When Preston North End legend Alan Kelly took over as PNE boss and stumped cricket legend Ian Botham

Christmas 1983 was eventful to say the least for Preston North End.

By Dave Seddon
Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 12:15 pm
Updated Wednesday, 25th March 2020, 12:17 pm
Alan Kelly with some of the Preston North End squad at the Lowthorpe Road training ground in December 1983
Alan Kelly with some of the Preston North End squad at the Lowthorpe Road training ground in December 1983

They sacked a manager, replaced him with a club legend, scored nine goals in 24 hours and gave an England cricket star the runaround!

That all happened in the space of a week and certainly made for an interesting festive period.

It all started with Gordon Lee being sacked after two years in charge.

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Alan Kelly leads the Preston North End squad down Lowthorpe Road to the training pitch in December 1983

His final game had been a battling 2-2 draw with Bolton Wanderers at Burnden Park on December 17.

Preston had twice come from behind, Peter Houghton netting their first goal and then Wanderers keeper Simon Farnworth palmed a Willie Naughton corner into his own net.

So it came as something of a surprise when PNE’s 17-man board of directors called time on Lee on December 21.

It was not unanimous, that not surprising bearing in mind there were so many opinions in the boardroom.

Gordon Lee is interviewed by Lancashire Evening Post reporter Paul Agnew after his sacking by Preston North End in December 1983

Lee got his cards and the board handed caretaker manager duty to Alan Kelly.

This was the third time the PNE legend had stepped up from the coaching staff to steer the ship.

Kelly had a game or two in charge in August 1975 between the resignation of Bobby Charlton and Harry Catterick taking over.

Then he had held the fort when Tommy Docherty was sacked in December 1981, Lee then appointed.

Preston North End celebrate scoring against Bolton in December 1983 - it was Gordon Lee's last game in charge

Kelly vowed to go on the attack, something North End were not noted for under Lee.

“Whatever happens, this side will play attacking football while I’m here,” said Kelly who made more than 500 appearances for PNE before injury forced his retirement.

“I would rather us lose a game 5-4 than finish with a goalless draw.

“I’m sure we will get out of trouble but we are fourth-bottom in the table and have some work to do.”

Kelly’s first game in charge was the Boxing Day fixture with Port Vale at Deepdale.

He kept an unchanged side from the one which had drawn at Bolton, and saw them beat Vale 4-0.

North End were 3-0 to the good by half-time, Houghton turning home a Naughton cross to give them the lead.

Houghton netted again from Andy McAteer’s centre, then Steve Elliott looped a header over Vale keeper Barry Siddall for the third.

Midfielder John Kelly hit the fourth goal after a 20-yard run in the 67th minute.

The festive fixture list sent North End to Scunthorpe the following afternoon – no spacing of games that season.

It was their second visit to the Old Showground in a few weeks, having been dumped out of the FA Cup by The Iron.

That first-round exit had played its part in Lee being fired, together with the poor league form.

Lining up in Scunthorpe’s defence on December 27 was none other than England cricket star Ian Botham.

The following day he was due to meet up with England for a winter tour.

Botham could not have asked for a more uncomfortable send-off from the North End attack.

Kelly’s men ran riot, winning 5-1 to the delight of the travelling Preston fans.

There was a hat-trick from Elliott, who gave Botham a torrid 90 minutes. Houghton bagged another to follow up his Boxing Day double, with John Kelly again on target.

The North End supporters sang ‘Ian Botham, what’s it liked to be outclassed’?

Botham was booked for a foul on Elliott a couple of minutes before PNE opened the scoring eight minutes before the interval.

Houghton’s cross found Elliott who drove home a low shot from inside the box.

When Botham failed to deal with a ball into the box five minutes after half-time, Houghton laid it into the path of Elliott who found the net.

Houghton made it 3-0 on the hour, Scunthorpe keeper Joe Neenan having dropped a corner from Naughton.

Elliott bagged his hat-trick in the 70th minute, running on to Mike Farrelly’s header to fire home superbly with his left foot.

The Lilywhites made it 5-0 in the 82nd minute, Kelly meeting Houghton’s cross with a diving header. The hosts did net a consolation goal through Steve Cammack two minutes later.

A happy Christmas then? Not quite. North End’s next game on December 31 saw them lose 1-0 at Deepdale against Walsall.

They were also beaten 3-2 at Bradford in the first game of 1984 but hit back to beat Bournemouth 2-0.

Kelly was handed the job on a permanent basis as the season went on, with Preston finishing the campaign 16th in the Third Division.

Elliott finished top scorer with 20 goals, 16 of those in the league, with John Kelly getting 14 and Houghton nine.

Off the pitch, North End were in a terrible financial state at the time.

Not long after Christmas and Kelly being put in charge, Preston Council agreed to buy the ground for £250,000.

That was in effect a rescue package and stopped PNE going under.

Kelly was to stay in post as North End manager until February 1985, working with the most limited of budgets.

While they started 1984/85 well, winning four of their first five league games and knocking Tranmere out of the League Cup over two legs, the form dipped.

Non-league Telford United dumped Preston out of the FA Cup, beating them 4-1 at Deepdale. Kelly eventually stepped down and was replaced by Tommy Booth.