Those of you who follow my writing for From The Finney closely, very closely, might remember that I once wrote that Richard Cresswell was my first idol for North End, in fact, I said: “very first”.
Generally speaking, he was. A boy that age loves a striker and Richard Cresswell was the man at the time, but for this profile piece on “my first idol” I’ve chosen to go with Paul McKenna. Sorry, Cressy.
Cresswell’s final, and best, season in a North End shirt came in 2004/05, just my second season as a regularly attending fan, and left almost immediately after I’d solidified my status as a hardcore North Ender.
It was probably fair then, that head honcho Jake had dibs on the Richard Cresswell idol piece, as he probably has many more, less fuzzy, memories of the Yorkshireman than I. You can read Jake’s piece on Cressy here.
For me, Paul McKenna was right at the heart of the North End team throughout my development as a fan.
After coming through the academy, which he joined in 1992, McKenna was a mainstay in the PNE side for 13 years between 1996 and 2009.
McKenna made his debut in 1999 and soon found himself a regular fixture in David Moyes’ sides, alongside household names like Sean Gregan, Jon Macken and Tepi Moilanen.
He wrote his name into Preston North End folklore when he scored the winning penalty in that famous shoot-out victory over Birmingham in the play-off semi-final of the 2000/2001 season.
Not shy of a goal from midfield, McKenna is well renowned among fans for his penchant for the spectacular, with many superb strikes sticking in the mind.
A couple of my personal favourites include the absolute barnstormer in a 3-0 victory over Hull City in the 05/06 campaign, the number 16 picking the ball up just inside the Hull half, driving forward and releasing a thunderbolt of a shot into the top-left hand corner from a full 30 yards.
The other one that has to be mentioned is, of course, that stunning strike at St. Andrew’s in 2009. North End needed a win in the midlands to keep hopes of the play-offs alive, and things seemed to be going wrong after Keith Fahey had put Birmingham ahead.
The man himself then, after a sending off apiece for the two sides, controlled a bouncing ball and unleashed a fierce shot into the top corner, levelling the match before Ross Wallace’s free-kick in the final seconds won the game in dramatic fashion.
McKenna was appointed club captain in what turned out to be one of Paul Simpson’s final acts as manager before being replaced by Alan Irvine for the season which included that game against Birmingham, an honour that was well deserved and in all honesty, probably somewhat overdue!
That season under Alan Irvine ended in play-off heartbreak, which was something Paul McKenna endured on three separate occasions during his time at Deepdale. For me, that’s something that a club legend of his stature doesn’t deserve to have on his record.
His records that he should and will be remembered for were his 13 years of dedicated, loyal service to the club, his stunning goals and that well earned stint as club captain. A player spending 13 years with the same club is something that’s getting rarer and rarer in football, and we’re unlikely to see a player quite like Paul McKenna again any time soon.
When he left for Nottingham Forest for three-quarters of a million pounds in the summer of 2009, it almost heralded the club’s descent into the “dark days”. Certainly, after that summer’s play-offs, nothing would go quite right for the club for several years.
There was nobody I as a fan and, I truly believe we as a club, missed more in the seasons following the summer of ’09 than Paul McKenna.