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Graham Westley: Going back to Preston was no big deal

As a manager, returning to a former club is a strange experience. In the last 12 months I have returned to Stevenage as Preston manager and yesterday I returned to Preston as Stevenage manager. Something of an unusual situation!

The pre-match talk is all about your return rather than the job your team have to do. So it can be difficult to focus on the game, the only thing that actually matters.

Then there are the personal aspects. Mainly, they are about the people  you knew and the relationships you shared, good and bad. If you left people, the feelings tend to come towards you. If you were fired, the reverse may be true.
Personally speaking, these games are no bigger deal to me than any other. We lost to Swindon; it hurt me. We drew at Tranmere; it hurt me. We won at Notts County; I loved it.

Win, lose or draw anywhere has the same effect on me. I enjoyed winning at Stevenage as Preston manager but I felt no special pleasure.

Since I was sent packing by Preston, there have been many people willing to ridicule me for my work. I have read so much exaggeration and nonsense. Rarely have I read a word noting any positive aspects of my tenure. It has been trendy to create negatives and kick me hard.

With just four expensive additions to the squad I built at a massive saving to the club, Preston were in the top six before yesterday’s game. So I guess I must have done something right. In time, people will realise just how much great demolition and building work I did at Deepdale. The club’s serious decline was arrested during my time. It was a tough and lonely job but I did not shy away from it despite the PR price I was always going to pay.

With one or two fewer injuries, my sacking wouldn’t have happened and my team would now be prospering. But that is life. I am not here to moan; I just have to rebuild my name so my career can move forwards again.

THANKS DAVE – AT LAST I’VE HAD A FAIR HEARING

We often hear about the perceived failures and weaknesses of the football authorities. But rarely do we hear commendations for administrators.

Dave Allison is the PGMOL’s chief, looking after Football League referees. After our recent fixture against Bradford, I was truly incensed by the performance of our referee. And I told Dave so. On Friday afternoon, I met with him to look through footage and to examine certain key issues.

I told him that I believed false claims made by opposition managers were affecting referees’ attitudes to my teams.

I was told some time ago that Preston even went as far as writing to the Football League to seek a fairer deal after my departure. They clearly believed that refs weren’t giving my Preston an even hand based on refs’ perception of my teams.

I explained to Dave that it was my belief that opposition players were getting away with horror challenges on my lads after managers convinced refs in pre-match Press that we were just big, strong bullies.

I wish people would stop and look at Robin Shroot, Luke Freeman, Roarie Deacon, Michael Doughty and co!  They are highly technical, fast moving footballers that make the big/strong/physical badge look ridiculous. They need, and deserve, protection.

On the other hand, while out of control tackles are going unpunished against us, we are being given yellow cards for simple and gentle pushing offences.

Grievances

It is genuinely unfair and I looked through various video footage with Dave to highlight the points. We also looked at obvious penalty decisions that had not been awarded in our favour and ‘fouls’ that had been given against us. We looked at inconsistent refereeing in games and I was able to air my grievances thoroughly.

The brilliant thing about Dave is that he is honest. He tells it as he sees it. He accepts criticism where it is due. He fights back where he feels you are wrong. And then he is constructive in his consideration of the matter at hand. None of us expect every decision to be right; mistakes will always happen.

Dave gave up over an hour of his time, looked at my various examples and could clearly understand my point of view.
We discussed how refs’ homework can lead to a form of prejudice creeping in and I learned a lot from my time with him. He has offered guidance and help going forwards and I felt very well heard in our meeting.

Whenever I meet Dave Allison my faith in the human race is restored. Here is a good,  decent man with a true love of the game in his heart. We both agreed that the role of the ref is to help great football to be played. No team should be helped or hindered.

He is in an unenviable position at the centre of every contentious decision as he seeks to create consistent standards of refereeing across the  League. He deserves for somebody to say that we are all very lucky to have a true professional heading up the PGMOL.

IT’S CRAZY TO KNOCK HODGSON, GET BEHIND HIM

I was staggered by the general reaction to England’s point in the Ukraine. The performance in defence was generally sound with just one moment at a defensive corner making my heart skip a beat when Joe Hart collected from a free header.

In possession,  we failed to control play but frankly that can happen when a team is focused on not losing.

Roy Hodgson set his stall out not to lose and he succeeded. I am sure that most of us would happily have taken that result before kick off. It seems that every football commentator then took to hammering the manner of our play. For me that is crazy.

Hodgson will know that we have to be better with the ball if we are going to beat better teams. He will know we aren’t going to win anything playing for draws. But he also knows that sometimes you just have to get a result, whatever that takes.

Had we lost in the Ukraine  Hodgson would have been pilloried. As it is, he has kept us in charge of our group which is a healthy position to be in.

It is the easiest thing in the world to be a critical bystander. We are two Wembley wins away from Brazil. Let’s get behind our team and give them all the help we can to take us to next summer’s finals.

MAKE YOUNG SUBS ON BENCH MANDATORY

As a young professional in the era of just one sub, I became  frustrated that my week frequently didn’t end with at least involvement on the bench.

It was difficult for my manager  at Gillingham, Keith Peacock. He had Tony Cascarino, David Shearer and Mel Eves ahead of me; whichever one of the three didn’t play tended to be on the bench. Whatever I did during the week didn’t seem to make a difference. Once, I scored a decent hat-trick in a reserve game against a near full-strength Wimbledon but it made  no difference to Keith; he stuck with his three experienced lads even though Mel had played alongside me in the same game and missed out. For sure, youth didn’t get its chance.

As a manager now, I can understand where Keith was at; we were flying high and he was under pressure to win promotion into what is now the Championship and he wasn’t going to gamble on a kid when he had senior players he ‘knew’ could do the job.

Nowadays, more chances would have come my way. With seven subs, many more younger players do get their opportunity.

However, imagine this. If we are serious about the long term development of our game, why don’t we introduce a rule whereby two of the seven subs must be under 20, and one of those subs must be used in the event that a third sub is introduced to the field of play.

By forcing managers to use younger players, we will speed up the development of our younger talent. The by product would be that many more younger players would get access to the senior group’s training at a younger age. Their development will speed up.

Right now, when our game is under review with the objective of determining a long term strategy for success, we have to identify courses of action that will make a genuine difference.

I know that a strategy of this type would have helped my playing potential. I am certain it would help many, many others.

This article was brought to you by The Football League Paper. On-sale every Sunday, the newspaper provides extensive coverage for all 72 Football League clubs with news, features and gossip plus comprehensive match reports.
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