we would train on it every day whether we were due to play at home or away.

“There came a time when we weren’t winning away and Les Chapman, who was manager by then, decided we needed to train on grass before an away game.

“The old grass pitch on Lowthorpe Road had gone by then and for some reason we were not allowed to train on Moor Park.

“We had an apprentice at the time whose dad owned a farm at Barton.

“On the farm was a three-quarter size pitch with a 10ft wall brick wall all the way round it.

“It was used at night to keep sheep in and we trained there before away games.

“The pitch was covered in sheep poo and the outfield players refused to do slide tackles.

“But being the keeper, I used to have to dive around and inevitably I was covered in the stuff by the end of a session.

“After training, we had to drive back to Deepdale to have a shower and get changed.

“I used to borrow my mum’s car and obviously the smell of the sheep from the mucky training gear used to stink the car out.

“When I picked my mum up, she would always ask what the smell was and I would say I had been eating too many sprouts!

“I could never tell mum what the actually smell was or she would never have lent me the car again.”

It was another episode when driving his mum’s car that led to Kelly spending the best part of 18 months out of the game.

“I’d had a back injury and before we played Burnley in the Freight Rover Trophy, I had a fitness test,” said Kelly.

“In the morning I passed my fitness test and later on I decided to go and pick up some new keeper gloves from a shop in Friargate.

“I was in my mum’s car and also had to go and pick her up from work at a florists in Meadow Street.

“I had the choice of going to get my gloves and then picking mum up, or doing it the other way round.

“As fate would have it, I went to get the gloves first and as I got out of the car, a motorbike hit me, breaking my leg.

“I was out for 10 months and my first game back was a memorial match for Mick Baxter at Deepdale.

“During the game, the ball broke in the box and I went to try and get it ahead of Alex Bruce. Unfortunately his knee came into contact with the exact site of my break and that was me out for another six months!”

As a youngster, Kelly was brought up at Deepdale, his dad Alan Kelly Snr at the time being No.2 to Nobby Stiles.

“There was always a lot made about Brian Clough having Nigel Clough sat on the bench with him, but it was the same with my dad and me,” said Kelly.

“I sat on the bench with him and Nobby for games, something which just wouldn’t happen nowadays.

“When I was a teenager, I played in the town team and then started playing for North End reserves. I played in the reserves while also working at Leyland Motors as an apprentice.

“I would cycle to Leyland from Fulwood, setting off at 6.30am.

“If the reserves had an away game, the coach would pick me up at the Bamber Bridge junction of the M6 and I would load my bike on.

“My debut for the reserves was a 6-0 defeat at Wolves. We got back at 2am and I was up for work at 6.30am.

“I decided that I wanted to be a professional footballer but my dad was dead set against that – he wanted me to finish my time at Leyland Motors first.

“There were a few fraught conversations before I signed my first professional contract on September 25, 1985.

“My debut came later that season, a 2-1 home defeat to Crewe.

“John Platt had hurt his back and the loan keeper who had come in, a guy called Phil Harrington, dislocated his ankle in his second game.

“Every day in the week leading up my debut, Brian Kidd took me on to the grass pitch on Lowthorpe Road and hit shots at me for a couple of hours. I stayed in for the rest of the season and in the last game away at Aldershot, I managed to finish off our midfielder Mick Martin!

“I came for a cross, put my fist threw the ball first and then my knee went into Mick’s ribs.

“The next season, John McGrath came in and what an effect he had on the club. That summer, I twisted my ankle playing football on holiday and had to miss the first week or so of pre-season training.

“It didn’t go down well and my first meeting with John was not one to forget.

“I didn’t get the hairdryer treatment, it was more like being stood behind an engine at BAE!

“Early in the season I played a few games, saved a penalty against Aldershot and did alright in a League Cup game at West Ham.

“Then I got left out and when the LEP asked McGrath why that was, the big man said: “You wouldn’t let an 18-year-old bricklayer build your house would you’?

“I got back into the team in January, we played away at Newcastle in the FA Cup with 5,000 PNE fans making the trip to St James’ Park. We got promotion with a 2-1 win at Orient. On the back seat of the coach afterwards were Sam Allardyce, Frank Worthington, Les Chapman and Oshor Williams – all lads coming to the twilight of their careers.

“I was an 18-year-old pup with two bottles of bubbly, both of which I sprayed all over them!”

Kelly left PNE in 1992 to join Sheffield United, a break from playing on the plastic pitch behind his decision.

He said: “Playing on the plastic was killing me, I’d done it for six years, playing and training it

“The day before I left, Les Chapman got all the squad in the centre circle at Deepdale and pointed at me saying, half-jokingly, ‘He’s leaving us, I’ll get you back’.

“Nine years later, I was on loan at Birmingham and we played Manchester City.

“At the end I was walking up the tunnel when an iron gate hit me on the head and knocked me to the floor.

“The next thing I knew, Les – who was kitman at City by then – was sat on top of me saying ‘I told you I would get you back’!”