Someone old, someone new, someone borrowed and sometimes someone that made you feel a little bit blue…
Okay, so that’s not how the saying actually goes but you get my point and I feel that’s been the life of a North End fan over the years. We aren’t a club to break the bank in the transfer market and in terms of letting players go, cut the cloth accordingly. North End have never dealt in ‘BIG’ money very often. Except for David Healy in January 2001 when the club spent £1.5 million on the Northern Irish International from Manchester United. The fact that almost 20 years later that record still stands says a lot about the way the club is run.
Over the years that I’ve been following North End, I’ve seen quite a few players brought into the club for what some may consider to be negligible amounts of money. In this post, I’m going to have a look back through the history books and have a look at some players that we’ve brought into the club for small amounts of money and they have gone on to have great careers at Deepdale.
The first that stands out is Graham Alexander. Signed from Luton Town in 1999 when we had injuries in two key areas: right back and central midfield. Sean Gregan and Gary Parkinson both got injured in a short space of time and it left a gap within the spine and the balance of the team.
Graham Alexander arrived and instantly brought a calmness and a genuine quality to the team. He settled in very quickly and over time he managed to build himself a legendary reputation.
He was a penalty taker and all-round set-piece specialist. In Alexander’s time at Preston, he had three playoff campaigns, one promotion and a brief spell as caretaker manager alongside David Unsworth. In two spells at Preston, Graham Alexander made a grand total of 298 appearances scoring 42 goals.
The very last of those goals being on the day that he made his very last appearance as a professional footballer and my favourite ever goal at Deepdale!
You all know which one I’m talking about. Yes, it was THAT stoppage time freekick against Charlton into the Town End goal to rescue a 2-2 draw. WHAT a way to bow out for ‘Grezza’.
The next man springs to mind for many reasons but managing to bring a fresh-faced David Nugent to Lancashire was a decision that Billy Davies must have been very pleased with.
He instantly endeared himself to the supporters by scoring on his debut vs Ipswich Town in 2005. He was put through one on one with the goalkeeper and slid the ball into the net in front of the Bill Shankly Kop and I daresay he never looked back from there in the lilywhite of a Preston shirt.
In his three years for North End, he tormented so many teams, scoring consistently against Ipswich, Crystal Palace, Watford, and West Ham. We certainly had a new ‘Darling of Deepdale’ on our hands.
His consistency and ruthlessness in front of goal earned him a full England International call-up and cap against Andorra in 2007. It didn’t end there for Nuge, either. He got himself on the scoresheet to make it 3-0 to England after Jermain Defoe’s shot had been partially stopped by the keeper and as the ball trundled towards the line, there was our Nuge to make sure and he tucked the ball into the back of the net.
1 England cap, 1 England goal, and a win. From that point on, David Nugent was well and truly on the footballing map.
In terms of letting someone go, David Nugent going to Portsmouth for £6,000,000 was one that won’t be begrudged by many people connected to North End. The money helped stabilise the club financially and paved the way for then manager Paul Simpson to re-invest. In 102 games, Nugent scored 35 goals averaging a goal every 2.9 games. You could absolutely say that it was money very well spent!
In the summer of 2007 when Nugent was sold to Portsmouth, North End worked on a deal for who they hoped would go some way to being Nugent’s replacement. That player was none other than Paul Gallagher on loan from Blackburn Rovers.
When he initially signed on loan, Gally scored on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday at Deepdale in a 1-0 win. However, it would be six years later that we would see Paul Gallagher in a North End Shirt again after a rather underwhelming first stint at in Preston.
After being allowed to join us on loan from Leicester for the majority of the 2013/14 season under Simon Grayson, Paul Gallagher didn’t just find his feet back in Lancashire again but a genuine feel for ‘home’. He arrived in October of 2013 and brought a quality, a maturity and a genuine balance to the system that Simon Grayson wanted his team to play.
In the majority of that first season, Gallagher operated for the mainly from the left-hand side of midfield and occasionally used as a second forward alongside Joe Garner. 26 appearances and 6 goals in the league helped push North End right into the League One play-offs and he scored the opening goal of the second leg at Rotherham, a freekick from about 30 yards outside of the penalty area that sailed all the way through and nestled into the far corner of the Rotherham net. Unfortunately for Gally and North End, we lost and Rotherham went on to gain promotion to the Championship.
