What do you like best, promotion or relegation? Silly question, isn’t it, but over the years us PNE fans have had to endure both, several times.
In fact, we have been promoted 13 times, seven with a champion’s banner, six without, and we have been relegated 12 times, not including the dreadful year when we had to apply for re-election into the league in 1986, by finishing second to bottom of the 92 clubs.
In ten other seasons we reached the Play-Offs, but as we all know, we have only been successful in those just the once. None of this includes two league championships in the top division, the only division as it was then, and six times finishing as runners-up.
Much has been written about our first ever Football League season, when finishing as the first champions, so I want to highlight two seasons that were watershed moments for the club, one up and one down. Let’s start with the bad news first.
The 1984/85 season was an absolute disaster for the club from start to finish. Even the most diehard supporters (including me) had their loyalty stretched to the limit that year. We were in division three, had no money, and our team had no confidence.
It all started well enough as we won four of our first five games, but from then on, only gloom and despondency all the way. We lost 26 times, equalling the record, conceded 100 goals, the only time that has ever happened, and we finished on 46 points level with Orient and Burnley, but went down on the strength of our goals against.
Managers Alan Kelly and later Tommy Booth could do nothing to stem the tide so changes were needed, but it took another season of gloom, and that re-election nightmare, before a knight in shining armour arrived.
In the summer of 1986 after the Lilywhites had successfully had their application for re-election accepted, the club appointed John McGrath as their new manager. Immediately the positivity returned to the club.
He set about signing a few good players, blending them with the likes of John Thomas and Gary Brazil, who had both done well during those two barren years, and suddenly we were rewarded with an exciting and, at times, breath-taking season.
We reached 90 points, then a record, and only an outstanding season by Northampton Town prevented us from winning the division four championship. McGrath made one masterstroke signing in the February of 1987, to try and boost the final promotion drive. He brought in the flamboyant Frank Worthington, then 38-years-old, but he had the touch of class that the team needed.
Frank only played ten games, with another 15 substitute appearances, but boy, did he make an impact here. North End have had many ups and downs since that season, but the foundations were laid then, for the terrific club we have today, in my humble opinion.
War Time Debutants
Not many Preston North End players have made their league debut in the first game after a World War, and God forbid that there won’t be any others.
After World War One the first league match was against Blackburn Rovers. Arthur Causer, in goal, George Speak, John Tatton, Stanley Davies and William Halligan all made their first appearances in the first team for that 4-0 defeat at Ewood Park.
The other six players in the team had all played before the war. In 1946, with the first match after World War Two at home to Leeds, Jack Fairbrother, in goal, Bill Scott, Ken Horton, Willie Watson, Tom Finney, Willie McIntosh and Jackie Wharton all made their league bows.
All but Horton and Finney had already made their official debuts in the 1946 FA Cup and the four other members of that first league team also played before the war.
When Preston North End drew 2-2 with Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day 1911, at Deepdale, the first goal for the visitors was scored by John Simpson.
That goal just happened to be the 1,000th league goal that North End had conceded, and the goalkeeper who had the dubious ‘honour’ of conceding it was Herbert Taylor.
He was a great servant to North End and had the unlucky role of being understudy to the great Peter McBride. Taylor was a fine keeper in his own right though, and went on to stay at PNE for 11 years, only making a total of 113 appearances in league and cup due to McBride’s dominance.
Now though, Taylor will always be remembered for letting in that 1,000th goal!