I would have been just 9 years old when John Welsh signed in July 2012 from Tranmere Rovers, so it’s fair to say he played a lot during my time growing up watching North End.
Welsh was always a favourite of my Grandad and I. He never shied away from a 50/50, he’d put in 110% every single game, no matter if we were playing Manchester United in the cup, or Crawley Town away in the League 1 days.
John’s footballing journey began at the age of 10, back in 1994. The Wavertree-born midfielder joined Liverpool’s academy and he went on to play for his boyhood club on 10 separate occasions. After captaining the Liverpool reserve team and breaking into England’s under 21 squad in the middle of the 2001/02 season Welsh began to train with the first team with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler.
His debut for Liverpool came against Ipswich Town in the Worthington Cup (League Cup) in December 2002 before making his Premier League debut in October 2003 against Arsenal. In typical Welshy style, despite only coming on in the 83rd minute, he still managed to get booked.
He made a few more appearances for Liverpool, featuring from the bench in cup competitions before finding himself on the bench in the Champions League against Bayer Leverkusen. This was the same campaign that they went on to win the competition on that famous night in Istanbul against AC Milan.
After reaching double figures for appearances for the club he supported his entire life, Welsh looked to get more game time with a move to Hull City. However, that didn’t exactly go to plan, even after the impressive year-long loan move before the deal became permanent.
In a match against North End in March 2007, he went flying into a tackle with former fellow Liverpool academy product, Neil Mellor. He was carried off on a stretcher and had broken both his tibia and fibula in his right leg, leaving him sidelined for months. That spelt the end for Welsh’s time with the Tigers.
When he got back to full fitness he was loaned out to Chester, Carlisle and Bury between 2008 and 2009 before eventually being released.
That’s when Welsh made the move to League 1 Tranmere Rovers. He made over 140 appearances for Rovers and always wore his heart on his sleeve and played for the badge – something he did in his time at Preston.
He joined North End in July 2012 and had a great start to his time at the club, winning the player of the year award in his first season at Deepdale. He made 176 appearances for Preston and was a fantastic servant to the club in his 6 seasons in PR1.
One of those seasons was, a season in which he contributed massively, was also a season which will stick in the minds of many North End fans. Of course, it’s the season that culminated in the win at Wembley in May 2015.
Welsh put in an incredible shift against Chesterfield in the second leg of the semi-final during both legs of the play-off semi-final. Welshy and fellow central midfielder, Australian Neil Kilkenny, both did well to snuff out any sort of threat Chesterfield had that day.
The final at Wembley will always be a special game for me as well as many North End fans. Watching John Welsh and Tom Clarke lift the trophy together, with pride, will stay with me forever.
The result was incredible but one thing that will never be forgotten about the final is THAT tackle. Yes, the one in the build-up to Paul Huntington’s close-range finish that put us 2-0 to the good.
Welshy was in a foot race with Swindon’s Nathan Byrne as he managed to win the ball back, preventing a Swindon counter-attack. This allowed for Paul Gallagher to cross for the ‘Cumbrian Cannavaro’ to side-foot home from close range.
Reading Welsh’s comments after that final, he explained the play-off loss at Rotherham the year before massively affected him and “ruined his summer” so he was extremely relieved to have beaten Swindon. He showed how much he loved the club, and how the results really affected him, and that’s all you can really ask, for the players to show they care about the club and John Welsh did that on a weekly basis with his performances.
Despite making fewer appearances due to the continual growth of Ben Pearson, he still played his part. For me, Welshy was always someone I’d be buzzing to see on the team sheet.
He might not have been the most exciting player, but you’d know he would always leave everything on the pitch – usually picking up a booking in the process. But he was always an idol of mine growing up watching North End week in, week out, and someone I will always consider a modern-day Preston North End legend.
There’s only one, John Welsh.