In the first of a series of interviews with the Legends of the Town End, Youl Mawene returned to Deepdale to speak about his time with the club.
A picture of the Frenchman celebrating a goal scored against Bristol City is emblazoned on the wall in the concourse of the Alan Kelly Town End, alongside ten other legends, including a few former team-mates.
PR1 left a lasting impression on Youl, who was taken aback by the fan-voted position on the concourse wall, with the people involved in his time here largely making it what it was.
Speaking to iFollowPNE, he said: “I couldn’t believe it really, to be honest. It’s unbelievable for me. I had so many good times at Preston and had so many friends.
“To feel the appreciation of the local people like that means a lot to me – it really does mean a lot. I’m grateful for the support and the appreciation.
“I remember coming in and only after a few weeks it felt like I’d been here for ages.
“Team-mates massively helped at the time because the changing room was really tight, we were like a family.
“A lot of boys are still in touch almost weekly now, some of them are almost family members! Brian O’Neil... to name one!
“It’s been great. The fans were really supportive at the time we were trying to get a bit of momentum; we did as much as we could, unfortunately we couldn’t crack it and get promoted.
“The bond was instant. It was just good times. Looking back on it, in terms of experience and when you leave, I wouldn’t change it too much; maybe that Cardiff final if I could.”
PNE reached the Play-Off Final in 2005, in Cardiff, which was the only downside to the former No.5’s time at the club.
Under Billy Davies North End were a formidable proposition and having done the double over West Ham in the regular season, a final against the Hammers seemed a winnable game for the Lilywhites, but it wasn’t to be.
“That time we were really driven – we were locked on. We had a little wobble at the start of the season, we didn’t really find the right formula, tactically and who’s playing where.
“We had to kind of settle in. I remember when Billy took over the training changed. It became really intense to the point where we would find it hard to finish games; but at half-time you were sometimes 3-0 up here at Deepdale so, the job wasn’t done, but you had a massive step ahead.
“He got everyone on board and everyone finally understood that we’d all benefit from the success we were having here.
“The signing of Nugent was a big part as well. It was thin line stuff; my partnership with Skip [Chris Lucketti] clicked, once we got going we always looked solid. Paul McKenna ahead of us, doing the work with Brian O’Neil.
“We had a bit of, not arrogance, but we knew we could go to West Ham away, we knew we could go places and hold our own and have each other’s backs which is a massive thing.
“We went all the way to Cardiff, it could have been a lot different. For whatever reason on the day, it just wasn’t quite – maybe we were a bit new to the stage, I don’t really know because there is such a thin line on those days.”
A popular North End group, many of Mawene’s former team-mates are remembered as club legends now; on the way to the Play-Off Final, the former centre back saw a win in the Welsh capital was important to get things going.
“We had to start somewhere and we had a really poor record away from home. If we were going to go anywhere we had to start to dig in, have each other’s back and start winning games.
“Fortunately that happened at Cardiff at the start of winter which was nice. It gave us a bit of momentum, from there, you have your Sedgy’s [Chris Sedgwick], they were wind-up merchants.
“They wind people up, but they’d know they can bank on me, on Chris, on Paul, on Brian, to back each other up.
“It was a really good mix of a bit of youth, a bit of youth and really good heads and experience. Grezza brought his experience and Chris, up front you had a partnership of Nuge and Cresswell; it was probably as good as it gets at our time and at our level, or really close.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure working with those guys. I remember in the second season big Claude came up and he was a monster for us.
“We had that momentum, players felt they could trust each other out there. It was competitive on the training ground, people were fighting for places.
“You look back and you have players like Dickson Etuhu and Tyrone Mears that could not get in to start with. That’s how tight the competition was.
“It’s been a wonderful time really, but it was a shame we couldn’t quite make it. In terms of how we applied ourselves, there was nothing more we could have done.”
A recurring theme when Youl speaks about his love of Preston, the club and city, is the personal connections he made. None are more personal than his children being born in the city – and even playing for PNE.
“I’ve enjoyed my time in Lancashire overall. A little bit far from home at times, but this is like home for me now. The kids were born in Preston, like any other Prestonian, they watch the Preston results and that’s the way it is.
“It’s been fantastic, this place. You do get that chill, it’s a beautiful and really wish the best for Preston this year. I’ve been following the results.
“There’s a Mawene now in the Academy so things move on; it’s crazy what it is, but I loved my time here, I love the club and I really wish you guys all the best.
“It’s crazy because for me, I was there since 2004, you look back at the years and you think 'I’m getting on'! I think last year he [Youl's son Noah] scored with the U12s and I was thinking 'oh my, a Mawene on the scoresheet at Preston'! Time flies by, that’s life and you’ve just got to enjoy what you can.
“I get quite emotional because it is a big thing, Preston, for me. It’s like a family and you come so far, you travel from far, you try and recreate something that you can call home.
“This place is special to me because it is a place that I’m proud to call my home.
“If I was anywhere apart from my mum’s house, I would stay here in a stadium. It’s a wonderful place and I wouldn’t change it.”
You can watch the full interview with Youl Mawene by clicking on the video above.