GRAHAM WESTLEY: Preston didn't see the best of me... I knew the answers to their problems but I wasn't allowed to solve them


Graham Westley returns for his second Footballers' Football Column to discus his departure from League One Preston. Westley gives the inside track on why, where and how he was sacked by the Lancashire club. The former Stevenage manager blames injuries for the poor run but says he happy to see results pick up since his departure. Westley is keen to return to management as quickly as possible and says he is prepared to go back to League Two and rebuild his career from there.


It makes me giggle to think that there is a perception that things 'went wrong' at Preston. We hit a dodgy run of league form after we lost our two best players to long term injury. It was inevitable.

The squad wasn't strong enough to deal with it. I always knew that 2012-13 would be a tough year as we rebuilt and as a whole new squad got used to me, Preston and each other.

The situation was worsened by injuries to other top players; in my final game I had seven of my best 11 missing, and throughout the season others like Lee Trundle and Lee Holmes missed massive chunks of games.

Getting better: Preston players celebrate Joe Garner's goal in the win over Notts County

Getting better: Preston players celebrate Joe Garner's goal in the win over Notts County

With my best 11 on the pitch we were more than a match for anybody in the league.

But 37 more expensive players out and 22 less expensive players in had left me with a squad which was weak in certain areas.

Those areas needed strengthening because certain lads let us down when we used them. You never get all your recruits right and I anticipated that. Especially when you have to recruit so many for free and in the face of strong competition for signatures.

The financial job of slashing the wage bill was done. Sixty per cent plus had been cut from expenditure. That was a massive undertaking, saving millions, and causing me serious personal grief. You would not believe the extent of the fight against change. But we got there. A big success.

The football job of re-building was well underway but the club lost confidence in me whilst I was
doing it.

End of the road: Preston chairman Peter Ridsdale told Westley he was sacked at Waterloo station in London

End of the road: Preston chairman Peter Ridsdale told Westley he was sacked at Waterloo station in London

Fans don't want to understand the big picture when a change of the Preston magnitude was going on. They just want results. Short-term pain is necessary sometimes. It was necessary at Preston. And the fans got restless.

I get that. Just as managers have to be brave enough to grit their teeth and face up to that, so owners have to be brave at difficult times. And they have to be able to understand the issues.

I understand why some cave in. I really do. Especially when they are remote and unable to look into the eyes of the man leading the team on the ground.

Mr Hemmings (Trevor Hemmings, Preston's owner) lost patience but I hadn't seen him in person since some time around July. So his patience could only ever really go so far with me.

Everybody knew that. It speaks for itself.

The expectation of promotion that the club set for this season was unrealistic in my eyes, bearing in mind the size of the change, the wage reduction and our budgetary position in the league. We were not starting with a blank canvas; the situation was a mess.

That was the biggest issue this season; expectation setting and management.

We had much more work to do than was appreciated. I always strive to win the next game; I always believe I will find a way to win the next game.I would never set an expectation any different from that.

That is my only agenda in football. Winning the next game has delivered me trophies.

I was late home from Yeovil on the Tuesday night and exchanged texts with Peter Ridsdale. He wanted to meet me in London on the Wednesday to discuss next steps. I met him and the finance director in a coffee bar at Waterloo Station, as they travelled back by train from Yeovil. Peter informed me that the owner had 'lost patience'.

To be honest, I was relieved. I would never have walked away. I fight challenges; I don't give in. But I had been very frustrated during December and January. I saw seven players leave the club and just three come in. I had players lined up to join that I wasn't allowed to sign and I had plans of action that were not being permitted.

I felt hamstrung. I knew the answers to problems but I wasn't being allowed to solve all the problems, especially certain key ones. I knew that our 22-player recruitment process had thrown up some bad decisions. I didn't need to drop points before I sussed that.

But, my judgement didn't reign. That was an open secret. Even to the point, in the midst of our injury crisis, of being refused permission to sign an ex-Premier League player on a short-term, non-contract basis for no wages. I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't understand it either.

Bouncing back: Graham Westley is keen to return to management as quickly as possible

Bouncing back: Graham Westley is keen to return to management as quickly as possible

Preston never got to see Graham Westley at his best. I can remember saying 'Graham Westley at Stevenage would do this or that' on several occasions, as I fought for some empowerment. I didn't like being told to 'resign' if I didn't like it but that was how it was.

Resigning is not what I am about. I was manager but not able to make even the managerial decisions that my contract allowed me to make. It was tough. I was striving to change it but I ran out of time.

I bear nobody any ill will though. And I won't hear a bad word about anybody there. Truly. It was up to me to change the circumstances that I found myself in and I didn't crack it soon enough. I take responsibility for that.

In the time since I left Preston, I have been lucky enough to receive a good few media opportunities which is fantastic for keeping my name alive. Television, radio and written media have all given me some good profile and I have invested time to work with those people.

Keith Keane
Scott Laird, Preston North End

Injury blow: Keith Keane was a big loss for Westley and Scott Laird is another player who was missing

League One table

I have been really pleased with the way in which the media have given my situation profile. There has been really strong support for me from knowledgable people and really strong belief that the decision to remove me was premature which I strongly believe it was.

