Tributes paid after once promising footballer and ‘lovable rogue’ dies aged 43

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Tributes have been paid to a once promising footballer and "lovable rogue" after his death at the age of 43.

John Calligan, a young professional at Preston North End in the mid-90s, was found dead at his home in the Lancashire city on Sunday December 6.

In his teens, John played for Ireland schoolboys and was part of the same Preston squad as David Beckham and David Moyes.

But following his release in 1996, he spent several years battling addiction and suffering with his mental health.

Today, his cousin Zoe Nixon paid tribute to the 6ft 5ins former striker nicknamed "Tiny".

She said: "We grew up on the same street and he was more like a brother. One minute we'd be fighting, the next we'd be laughing and having fun. He was one of my best friends – we were inseparable.

"When we were young, everyone knew him. He was fun, funny and very protective. Even later on, when we'd be out dancing or whatever, he'd always look out for me.

"But he was also very bright and read a lot. He could talk for hours on end about certain subjects.

"And he was kind. Even when he had next to nothing, if he saw someone was hungry, he'd give them his last fiver.

"He was certainly a lovable rogue."

John was signed by Preston, his hometown club, as a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) player along with three schoolmates, including ex-Everton and Ireland winger Kevin Kilbane.

Writing on Twitter yesterday, Kilbane said he was "saddened" to hear of his old friend's passing.

John was at Preston when Beckham signed for the club on loan from Manchester United in 1995.

He also played against the Red Devils in a behind-closed-doors game featuring Eric Cantona, fresh from the legendary Frenchman's ban for kung-fu kicking a fan.

Speaking to Sunday Sport about his football career in 2013, John said: “I played for Ireland schoolboys. To play for that team, you had to go to school in Ireland, so I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody.

“England got a whiff of it and wanted me to play for them, but Ireland was my thing – my dad was Irish, he came over in the 60s with his brother to graft – and I wanted to play for them.

“When I got taken on as a YTS at North End, my mum brought the letter upstairs. And I just gave it a massive, ‘F***ing get in!’

“Then, two days after I’d turned 16, I was playing at Maine Road against Manchester City reserves. They had Niall Quinn, Fitzroy Simpson, Richard Edgehill and Steve Lomas. And we beat them 3-1.

“I was playing centre-forward that game. Sam Allardyce, who was my first youth team coach, converted me from a centre-half to a centre-forward, and to be honest, I rue that day.

“I think I would’ve made a top class centre-half. I was dirty, but I could play a bit too."

On rubbing shoulders with superstars, he added: “What a nice guy Becks was – understated and quiet. He just got on with it and put the work in – the total opposite of what you might think.

“He was as far from a big time Charlie as you could get.

“And the game against Cantona at The Cliff, United’s old training ground, was massive. Cantona was such a gentleman after the game, thanking us all for playing.”

A boyhood Preston fan, John was seemingly living the dream.

But away from football he was hurting, stricken with grief after the death of his dad from a heart attack at the age of 50.

He was released by Preston after manager John Beck – a long ball specialist and big fan of the towering centre forward – was replaced with Gary Peters, who didn't see the youngster in his plans.

Not long after leaving the club, he found himself out of work and in trouble with the law.

He later played briefly for non-league AFC Mossley, near Manchester, but his football career fizzled out.

Zoe said: "John was really going places, but the downward spiral really started when his dad died. It devastated him and he really struggled to deal with it."

John himself traced his demise back to his dad's death.

He told Sunday Sport: “If he hadn’t died, things would have been different. I can’t stress enough the things that I got up to after he’d gone, I just wouldn’t have dreamed of doing when he was alive.

“But I should have dealt with it better.”

A devout Catholic, John was committed to his religion and his beloved dogs.

In more recent years he suffered ill health and underwent life-saving heart surgery in 2014.

Zoe said arrangements were being made for John to be buried with his dad.

  • David Beckham
  • Preston North End FC

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