We’ve been busy speaking to former Player of the Year winners from the last few decades and today our focus is on the 1984/85 recipient Jonathan Clark.
During his time at Deepdale, Jonathan made well over 100 appearances for the Lilywhites in what was a difficult time for the club playing in the Third and Fourth Division.
The midfielder was a bright spark during one of the lowest points in the club’s history, having been a player and at one point manager of the 1985/86 side which finished 23rd in the Fourth Division and subsequently had to seek re-election to the Football League.
Jonathan told PNE.Com: “I’d been injured for about six months and my career was effectively over but the chairman at the time who was a really nice gentleman called Keith Leeming rang me at home on a Saturday morning and said ‘can you get to the ground I want you to take charge of the team’.
“So I raced down to the ground, got there for half past one and I went in and from that moment I changed the team. Luckily we went on a good run and managed to win the first five games. I was really proud of the way we tried to change things around, but we couldn’t quite avoid the re-election.
“There was so much going on at the club at that time. I was shocked when I took over as manager and got to be on the other side and was made aware of financial restraints. Everyone tried to do the best they could in a difficult situation.
“I was really proud also to give people like Nigel Jemson and Alan Kelly Jr. their debuts and they went on to have really great careers, particularly Alan Kelly. He was a great keeper anyway but I think if it hadn’t had been for his injuries he would’ve been a Premier League player for the rest of his career. He would’ve gone on to be one of the best keepers in the country.”
Jonathan first arrived at Deepdale in 1981 when he joined forces with manager Tommy Docherty, the man who had handed him his debut at the age of 17 with Manchester United and the two also worked together at Derby County.
Jonathan said: “When I left Derby I had the choice of a few clubs but I thought with ‘The Doc’ being there and some of the players I knew like Stevie Doyle that the club would be able to pick up again and start to progress, but it obviously didn’t turn out quite like that.
“When I looked at the playing staff at that time before I signed we had Alex Bruce, Stevie Doyle, Don O’Riordan, really top players for that sort of standard of football at that level so I thought with a few additions that they would bounce straight back.
“The other thing was I’d already played at Preston a few times and I really liked the ground and the atmosphere so that was a deciding factor from when I’d visited Deepdale as a Derby player.”
Clark went on to spend five years with the Lilywhites and it was his performances in the 1984/85 season which earned him all four awards on offer that campaign.
“I was really proud to win that because it was a really difficult season losing a lot of games. It’s hard to keep yourself going but I was proud that I did, so I was really chuffed with that but it didn’t mask the disappointment of being relegated.
“With my career curtailing around, I played on after 26 but after my injury I was really struggling to play, so the highlight would probably be winning those awards at Preston: it was great.”
After leaving PNE in 1986, Jonathan went on to play for Bury and Carlisle despite injury problems but they did eventually get the better of him and he was forced to hang his boots up earlier than most.
Alongside his wife, he headed into the pub trade and did that for 25 years, though Jonathan has had to take something of a step back as he has unfortunately had health issues in recent times.
He said: “The last few years I’ve suffered ill health so I’ve semi-retired. I’ve been fighting cancer the last five years, but I’m doing well now. I’m a bit disappointed as I’m feeling so well I can’t get out and about, but there’s a lot suffering and a lot worse things at the moment so our thoughts are with them and the NHS.
“I’d like to give my personal thanks to the people at the NHS. I don’t think I’d be here without their help over the last five or six years and they’re doing a fantastic thing now for the whole population so a special thank you to them.”
Make sure you check out our other Player of the Year interviews, with John Welsh and John McMahon already featuring on the website and the likes of Claude Davis, Youl Mawene, Gary Williams, Andrew Lonergan, Tepi Moilanen, Michael Jackson and many more to come, with a new one every day.