After the club confirmed his departure prior to the final game of the season, John Welsh sat down with iFollow PNE to reflect on a terrific six years at Deepdale.
Welsh was given a fitting send off at the final home game of the season against Burton as PNE won 2-1. The former North End captain was given a guard of honour and was also given a commemorative silver plate to mark his exceptional service to the club.
After the game, Welsh was also awarded PNE’s Community Player of the Year and PFA Community Champion; presented to him by Jorgie Rae Griffiths, whom he has helped tremendously in her fund raising efforts for life-saving treatment.
A man that will forever stay in the history of Preston North End, Welsh captained the club, helped PNE win promotion from League One at Wembley, won the Player of the Year award and had the honour of being a pall bearer at the funeral of Preston North End and England legend Sir Tom Finney.
In what has been an emotional time for John and everyone associated with the club, the former No.19 gave an extended interview before the final game of the 2017/18 season against Burton Albion.
Speaking to iFollowPNE, he said: “Driving in today, it’s funny, you look back on things.
“I remember driving in the first time the same way I drove today to sign; and seeing the ground and seeing the atmosphere of the city, it just brings back so many memories from the first day of signing
“I’ve loved my time here, I’ve met so many great people, worked with them. I’ve had success here. It’s been a rollercoaster but I think at every football club it is and I don’t think I’d rather be at any other football club to go through those memories with.
“I have a lot of memories on and off the pitch, made some friends that will be friends for life.
“It’s a club that I joined as a player and I think from now until whenever, I will be a fan of this football club.
“I’ll come to watch games – hopefully it’ll be in the Premier League! – But either way the fans will definitely see me around because I’ll just be one of them; a fan coming to watch the game.”
John has always had a great affinity with the fans, in no small part down to the way he plays the game, this was shown by the outpouring of tributes across social media when his departure was announced. A combative player that gives absolutely everything he had for the cause, his style endeared him to the supporters and players alike and he has thanked the fans for their support over the years.
“Just a special word for the fans, the backing that we’ve received not only myself personally but as a team, as a football club, has been unbelievable, home and away.
“It’s probably been the same for them, there’s been ups and downs. Downs being Rotherham in the Play-Offs but the ups outweigh the downs all the time.
“I just want to thank them personally but as I say, I’m a Preston fan now and I’m sure I’ll be getting to as many games as I can, wherever I am.
“That’s the main thing for me – to say thank you to them. For all their backing that they’ve given me and the football club whilst I’ve been here. It has been humbling. It was always appreciated and it will always be appreciated.”
And in keeping with the midfielder’s style, it can’t be forgotten that a crunching tackle – there isn’t any other kind with Welsh protecting the defence – at Wembley helped set up PNE's second goal of the 4-0 win over Swindon Town in the Play-Off final in 2015. Having previously admitted he’d go through his own family to win the ball on social media, Welshy of course remembers the tackle and he looked back on that moment and the whole weekend of PNE’s Play-Off win.
“I don’t think there’s a man on this planet that would have stopped me from winning that tackle.
“That’s just the way I try and play football, I want to put my body on the line. I’m not as gifted as many footballers that are here are but I’ll give 100 per cent and I’ll put my body on the line.
"I’ll go into tackles that most people probably won’t, without even realising it. That’s just the way I play. It’s something you do for the football club.
"What a weekend that was; going down to Wembley, seeing the pitch and then the next day, the game.
“It was a funny feeling, it was just a feeling that I knew we’d win it; and I think I can share that with the lads. I felt within the group, we knew we had won it.
“With the way the season had finished then playing Chesterfield, when we 1-0 in the first game, I’d say they got the better of us that game.
“After that I personally thought that there was no way that we weren’t going to get promoted.
“The atmosphere within the group at Wembley before the game summed that up. There was no way that Swindon were going to beat us.
“They’re great memories to look back on. I saw Clarkey talking about lifting the trophy with him; what a great guy he was for allowing me to do that.
"They’re great memories all round but obviously the party on the way home and it was just a great weekend. They’re just memories of the last six years, that’s one of many that I’ll never forget.”
After his first season at the club at the end of the 2012/13 campaign, Welsh was named the Player of the Year, an occasion that he may not remember too clearly but will certainly be a stand out moment in his PNE career. Despite a difficult season for the Lilywhites, Welsh enjoyed his first season at Deepdale.
“There’s not much I can remember about it, all I can remember is what people have been telling me! Matt Jackson, our physio – obviously I’d had a few shandies and got told to calm down – and I, politely, told Matt to go away.
“That’s another achievement that I’m quite proud of. Obviously getting Player of the Year, not getting drunk! Getting stuff like that is brilliant.
“It wasn’t a great season but I enjoyed it, I enjoyed playing for the football club, putting on the shirt every week and representing the club was something that I loved doing.
“To be awarded something like that is brilliant for me personally. It’s hopefully something that will happen again soon wherever I go on to but it’s something that I’ll always remember."
A defining moment in Welsh’s PNE career was being a pall bearer at Sir Tom Finney's funeral, an honour for the midfielder, and another moment that he will always remember with pride.
“It was massive in my career and in my personal life as well. To be involved with such a great man in what he did for football in general, not just this football club, it was quite humbling.
“To be involved in something like that, you saw the amount of people that came along to pay their respects to him, so to carry a great man like that – for football in general, not just this club – is a massive moment that will stay with me forever.
“It’s something that I will never forget. He was such a great man and he was massive in football.
"The way the fans still love him here and the social media side, the amount of people that were praising him and what he did for football. It was massive and it was something that I’ll never forget.”
Ahead of the final game, one that was used to celebrate his North End career prior to kick-off, Welsh told iFollowPNE of the emotions that he would be feeling as he walked out at Deepdale as a PNE player for the final time.
“A lot of different things. There will obviously be sadness, being here for so long and meeting so many great people; and sadly that every day connection is going to come to an end, which is sad.
"I look back with pride with what I accomplished here. Joy, I’ve enjoyed every day here and every minute of the whole six years. So there will be a lot of mixed emotions.”
Everyone associated with Preston North End would like to thank John for his dedicated service to the club over the last six years and wish him all the best for the future.
You can watch the full interview with John Welsh, including footage of his final appearance at Deepdale ahead of the Burton game, by clicking on the video above.