Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images

Jermaine Beckford retires; why he's so beloved at Preston and Leeds United

Just as Bury look set to stay alive after all, one of their players from last season has called it quits.

Striker Jermaine Beckford last night confirmed on Instagram that he’s hanging up his boots. His two-year deal with Bury came to an end this summer, and he’s decided that it’s time to retire.

Now 35, Beckford managed just one appearance last season. He left Bury with eight goals in 17 games and retires as a character who divides opinion at his former clubs.

At Bury and Bolton, he was an example of the somewhat reckless spending that has crippled both sides. He scored goals at Huddersfield and Leicester City, but wasn’t with either for very long. Everton gave him a chance in the Premier League, but that was also short-lived.

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Yet at Preston and Leeds United, Beckford is a hero. A man for the big occasion, a man to score the big goals.

Jermaine Beckford of Leeds United celebrates scoring to make it 2-1 during the Coca Cola League One match between Leeds United and Bristol Rovers at Elland Road on May 8, 2010. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Starting with Leeds, his record of 85 goals in his final three seasons was frankly incredible. It says a lot that Beckford was so good in League One, that he completely skipped the Championship and headed straight to the top flight with Everton.

A non-league punt having scored regularly for Wealdstone, little was really expected of Beckford when he joined Leeds back in 2006. A goalscoring loan spell with Scunthorpe United showed glimpses of a talent, but few could have predicted his penchant for the big goals.

Leeds fans can tell you all about Beckford’s goal against Manchester United. Then in League One, Leeds went to Old Trafford and beat their old rivals in a stunning result over Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. It was Beckford with the goal, racing away from the United defence before producing a deft finish.

That made Beckford a hero, but he wasn’t done making history with Leeds. The Jamaican international snatched the winner against Bristol Rovers in 2010, sending a 10-man Whites side back to the Championship. Leeds needed a hero that day, and Beckford pounced to send Elland Road into delirium.

A key part of his career was boss Simon Grayson. Grayson got the best out of Beckford at Leeds, then took him to Huddersfield in 2012. Their reunion was short-lived, but they were back at it again in 2014.

Jermaine Beckford celebrates after scoring his hat trick during the League One play-off final between Preston North End and Swindon Town at Wembley Stadium on May 24, 2015. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Grayson somehow managed to lure Beckford to Preston, as Bolton wanted rid. It was a slow start for Beckford at Deepdale, scoring just twice in his first 11 games. Seen as a marquee addition, Beckford was struggling to justify that tag.

However, in his last 20 games for North End, Beckford made himself unforgettable. The striker – who had also suffered from a dangerous ear infection to miss a month of playing time – racked up 16 goals in those final 20 games, writing himself into North End folklore.

Many will point to the hat-trick in the League One play-off final, and rightly so. Beckford destroyed Swindon Town that day, firing North End back to the Championship with a series of fine finishes, including an almost instant opener at Wembley Stadium.

Even before that though, Beckford’s legend was being written. He scored three times in the two-legged semi-final clash with Chesterfield, including the only goal in the first leg and a goal from the halfway line in the second leg to send Preston to Wembley. He scored a vital last-gasp equaliser against Doncaster, key goals when North End were unconvincing against Rochdale and Notts County.

Preston North End’s Eoin Doyle and Jermaine Beckford butt heads before both being sent off at Sheffield Wednesday. (Photo by Alex Dodd – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Beckford was the key player in Preston’s promotion run, and that has never been forgotten. His permanent move to Deepdale in 2015 didn’t exactly pan out as he would have hoped, managing just three goals in two years. Other matters overshadowed his permanent spell, from injury woes to a spate of ill-discipline; first fighting own teammate Eoin Doyle against Sheffield Wednesday before coming back and immediately picking up a straight red card against Leeds.

Ultimately, Beckford will be remembered for his heroics in the promotion-winning campaign. It’s a shame that the rest of his career couldn’t quite hit those heights again.

Fans of some clubs won’t feel much after hearing of Beckford’s retirement, but Leeds and Preston will be in agreement of his hero status – and will all wish him well as he calls time on a superb career. Whilst Premier League success evaded him, he will always be remembered for the big goals on the big stage and for that, so many, many fans will be forever grateful.

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