Proud Preston, home of Finney and The Invincibles

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Home of England’s first champions and arguably best-ever player, Preston has history in spades. For good reason, this former mill town was chosen to host the National Football Museum, later controversially moved to Manchester in 2012.

The history they can’t take away is embedded into the fabric of the city. Preston North End not only topped the inaugural Football League in 1888 – they went through the season unbeaten, doing the Double without even conceding a goal in the cup.

The club thus became ‘The Invincibles’, the town ‘Proud Preston’. Into this tradition, one street from the club’s long-term home of Deepdale, Tom Finney was born. The son of a plumber, Finney famously kept practising his trade as he rose to become one of the finest players to don an England shirt – if not the finest.

Welcome to Preston/Jim Wilkinson

Three times a runner-up in league and cup – Preston’s last major honour came in 1938 – one-club Finney is honoured with a statue outside Deepdale.

Last seen in the top flight the season after Finney retired, 1960-61, Preston remain fifth in England’s all-time four-division table.

The Preston William Sudell was born into was described by one visitor, Karl Marx, as ‘the next St Petersburg’. Beneath the mill chimneys, industrial unrest was dealt with by armed soldiers – another contemporary visitor, Charles Dickens, used it as his backdrop for Hard Times

Born in 1850, the son of a guild mayor, Sudell joined a newly formed sports club at 16, and became its chairman on the strength of his experience in the office of a local mill.

Welcome to Preston/Jim Wilkinson

With Sudell in the team, this club, Preston North End, played a first football match in 1878. With Sudell in charge, PNE quickly ditched cricket, rugby and cycling entirely.

Sudell was all for a professional approach and he knew where he could find it: Scotland. He went north of the border to recruit players long versed in the passing game, offering them off-the-books wages from the mill, a hidden form of professionalism that was found out after an FA Cup game with West Ham in 1884. The row threatened to divide the game before professionalism was accepted, with caveats, by the amateur clubs of the south.

Now manager, Sudell introduced tactics and had the Scots players to implement them. Sudell’s Preston duly beat Hyde 26-0 in the FA Cup, a record that stands to this day. A year later, Preston embarked on their legendary unbeaten campaign to win the first Football League, and Double.

Welcome to Preston/Jim Wilkinson

Sudell was later found to be funnelling thousands of pounds from the mill accounts to his belovéd Invincibles. Imprisoned and disgraced, he spent his last years in South Africa, writing rugby reports.

Sudell had practically created Preston North End and, more than anyone, professional football in England. The Deepdale Farm pitch he first graced in 1878 has been the club’s ground ever since.

Later it would host Bill Shankly and George Mutch – both Scots internationals, both members of Preston’s last cup-winning side of 1938 – and, of course, Tom Finney.

In a rare show of pique, the modest, unassuming Finney, OBE, CBE, Sir Tom, withdrew his priceless collection of mementoes from the National Football Museum after its relocation out of Preston. And while the NMF president is Sir Bobby Charlton, and Manchester United top that all-time four-division table, Finney certainly had a point.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

With Blackpool yet to be operational for commercial services again, the two nearest airports to Preston are each about 70km (44 miles) away: Manchester and Liverpool. From Manchester airport, a train every 30mins runs to Preston (from £7, journey time 1hr). From Liverpool Lime Street, an hourly service to Preston (from £8) takes 1hr. From London Euston, it’s either 2hr or 3hr direct, online tickets from around £50. Adding a PlusBus supplement (£3.80) allows you to use all local buses for the day you arrive.

Preston station is on Fishergate, the bus station on Tithebarn Street, each on either side of the city centre. Deepdale is at the north end of town. Local transport is run by prestonbus, singles £1.60-£2, EasiDay £4.10, pay on board. For Stagecoach buses, the Preston City DayRider is £3.70.

Millers City Cars (01772 884 000) is a long-established taxi service, also offering airport transfers.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Pubs and bars line Friargate, in the centre of town, starting with the Old Black Bull, with TV sport and pool by day, live rock by night, at weekends at least. Nearby, the Grey Friar, a Wetherspoon, has a large projector for big tournament summers. The Dog & Partridge dates back to the 1500s and also hosts tribute bands from rock’s rich tapestry, seemingly popular in Preston.

Further up Friargate, The Sun Hotel is a cosy pub/lodging offering Thwaites ales and TV sport, often GAA and hurling. Even closer to the university on Fylde Road, The Adelphi attracts students with cheap weekday entertainment, plus two large projector screens and numerous TV for match action. 

On Church Street, the other side of the Cenotaph from Friargate, The Twelve Tellers fills an old bank building with Wetherspoon chatter,  while The Blue Bell is one of Preston’s last real pubs, a homely local serving top-notch ale. Nearby, by the Town Hall, the Guild Ale House sources its many beers from many a microbrewery and all across Belgium.

Around St George’s shopping centre near the train station, Fishers and the Wellington Inn exude sturdy tradition, while the Old Vic is a stone-floor, real-ale haunt with TV football another focus. HD screens fill the Station Hotel, a popular spot right opposite the station in question.

At a great location on the banks of the Ribble, deceptively close to the city centre, The Continental is an all-purpose entertainment venue, with quality ale and food served in a pretty beer garden. Big matches screened.

Also with a waterfront setting, overlooking the docks, the food-focused Ribble Pilot is a Marston’s pub full of fine ales, close to a heritage steam railway attraction. The 100 bus connects nearby Portway in Docklands with Preston train and bus stations.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and around town

Visit Preston has a database of local accommodation.

The nearest lodging to the stadium is the Whitburn House Hotel, just across Moor Park from Deepdale, a 14-room B&B in a Victorian building, now under new management.

Further along Blackpool Road in the opposite direction to the stadium, the St Andrews House Hotel (No.518, 01772 720 580) has improved considerably since new management arrived in 2019 and now offers comfortable lodging. Next door’s Claremont Hotel, a friendly B&B in pleasant gardens, has its own bar and lounge. Both are about a 25min walk from the ground – the 31 bus runs halfway there, up Blackpool Road.

In town, the Premier Inn Preston Central is a large, modern budget on Fox Street – turn right and follow the ring road for the bus station, and stadium buses, after the junction with North Road. Close by on Theatre Street, No.10 offers classy apartments near the train station. By the Sir Tom Finney Sports Centre, the Preston International Hotel comprises 75 neat rooms in a contemporary building, rates including a plentiful buffet breakfast.

Where the M55 bypass meets Garstang Road into town, the two-star ibis Preston North is a well-equipped budget choice. Further north, the Barton Manor Hotel is a popular choice for weddings, set in an old manor house with its own grounds. A swimming pool, mini gym and walled garden bistro combine for an ideal weekend break. Serving both, Stagecoach buses 40, 40A and 41 head down the A6/Garstang Road to the junction of Blackpool Road near the stadium.