The Big Interview: PNE coach Steve Thompson

Steve Thompson and Simon Grayson on the touchline during PNE's visit to Hull.
Steve Thompson and Simon Grayson on the touchline during PNE's visit to Hull.
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Preston North End’s Springfields training ground was a calm place as Steve Thompson and I chatted in the media room.

The only noise was darts hitting the board in the canteen as some of the players relaxed ahead of the training session later in the morning.

Suddenly the door was pushed open, the intrusion halting Thompson in full-flow.

In the doorway stood Glynn Snodin, No.2 to Simon Grayson, with a mischievous grin on his face.

“Dave, don’t let him talk about Blackpool, this is Preston!” roared Snodin.

With that, he was off back along the corridor, leaving Thompson in peace to reflect on his many years in football.

Blackpool did get a mention, after all PNE’s first-team coach spent much of his childhood living on the Fylde coast.

Then a large chunk of the 50-year-old’s coaching career was spent with the Seasiders.

But while Blackpool popped in the conversation, so did Bolton, Luton, Leicester, Burnley, Rotherham, Halifax and Leigh RMI. So did Manchester United, Huddersfield and Leeds, all those clubs being ports of call for the vastly experienced Thompson.

This summer he joined the staff at North End, appointed first-team coach in readiness for the club’s return to the Championship.

Having coached at this level and, above in the Premier League, his knowledge and skills-set appealed to Preston boss Grayson.

The pair know each other inside out, having first been team-mates at Leicester City in the 1990s.

It was Grayson who promoted Thompson to the role of first-team coach at Blackpool when he was cutting his managerial teeth a decade ago.

Thompson was on the job market after a spell at Leeds last season which was to end in a rather unsavoury manner – more of that later.

The task in front of Grayson, Thompson, Snodin and Alan Kelly is to establish Preston back in the second tier. It is one Thompson has met head on since joining the staff in early July.

“Simon spoke to me during the summer about coming in here,” said Thompson.

“I had three or four other good offers but straight away I saw this as a terrific opportunity.

“People mention the rivalry with Blackpool and I get a few jibes from the staff here.

“I enjoy the laughs and jokes about it but on a serious note, we are working so hard here to build on the success of what was done last season.

“It is a fantastic group of players here with an excellent staff, board and owner.

“We are in a tough league, containing a lot of former Premier League clubs, but we feel that we can establish ourselves at this level and build to go further.”

Born in Shaw, Thompson’s father Jim, played for Oldham, Rochdale, Exeter and Bradford City.

“Football was a family trade, my dad played, his dad did, while my son Curtis plays for Bamber Bridge,” said Thompson.

“When I was young, my mum and dad brought a guest house in Blackpool and we moved over there.

“Growing up, I started playing Sunday League football, for the town team and then for Lancashire.

“Bolton scouted me and I signed schoolboy forms with them – I stayed for 14 years.

“I did my apprenticeship with Neil Redfearn, who I went to Leeds with last season, and Warren Joyce, who is now at Manchester United.

“Being at Bolton was a good grounding. I was fortunate enough to make my debut at a young age for them – it was a 0-0 draw at Derby County.

“That might not sound very exciting but it meant the world to me, playing in a team with Jeff Chandler, Peter Reid, Brian Kidd, Paul Jones, Alan Gowling and Len Cantello, all good established professionals.

“It was in my testimonial year at Bolton that I left and signed for Luton Town.

“After being with Bolton for so many years, I lasted five-and-a-half weeks at Luton!

“It was bizarre. David Pleat signed me and I was staying down there in a hotel, waiting to move my family down.

“Then one morning I got called into the office and David asked me whether I would like to go to Leicester.

“He wanted two players from them and I went into an exchange deal.

“It ended up being one of the best things I did in my football career.

“Brian Little was probably the best manager I played under and his coaching staff were fantastic.

“Three seasons in a row we got to Wembley in what is now the Championship play-off.

“Leicester lost the first two to Blackburn and Swindon, then we got it right and beat Derby to get promoted.

“It was at Leicester that I first met Simon Grayson. We hit it off straight away.

“We had a good team spirit there which Brian Little was very careful to mould.

“Julian Joachim, David Speedie, Gary Mills, Kevin Poole, Steve Agnew, they were all great lads.

“Steve Walsh was another of the players at Leicester in that era, a Preston lad.

“His dad Eddie and my dad used to travel to the games together.

“From Leicester I joined Burnley – Jimmy Mullen signed me for £300,000.

“They probably didn’t see the best of me there, I had a problem with my Achilles and then needed a knee operation.

“It was stop-start and things didn’t really happen for me.

“I went to Rotherham after that and won a promotion there under Ronnie Moore.

“After that I had a year at Halifax and it was then that I started to realise the time was right to do my coaching badges if I wanted to stay in the game.

“By then I was in the twilight of my career and I finished off at Leigh RMI.

“That was a different world, I wasn’t used to non-league, and I stopped playing.

“I was 36 or 37, had started my own business and had begun to do some coaching.

“I coached for Manchester United at their satellite schools, then went to coach at Bolton.

“Gradually I worked my way up and eventually went to Blackpool to run their centre of excellence – coaching kids from nine to 16.

“Simon was playing for Blackpool and when he took over as manager, he asked me to become first-team coach.

“It was Simon, Tony Parkes and myself on the staff, we trusted each other – trust is what you need in football.

“That was Simon’s first job in management and he grew into it, gradually starting to believe in himself.

“His record since speaks for itself, with him having got four clubs promoted.

“Simon’s man-management and coaching is very good.”

Thompson stayed behind at Blackpool when Grayson left to join Leeds.

He was on Ian Holloway’s staff when the Seasiders reached the Premier League and then worked under Michael Appleton.

His time at Blackpool ended when he was sacked by text message, together with Paul Ince and Alex Rae.

He had a short spell with Huddersfield at the start of last season before accepting an offer from Leeds.

“Neil Redfearn had been given the job at Leeds and it was no-brainer to join him,” he said.

“They were second-bottom of the table and the job was to save them from relegation.

“It was so complex there, with something of a divided dressing room and players who just weren’t good enough.

“You had some of the foreign lads smoking before training which was something I just wasn’t used to.

“But we got on a fantastic run and comfortably got into mid -able.

“I remember Redders saying to me, ‘The better we do here, the worse it will be for us’. I thought that strange at the time but he was right.

“One Thursday morning a letter was put on my desk informing me I had been suspended. There was no explanation and it was such a frustrating time for me. The LMA told me to keep my own counsel and that was hard when I saw my name pop up on Sky Sports News as ‘breaking news’.

“There were allegations of me falling out with football director Nicola Salerno but I didn’t fall out with anyone.

“The most frustrating thing was the use of the word ‘suspended’.

“That implied I had done something wrong which could not be further from the truth.

“I think it was done to try and undermine Redders, and I really felt for him.

“They lost five games on the bounce and the dressing room was spilt. Later I had offers to go back but I could never do that.”