SHEFFIELD UNITED: Jack’s the King with a common touch

Photo Ian Robinson'Jack King during the Preston North End v  Yeovil Town npower League One match at Deepdale
Photo Ian Robinson'Jack King during the Preston North End v Yeovil Town npower League One match at Deepdale
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PART manager, part business consultant and prone to relaying team selection and tactics via text, Graham Westley defies convention.

So it should come as no surprise to learn the Preston North End chief is fond of surrounding himself with people who have taken an unusual route into the professional game.

Jack King, the former Woking, Farnborough and Didcot Town midfielder, is one of several players lured to Lancashire by Westley who cut their footballing teeth in non-league.

Speaking ahead of Sheffield United’s visit tomorrow, he told The Star how that time in the shadows can help him realise his Deepdale dreams.

“I’ve had a life outside of this business,” King said. “I started out at Swansea but didn’t play there and so ended up getting what you’d call a normal job.

“I still kept up my footy and never chucked in the towel. But I had to earn a living and so I also became a groundsworker on building sites for the family firm.

“What I’m doing now is something else. I can’t believe how lucky I am and I’m determined to succeed.

“I’ve got to admit I look at young lads coming through elsewhere in this business and often think ‘you take this for granted a bit’. That will never happen to me.

“I’m just thankful that the gaffer here isn’t afraid to give you a chance no matter what level you are at.

“If he thinks you’ve got or might have what it takes then you’ll get an opportunity from him.

“And, of course, that was great for me.”

The way Westley divides opinion is as sharp as his touchline attire.

A stickler for detail, he is also happy to immerse himself in the sport’s darkest psychological arts.

King, who progressed through the ranks at Vetch Field before moving to Loop Meadow in 2004, is among those seduced by Westley’s methods and revealed Preston will know “everything possible” about United by the time this eagerly anticipated League One contest starts.

“Graham likes us to play football but he also makes sure we’re aware of our opponents’ strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

“He works hard to find a way to win because that’s what he is, a winner.

“He’s also had a life outside of football and, from what I can gather, he’s also done very well in that.

“People with his type of drive tend to succeed no matter what they turn their hand to. And that type of approach rubs off on those around them. It’s pretty infectious.”

What no one can, or for that matter should, doubt is the effectiveness of Westley’s methods.

Having completed an apprenticeship at Kingstonian, he steered Stevenage out of the Conference and to within a division of the Championship before being appointed as Phil Brown’s permanent successor in January this year.

Preston have prepared for United’s visit eighth in the table and beaten only once in their past five games.

Danny Wilson’s side, who have not tasted League One defeat since April, are five places higher in third.

“I think Preston will be challenging,” Wilson said. “They are an established name and they’ve got a good squad.

“But there’s a different emphasis about them now. And, at home, their crowd will expect them to beat us.

“I’m under no illusions about that. Hopefully, it should be a good match.”

King concurred, saying: “We’re all looking forward to this one because it’s between two sides who, at the start, most people thought should challenge.

“We had a few mixed results to begin but I think that’s only natural because so many new faces, including myself, came in and it always takes a bit of time to settle down. Hopefully we are starting to do that now.”

United’s hopes of repeating last season’s 4-2 success at Preston could be bolstered by Neill Collins’ return from injury while fellow defender Lecsinel Jean-Francois emerged from his long-awaited comeback against Notts County in midweek relatively unscathed.

“Lecsy tweaked a knee a bit but it’s not the same knee that kept him out,” Wilson said. “And it was probably to be expected because even though he only played 15 minutes or so it was a hard 15 minutes.

“He should be okay to train before the game.”

King, who signed a 12-month contract with Preston after helping Woking lift the Blue Square Conference South title last term, said: “I’m so grateful to be given this chance so, if I’m involved, I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”