The grey skies of Preston have very little in common with the sun and sandy beaches of Montego Bay. Yet, somehow, this small Lancastrian city became ‘home’ to a number of Jamaican players.
North End’s historical figures have predominantly been from the UK or Ireland; Tom Finney, Alan Spavin, Joe Walton and Andy Saville are some of the most popular Englishman, whilst there has been a strong Irish connection with Alan Kelly – both junior and senior – and Brian Mooney.
Scotland’s influence has been huge. Players such as Jimmy Ross, Jimmy Milne, Willie Cunningham, Tommy Docherty, Willie Forbes, George Ross, Alex Dawson, Bill Shankly and Ian Bryson were loved by the Deepdale faithful, with managers David Moyes, Craig Brown, Billy Davies, Alan Irvine, Darren Ferguson and Alex Neil only adding to the tradition.
This has predominantly been a club built upon a strong British and Irish foundation. That is still the case today, with just two first-team players born outside of England.
Yet over the years, Preston have had a strong connection to Jamaica too. Since the turn of the millennium, a host of Jamaican players have turned out for North End, and called Preston home away from home.
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The first member of this club was arguably the best; Ricardo Fuller. Formerly of Crystal Palace, Tivoli Gardens and Hearts, Fuller joined North End as Craig Brown’s first signing in 2002. At £500,000, there was real belief that Fuller could develop into a star having arrived as a 22-year-old.
Few could have expected Fuller to become the hero he did. A knee injury curtailed his first season at the club with 11 goals in 20 games, and he racked up 19 goals in his next season. Fuller was arguably the most electric forward Preston have had in modern times – more so than Nugent, Macken, Garner.
He could take on a man with nonchalant skill, gliding past defenders as if they weren’t even there. Yes, he was maybe guilty of being greedy on occasion, but few groaned; Fuller could win a game on his own, and as Jamaican flags were flown in the Town End as he memorable bagged a hat-trick against Burnley, he sparked a trend.
“When Ricardo came, he turned up at training and everyone was like ‘who’s this guy?’. He looked about 40, he had knock knees, and he looked like he couldn’t move. I’d never heard of him. Absolutely horrendous [timekeeping], but he was unbelievable. Before he did his cruciate ligament at Preston, he was outrageous – I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like street ball. It was like going back to Under-11’s, you know when you’ve got a kid who just runs through everyone, it was like that. There’d be like, four people chasing him and he’d just stop on a sixpence, and it was like a stampede going past him, with everyone trying to stop him. He was strong, quick, unbelievable skill. At the time, he would have gone past any defender in the world, and I’m not exaggerating; he was that good. He was brilliant.”
“I used to see him years later on Match of the Day at Stoke, he’d just do something outrageous – go past three or four players and put it top bin. He used to do that all the time. Hand on heart, he’s probably the best player I’ve played with, when he was in his pomp. When you talk about a match-winner, he was that. Just get him the ball and let him do the rest – he was frightening.”
Just a year after Fuller’s arrival, Brown pounced for another Jamaican star in Claude Davis. After initially impressing on loan, the towering centre back turned his move permanent having far exceeded expectations at Deepdale.
Signed as a 24-year-old, Davis had undeniable physical traits. He was big, strong and quick, making himself a dominant force against most Championship strikers, but he also had ability on the ball. He was a key reason for North End conceding just 30 goals in 46 games during the 2005-06 season, before earning his well-deserved Premier League move with Sheffield United.
It’s a shame that many will remember his slip in the 2005 playoff final against West Ham United, as Davis was far better than that – and having seen him thrive so quickly, Brown decided to make it three years in a row with a Jamaican summer signing as Omar Daley came in.
Sadly, Daley didn’t follow in the footsteps of Fuller and Davis. Now tied to Paul McKenna’s ‘Omar God’ nickname, the winger was all speed but no end product, and was sent packing just 14 games into a loan spell from Portmore United.
The next couple of Jamaican cases were brief. Lee Williamson impressed in a short loan spell from Watford in 2009, but wasn’t kept on. Similarly, Bolton hero Ricardo Gardner flashed quality in 2011, but injury cut his spell short and he wasn’t re-signed following relegation from the Championship – and then we come to Keammar Daley.
A transfer saga for the ages, Daley – no relation to aforementioned namesake Omar – joined as a trialist from Tivoli Gardens following North End’s relegation. He had starred in Jamaica, and showed the pace and skill to tempt Phil Brown into giving him a permanent deal. It was a real battle; Preston’s move for Daley was on and off, on and off and back on again throughout the summer of 2011 before the deal was rushed through on deadline day in August 2011.
Sadly, Keammar couldn’t live up to the hype. He was built up to such an extent that it was always going to be difficult for him to live up to expectations. A stunning goal at Charlton Athletic aside, Daley did little in eight games before being axed in January 2013.
The Jamaicans of the Simon Grayson era have plenty to be proud of, having guided Preston back to the Championship. Chris Humphrey joined on a free transfer from Motherwell in 2013, and whilst he often frustrated fans, he was a reliable, hard-working winger who gave his all at Deepdale, becoming one of Grayson’s most trusted players.
The real stars of the show were Daniel Johnson and Jermaine Beckford. They arrived in the 2014-15 season with very different billings; Johnson was an exciting young midfielder seeking his big break having failed to earn first-team football at Aston Villa, whilst Beckford was a veteran hitman looking to rekindle his career under his former Leeds United and Huddersfield Town boss Grayson.
Without these two, Preston may not have won promotion in 2015. Johnson racked up eight goals and three assists after joining for just £50,000, whilst Beckford smashed 18 goals in 31 games, including the hat-trick at Wembley Stadium to send Preston up.
There are just two confusing matters here; that Johnson has somehow never been capped by Jamaica, and that ex-Preston defender Tyrone Mears managed to pick up a Jamaica cap despite having absolutely no ties to Jamaica. An administrative error allowed the full back to appear for Jamaica despite his ties actually being to Sierra Leone, so a former North End player has managed to pick up more Jamaica caps than Johnson despite having no ties to them. Truly baffling.
Johnson is the only Jamaican left at Deepdale, but the last 20 years have seen so many of the ‘Reggae Boyz’ turn up at Deepdale. Many of them have become North End heroes, with Jamaica flags seen among Preston fans over the years. Maybe there will be more one day, but those who have pulled on the famous white shirt have done their country proud, and formed an unlikely yet brilliant bond.