Preston North End youngsters Kian Best and Kian Taylor celebrated their Ribbleton roots earlier this week by paying a visit to their former side.
The North End duo, who signed two-year professional deals at Deepdale in July 2023, both joined the Lilywhites at a young age from local side Ribbleton FC.
In a show of thanks to their former grassroots team, who have supplied the PNE Academy with many players over the years, the pair visited the club during training at Christ the King Catholic High School in Frenchwood on Wednesday evening.
With a variety of age groups there on the night, the two Kians spent time signing autographs and engaging with the children, while also presenting the club with signed PNE 2023/24 home shirts featuring their name and number.
Terry Clayton, chairman of Ribbleton FC and a former coach of the North End teenagers, was one of those present on the night, and he felt immense pride having them return to where it all started.
Terry said: “I’m really proud to see them back here as Preston North End players. Ever since I’ve been a part of Ribbleton Football Club, that’s one thing that I’ve always really wanted – for some of our lads to be running out at North End so that all the kids can see it’s possible.
“It helps to raise the profile of the club and of the area. The two of them are role models for the kids really, and people that they can look up to. I couldn’t be prouder of them both to be honest with you.
“I had the pleasure of coaching them when they were five or six years old. I managed them for a year as well and at that age they were part of a very special team. There were nine players in the team, and I think seven of them were signed by Academies.
“At the time they probably weren’t the best players in the group technically, but their heart, their desire, and their willingness to better themselves at that age stood out. Kian Taylor was my captain, he worked really hard, and Kian Best was the same. You could see at that age the potential that they had, and I was lucky enough to coach them for two or three years when they were younger.
“The kids at Ribbleton are the ones that deserve most of the credit. They’re putting the hard work in, and they’ve got the natural ability. The club committee and parents deserve a lot of credit too. I’m proud to be a part of a club developing so many young footballers.
“We encourage them to go to professional clubs, that’s what we want for them. If we get chance to send our kids on trial for Preston North End coaches to have a look at, we encourage that all the time. Ultimately, that’s what we want for them.”
Both KT and Besty have made their professional debuts for PNE this season, with the duo impressing during preparations for the 2023/24 campaign.
The latter, who spent two years with Ribbleton before joining North End as an U9, started the opening four Sky Bet Championship matches of the season, and he has also earned recognition from the England youth set-up.
All of that may not have happened, though, if it wasn’t for Ribbleton’s and – more specifically – Terry’s intervention all those years ago.
Speaking on the night, Besty said: “I owe a lot to Ribbleton. At one point when I was younger, I said to my dad that I wanted to pack in playing football but Terry persuaded me to carry on going and I’m glad that he did.
“It’s good to be able to give back to them because of everything they’ve done for us in the past. It’s nice for me and KT to show how much we appreciate that.
“It feels good to be back here; it’s bringing back a lot of good memories.”
KT, who joined PNE at a similar age, is a huge North End supporter and has also come all the way through the ranks at Deepdale.
The midfielder earned his senior bow for his boyhood club in August earlier this year in the Carabao Cup against Salford City.
His footballing foundations, though, were built at Ribbleton, where he was part of a side which didn’t lose for two years.
KT said: “I owe everything to Ribbleton really because this is where it all began. They always say remember your roots, and these are my roots.
“Coming back tonight and seeing everyone is great, and it definitely won’t be the last time I’m back.
“Terry coached us in the first year that we came, and we owe him everything. The shirts are a thank you to him and the club, and we’ll offer any help that we can anytime.”
Besty and KT are just two examples of several young players who have made the step up to the first team from the Academy in recent years.
There are a number of U19s, or those recently graduated, who are regulars in first team training and many of those have also come from grassroots backgrounds.
Forward Felipe Rodriguez-Gentile, for example, was found playing at grassroots level and has since gone on to earn a spot in the Argentina U17 team and could feature in a World Cup later this year.
James Beet, Head of Academy Recruitment, Loans and Player Pathways at PNE, said: "It's always a great moment when young players graduate out of the Academy to become professionals.
“We wanted to recognise the platform that Ribbleton provided to both Kians and to us nearly a decade ago, but also to acknowledge the continued work that both clubs are doing.
“We have a number of former Ribbleton players within our Academy who are on their own journey in football and we're eager to continue that pathway.
“It's very important to us that young footballers within the city of Preston are noticed and given an opportunity to showcase their talents within our Academy.
“We continue to work closely with all of our neighbouring grassroots clubs and recognise the important role that they play in ultimately helping us to produce future professional footballers.”