In terms of skills development, I invested three days at Reading with Brian McDermott watching the inside track as the squad prepared for and played the Premier League fixture against Wigan.

Brian was kind enough and trusting enough to take me right inside his camp, even sitting me inside his match-day dressing room. That learning was a fabulous piece of work.

I have already nailed my UEFA B licence, A Licence and Pro Licence, also the LMA's Certificate in League Management. So it is this type of learning experience that is now really important to me. My agent is fixing up for me to go out to Germany for a similar Study visit now.

Of course, I have watched games. More so to look at players that I have been tipped on rather than teams. So that when I get back in, I know where to go for great prospects and talent. I have seen Blue Square South football and I have seen Premier League football.

Looking at the different levels and comparing the levels to League One, it is clear to see the differences. And I like to think that I have a good eye for judging a player's potential.

And I have caught up with a few old friends for lunch, golf (I have never hit the ball so well) and dinner. In some instances, people that I haven't seen in over a year. It has been good to take on board their perspective and their insight and to share their friendship.

All in all, it has been weeks of learning, reflection, knowledge building and media exposure have been very helpful and very healthy. I am good at looking in the mirror, admitting errors and getting better. I feel better than ever right now.

My aim now is simple, I want to get back to winning again. Preston was tough. I know that I have never worked so hard for so little immediate reward.

I stopped a sinking ship from sinking further but I didn't get to drive it hard on the right course. I wasn't far away but I didn't crack it. In my mind, totally understandably.

Certain changes take time. As Barry Fry said to me; that is a two or three year project for a good manager. I got 13 months to the day. Preston will be able to build on what it has in place now if they do the right things.

Support: Barry Fry said Westley's re-building job at Preston should have taken two to three years

Support: Barry Fry said Westley's re-building job at Preston should have taken two to three years

New man in charge: Simon Grayson took over from Westley

New man in charge: Simon Grayson took over from Westley

Preston's upcoming fixtures

Preston's upcoming fixtures

So far, I have won promotions into the Conference, into League Two, and into League One as well as various cup successes. I want to go on and win promotion into the Championship and then into the Premier League.

I am realistic enough to know that I may have to drop back into League Two and work with a sleeping giant to achieve that by winning a League Two promotion again. But who knows how things will evolve.

I want to get back in as soon as I can but obviously I want a job with the right platform. I applied to the FA straight after my dismissal to coach the England U20s at this summer's World Cup but didn't get an interview for that. I thought it would be a great experience. So at no stage has my enthusiasm dropped.

I am hungry to get back out there; older, wiser, stronger but young. I have spoken with clubs and I am encouraged by the interest that I have had shown in me.

When I was dismissed, I sent text messages to the players immediately from London to let them know that I had gone. All bar three responded to say thanks and to wish me well. Some messages were more meaningful than others. There were some touching words.

I have exchanged the odd message since then but nothing of any note. It isn't right to stay involved; you have to let the lads get on with their jobs under their new manager.

There is a natural temptation to want to stay under the skin of the place but it is best to just let it go. I am quite good like that.  

I was delighted to see young Will Hayhurst score his first goal for Preston and congratulated him. I gave him his debut and enjoyed that success for him. I exchanged a couple of lines with Scott Laird about his rehab. Chris Beardsley texted me to advise me against taking a certain job. That sort of thing has gone on but nothing more.

Dream start: Westley was pleased to see Will Hayhurst score his first goal of his career

Dream start: Westley was pleased to see Will Hayhurst score his first goal of his career

Once the dust settles, I am sure that normal conversations will resume; they always do.

In the first three games since I left, Preston drew with MK Dons and Swindon, and beat Bournemouth.

In the reverse of those fixtures, whilst I was there, Preston drew with Bournemouth and MK Dons and beat Swindon.

The return of Keith Keane is the biggest factor at Preston. We had won 1.89 points per game with him and were seven unbeaten when he got injured.

It is no surprise to me that his return from long-term injury has seen an upturn. He is a catalyst for winning. I always told the club that form will be better when the best players are out there. We just needed more 'better' players.

I think there were one or two players who wanted to see me go and who had probably begun to drag others along with them. Because my better players were out, those lads were able to have more influence.

But, honestly, the upturn in results isn't to do with any great problem being released. Every dressing room has stuff going on and that new dressing room at Preston had its inevitable fair share. I am direct with players and demanding of them and that always gets players thinking and reacting.

Talking tactics: Grayson talks to his players during the late defeat by Brentford on Saturday

Talking tactics: Grayson talks to his players during the late defeat by Brentford on Saturday

The 'improvement' is all to do with players returning. In the first game after I left, Stuart Beavon, Jack King, Bailey Wright, Keith Keane and John Mousinho all returned to action. That is the key to their upturn.

You will get the odd player tweeting that it is this, that or the other that has changed things, but the last written player review that I did just before I left indicated a pretty strong satisfaction with things from the majority.

Better players win more points until you get a strong enough squad where your lesser players are better than the level. That is when trophies get won; it just takes a little time, even for a good manager.

I want Preston to do well. I delight in their immediate success. Because it shows that I left them with lads who are fit enough and good enough to compete in League One.

And it proves the point that I made whilst I was there; Keane was a massive player. The foundations are laid. With four or five squad changes now, they will be highly successful next season, I am sure.