Europe-bound Preece’s struggle

Former Blackpool striker Andy Preece
Former Blackpool striker Andy Preece
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A significant English footballing milestone is in danger of slipping under the radar next month – which is not unusual in the career of former Blackpool striker Andy Preece.

When Preece leads Welsh League outfit Airbus UK into the Europa League, he will become the first black English manager to coach in European combat.

Andy Preece in his Blackpool playing days

Andy Preece in his Blackpool playing days

Stratford-born Chris Hughton did it with Birmingham, but his 53 international caps were earned with the Republic of Ireland.

And Hughton inherited a team Alex McLeish had qualified for Europe through their Carling Cup triumph over Arsenal in 2011.

This is all Preece’s own work, having guided Airbus to the highest finish in their history last term when they secured second spot behind The New Saints, champions for the sixth time in nine seasons.

So, on June 24, Preece, who still lives on the Fylde coast, will discover who his momentous achievement will be against, with Rosenborg, Malmo, Honved and CSKA Sofia among the most notable potential opposition.

Yet there is a concerning post-script to a genuine good news story.

For club chairman Paul McKinlay was adamant if Preece completed what was felt to be a lofty European qualification aim within three years of his appointment in 2012, Football League clubs would be clamouring to snap up the 46-year-old.

It hasn’t happened.

And for all he doesn’t want to think it, Preece cannot help wondering whether the colour of his skin might be a factor.

“The chairman said if I got the club into Europe he would lose me to the Football League,” said Preece.

“I honestly doubted that.

“I don’t know what it is. I have always believed if you stick at it and work hard it will come to you no matter what colour you are.

“But there is just that little bit of doubt. You worry people might think you have a chip on your shoulder.

“It is not that at all. It is just if I tick all the boxes, what is stopping me?

“When I was at Worcester in Conference North, I got an interview with Colchester, who were in the Championship, and got to the final two or three.

“But those interviews have stopped. It is a long time since I got one.

“That is the frustrating thing because when you look at some of the jobs that have come up over the last three or four years, I thought I would at least get an interview.”

It is to Preece’s credit that he has not become embittered by the whole process.

Football has defended itself against allegations of racism, yet it is difficult to understand why a sport with such a diverse range of players, should be so limited when it comes those employed as managers.

Presently, there are four black bosses within the Football League pyramid; Hughton, Chris Powell, Paul Ince and Chris Kiwomya.

Preece was part of that select band for four years, battling severe financial constraints at Bury and guiding them into the League Two play-offs before he was axed as a cost-cutting measure in 2003.

He did an excellent job at Worcester and at Northwich achieved the notable distinction of winning a manager of the month award with a team destined for the drop immediately after taking charge in 2009.

Again, Preece battled with a financial mess to some success, but in gaining little wider credit, opted to move outside the English system to Airbus, where he has had the same positive impact made elsewhere.

When some of the left-field appointments of white managers that have taken place across the divisions are taken into account, maybe it is for people like Preece that the newly-adopted ‘Rooney Rule’ was invented; not to give him a job, merely to offer the chance of one.

After all, wouldn’t any club chairman want to be choosing from the widest number of candidates when making their most significant appointment?

“Qualifying for Europe with Airbus is a huge thing. If it inspires others to follow, I will have left a legacy,” said Preece.

“I had many conversations with Keith Alexander but why did it take him to die before people started asking why didn’t he get a chance at a higher level

“I don’t want to get a job because I am black but at the very least, on what I have done, I feel I deserve a chance to speak about one in the Football League.

“I am not going away. My motivation is to get to the very top.

“Even if it takes me 1,000 games to get the opportunity I will get there, then people will see.

“Then they will be asking why has it taken so long.”