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North End's Olympic Connections

1 August 2012

Not too many professional English football clubs have connections with the ’Olympics’, but it seems a good time to explore PNE's!

We might be clutching at straws, so to speak, but at least Preston North End can boast of a couple of connections, if not more.

On the 8th February 1971 Preston North End played a friendly match against the Great Britain Olympic XI, at Deepdale. The Olympic squad, comprising of all amateur players, had already played five warm up games in preparation for their forthcoming Olympic schedule. They had beaten Oxford United 1-0, Watford 4-2, Derby County 1-0 and Reading 2-0. They also drew 3-3 with an Irish FA XI which included George Best.

North End lined up with Alan Kelly, Bert Patrick, Jim McNab, John McMahon, Graham Hawkins, Alan Spavin, Dave Wilson, Ricky Heppolette, Willie Irvine, George Lyall and David Hughes. Bobby Ham and Clive Clark were named as substitutes. Only two of the GB Olympic squad had not been capped at amateur international level.

The game itself ended as it started, 0-0. Preston’s manager, Alan Ball Snr, quoted: “I thought that they [GB] were poor defensively.” He was never a person to hold back his feelings!

Our earliest connection was back in 1908 when our GB football team actually won the gold medal. Included in the squad, although he never actually played, as substitutes were a few years away, was left winger George Barlow. George, an amateur throughout his football career, was had been connected to the Northern Nomads and Wigan Grammar School Old Boys football teams. He joined Preston North End in March 1907 going on to play 94 games, scoring eight goals.

A very famous all round athlete/sportsman, Benjamin Howard Baker, participated in both the 1912 and the 1920 Olympic games, as a high jumper and triple jumper. Baker was the United Kingdom AAA high jump champion three times before the war and three times after the war. He improved the UK record three times and his 6’5” record stood for an amazing 25 years. He was a brilliant all-rounder being top class in most events he took part in. Besides the jumping events they included the hurdles, discus, javelin and the hammer. Not only that, he was a good swimmer, playing water polo, a good tennis player and above all, a great goalkeeper. He represented England at both amateur and full international level. His connection with Preston North End was that he signed for us, as an amateur, on December 12th 1919, but he never played a first team game! 

The goalkeeper for the team that represented Great Britain in the 1920 Olympic Games was James Frederick Mitchell, the goalie who was famous for wearing spectacles. The GB team had won gold in both 1908 and 1912. but on the occasion that Mitchell played, the team was eliminated at the first stage, losing 3-1 to Norway on August 28th. Eleven days later, Mitchell, a member of the Manchester University team, joined Preston North End as an amateur. He is famous for wearing his spectacles during the 1922 FA Cup Final when North End lost 1-0 to a disputed penalty.

More recently we find that ex-North End loanee’s, Franck Songo’o and Brian McBride represented their countries in the 2008 Olympic Games held in Beijing. Songo’o played for Cameroon whereas Brian McBride was captain of the USA team.

One of our present Preston North End squad, Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, turned out for Australia in the 2004 Olympic Games, held in Athens. They only lost 1-0 to an Argentina team which had a certain Carlos Tevez playing for them.

Ian Rigby

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