As we continue to interview our former Player of the Year winners ahead of our 5,000th game, today we focus on the 1999 recipient Michael Jackson.
‘Jacko’ is a popular man among the Deepdale crowd having spent seven successful years in a PNE shirt, most notably being part of the group which won the Division Two title in the 1999/2000 campaign under David Moyes.
His days before moving to PR1 were spent with Bury where he actually faced North End in the Division Three Play-Offs before being snapped up by North End gaffer Gary Peters.
Michael told PNE.Com: “I had a problem with my contract at Bury. They wanted me to sign a new deal but I wasn’t happy with it. Gary Peters obviously gave me the opportunity to come to Preston which at the time was a really good move.
“It’s a big club, a great club and you could see by the signings they’d made and were making when I joined as well that they were looking to improve and have a go with a younger squad with a lot of talent.
“I think he was good at finding players. I think what happened is that team needed time to gel. It needed to find its path, needed to find its way which takes time with new players and young players especially to find that consistency and over time that’s what happened.
“That group all came together, played together, went up together, socialised together, it was a really, really tight group and that was one of the biggest strengths.”
After joining in March 1997, Jacko was introduced into the PNE side in the latter stages of that campaign before becoming pretty much an ever-present at the back in the 1997/98 season, playing 52 games.
Within that campaign came a managerial change which would turn out to work wonders as David Moyes took over from Peters in January 1998.
“The guy who you’re working with you want to do your best for him,” Jacko explained. “He brought you there but then Moyesy came in after that and obviously things built from there and the momentum carried on.
“I think it all just started to come together but I think what Moyes did is he probably started to demand more and challenge you more and the group had to come with it. The standards got raised then from within himself and from the group itself.
“The group in the end run itself. It had a culture that we knew what we did and anyone that came into it we didn’t lower the standard to let them get to it. They had to come and meet that standard that was already there and try and push it again.
“I think if you speak to Graham Alexander about it he’ll tell you how it was when he first came in. He wasn’t used to the tempo of the training and how everyone was and that’s what you needed to do as players that were brought in, but it was created through ourselves and the manager.”
In the 1998/99 campaign, a 21-000 plus crowd packed themselves into Deepdale as Arsenal came to PR1 for an FA Cup tie. The Deepdale faithful certainly wouldn’t be disappointed by their side’s effort as a Kurt Nogan double sent them into an early lead, though it was the Premier League champions who progressed thanks to late goals.
Speaking of that game, Jacko said: “None of it beforehand was thinking ‘oh no we’re playing Arsenal’, it was a group that just took it on.
“Whether that was by design or whether it just came about – it never feared anything. As it went along it had learned to just say ‘right we’ll have a go at this now’ and I think that’s how the group was. It had no fear in it because it kept growing all the time because the players were a good age and the biggest thing is you weren’t allowed to leave.
“The club looked after them. Nowadays players don’t stay together that long, they just go because clubs can’t afford to pay them but Preston was good enough with Moyesy and the staff above and the infrastructure. They worked to keep those players which was a credit to whoever was around at the time.”
It was in this campaign which Jacko earned the Player of the Year award for his solid performances at the back in a strong team, though unfortunately the campaign was to end in Play-Off defeat against Gillingham.
“At the time you want to get those accolades. It’s good because it shows that from your peers and from people watching that you must be doing something right but at the time it didn’t mean a lot because of what happened with us not getting promoted. That was always the biggest goal.
“That hurt us a lot because I don’t think we did ourselves justice in that we didn’t hit the levels. It was a tight game and they were a decent side as well. They set out to spoil it a little bit and we should’ve done more in the home game.
“We knew that going to Gillingham was always hard. You don’t get a lot there; you need a bit of luck because it’s a completely different scenario going there but it moves you on. You have to bounce back and it was a big driving force for the next season definitely.”
It certainly was to be used as motivation for the next season as PNE would go on to lose just seven games in the 1999/2000 campaign on their way to the Division Two title.
“That group knew what it had lost out on the year before. The experience of being in that position again always helps every team because you know what the game’s like.
“Every game in that last ten, the next game is the biggest one. You just keep rolling for the next one and that’s how you felt. We were just confident in what we were doing; you could see how much it meant to us, the fans and we knew we couldn’t let it slip again.
“They were great games to play in, big crowds, why wouldn’t you want to play in them? Why wouldn’t you want to be part of them? To us it was brilliant, we really enjoyed it and there was no nerves in it. It was just ‘we’ve got to get it done, we’ve got to win this game’ that was all that mattered.”
