THE BIG INTERVIEW: Ex-PNE striker Jon Macken

Magic moment: Macken after scoring against Manchester City at Deepdale
Magic moment: Macken after scoring against Manchester City at Deepdale
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He turned out for the PNE legends side which tackled Burnley in a charity game at Bamber Bridge.

Yet it doesn’t seem long since the Mancunian was knocking the goals in on a regular basis for North End.

Macken netted 74 times in a near five-season stay at Deepdale, 25 of those coming in the 1999/2000 campaign when David Moyes led Preston to the Second Division title.

His penalty-box prowess was to eventually earn him a £5m move to Manchester City, a fee which stood as a PNE club record for five years.

It is actually almost 16 years since Macken joined North End from Manchester United.

He was a fresh-faced teenager back then, his raw talent steadily smoothed during the following seasons by first Gary Peters and then Moyes.

Last Sunday’s legends game saw Macken find the top corner with a rocket shot from 25 yards.

The talent is still there – he is a month off his 36th birthday but the Football League season starts today without him in gainful employment.

It is not that he is desperate for a new club though – he is able to look back on a career which has seen him play for nine clubs.

By far the happiest stay out of those nine was his time at North End.

He signed in August 1997 for £250,000 and left for City as a £5m player in March 2002.

During that period, Macken was able to put a title win and two play-off campaigns on his football CV.

So it is little wonder that he still feels a strong bond with the club.

Macken said: “I was 19, nearly 20, when Preston signed me from Manchester United.

“I had been at United since I was nine – one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s staff spotted me playing for Manchester Boys.

“As a kid I went through the schoolboy ranks there and I was fortunate enough to get a two-year apprenticeship when I was 16.

“Then I got a year’s professional contract and had just signed another one when Preston came in.

“It was good at United – the quality of players there was excellent from first-team down to the kids.

“As a youngster you could sense it was a special place and the club taught you the right things to do and how to win properly.

“There wasn’t really anyone in my age group who went on to make it big in the game.

“Phil Neville was a year older than me, then you had David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, who were three or four years ahead.

“Preston saw me play for United reserves a couple of times and decided to take a chance on me.

“I signed for Preston because I wanted to play first-team football, something I hadn’t experienced at United.

“Colin Murdock and Michael Appleton also joined North End from United around the same time.

“I think it was Colin who signed first, then Michael and finally myself.

“Gary Peters was the Preston manager and he was very good to work with.

“I still see Gary out and about occasionally and we always have a chat.

“He was a totally different character than David Moyes was.”

Macken scored in his second appearance for PNE, in a 3-1 win at Rotherham in the League Cup.

His home debut saw him net in a 2-1 victory over Millwall.

A tally of eight goals in the 1997/98 season hardly set the world on fire but it had to be remembered that here was a young striker getting his first taste of league football.

The next season Macken netted nine goals as North End lost to Gillingham in the play-off semi-finals.

Then everything clicked in the 1999/2000 campaign, the front man’s 25 goals helping fire PNE to promotion.

Twenty two came off his boots and head in 2000/01 when the club took to the Championship like a duck to water and made it all the way to the play-off final at the Millennium Stadium.

Macken had reached double figures by March the following season when Manchester City made their move for him.

“It took me a year or so to find my feet at Preston,” he said.

“Ideally I would have liked to have got going straight away and shown the fans what I could do.

“Once I got going I did well and I’m very pleased when I look back on my scoring record with Preston.

“I wouldn’t say there was any particular goal which stood out for me.

“Scoring any goal in that promotion season was very special.

“There were times when we had to dig deep for a result, come back from being behind, and goals in those type of games gave me a lot of satisfaction.

“It was a really good side we had under David Moyes…the team spirit was exceptional among those 17 or 18 lads.

“We trained hard and let each other know if a pass went astray or something happened which we didn’t like.

“Myself and Sean Gregan were always having a go at each other on the training pitch.

“But we knew that once we were involved in a game, we would be in each other’s corner to help one another.

“We were all winners in that promotion squad and hungry for success.

