North End fan & journalist Keith Harrison on ‘North End Souls’

Keith Harrison, Preston North End fan and former editor of the Wolverhampton Express & Star, recently put the finishing touches on his first book, ‘North End Souls’.

The book, 284 pages long, includes interviews with 16 North End players and managers, including John Thomas, David Moyes, Graham Alexander and Paul Gallagher.

The interviewees give an incredible insight into what it is like to be involved with North End, as well as revelations that many a PNE fan will never have heard before.

After leaving the Express & Star last year, Harrison found himself with the chance, as he says, “to do something I’d always wanted to do.”

His wife works with best-selling authors and the idea for the book arose after a conversation between the two.

Harrison explained: “We were talking about the process that the best-selling authors employ, and she said one of things they always say to do is write about what you know.

“She then asked me what I knew most about and I said, ‘Preston North End’, so it went from there.

“When I was a newspaper editor, I always wanted to get people’s first-hand accounts down because it’s always better.

“You get a purer form of story if it’s people talking in their own words, without the interpretation of a third-party journalist in there.”

Harrison wrote in his introduction for the book that he had never met “a more amenable, friendly and down-to-earth group of people” than the ones he interviewed.

The group he mentions span over four decades of North End history, from John Thomas and Mark Lawrenson in the 1970s to Paul Gallagher, Joe Garner and John Welsh in the 2010s.

And it provided some interesting insights into not only their careers, but how much football has altered over the time period.

Harrison said: “In a pure form the book is an oral history of people’s experiences and accounts through the last three to four decades, when English football has changed dramatically from what it was in the 1980s.

“When I used to go to North End then, there were around 3,000 people coming.

“Players would be getting paid not too dissimilar salaries to people watching them in the stands or on the terraces.

“These days of course, even at North End’s level which is not the top flight, salaries will probably be far beyond 99% of the people that turn out to watch.

“It’s a period of big change and a couple of the players touch on that, but more importantly it’s their own experiences and from a sporting perspective it’s a case of getting inside the dressing room, then inside the minds of the players at some of the biggest games we’ve had over the past 30 years.”

Another fascinating insight from the book is how each player, in particular, views their respective managers.

One particular North End boss spoken about highly by several of the interviewees was David Moyes, with special praise reserved for Alan Irvine as well.

Irvine managed North End from 2008 to 2010, taking the club to a play off place in that time.

PNE lost 2-1 on aggregate to a Sheffield United side featuring future Premier League names Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton, but Irvine was sacked at the back end of 2010.

Neil Mellor in action for North End against Burnley (Credit: Alan O’Donohue, Flickr)

Harrison said: “We knew at that time that Alan was extremely popular with the players.

“There is a unanimity of opinion there from people saying that Alan was fantastic and Neil Mellor saying that he dropped down a league to play for Sheffield Wednesday, on loan from North End, simply because Alan was there.

“Alan is somebody who you think that by now he’d have had another chance because he achieved great things at North End.

“It’s interesting to get people’s take on managers – there were one or two surprises in there as well in terms of managers and incidents where you think that a player would go a certain way, and then actually they don’t.

“There were some interesting insights into some of the one to ones the players had with the managers.”

With most revealing interviews looking back at memories, you can always leave it thinking of an element of ‘what if?’.

For instance, Moyes reveals in the book that had North End beaten Bolton in the play off final of 2001, he thinks they would have gone on to be an established Premier League side.

David Moyes managed North End between 1998 and 2002 (Credit: Jason Gulledge, Wikimedia Commons)

And there are other occasions that could have easily gone the other way.

Harrison added: “You could say similar about the play-off final under Billy Davies in 2005.

“If we’d have won that play off final then strengthened accordingly, even if we ended up being a yo-yo club for a few years like Burnley or West Brom, I don’t doubt that we could now be an established Premier League team.

“Moyes says that if we hadn’t lost Jon Macken and kept the squad together at the end of that season as well as investing a little bit we would’ve been really on the verge.

“North End are the only team in that North West section apart from your Accrington’s or Morecambe’s that haven’t had that chance in the Premier League, and therefore haven’t had that success that brings on another generation of fans.”

Harrison feels that North End can finally end that long wait for a top-flight season, with the club currently sitting third in the league after 11 games.

He said: “I think if we do go up, the club will really kick on because everything is there in terms of being successful for us in the Premier League.

“Paul Gallagher talks about being on a mission to get the club to the Premier League – you look at the way we’ve started this season and there’s no reason we can’t do it.

“If we do it this season, we’ll have done it the right way.

“We haven’t thrown millions at it, we’ll have done it the right way with a good manager in Alex Neil and keeping young players together, coupled with the experience of people like Gally and David Nugent.

Alex Neil, pictured managing Norwich at Wembley, has been North End boss since 2017 (Credit: ZakNelson1995, Wikimedia Commons)

“I’m just desperate for North End to get to the Premier League, even if it was just for a season, because I think that it would set us up for the next 10 years ahead because I think we’d be sensible with It, and it would bring on an entirely new generation of fans.”

After over a year of hard work, ‘North End Souls’ has proved immensely popular with the public.

It has sold out in most bookstores already, as well as at the club shop, with many more purchasing online.

Harrison tweeted yesterday that the book is the fastest selling book for his publisher – he says that is because it is the only book he has written!

However, as Harrison alludes to, that does not disguise the fact that the response to the book has been “fantastic”.

He explained: “People have taken it really well and I’ve been sending books all over the world, to Australia, USA, Canada. You name it.

“It is far beyond what we thought we would be at this point in terms of the sales but the most important thing for me is the feedback.

“People have told me it’s great and that means more to me than sales because of the fact that they’ve got it, they’re enjoying it and that it’s an incredible piece of work for North End fans, because that’s who it’s written for really.

“Even people who aren’t either North End or football fans have told me that they’ve bought it and are really enjoying it, and these are all good things to take from it.

“That reaction and that feedback and response means more to me than the hard sales figures, although obviously they are very pleasing at the moment.”

‘North End Souls’, by Keith Harrison, is available to buy online www.northendsouls.com priced at £9.99. 10% of all profits from the book will go to the Gary Parkinson Trust – more details about the Trust are here: www.garyparky.co.uk