As the new season starts to tentatively get into its stride, Preston Edwards is delighted to be spending a fifth campaign at Dulwich Hamlet. The former Millwall goalkeeper was the Supporters’ Player of the Year in a 2018/19 that included the club’s return to Champion Hill, not to mention achieving safety in their first season in the Vanarama National League South.
The 29-year-old ex-Ebbsfleet United man dedicates a sizeable amount of his time these days to helping guide the next generation, as a teacher and coach. When it’s time to slip back into playing mode, he gets to go about his business at a club where he cherishes the sense of belonging. Here is a varied Q&A with the one-time England youth, and remember…#NoPrestonNoParty…
Favourite team and player growing up
Spurs and my favourite player growing up was Ledley King.
Favourite game(s) you’ve played in
My favourite game to play in was probably my first-team debut when I was at Millwall, against Swansea City away at Liberty Stadium (in September 2007). Also captaining England C when we were away to Bermuda (in June 2013).
A teammate/coach who taught you something new, made you see the game in a different way, or gave great advice you’ve always remembered
It’d have to be Tony Burns, who was my goalkeeping coach at Millwall. He was very regimented, a little bit old-school, but I feel like the old-school way is going away. He just told me to stay grounded and just keep on working hard as much as you can. The harder you work, the luckier you get really.
Funniest teammate/coach/manager in your career (or give more than one example)
Clint Easton, ex-Premier League player at Watford (and Preston’s teammate at Ebbsfleet). He was hilarious. He’s 41 now, but probably acts 21!
Who tends to be the life and soul of the dressing room at Dulwich?
It’s a difficult one now because everyone’s left. Last season it was probably Cooky, Anthony Cook. This season, I feel that Dave Ijaha (just appointed captain) has a lot of character about him. He’s a good lad to have around, but everyone’s new so I’ve only known people about four weeks.
A player you’ve played with whose ability alone deserved/deserves to be at a higher level
When I was with England C, there’s a photo of all of us, and there’s only four of us that didn’t make it. There was Andre Gray, Sam Clucas, James Norwood, but the one who stood out was Antoni Sarcevic. He was at Chester at the time, and he is still in the League (with Plymouth Argyle), but I thought he should have been playing Championship, because I thought his ability was scary.
What would you say has been the happiest spell in your time in football so far?
The happiest time is probably when I’ve been at Dulwich. I was at Ebbsfleet for a long time, but a lot of off-field problems were at Ebbsfleet and kept going back and forth. Dulwich have been unbelievable to my family and very welcoming. I feel it’s a different type of club to a lot of non-league clubs. It’s my fifth season now so I feel like part of the furniture, and going into the coaching kind of role now as well, it’s a good feeling.
Hardest moment/experience as a player
Most difficult one was when I was at Ebbsfleet. I played over 200 games for them and it was the first time I was kind of knocked back a little bit. Some managers don’t fancy you, but there was an opportunity to come back in the side and I didn’t grab it with both hands; I was terrible actually. I understood that it was time to move on. I wasn’t happy at that point, I didn’t know where to go after that, so I was kind of left in the dark. Thankfully, things have worked out, but at that time, you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
What is a typical week like for you, in terms of routine?
I’m a teacher by trade, so I teach on Monday and Wednesday. Football training is in the morning on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Gym is after training or work. I also run a sports coaching company that goes within schools, so I’ve many schools connected to myself and I have coaches going in delivering sporting sessions.
As a coach/personality, what has Gavin Rose been like to work with, and how is he different perhaps to other coaches you’ve worked with?
I think he puts more attention to detail than other managers; there hasn’t been any stone unturned. The preparation before a game, you’re watching videos of every other team. Maybe times have moved on and you do get that, but I haven’t been around that environment where you do get that information on what we’re going to apply in our methods.
In terms of other interests, is there room for much else outside football and teaching/coaching?
I’d say my children; my son and my daughter. My interests in terms of playing FIFA and everything have gone out the window since I’ve had my children! I love being around them as much as I possibly can, like my dad was with me. I just try to be that example to them.
You mention FIFA, but you were a pretty useful prospect on Football Manager not all that many years ago! Did you ever play it when you were one of the top young keepers on the game?
I keep on being reminded that I was the next best thing on there. It just goes to show how the click of your fingers and you can be the next best thing, or go from the Championship, to playing in non-league. It’s just one of them things; maybe I didn’t apply myself right at the time and it just didn’t happen for some reason. I always say to people who are in the League, ‘stay there as long as you can, because it’s very hard to get back up.’
Is there any change you think could be made to the game at this level? Anything the players talk about and think could be tweaked to improve things, like increasing promotion places, for example?
I do believe we need more promotion spaces. You work so hard and obviously there’s only two that get promoted out of 22 teams, so really, only two teams are successful, the rest are all ‘ifs and buts’ seasons. So I do believe that more promotion needs to happen. One thing I’ve always said is that I think if you score over three goals you should get an extra point, but that’s just me.
Any myths/misconceptions, or a rumour you’ve heard about yourself in your career that wasn’t true?
I wouldn’t say there was a myth about me. I’d like to think people would say it to my face if there was, but I don’t really know. The only thing is that I’ve got the fastest red card (against Farnborough for Ebbsfleet in February 2011 after ten seconds, though he has been outdone on that by at least one other player).
Last season obviously included the attention you got for the stadium warning during the Crystal Palace friendly about your car needing to be moved. Were you having to do a few interviews about it afterwards, or was it mainly just an extra few tweets popping up?!
What was funny was that I got a phone call from a random number and it was Sky Sports News. They said they wanted to come down to the school I work at. I said no problem, so I had to tell the head that the cameras were going to come down and ‘can you excuse me from my lesson?’ She said ‘yeah, no problem.’ I’ve got two cars and they wanted me to use the car that I had blocked in, but I didn’t have that car, so I had to do the interview in the car with the camera right in my face, about how I’m in a rush to get to the stadium. I just think it was a bad TV day!
One singer/band/song you’d sneak on to the team playlist? Assuming that you don’t run it already…
No, I don’t run the playlist, no. I would say John Legend. A little bit old-school and not necessarily in the changing room, but for me to chill out a little bit.
What have you enjoyed most about the club during your time at Dulwich, and why should people come down and support, if they haven’t already?
We’re a very growing club, very vibrant, got a lot of extrovert characters there. They welcome any person, whatever background they’re from, and it’s just one of them clubs where it’s so welcoming. Some people don’t go there for the football, they just go there because it’s a nice feel in terms of families being around with each other, having a drink, having something to eat. I just think that’s the way non-league should go, because I just don’t understand sometimes where they’re just going on about how bald you are. ‘Yeah, I’m bald, what else have you got on me?’ I don’t think people come away from Dulwich getting abused or anything like that, so that’s why it’s different, and that’s why I’m happy really. They welcome you with open arms, and whether you play bad or good, they’ll always support you, so Dulwich is a great club to be at.
Finally, what has this time in football so far taught you the most and has it changed you at all?
I wouldn’t say it’s changed me, because I don’t know any different really. From the age of ten I’ve been playing Saturday football, going in, understanding that is my career and I’ve got to play well nearly every single week to keep my job. So I understand I’ve got to apply myself correctly. I do feel that it’s helped me with my teaching as well, because most people say it’s behaviour management with the children, not necessarily how clever you are. If it was to go on how clever I am, I’d be under par, but in terms of applying myself and getting on with the children, delivering my messages, I believe football has helped that, because you learn to be a leader within football.
Interview by @chris_brookes