We’re coming to the end of our Player of the Year interview series in celebration of the club becoming the first to reach 5,000 league games and the last one is Andy Saville.
Of the remaining players, we have been either unable to track them down or they have not been available to be interviewed for the series, but we finish with one of the heroes of the Gary Peters era.
Andy only spent a season-and-a-half as a PNE player, but he made quite the impact, finishing as top scorer in the 1995/96 promotion winning campaign and it was then that he was given the Player of the Year award.
Andy told PNE.Com: “People always say to me ‘what’s the best club you’ve played for?’ and the first thing that comes up is Preston.
“Obviously as a Hull lad all I wanted to do was play for Hull City and I was lucky enough to do that and score a few goals for them but I moved on from there and every time someone asks me what my best club or season was, Preston’s always the first thing I say. I will always have good memories of that season.”
It was hometown club Hull City where he started his career and he played for five other clubs before making the move to Deepdale from Birmingham City in 1995, although he could have joined the year prior.
“I was supposed to come the season before when they got in the Play-Off final but they wanted me on loan and Barry Fry wasn’t prepared to let me go out on loan,” said the former striker.
“He would only let me go if it was a permanent move so I ended up going to Burnley on loan for a month that season and at the end of the season my contract was up and that’s when Preston came in for me on a permanent move.
“I knew it was quite an experienced team and getting in the Play-Off final you knew you were joining a decent team anyway. I thought they were going to make a push for it the season after.
“I knew quite a lot about Preston, the supporters, the history and what have you. I knew it was a good club so it didn’t really take much persuading for me to sign permanently.”
It turned out to be a perfect fit for Andy at Deepdale as he formed what would turn out to be a prolific partnership with Steve Wilkinson and the two of them had quite a memorable day when PNE faced Mansfield as they both scored hat-tricks.
Andy said: “It’s a little bit unique that, you very rarely hear about things like that and it’s certainly the first game I’ve been in involved in where two players have got hat-tricks and I was more delighted for Steve really against his ex-club.
“I don’t think he really had anything to prove to them but I’m sure they’ll have liked him still in their ranks, but it was a great day, a great win and for two to get a hat-trick is quite unique really.”
Only ten days later Sav had more reason to celebrate when he headed home the winner away at Northampton which prompted wild celebrations as he got the shirt off his back and swung it around in front of a busy away end.
Andy laughed: “You’d have taken a booking for that these days! It was a great moment to score a winner like that in the last couple of minutes to clinch the game and I got a little bit excited but that’s just the way it goes when you score, you lose yourself for 30 seconds.
“As I said you’d have got booked in this day and age which I think is wrong myself when you’re scoring goals. Unless you know what that feeling is then you can’t put yourself in that position really but that’s just the way the game’s gone these days. But it was a great moment and I really enjoyed it.”
There were many more special days that season, many of which came in a remarkable 21-game unbeaten run which spread from the second day of the campaign right up until January.
Promotion was confirmed with a 2-0 victory away at Leyton Orient and the title was then clinched at Hartlepool before PNE returned to Deepdale for the season finale in front of 19,000 spectators.
Andy had fond memories of those special occasions: “It was relief more than anything to actually clinch promotion and get it over the line. Then we could sort of not took the foot off the pedal because we wanted to win the league so there was still a lot to play for but just to get that win and clinch promotion was more of a relief than anything.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t on the coach back from Hartlepool. I think I had some family come to the game so I think it was me and Russ Wilcox shot straight back home after that game, so unfortunately I missed some of those celebrations but from what I’ve heard it was a good night on the coach and back in Preston.
“It was probably the best moment of my career that final day of the season. We’d won the league and it was good to get a home game as well for the last day of the season at a packed house and I think there was a few thousand locked out as well so the celebrations after the game was different class. It was brilliant.
“It just shows what good supporters they are and what a good following they’ve got. We had the open top bus going through the streets of Preston and then came to the town hall and coming out on the balcony there knocked it up another level. It was a great day all round.”
It was this campaign which Andy picked up the club’s Player of the Year award as well as being voted into the Division Three Team of the Year.
“Football’s a team game, I’ve always said that and without your teammates you don’t win these individual honours. It was great for me to receive that but like I say it is a team game and a lot of that goes towards the team not just an individual.
“But I was delighted and honoured to pick the Player of the Year up. It was a great moment personally and something I’ll always remember.
“To get in the PFA represented Team of the Year is something special. It doesn’t matter what division you play in, to be recognised by the players you’ve played against all season obviously they show a lot of respect to you by voting for you so that was something very special.
“And three of the other lads got in so it was great for the other lads to be recognised as well. When you’re scoring goals you seem to be in the limelight all the time but for the other lads to get in as well shows what a good team we had.”
Despite the success Andy had in his first season with the club, he was sold by manager Gary Peters which came as quite a surprise to the Hull-born forward.
He remembered: “We struggled for a bit and obviously after 15 games they decided to sell me which I was a bit shocked and a bit disappointed with really because I thought we could have turned that season round and gone on and done alright.
“Managers and coaches don’t get that time in this day and age, people want success yesterday a bit more now than it was but that was their decision but once the manager comes and says we’ve had an offer and we’ve accepted it, it’s time to move on really.
“It came a little bit out the blue for me. I wasn’t expecting it at all but obviously Wigan came in and Gary’s thought ‘he’s maybe had his best season for us and we need to get someone else in’ which is fair enough.
“He’s the manager, he makes the decisions and he lives and dies by his decision so you’ve got to accept it and I respected his decision and moved on and tried to do my best wherever I went. That’s football.”
Sav now works as a postman but does get back to Deepdale when he gets the chance and has very happy memories of his time in PR1.
“I came to the Hull game earlier in the season and got a great reception from the fans and everybody around the ground so any chance I get to come back there I’ll always come back to see a game or whatever event’s going on.
“I loved my time there. It was the best season of my career and I’d like to thank everybody involved in the club. The supporters and everybody because you made me feel more than welcome.
“It’s unbelievable to be the first club to reach the 5,000 game milestone. Hopefully the supporters get what they deserve with a chance to watch Premier League football down at Deepdale in the not so distant future.”
You can find all of our previous interviews with the likes of Joe Garner, Jon Parkin and Michael Jackson by clicking here.
The 2020 winner will be selected by you! Check out the voting details on PNE.Com later today to select your winner of the 2020 Sir Tom Finney Player of the Year award, as well as the goal of the season.