Fast forward 12 months and Gally would be celebrating a play-off final win at Wembley and playing a major part in North End getting promoted to the Championship at the second attempt under Grayson. With three loan spells done with us by the summer of 2015, the club did their utmost to keep Gally and we eventually succeeded in securing his signature.
His maturity over the many spells he’d spent with the club certainly made Gally a club legend. Four years on and Gally has racked up 126 appearances, scored 14 goals, played as an emergency goalkeeper and worn the captain’s armband. For a free agent and with his experience, it was a great move by the club to keep him!
To this point that’s someone old, someone borrowed and someone new ticked off. Now, what about being made to feel blue?
At this point, there’s a whole host of names that I could rattle off and send shivers down your spine but I’m not that cruel… or am I?
Paul Simpson had a very inconsistent time as North End Boss to say the very least. In that, he guided his team to the top of the Championship in the December of 2006 and then to the bottom of the division in the October of 2007.
The second half of that 2006/07 season could be seen as a disaster, as were some of his signings. A one time England international in the form of Michael Ricketts arrived as a free transfer along with Seyfo Soley, remember him?
With defeats coming quite regularly and North End having injuries affect performances, Simpson turned to Ricketts and Soley to try and get North End back on track. To say that it didn’t work would be an understatement.
Ricketts was unfit and scored once in sixteen appearances. Soley was supposed to be the midfield anchorman whilst Paul McKenna was out injured. It really didn’t work and Soley was dropped to the bench with Callum Davidson left to fill the void. It’s safe to say neither Ricketts or Soley had any effect on their time at North End.
Back onto a more positive note to end my first piece for From the Finney here are some players that the club have signed for little or nothing over the years that have gone on to also forge a name for themselves at Deepdale. Some of those players are:
Craig Brown Signings
Youl Mawene – Joined on a free transfer from Derby County. A solid centre back and at times, right back. Youl was almost certainly a fan favourite.
Brian O’Neil – A tenacious midfielder who joined on a free transfer from Derby County after being released. He scored 5 goals in over 100 games.
Billy Davies Signings
Brett Ormerod – Full of energy and full of running, Brett Ormerod joined on a free transfer from Southampton signing a 3 and a half year deal. He scored 13 minutes into his debut as we went on to beat Crystal Palace 2-0. He finished with 14 goals to his name in North End colours before moving on to join Nottingham Forest on loan and eventually leaving North End.
Carlo Nash – Nash joined on a free from Middlesbrough after only playing a handful of games on teesside and he went on to have a largely good time at Deepdale. He set a club record of 24 clean sheets in a season before leaving under somewhat dubious circumstances.
Graham Westley Signings
Joe Garner – Despite his status at Deepdale now, things started slowly for Joey at North End. He signed in January 2013 on an 18-month deal but didn’t find the net until the 2013/14 season when he netted 24 times in 45 games in all appearances. He finished at North End with 142 appearances in all competitions scoring 54 goals. A goal every 2.6 games. Not bad for a free signing, eh?
Paul Huntington – Hunts, as he’s affectionately known by many, joined on a free after rejecting a new deal at Yeovil Town. He has gone on to make 229 appearances in a North End shirt and had the best scoring season of his career in the play-off winning season of 2014/15 when he bagged 9 goals in all competitions, including the goal that put us 2-0 up inside the opening 15 minutes of the play-off final win against Swindon Town.
Simon Grayson Signings
Tom Clarke – Super Tommy Clarke, the man who put the ball in the Blackpool net. He’ll forever be a hero in the North End history books for this moment alone. But off and on the pitch the man is a leader and for Simon Grayson to secure his signature on a free transfer when we were in League One after he was released from Huddersfield Town was a canny one. He’s gone on to make 201 appearances for North End, is the club captain and plays with his heart on his sleeve. A warrior.
Alan Browne – 1, 2, 3, 4… Alan Browne! He may always be in Baluga but when he plays, he gives his absolute all. To consider where he was when he joined, a young man who had never played a minute of professional football to where he is now; arguably one of the most underrated players in the Championship and a player who seems to enjoy partaking in his own goal of the season competitions, is remarkable. We recently published a post about Alan Browne’s career to date if you want more reading material.
I said at the beginning, the club have spent very little, often nothing at all on players and have found some of the riches that live amongst the Football League and elsewhere. On the whole, a lot of credit has to go to the managers that signed the players and the way that the club has gone about doing it’s business in the past few years. Compared to the ‘wild’ days when we were threatened with a winding up order from HMRC, the club and our transfer business is very well run and in good hands.