Groundhop 1881 – Preston North End FC

3rd Division (old money)
Preston North End FC v Coventry City FC
Saturday, 26th January 2013, 3pm
Entrance £20 (given use of spare season ticket), Programme £3
Distance 207 miles, Attendance 8474
Long before planning started for this journey, I was only truly aware of two other 1881 sides. I couldn’t say where I acquired this knowledge however, I was certain both Orient and Preston were kindred spirits. Naturally it wasn’t long before illusions were shattered.
In 1981 as Preston North End celebrated their official centenary, a fan enquired what the club’s first match was. As the answer was less than conclusive Ian Rigby started researching his own question, and has now found fourteen games prior to the perceived foundation date. This may have produced “some consternation” in the club’s commercial department, but I had no such misgivings; whatever the date, I was still going.

130126 Div3 PNE v Coventry (36)w

With a history dating back to 1863, Preston dabbled in a myriad of sports before settling on one. They first tried their hand at Association Football – at Deepdale in October 1878 – losing 1-0 to Eagley, though inspired by others they adopted the code fulltime in May 1880 and soon laid the foundations for what would become the era’s greatest team.
As founding members of the league, Preston won the inaugural double without losing a game; in this feat “The Invincibles” have never been equalled. Since then they have won the both competitions again, championed six divisional titles and lifted The 1941 War Cup.
Despite leaving in good time, my straightforward journey there turned into an ordeal – with London signalling problems, then snow halting travel in Lancashire – but stepping out of Preston station was like arriving in a different world. Gone were the children standing atop sledging runs waving at passers-by; instead bright sunshine made a warm welcome to the spiritual home of the Arkwright Spinning Frame, Wallace & Gromit, and Clarke Carlisle.
130126 Div3 PNE v Coventry (23)wI’d arranged to meet my genial hosts – Chris and Michael Maddock – by the fountain commemorating club legend Sir Tom Finney in the iconic 1956 Sports Photograph of the Year. They were rightfully keen that I saw what makes them proud Prestonians. We talked easily about the current team, their heroes, floodlights, the modern game, and upsetting Trevor Francis in penalty shoot-outs.
130126 Div3 PNE v Coventry (47)wAbout me in the Alan Kelly Stand optimism and opinion on the stewardship of the team was split however, ninety minutes later – after a panicky start, indicative of PNE’s current form – the game had fairly ended two-all. They’d taken the lead on the half hour, fallen behind to an own goal, and deservedly levelled soon after. We’d seen Joe Garner come on as sub, and impressive displays from both Graham Cummins and Jack King however, the real hero of the team was keeper Thorsten Stuckmann, who kept The Lilywhites in the game with an array of stunning saves (I’m still wondering how he didn’t win Man of the Match).
Appreciating other teams is becoming an interesting exercise. My journey started with a year although I’m finding more and more it’s becoming about the fans I meet and their affection for clubs.
130126 Div3 PNE v Coventry (13)wThey still sell 1881 merchandise in the club shop but – according to their forum – some consensus has now been reached on the club’s beginnings. Whether this is true, or even the end of the story, is of course only a matter of time and historical research. Leading up to my trip – when asked about the date – Preston Supporters Group Chairman, Geoff Ollerton told me apologetically “things like that really don’t bother me”. Having been to Deepdale it’s easy to understand why.
130126 Div3 PNE v Coventry (18)w2At Preston I found a club not dissimilar to my own, where fans within a proper square ground – in stands named after former heroes – struggle with expectations and insecurities. The sight of tea flasks and home-made snacks was not a surprise, and the welcome afforded a former youth player running out for the Sky Blues was as heart-warming as the charity support through the pink kit.
The level of support or success may not be what it once was but, Preston is clearly a club for families where I couldn’t help but smile overhearing a father tell his young son “If they win you’ll have to come back again”. It’s a club where the title “Proud Preston” is lived and not just spoken.

130126 Div3 PNE v Coventry (11)w

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Initially appearing in this season’s Watford FC matchday programmes, consequently Groundhop 1881 reports will appear late on here. At the end of the journey, a book will be published telling the full story.
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