LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Preston North End

PNE legacy inspires local mogul to save doomed club

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Forever linked with the Finney era and the first team to win the Football League, Preston North End have reached four play-offs for the Premier League but haven’t graced the top flight for over half a century.

The Finney era, in which ‘Preston plumber’ Sir Tom jinked his way past defenders more than 500 times in a Lilywhite shirt, ended shortly before PNE’s last season in the former First Division, 1960-61. Remarkably, given that the England winger was a one-club man born beside Preston’s only home of Deepdale, Finney’s league career didn’t start until he was 24.

Finney made his debut in 1946 after five years of wartime football. Then captain Bill Shankly, who considered his team-mate the best player he ever saw, had been part of the last Preston team to lift a major trophy, the FA Cup of 1938.

Deepdale/Tony Dawber

In fact, given the club’s hallowed status, it’s surprising Preston’s honours list reads simply: ‘First Division 1888-89, 1889-90 – FA Cup 1889, 1938’.

The teams of 1938 and the late 1880s were dominated by Scots. Preston North End, formed as a cricket club in 1863, had been transformed into a football team by William Sudell, who had begun poaching Scotland’s best players in the early 1880s.

Working in the office of the local mill, Sudell had played in Preston’s first football match in 1878, then become chairman and manager. Establishing de facto professionalism at Deepdale, Sudell arranged for players such as Geordie Drummond, Jimmy Ross and Sam Thomson to be paid by the mill to practise the kind of quick passing football nobody in England could match.

Along with John Goodall, a first-generation Scot, and locally born captain Fred Dewhurst, both England internationals, these were The Invincibles. In the inaugural (and professional) Football League of 1888-89, with scorelines of 7-0, 5-0, 5-2, Preston won England’s first championship unbeaten.

Tom Finney mural/Tony Dawber

In the FA Cup, having established an all-time highest scoreline of 26-0 against Hyde the previous season, Preston made the final without conceding a goal. In front of 27,000 at Kennington Oval, The Invincibles beat Wolves 3-0, doing the Double six weeks after winning the League.

Though twice beaten in the 1889-90 campaign, Preston held on to the title, scoring 71 goals in 22 games, but slipped to second the following three seasons. With Sudell accused of fraud, the Lilywhites were relegated in 1894 and wouldn’t come close to a league title until 1938, and then again in the Finney era.

Bill Shankly, a half-back signed from Carlisle in 1933, and inside-forwards George Mutch and Bobby Beattie, all Scottish internationals, were the heart of a Preston side that finished three points off the title and won the FA Cup in 1938. The first televised final, it was decided on Mutch penalty at the end of extra-time, his shot cannoning in off the crossbar to beat Huddersfield 1-0.

Deepdale/Joe Stubley

The immediate post-war era was marked by the rise of Tom Finney, scorer 30 goals in 76 England internationals but never a winner of major silverware with his only club. Preston, having just rejected a massive £10,000 offer for Finney from Palermo, finished their league campaign of 1952-53 atop the First Division table two points ahead of Arsenal. 

Two days later at Highbury, trailing 1-0 to Burnley, the Gunners pulled back to win 3-2 and take the crown by the narrowest of goal averages. The following afternoon came the so-called Matthews Final, in which legendary England winger Sir Stanley won his only major silverware, setting up two goals in the last three minutes.

A year later, the scene was set for his revered contemporary Finney to match him. But, pitted against WBA, Preston lost 3-2, an off-colour Finney later claiming injury. He bowed out in 1960, after three disappointing World Cups, including England’s infamous 1-0 defeat to the USA in 1950.

Deepdale/Joe Stubley

Preston duly dropped down to the Second Division. And, apart from the FA Cup final of 1964, a late defeat to Bobby Moore’s West Ham, highlights since have been few and far between.

Famous managers came in – 1966 World Cup winners Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles, former Finney team-mate Tommy Docherty – but Preston began to spend more time in the third flight than in the second.

The 1980s were grim. With crowds thin and a crumbling stadium so poorly lit one game kicked off on a midweek afternoon, PNE had to apply for re-election in 1986.

Change came with David Moyes. A centre-back at Deepdale in the 1990s when Preston were in the third, and even fourth, flights, Moyes was still in the twenties when he took his former club to a play-off spot in just one season. A year later, his side won League Two, a year later, PNE were a play-off final away from the Premier League.

Sir Tom Finney statue/Tony Dawber

The prolific form of record Northern Ireland scorer David Healy dipped after the departure of Moyes for Everton in 2002. Under Billy Davies, and with free-scoring David Nugent, Preston made consecutive play-offs in 2005 and 2006. In 2009, a late goal from Irish international Sean St Ledger put Preston into another play-off place, again to no avail.

With serious money spent on Deepdale at the expense of the taxman, and still without top-flight football, by 2010 PNE were in dire straights, mysterious leisure mogul Trevor Hemmings, the man who sold Blackpool Tower back to Blackpool, stepping in to assume ownership of the club. 

North End dropped down to the third tier in 2011, but under seasoned boss Simon Grayson, at last won a play-off tie at the tenth attempt thanks to goals from Jermaine Beckford. Since then, Preston have kept a steady pace in the Championship without pulling up any trees.

Finney passed away on Valentine’s Day 2014. His statue, The Splash, based on an iconic photo, stands outside Deepdale, a memorial to one of football’s greatest players and his club of unique tradition.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

No ground in England is so steeped in longevity as Deepdale. Bramall Lane may be older, Mansfield’s may even be older, but in terms of a continuous home for one single club, Deepdale takes the biscuit.

