As we continue to look back through our Player of the Year winners ahead of our 5000th game, today we bring you an exclusive chat with Gary Brazil – winner of the 1987 award.
Gary wore the famous PNE shirt more than 200 times during his four years at Deepdale and is well remembered by the North End fans for his contribution in the promotion-winning campaign of 1986/87.
He scored 20 goals in all competitions that season and his performances were enough to earn him the aforementioned award, though Gary says it was a real team effort.
Gary told PNE.Com: “They could have given it to a load of people that year. There were such good performers that year. Kells (Alan Kelly Junior) took over from David Brown in goal and as a young boy was doing brilliantly and obviously went on to have a fantastic career.
“Bob Atkins was magnificent as was Alex Jones. Micky Bennett played really, really well at left back with David Miller at right back. Swanny (Gary Swann) was brilliant in midfield. You’ve got JT (John Thomas) who scored more goals than I did that year doing really well. Little Ronnie Hildersley did really well for a period of time.
“You could have picked anybody there was just so many people. Frank Worthington came into the group later in the year who was a delight to have around and set a real high standard for a lot of us in terms of how we train. He just stunned me how he was always first out training.
“It was just the personalities; it was the characters that made it really good and a really good time of my life. It’s an award that I got from the fans and the people that I worked with that I’ll always carry with me and it’s always a massive pleasure to see anybody that was connected with that era and we still have the ability to reminisce and it puts a big smile on our face.”
The highs of that promotion season came immediately after one of the lowest points in the club’s history as the Lilywhites finished 23rd in the Fourth Division and had to apply for re-election to the Football League.
Gary said: “I think it was a tough environment all round; it wasn’t a positive time for the football club.
“I think we had an issue with the floodlights and we were playing midweek games at two o’clock in the afternoon because we had to get games played in daylight and there was just no crowd there.
“We weren’t playing particularly well and I think I still ended up scoring quite a few goals that year but it wasn’t a very positive atmosphere. Even though I got about 18 goals that season you sensed your own career not going anywhere and you had to try and do something about it. It was a flat season to be honest with you – a really disappointing season.
“It needed a catalyst and it needed a change and very fortunately for the club and for the players, John McGrath came walking through the door who was like a Tasmanian devil. He came in and the world changed really, really quickly for the better.”
Over that summer, Gary actually could have ended up a Mansfield Town player after going to train with them, but the Stags didn’t offer him a deal so he returned to Deepdale.
He soon found out on his return that things under John McGrath were completely different to how he left them and he had great things to say about his former gaffer.
Gary said: “Mansfield chose not to sign me which spoke volumes of me at that point and I came back in and realised I had a hell of a fight on to get this guy to play me.
“As the season started and as things started to go well, I was desperate to be part of that. It certainly made me raise my levels two or three notches. He did fantastic for me, John. As I got to understand what he wanted from me, he got to understand me better.
“We built a real good working relationship and as I said it was a fantastic season. I was really chuffed with all the plaudits he got because he was just a really good football man.
“What he’d done he’d brought in some really, really good characters. Some seasoned pros and good characters. He’d brought in the likes of Sam Allardyce, Oshor Williams – I’m going to forget people I shouldn’t forget now! He brought in Les Chapman.
“He brought in guys who had sort of been around the block but were good people to have in the changing room and for people like myself and John Thomas and people like that, it was just a much better environment for us to work in.”
In the space of those twelve months since McGrath took over, he had taken PNE from one end of the division to the other as they were promoted to the Third Division with 90 points.
The season prior had seen crowds of less that 3,000 enter Deepdale but the new manager rejuvenated the whole city and attendances reached the heights of 16,456 when Gary scored the winner against eventual champions Northampton Town.
Gary reminisced: “It was the best year of my football life that year that we got promoted. It wasn’t just an experience playing but an experience of a group of players and how well they could bond and John was integral to that. He was a very, very clever man.
“Some of the games we played in and some of the results we got were great. Bearing in mind that was what is League Two now, the amount of support we had following us and the size of the gates at Deepdale were ridiculous.
“The games later on in the season we just never felt like we were going to lose, it was just one of those things. The Northampton game was a great game for us but I can think back to a number of games when we travelled and we got fantastic results away from home.
“Obviously the game where we got promoted at Leyton Orient then the Tuesday afterwards when we played Tranmere at home it was a similar size to the Northampton gate. Just the feeling around the club was such a nice feeling to have such a positive vibe in there. And remembering that barely twelve months ago the club was on its knees and so were a few of us as footballers.”
Gary carried his goalscoring form from that season into the next as he continued to find the back of the net in a division higher and that attracted the attention of Newcastle United in 1989.
He told us: “We showed by our form in the previous season that we were more than capable playing a league higher so it wasn’t hard to play that league higher. I think we had the momentum which we took into the next season; it was just a continuation of what was going on.
“Things happen then Newcastle came in for me and it was sort of a move you can’t turn down although I still have a regret about not being able to keep that relationship with North End longer.
“I’ve hardly ever been back to Deepdale. I’ve only really gone back in terms of a managing capacity bringing teams there. When I was finishing my playing career I went back there and played against them but didn’t really get a chance to say goodbye properly which I found a little bit frustrating because I had a real affinity with the fans there.”
Since retiring as a player, Gary has been in the coaching game and has been caretaker manager for both Notts County and Nottingham Forest, though nowadays he oversees the Academy at Forest.
“Football’s my passion and it always has been. I’ve been very lucky to be in football since 16 years of age and that’s forty years ago now so I’m very fortunate to still be in the game.
“You take a bit of everything in your playing career into your coaching career and certainly my time at Preston and how people influenced me and how they treated me is something that I’ve carried with me when I’ve gone into coaching and looking after an Academy.”
If you want to see all the interviews that have been conducted so far, including Aiden McGeady, Youl Mawene and Richard Cresswell, or can’t wait for the upcoming ones with the likes of Gary’s 1986/87 strike-partner John Thomas, Sean St. Ledger, Joe Garner or Greg Cunningham, click here for our Player of the Year section of the official PNE website.