Kevin Kilbane: My Celtic dream and how I almost returned to Preston

Rooney's potential return to Everton stirs memories for the Ireland legend

Preston, Kevin Kilbane

Kevin Kilbane, Preston North End. Picture by * Matthew Ashton EMPICS Sport

There have been a few rumours lately that Wayne Rooney is considering a return to Everton this summer.

It’s the club he supports which is the main thing. He supported them as a boy, so he’s going to have that pull within him to go back. I’m sure he’ll want for his sons to see him playing for Everton and he'll also be going back to his family who are all Evertonians.

Of course, there is history there and he might feel within his heart that how he left the club in 2004 was wrong.

He wasn’t necessarily the most liked man at Goodison for years and years afterwards - possibly until he went back and played in Duncan Ferguson’s testimonial when he got the crowd back on his side a little bit.

There’s an element of unfinished business for him and I think that’s in his mind.

I left my own hometown club Preston North End in 1997. I have to admit that at the time, it wasn't necessarily a wrench to leave and I’m quite open about that. I grew up supporting Preston but the fact was, watching Preston as a kid, I was watching a lower league club. I didn’t dream of playing for Preston North End. In comparison, Wayne Rooney would have dreamed of playing alongside Duncan Ferguson at Everton. Big Dunc was his hero.

I wanted to play for Ireland as my main goal and at club level, I wanted to play for Celtic. If you had given me one club team to play for as a kid it would have been Celtic.

I did feel immensely proud when I did start to play for Preston though because it was my hometown club. I grew up about 100 yards from the ground.

It wasn’t necessarily leaving the club that was a wrench, it was leaving the area itself because it was my first ever move. I was still living with my Mum at the time. I was on about £100 or £200 at the time and everything was an upheaval.

Preston North End have never left my heart. It was always their results and the team I was looking out for even while I was at other clubs later in my career. And I’m even more of a fan now over the last five or six years since I've finished playing. I’ve been to watch more games over the last five years than I have in the previous 20. When I was playing I went and saw the odd game here and there.

I had an opportunity to go back to Preston when I was at Hull. And I would have gone for it as it turns out. It was a difficult time for the club. This was back when Darren Ferguson was the manager. I spoke to Nigel Pearson who was manager at Hull.

I was commuting a lot from Manchester and I went to see him and told him that I needed to get a permanent move or a loan move until the end of the season. It wasn’t great from my family’s point of view and I needed to get a bit of stability. It was the constant travelling that was the issue and I was struggling with my back as well.

Hull's Kevin Kilbane wins a header over Preston's Jon Parkin (left) during the npower Championship match at Deepdale, Preston.  Picture by Martin Rickett PA Archive/PA Images

Pearson was good about it. He said ‘yeah great, no worries at all. If you can find a club, you can get away'.

Then I got a phonecall from David Unsworth who was the assistant manager at Preston at the time. He rang me up and said ‘Darren Ferguson wants to take you, would you be interested?’

I told him ‘yes definitely’. In the meantime I had had a phonecall from Sheffield United, I had one from Huddersfield where I eventually went and I had a few more.

I ended up having a conversation with Darren Ferguson and he was saying, ‘Look, we want to take you and we’re desperate to get you in.’ I knew the position he was in at the time and I knew there was talk of him being sacked, who would come into replace him and all these factors were in my mind.

I decided to go to Huddersfield. That was largely down to Lee Clark and Steve Watson who were at the club at the time. They persuaded me to go there. They were the top of League One. I was about 35 and Preston were struggling at the bottom of the Championship.

I didn’t want to go to Preston and get relegated. I didn’t want to have that in my head when I went there. I chose Huddersfield and ultimately I think I chose right.