And not just any club – it was on this site that the famous Invincibles of 1888-89 played, their memory honoured with the most recent stand to be built here, in 2008.

To their eternal credit, Preston North End have resisted any notion of any land sale and new-build. This is the same plot the club bought on January 21, 1875, north of town, beside Blackpool Road. Now standing on Sir Tom Finney Way, embellished with a dramatic statue of the great man in action, Deepdale is reverent yet contemporary, four modern-day stands each named and designed after a club legend.

Away fans are allocated the Bill Shankly Kop nearest Blackpool Road, either the whole end or half of it, depending on demand. Opposite, the home end sports a likeness of Alan Kelly, the Irish international goalkeeper who played more than 500 times for the Lilywhites. Also one-tier, the main Sir Tom Finney Stand faces the Invincibles Pavilion Stand with its two tiers of executive boxes.

All is neatly cornered off by the arrow-straight floodlights with diagonal supports, not unlike another venerable ground, the Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, on whose classic look the redesign was based. Capacity is an adequate 23,400.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

The stadium is about a 30min walk from the train station – head through Fishergate Shopping Centre, Fishergate/Church Street to the end, then left at Preston Prison and straight up Deepdale Road – a £6 taxi journey.

From stands 15-17 at Preston bus stationbus 19 leaves every 7-10mins (every 30mins eve, every 20mins Sun) for the Royal Preston Hospital, stopping at Deepdale Road, Moor Park (for home fans/neutrals) then Deepdale Road, PNE (behind the away end). From the same stand, the 6 (every 10mins, every 20mins eve, every 20mins Sun) for Red Scar & Gamull Lane serves the same stops by the stadium. Journey time from bus station to Deepdale is about 8mins.

The sat nav code for Deepdale is PR1 6RU. There’s a car park behind each of the four stands, reserved at a hefty £15/match in the same way as match tickets. Alternatively, Moor Park School (PR1 6DT) on Moor Avenue, across from the main Sir Tom Finney Stand, offers stewarded parking spaces at £7/match, the money going towards the school. 

Across the park on Blackpool Road, the Moor Park Sports & Social Club (PR2 3AE) often throws open its doors on match days, and offers parking for £3. Check with the club beforehand. The ground is ten minutes’ walk, tops.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The ticket office (Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Fri before home game 9am-6pm, match-day Sat 9am-5.30pm, eve match-day 9am-half time) is behind the Sir Tom Finney Stand. On match days, it opens 2hrs before kick-off, with another outlet operating behind The Invincibles Pavilion. There are also phone sales on (UK only) 0344 856 1966 and online.

Prices are set at £24 in the home Alan Kelly Town End, and £27 in the Sir Tom Finney Stand and Invincibles Pavilion, £30 for the best seats. Seniors are charged £16-£23, under-24s £15-£21, under-18s £8-£9 and under-11s £2 across the board. Away fans are charged the same as in the home end, £24, £16 for seniors, £8 for under-16s.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

As years go by, the traditional club shirt stocked at the PNE Retail Store (Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, match days 9am-kick off then for 30mins after final whistle, eve games 9am-kick off) behind the Sir Tom Finney Stand gets less and less lilywhitey. For 2021-22, it has blue sleeves of swirly patterns. You can even less imagine Sir Tom donning the second kit of bright green with canary markings, or third choice red with navy. 

Back From The Brink by local football expert Edward Skingsley is worth a read, the inside story of PNE’s salvation, and you’ll also find logo’d flip-flops, golf balls and cereal bowls.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

There are a number of pre-match options within easy reach of Deepdale for home and away supporter alike – though it’s more social clubs than pubs for visiting supporters.

These social clubs include St Gregory’s, a Catholic parish centre welcoming of home and away fans, 150 yards from the ground on the opposite side of Blackpool Road. Pre-match, it offers TV football, food and a big-money raffle. £1 admission usually charged on match days. Wins by away fans engender good-natured annoyance from regulars. Also on Blackpool Road, the Moor Park Sports & Social Club sits in extensive grounds containing two bowling greens, with snooker tables in the games room. The ground is ten minutes’ walk, tops.

As for regular pubs, the large, box-like White Hart on Watling Street Road is a home stronghold with live TV football, surrounded by an equally large car park. Turn right outside and the ground is five to ten minutes’ walk on the left. 

On Lytham Road, ten minutes’ from Deepdale, the corner Plungington Hotel is popular with home fans, a sports bar with a pool table, dartboard and bowling green. There’s an outside area in summer. Slated for closure in 2020, it was saved by a Facebook campaign and reopened just in time to screen the Euros.

At the ground itself, in the Shankly Kop end which formerly housed National Football Museum, Finney’s Café & Sports Bar, featuring black-and-white photos of Sir Tom, dispenses lashings of Heineken and all kinds of snack and meal deals. Open from 11.30am on match days (neutrals and sensible away fans not in colours can usually get in), and 8.30am-3pm on weekdays.

If you’re staying at the ibis, where the M55 bypass meets Garstang Road into town, alongside the Phantom Winger is a family-friendly pub/restaurant in the Hungry Horse chain, also named after you-know-who, with every game shown live and meal deals. With a play area, it’s ideal for a pre-match meal with the kids. Stagecoach buses 40 and 41 run from Garstang Road to the junction of Blackpool Road near the stadium.

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