FORTY years in football haven’t dampened the enthusiasm – or desire to succeed – of Derek Fazackerley.
The lowest profile but most experienced member of Town’s management team has played a crucial role throughout pre-season.
Now the first-team coach can’t wait for the action to get under way.
“It’s been quite a long pre-season, around six weeks, and all told, we’ve played 10 friendlies,” says the 57-year-old former Newcastle, Blackburn, Manchester City and England coach ahead of the big League I opener at Southend United.
“I think we’ve got to where we wanted to be, although today’s result will give us a clearer indication.
“What I can say ahead of the match is that the attitude and workrate of the squad has been first class.
“The players reported back in good condition – a little different to my day as a player, when a break from football and training meant exactly that – and they’ve done everything asked of them.
“It’s been a pleasure working with them, and although I’ve been through quite a few pre-seasons, I’ve enjoyed this one as much as any other.
“From a coach’s perspective, it’s an interesting and important time, because without matches, you’re able to do things you can’t do in the normal course of a season.
“But playing competitive football is what it’s all about, and it doesn’t take long before you start thinking about that first league match.
“The purpose of the whole six weeks has been to build momentum, in terms of fitness, technique and tactics, in order to hit the ground running as soon as business begins.
“It’s also about laying a platform of fitness which will allow us to keep going, through the 90 minutes of each match, and the nine months of the season.”
Fazackerley’s involvement in senior professional football started in 1969, when, although born in bred in Preston, he won a contract at their Lancastrian rivals Blackburn, who were then rivals of Town in the original Division II (now the Championship).
He was to forge a reputation as a rugged and reliable centre-back and set a Rovers record by making 596 league appearances up to 1987.
All those games came in Divisions II and III (now League I), with Fazackerley suffering two relegations (in 1971 and 1979) and enjoying two promotions (1975 and 1980).
In total, Fazackerley made 674 appearances – and gained full coaching qualifications – before breaking his Blackburn link and joining Chester as playing assistant to manager Harry McNally in January 1987.
Eighteen months later, he accepted an offer to assist former Blackburn boss Bobby Saxton at York before, in February 1989, switching to Bury, where he had a spell as caretaker manager at the end of that season following the departure of Martin Dobson.
Fazackerley ended his playing days, and his only spell to date as a manager in his own right, at Finnish club Kumu in 1990 before returning to Britain.
His coaching reputation was firmly established at Newcastle, where he worked with Kevin Keegan and a playing squad which included Town manager Lee Clark (Galpharm assistant manager Terry McDermott and performance coach Steve Black were also part of the St James’ backroom set-up at that time).
Having helped Newcastle earn promotion to the Premier League in 1993, then finish third in their first season back in the top flight, Fazackerley returned to Blackburn, who were preparing for a Champions League campaign under Ray Harford, in 1995, and he also worked with Roy Hodgson at Ewood Park before departing when Brian Kidd became boss in 1998.
There followed stints at Bolton and Barnsley before Keegan appointed him to the England coaching staff.
He was in situ for the 2000 European Championships in Belgium and Holland, but left the national set-up after Keegan resigned in the autumn of 2000.
The pair were reunited at Manchester City in 2001, and while Keegan left in 2005, Fazackerley remained to work under Stuart Pearce then Sven-Goran Eriksson before his departure was signalled by Mark Hughes’ arrival just over a year ago.
He was coaching at Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel’s soccer academy in the United States when got the call from Clark to join him in a new management team at the Galpharm in December.
It’s a phone call Clark has never regretted.
“As a young manager making my way I was keen to surround myself with experience,” he explains.
“Derek, Terry Mac and Steve Black certainly give me that.”
A player’s perspective comes from former Town striker Danny Cadamarteri.
Now preparing for life in the Scottish Premier League with Dundee United, he will miss Fazackerley’s guidance.
“Faz is a top bloke and a great coach,” says Cadamarteri.
“When he first arrived, I think the lads were a little bit in awe of him – after all, he’d worked at some massive clubs and with England.
“You can’t get higher than that, and the experience he’s had soon became clear.
“He’s a great organiser, and not just defensively, and he puts his points across very clearly.
“His sessions are intense and tough, but enjoyable as well, and you come away feeling that you’ve learned something.”