Jake recently had the pleasure of sitting down with North End legend Graham Alexander to discuss his time at the club across two spells. Part one of the From the Finney Meets… Graham Alexander is out now, looking back at the first eight years Grezza spent at the club.
The Scotsman signed for PNE towards the end of the 1998/99 campaign from Luton Town and quickly established himself in David Moyes’s promotion-winning side the season after. North End would go on to capture the Second Division title, seven points ahead of local rivals Burnley, who had also tried to sign Alexander that summer, in second place.
This race for his signature between Burnley and Preston is something he talks about in the podcast. Ultimately though, once he met with Moyesie, there was only going to be one place Graham ended up.
Alexander played a key part in that season’s triumph, scoring six league goals, including a brace in a 4-0 win at Cardiff City in early January. Grezza was of course somewhat of a specialist from the penalty spot throughout his career, and indeed five of the six league goals he scored that season came from spot-kicks.
The 2000/01 campaign was the only time where Alexander did not pass 40 league appearances in a full season during his first spell with North End. He broke his rib against Wolves and missed several weeks, but recovered to play 34 times that season, adding five goals.
An incredible night at Deepdale against Birmingham City saw North End progress through to the play-off final.
The game against Bolton was lost but the next few seasons saw Grezza continue to be an ever-present member of the side. Even during a change of manager that saw Craig Brown come into the club to replace David Moyes who left the club to manage Everton.
2002/03 was a special campaign for him as he broke into double figures for league goals for the first time in his career.
In an otherwise unremarkable campaign for North End – they finished 12th in the league and lost David Healy to Leeds mid-season – Alexander found the net 10 times and was the club’s top goal scorer.
Alexander then formed a strong partnership down the right-hand side with Chris Sedgwick, which would form part of the basis of a North End side which reached the play-offs two seasons in a row in 2005 and 2006.
He also broke through into the Scottish national team during this time, making 26 appearances between 2002 and 2009. He speaks in the podcast about the pride he felt when walking out at Hampden Park for the first time.
Under Billy Davies, Alexander and PNE reached the play-off final in 2005 against West Ham at the Millenium Stadium.
North End went into that game as favourites, having beaten the Hammers twice in league competition that season. For Alexander personally, however, he had been informed prior to the game that he would not play in the final, having also been rested for the second leg of the semi-finals.
The day ended in heartbreak, as Bobby Zamora’s second-half winner was enough to send West Ham to the Premier League, and North End left rueing a second final loss in four years.
Davies’s men regrouped after that performance and despite a slow start to the 2005/06 season, they found their feet in the second half of the campaign.
Alexander would once again make 40 appearances over the course of the league season, again as club captain, helping the side to finish 5th in the league and a play-off semi-final clash against Leeds in the play-offs.
The Scotsman started the first leg at Elland Road, putting in a staunch defensive effort as North End left Yorkshire with a 1-1 draw. On the face of it, it was advantage PNE.
The second leg at home, however, got off to a disastrous start when Brett Ormerod suffered a broken leg after just 10 minutes following a horror tackle from Jonathan Douglas. Overall, it was an odd night at Deepdale with the floodlights going out just before half time too.
North End’s defence held firm over the first hour in what was an even game up until the hour mark, before Rob Hulse and Fraizer Richardson struck to win the game for Leeds, who would go on to lose to Watford in the final.
Davies left the club that summer to join Derby, and his replacement Paul Simpson got off to an excellent start as North End’s new manager. Alexander and the rest of the backline kept seven clean sheets in the early part of the season, as North End topped the Championship table in late November.
They would, however, fall away in the second half of the season and lost out on finishing in the play-off places on the final day. That would kick off an emotional chain of events for the Scotsman, who brought up 400 PNE appearances on 25 August 2007.
Burnley expressed strong interest in Alexander over the summer and were prepared to offer a two-year deal to bring the right back to Turf Moor.
Simpson, however, decided that he wanted to re-assess the situation at the end of the 2007/08 season, a situation Grezza goes into more detail on during part one of our podcast.
With no change of mind forthcoming from Simpson, Grezza bid an emotional goodbye to North End and subsequently moved across the M65 to join Owen Coyle and the Clarets which brings to a close part 1 of this player profile. Part 2 of From the Finney Meets… Graham Alexander will be out on Saturday 28th of December along with part 2 of this player profile.
If you haven’t yet listened to part 1 of From the Finney Meets… Graham Alexander then just hit play below, sit back and reminisce about the good old days at North End.