GRAHAM Alexander is anticipating the return of the Burnley v Preston derby tonight. But good luck trying to prise him off the fence.
The former Scotland defender has a foot in both camps, with his promotion-winning milestone-making Clarets spell sandwiched in between two stints at Deepdale totalling almost 10 years.
He was voted North End’s greatest right back by fans in the summer.
Alexander, who reached 1,000 senior games while on Burnley’s books, has been invited back to Turf Moor as the Clarets’ guest of honour tonight.
But while he is a favourite of both clubs, he insists he can’t pick a favourite to win.
“I’ve got a great relationship with both sets of supporters and I wouldn’t wish to jeopardise that,” smiled Alexander.
“It will be a good game because Burnley have started the season really well and Preston are unbeaten and had a good win over Blackpool in the last round.
“Even though they’re a division apart it will be a really good game.
“The atmosphere will be good. They’ve missed each other for a couple of years so I’m sure the fans will make up for it.
“All that is my way of saying I’m sitting on the fence!”
But that wasn’t always the case.
“In my first spell at Preston, Burnley were our biggest rivals,” he said.
“Blackpool traditionally is the big one but we only played them for the first year I was there.
“Preston and Burnley were promoted in my first full year at Deepdale and they were big derby games for nearly 10 years.
“I remember the first one. David Moyes was manager of Preston and Stan Ternent was manager of Burnley and there was fierce rivalry; really competitive.
“There were some big players playing against each other with two teams on an upward curve after promotion into the Championship.”
In his first spell with Preston he played in 15 of the 16 derbies, winning seven and scoring five goals in total – four of them penalties, unsurprisingly for the spot kick king.
He changed allegiance on transfer deadline day August 2007, swapping lilywhite for claret and blue, and played in six more.
Alexander never scored against his old club, but contributed to three wins.
“I played on both sides,” he said.
“The first time I played against Preston was really strange – more so at Deepdale after being there for eight and a half years and 400 games. It took some getting used to.
“But there were no divided loyalties. I still wanted to win the game.”
Burnley lost on both occasions though.
“After that first season I got to enjoy the derbies again, although not getting beat,” added the 41-year-old.
“In the three years we played at Preston we only got one result.”
On that occasion Burnley won both derbies in what proved to be Alexander’s last season at Turf Moor.
The veteran returned to Deepdale at the start of the following season, as Preston began life in League One.
He was appointed head of youth development after hanging up his boots at the age of 40, and went on to be named manager of Fleetwood just under six months later, succeeding ex-Claret Micky Mellon.
Although he is an invited guest tonight, he admits he will have his manager’s head on.
“When you watch games a level above you’re not really scouting, more watching how a team works, what formation they use, what their plans are for that game. I’ll be doing that tonight,” he said.
“I went to see Preston against Blackpool in the last round.
“It was a great result for them against their rivals.
“We played Preston in pre-season as well.
“You’re always getting ideas. Maybe it’s a set piece that you see. All managers will take something from a game.
“I don’t think I can go and just watch a game now as a neutral, you analyse everything. But I would be doing that if I wasn’t in this job. Being an ex-player I would be looking at bits and pieces anyway.”