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PNE's 300 Club: Paul McKenna

2 June 2021

Next up in our '300 Club' feature is one of the most popular and consistent performers of the modern era - local boy Paul McKenna.

He joined the youth ranks as a schoolboy in the early 1990s, and it was manager Gary Peters who gave the youngster his first professional contract after McKenna had progressed well through the youth and reserve teams.

It was also Peters who gave the player his first team debut, in an Auto Windscreen Shield cup tie at Chesterfield in December 1996.

However, over the next two and a half years, McKenna had to be content with an occasional appearance in the first team squad and regular reserve games.

After David Moyes took over as manager, McKenna’s career really took off. In 1998/99, he was a regular in the team and the diminutive midfield player’s busy style was perfectly suited to North End’s play at the time, providing a great link between defence and attack. McKenna had a superb engine and was a real box-to-box player.

As the years went by, he added strength to his game and became one of the most respected midfield players in the Championship.

McKenna could certainly score some good goals, too, and most of his 30 league goals for the club were from long range - not many were tap-ins!

Another string to his bow was his ability in the air, an underrated part of his game, as he often outjumped players much taller than he was.

He played a huge part in North End’s Division Two championship win of 1999/2000, and he appeared in two Championship Play-Off Finals, only to be robbed of his dream to play in the Premier League with PNE by Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United.

He was voted PFA Championship Player of the Year for 2004/05 and was made captain of North End from the 2007/08 season – a huge honour for him.

It seemed pretty certain that McKenna would go on to create a new appearance record for the club, but in July 2009 Alan Irvine sold the player to Nottingham Forest for a reported fee of £750,000.

It was a sad day when McKenna walked out of Deepdale for the last time, as he had been part of the furniture there for nearly 20 years. But, to demonstrate what a good pro he was, he served both Forest, and later Hull City, with the same skill, distinction and determination that he had shown for all those years at Deepdale.

He joined Hull on a free transfer in July 2011. At that time there were rumours abounding about a possible return to Deepdale, but alas, it never happened.

During the 2012/13 season McKenna was loaned to Fleetwood Town where his old North End team-mate Graham Alexander was in charge.

McKenna, in years to come, will be afforded legend status by fans of the Lilywhites. North End gave him a testimonial match in July 2006, and appropriately David Moyes brought his Everton side to Deepdale for the occasion.

“It was overwhelming,” said Paul after the 0-0 draw, as over 9,000 turned up to say a big thank you to the little maestro. It was a competitive friendly, and that suited McKenna down to the ground on his night to remember.

PNE Apps And Goals: League 400+22 (30); FAC 19+2 (2); LC 18; Others 15; Total 476 (32).

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