4 April ~ Preston North End celebrate Sir Tom Finney’s 90th birthday this weekend against the background of an increasingly fractious relationship between the club’s fans and manager. After last weekend’s defeat at Hillsborough, Graham Westley publicly accused four (unnamed) players of leaking the team line-up and tactics to Sheffield Wednesday. Despite the attempts of chairman Peter Ridsdale to draw a line under the matter, the incident has only added to the debates over Westley’s stewardship at Deepdale. Phil Brown was dismissed in December, coincidentally following a dire goalless draw against Stevenage, and Westley took over from the popular caretaker team of Graham Alexander and David Unsworth.

There was immediate resistance from certain sections of the Preston support to Westley's appointment and this has only increased since. From day one, the new manager was critical of many aspects of the club, labelling the physio’s room a social club, condemning the players’ levels of fitness and commitment and publicly stripping Paul Coutts – arguably the club’s most talented player and saleable asset – of the captaincy due to his alleged poor attitude. One former player, now a highly respected pundit on local radio, summed up the situation thus: "It does no-one any good for a new manager to walk into the dressing room and immediately start throwing hand grenades".

In Westley’s defence, money is tight at Deepdale, with owner Trevor Hemmings keeping the club in existence whilst Ridsdale tries to cut costs. Even so, the standard of several players brought in by Westley has been heavily criticised by the fans, as has both the style of play and the results to date. Only two wins and six draws in the 15 games since Westley took over – Brown lost his job after two wins in 11 – have seen the club slump from second place in October and five points off the playoffs when Brown left to only six points from relegation. Crowds are falling alarmingly and with four of the top six to play in the remaining six games, fears of a first ever double relegation are reaching epidemic proportions around Deepdale.

Westley has certainly addressed the porous defence – but at the expense of any attacking threat, to vociferous disapproval at recent home games. Defeat to Brentford last time out led to some of the most surreal events ever seen at the famous old ground. The man of the match announcement was roundly jeered until the name of popular German goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann appeared on the big screen. When the fourth official indicated four additional minutes at the end of the match, he too was roundly booed before a chant of "This is pathetic, we want to go home" rang around the ground.

So where does this leave Preston North End and Graham Westley? Ridsdale has backed the manager and stated that the club need some stability after sacking three managers in three years. There are two acid tests of whether the manager can turn the club – and equally importantly the fans – around. Firstly, relegation has to be avoided; the consequences do not bear thinking about. Secondly he has to bring in a squad of players who can turn in performances that both win games and provide attractive football. Without these two elements, the future does not look bright for anyone associated with Preston North End. Martin Atherton

Comments (4)
Comment by colinwasp 2012-04-05 09:16:16

The man is a cretin of the highest order - think David Brent in a track-suit.

Comment by grippersi 2012-04-05 11:19:37

I wonder how well Stevenage would have done with someone with even more intelligence than a 'cretin of the highest order' in charge over the last three seasons?

If David Brent in a tracksuit can get a club promoted twice, then what does that say about the managers of the clubs that were not promoted in those seasons?

I am not in any way a Westley apologist but comments like that above belie this forum, which I had mistakenly supposed to exclude the trolls that exist on the pages of lesser websites.

I am more interested in Westley's interviews where he has stated that the fitness of the Preston squad was 75% of that of the Stevenage squad. He inherited a poor side at Deepdale, that's for sure. I would presume that he would love to get some of the better players at Stevenage to Preston, such as Roberts, Wilson and Bostwick, who would vastly improve the team he has to babysit until the end of the season.

Comment by Coral 2012-04-05 11:40:32

The early days will make or break him. He had a group of players who hung on his every word and he got them working harder than any other team. He is going into a squad who are not going to be wanting to do it his way and will be wondering what he is all about. He has tried shaking them up with the texts and calls late at night. Either it works out and he can get in players that will do as he wants, or it will fail because the players are not interested in what he has to say. Works well for a club coming up through the ranks to a higher level, it is unlikely it will work at that higher level straight off.

The person to take the blame should be Ridsdale, Westley is just doing what he is famed for. But could it be that the idea is to bring him in, cat amongst pigeons, players on higer wages not interested in him so leave, Westley gets in his cheaper players who listen to him. That way budget is reduced and hopefully without a risk of going down?

Comment by colinwasp 2012-04-05 15:15:00

Grippersi, I bow under the weight of your superior intellectual knowledge, and will head back under my bridge to accost any unsuspecting billy goats who think they can escape without paying their toll.

Regardless of Westley's success as a manager, which I don't deny, nothing the bloke does provokes feelings of endearment; he leaves me with the same feeling of toe-curing embarrassment as I get whenever I watch Basil Fawlty on Gold. His initiative to rename Farnborough Town's ground the Aimita stadium (Attitude Is More Important Than Ability) says it all, in my opinion.

His tactic of loading his side with six-foot plus lumps whose physical application to the game was successful but it won him few friends. I know plenty of people who have a grudging respect for his achievements but you will find very few people outside of Stevenage who actually like the style of football he embraces.

Related articles

On The Brink: A journey through English football’s north west by Simon Hughes
DeCoubertin Books, £16.99Reviewed by Charles MorrisFrom WSC 370, December 2017Buy the book The north-west has always been at the heart of...
Photo of the week ~ The statue of Tom Finney outside Preston’s Deepdale
Preston North End 1 Reading 0, 19/08/2017, Deepdale, Championship The statue to Tom Finney outside the ground before Preston North End take on...
Get with the programme ~ Preston v Swansea, 1964
FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park 14 March ~ This was an all-Second Division tie on a boggy pitch in the days when both FA Cup semi-finals were played...