The title was confirmed at Cambridge United, despite defeat that day, and the squad then lifted the trophy at home to Millwall a week later before an open top bus tour through the streets of Preston.
Jacko fondly remembered: “That was a great occasion, it was brilliant. I still remember those times now. I remember the bus journey home from every promotion I’ve had even as a coach now, the biggest thing you remember is that bus journey home.
“We just piled into some pub on the way back from Cambridge and everyone in there must have thought ‘what the hell is going on here?’. We obviously came back to Preston and everything else from there was just great. It’s everything you want to be involved in.
“All the fans seeing how much it means to everyone and how much everyone’s put into it. Not just the players and the staff but even everyone around the ground, everyone was tight.”
After that title win, the Lilywhites were back in the second tier after almost 20 years away and they took little time to settle, going all the way to the Play-Off final where Bolton Wanderers unfortunately came out on top on a day where Jacko could only make the bench.
“I remember picking up an injury with my back, I think it was Gillingham at home. I tried everything to get back from it but I just couldn’t do it.
“Moyesy obviously decided to put me on the bench but the day just didn’t go well did it. I wanted to play and I wasn’t playing. It was a shame because it was a great opportunity to bounce up and go another level.
“I think it was the most disappointing moment at Preston. Even though I wasn’t involved on the day, the group had been together that long to go and achieve that would have been something unbelievable.
“From that level with a group of players that no one even knew to come to that situation when you’re one game from getting in the Premier League. It would have capped off what it deserved really for everything it had gone through, everything it’d done together and how tight the group was.
“It’s one of those things but it was a great disappointment for us all.”
The campaign which followed proved to be a season of change at Deepdale as David Moyes left for pastures new at Everton and Jon Macken joined up with Manchester City.
Craig Brown took the reins as manager with Billy Davies his assistant and a new era was to begin at the club as the look of the squad began to change.
Speaking of the changes, Jacko said: “Obviously no player wants to leave in situations where clubs are doing well but a team runs its course, a player runs its course and it’s just getting the judgement call right.
“Some people would have been not happy with it but it’s one of those things in football otherwise everyone would still be playing there now wouldn’t they. It’s just the way it goes, you’ve got to respect that decision sometimes.
“That new group had a lot of talent. The year after I left I think it started to get going again when Billy was in charge and got to the Play-Offs again. There were some talented boys in that group like Ricardo Fuller, young Claude Davis and Eddie Lewis, probably more talented than the group we had in some ways.
“I liked Billy. I think he was very similar to Moyesy in the way he was as a coach and the way he demanded from you. I think he should have been allowed while I was there to do more of the coaching. He did some of the coaching but for me not enough; I think that group needed someone like billy.
“Craig was a manager not a coach. Billy was a very, very good coach who could drive you on your standards and make sure you were on it when he was taking the sessions.”
After 288 appearances for the club over the course of seven years, Jacko decided it was time to move on with his career as he joined Tranmere Rovers, though looking back he ponders over what could have been.
He said: “I think I was 30 at the time and I’d played a lot of games. I was offered a contract to stay but I wasn’t happy with it at the time, I didn’t think it was right. It wasn’t a greed thing it just wasn’t right for me at the time.
“Looking back you think ‘should I have stayed?’ but you don’t know. It was just one of those things where I thought it was time to move on but part of me wishes I should have looked around more and stayed in the Championship because I was capable of playing in there.
“I’d just had a little boy at the time and I went for the first thing that really came up at Tranmere and even though I had a great time at Tranmere that’s part of one of my regrets of football. I should have either stayed at Preston or should’ve hung fire because I’d played a lot of games in the Championship.”
After a couple of years there, Jacko went on to sign for PNE’s fierce rivals Blackpool which for a lot of players could create bitterness with the Deepdale faithful, but he still remains a popular man despite the move.
“I think the Preston fans knew what I was like. I think they knew I wasn’t going there to rub salt in anyone’s wounds.
“They knew what sort of character I was and wherever I was I’d do my ultimate best to try and be successful for that group and that team and I think if you do that and you’re honest with it then you’ll always get respect for that.
“With every contract I ever signed I said ‘I’m not signing it unless you’re going to have a go. I’m not just coming here to play in a league with no aspirations of getting promoted or anything like that’.
“We got promoted in the first year and again that was a great group of lads. I was one of the oldest ones then and I’d learned a lot from my time at Preston. Everything I’d learned at Preston I could take it there, how the team could come together and standards, things like that.”
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