“The manager was exactly the same – he drove us on and worked us extremely hard, demanding the highest of standards.

“David Moyes cut his teeth as a manager with us.

“When he first took over, results weren’t that good and it was difficult for him.

“But his work ethic was second to none and he knew where he wanted to get to.

“Moyesy wanted to help his players so much – he helped me massively in terms of my application and attitude.

“He would sit down with you and give you his full concentration.

“That promotion season under him was absolutely fantastic.

“At the time I recall people saying to cherish it, because times flies by.

“Time has flown and it was an experience I would love to have all over again.

“When we went up to the Championship, no one apart from ourselves expected us to do what we did and reach the play-off final.

“We had belief because the majority of the squad which had won promotion were still together.

“That season we started really well which set our stall out.

“And as the months went on we believed we were capable of doing well.

“The play-off semi-final second leg against Birmingham at home was one of those games you will remember forever.

“It was a special night and right from the start we had the feeling that we could win.

“I’d been substituted by the time it came to the penalty shoot-out, so I was watching from the side.

“When the winning penalty went in, the place just exploded with joy.

“Unfortunately it didn’t quite happen for us in the final against Bolton.

“They deserved to go up because they had finished quite a few points ahead of us and were the better team on the day.”

The following season was to be Macken’s last at Deepdale, as it was for Moyes.

His move to City came just a few weeks before Moyes was lured to Goodison Park by Everton.

Twice that season, Macken had scored against City – one of them a 45-yard stunner in a Sunday afternoon 2-1 win at Deepdale.

There is still an assumption that it was the long-range effort which persuaded Kevin Keegan to splash out £5m.

Macken sees it a bit differently, the goal having come almost five months before he signed.

“It was a special goal, I’ve got to admit,” he said.

“I had seen the City keeper off his line a couple of times before that and thought that if the opportunity came, I’d try and chip him.

“The opportunity did come and luckily enough I struck it perfectly and it flew in.

“It won us the game, which was pleasing. City were flying high and it was live on television.

“People say that goal got me the move to Manchester City but I don’t think of it like 
that.

“If one goal got you a move, players would be getting transferred every week.

“It was later in the season that I joined City. I’d scored at their place a few weeks before.

“After I signed for them I started off really well, scoring a few goals.

“But then it got a bit stop-start because of injuries, which was frustrating because I hadn’t been injured very much at Preston.

“While it didn’t quite work out at City, I know that I always gave 100% when I played.

“Looking back, the best years of my career came at Preston.

“I was there for the longest and still have some good friends at the club.

“They were the club to give me my first-team chance, which I’m so thankful for.”

After three years at City, a £1.1m move took Macken to Crystal Palace.

A brief spell at Derby followed before he had a longer stay with Barnsley, playing almost 100 games.

His last Football League club was Walsall where he played for two seasons.

That has been followed by spells at Northwich Victoria and, last season, Stockport County.

“I went to Stockport at the back end of last season,” said Macken.

“They asked me to come down and I played a few times for them and enjoyed it.

“Unfortunately I then picked up a calf injury which meant I couldn’t play in the last few games.

“That was disappointing because I wanted to try and help Stockport stay in the Conference, which unfortunately didn’t happen.

“I’ve not got a club at the moment. I’m just seeing if anything comes up in the next few weeks.

“If there’s nothing there I’ll take a bit of time out and see which direction I want to go in.

“I would like to stay in football if possible, whether that is coaching or scouting or looking after younger players, giving them advice.

“At times I don’t think youngsters get the right advice but that is a conversation for another day.”

As Macken waits to see what his next move is, his former boss Moyes will start the Premier League season as Manchester United’s new boss.

He is backing the Scotsman to do a good job at Old Trafford.

Said Macken: “I think he will do well.

“His drive, ambition and will to win is second to none.

“Don’t get me wrong, it will be tough for him because people are lining up to judge him against Sir Alex.

“But he will come through that and make himself a winner there – it’s a job he has always wanted.”

Seeing Jon Macken in a Preston North End shirt again last weekend was a reminder of how time flies.