We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Paul Huntington, out from the cold and back into the first eleven.
In fact, the opening line from his chapter in the excellent North End Souls 2 is a text message from Hunts’ former teammate, Joe Garner, which read: “I see you’re back from the dead again, then?”
The infamous black boots, the gangly frame and heart-on-his-sleeve attitude returned to the XI last night with his first league start since that controversial 1-0 defeat against Wayne Rooney’s Derby County, some 126 days previous.
A man who you could argue doesn’t possess the modern, ball-playing attributes of many central defenders these days but one who does possess wholehearted, goal prevention techniques and has a willingness to put his body on the line for the badge on his shirt.
“Play for the name on the front of the shirt, and they’ll remember the name on the back” fellow central defender Tony Adams famously said, you could argue that quote epitomizes the cult hero that is, Paul David Huntington.
Given that Preston and Carlisle don’t have the greatest of off-the-pitch relationships, it’s striking the love that our city has given this gent from the northern tip of the country. And it is genuine love and affection our fans hold for him. We can all reminisce about the goal at Wembley, or losing a tooth celebrating “that” Tom Clarke goal in August 2013, or him beating his chest with pride in the badge on the shirt.
However, one thing that you can’t forget is the service he’s given this club and after a bit of research, I found that he is now onto his 108th teammate and third manager during what has been a largely successful nine-season spell in PR1 during which he has racked up 285 appearances and counting for the Lilywhites.
Hunts agreed to join Preston North End football club on May 22nd 2012, on a free transfer from Yeovil Town. One of eighteen summer signings that summer during Graham Westley’s big “summer shake-up” at Deepdale.
Oftentimes in the past, we’d all think “he’s done” or “his legs have gone”, but time and again, he would prove us all wrong. The away trip to Gillingham in October 2014 stands out as the pivotal moment of his career at North End.
Offered the opportunity to go out on loan a matter of weeks earlier, he chose to stay and fight for his place. A long journey down to the South East with a makeshift line-up where he partnered Jack King in central defence, an all-in-yellow Hunts out-jumped the Gills defence from a Chris Humphrey corner to score the only goal of the game in the Kent autumn darkness and cement his place back in the side.
Eight further goals came in that season, including that goal at Wembley, as North End sealed promotion back to the second tier and putting the play-off hoodoo to bed once and for all with our very own version of “La Decima”.
Yes, any analyst or scout is going to highlight that he has certain limitations to his game. At thirty-three years old, his legs might not move as quickly as they did when he joined the club as a 24-year-old, but his head clearly still thinks just as quickly as his feet once did.
His experience and reading of the game are still warranted within our squad, and whilst he may be classed as the “fourth choice” central defender by many, he can still play a part within a side managed by Alex Neil in a season where rotation and squad depth is going to be vital.
After keeping a clean sheet against league leaders Reading on Wednesday night, does Alex Neil drop him for the game against Rotherham on Saturday? Could he reunite the partnership of the Barrow Baresi and the Cumbrian Cannavaro that did so well during the 2017/18 season should Ben Davies return to the starting line-up, or has sentiment just not got a part to play in the modern game?
He needs to play a further fifteen games in the Lilywhite of our famous football club to become the latest member of the “300 club” joining some modern greats like Graham Alexander, Paul McKenna and of course, the midfield stalwart who is still at the club and one of Hunts’ teammates, Paul Gallagher.
His contract currently expires in the summer of 2021, and with a contract offer not currently on the table, the Cumbrian may need to end his playing career outside of the four walls, or stands rather, of Deepdale and could be cruelly denied the opportunity of a testimonial, falling one season short of ten years of loyal service to the club.
He spoke of “having a dream” to make it to 300 appearances at the club in North End Souls 2 and I just hope he is given the opportunity for his dream to become a reality and that we are all there to witness it because he absolutely deserves the accolade.
For as long as he beats the badge on his chest, the hearts of Preston’s supporters will all beat with a fondness for the cult hero; our Cumbrian Cannavaro.
They simply don’t make them like that anymore.
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