Recently, I wrote a piece concerning the lack of incoming transfers to Deepdale from overseas and here I will be taking a look at certainly the most successful signing from abroad that North End have made in the last decade.
Standing at 6′ 6″ and built like a brick wall, Thorsten Stuckmann began his professional career in his native Germany with Preußen Münster, after bouncing around a few youth academies in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of the country. It is a region well known for its footballing heritage, home to Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund among others.
His first move sent him east across Germany to Eintracht Braunschweig, a club currently in the country’s third division but who, not long ago, made an albeit unsuccessful foray into the Bundesliga.
Stuckmann racked up well over a century of appearances for Braunschweig, based just south of Wolfsburg, between 2003 and 2007 as they bounced between the second and third divisions with the club in severe difficulties.
Upon their relegation from their single season in the Bundesliga, Alemannia Aachen recruited Stuckmann from Braunschweig, who were struggling financially near the bottom of the Regionalliga, Germany’s then third and lowest professional division.
Stuckmann was a regular starter for Aachen during their time in the second division but was released from his contract after a 10th placed finish, finding himself replaced by David Hohs.
Stuckmann was without a club for the beginning of the 2011/12 season, but after finding life in their first season in League 1 more difficult to adjust to than anticipated, Preston North End came calling.
He was the second player to sign for Preston after leaving Aachen that season, the first having been Juhvel Tsoumou who had arrived in the summer beforehand.
In his four seasons at Deepdale, Stuckmann established himself as something of a fans favourite, despite flitting between spells as first choice, cup and reserve goalkeeper.
Initially brought in to cover an injury to Iain Turner, Stuckmann found himself in the team more often than the former Everton man and held his role as the go-to shot-stopper from his signing, almost throughout the tenure of Graham Westley.
Stuckmann was fairly remarkable in that he was one of only two players (the other being Bailey Wright) that, not only survived Graham Westley’s initial systematic decimation of the squad but remained at the club after the ‘medal winner’ was at long last relieved of his duties.
It wasn’t through Westley’s lack of trying to replace the big German, but like the vast majority of the players he introduced to Deepdale, the goalkeepers he signed to compete with or replace Stuckmann were either not good enough, or simply didn’t stick around.
Steve Simonsen was a brief experiment which… well, I’m sure we all remember how that went. Also brought in by Westley were Rhys Taylor and Richard Wright, neither of which lasted so long as a month.
Taylor moved down the divisions to join Macclesfield to gain first-team football and Richard Wright conversely, but quite understandably as he was in his career’s twilight years, found himself snapped up by Manchester City, not a bad little earner for the end of his career!
Stuckmann survived all this and was keeping goal up to the signing of Jamie Jones by new manager Simon Grayson, who he then became second fiddle to, playing mainly in cup competitions.
Saving penalties was something of a habit for Stuckmann during his time at Deepdale, his home league debut for the club was marked with a stop from the spot, although we did go on to lose 1-0 to Rochdale that day, dark times they indeed were.
Rochdale does hold some better memories for Stuckmann though, as he saved three penalties from five at Spotland the following season in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
It was in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy that one of Stuckmann’s most memorable moments came, saving and scoring in a penalty shoot-out at Boundary Park to send North End through against Oldham Athletic.
By this point, Stuckmann did find himself very much North End’s cup keeper, especially in his final season when he was replaced for first-team duties by on-loan Manchester United keeper Sam Johnstone.
It was against United that Stuckmann made his final start for North End, in the 3-1 defeat and, rather infamously, saw Wayne Rooney (in my opinion) dive theatrically over him to con a penalty in a game that no honest Manchester United fan could look back on proudly. However, if you give the podcast a listen, Thorsten has something quite different to say about that game.
It was a trick that, Rooney apparently even apologised for after the game. It must take some level of embarrassment for a player usually so unrepentant with regards to cheating as Rooney to act so sheepishly. It was rather an unfitting and unfair end to Stuckmann’s appearances for the Lilywhites.
However, as was said earlier. If you give the podcast a listen, Thorsten has a different take on how things happened now.
Sam Johnstone couldn’t play that day due to his loan agreement forbidding him from playing against his parent club, but it was a hugely successful season for the young keeper, who played the vast majority of league games, including all three games in the play-offs as North End gained promotion back to the Championship after a resounding 4-0 victory over Swindon Town at Wembley.
First team football was certainly going to be few and far between after Preston’s promotion back to the second tier, and so Stuckmann left Deepdale, choosing to remain in League 1 with Doncaster Rovers.
He has also turned out for Partick Thistle and Chesterfield before leaving British football to return to north-west Germany, signing for Fortuna Dusseldorf before retiring in 2018.
Finally, listen to Jake and Thorsten having a chat about his time at the club over Skype (due to responsible social distancing). You can listen to From The Finney Meets… Thorsten Stuckmann here below.