The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Preston North End’s Deepdale

Sleek Sixer now …

Now we’re getting into it, or at least Pete Sixsmith is. True, proper history. His journey through the football grounds of England brings us to memories of the era when Blackburn Rovers were admitted to the Football League instead of cup-winning-toff-defeating, working-class Blackburn Olympic, who subsequently folded, the first penalty kick was yet to be taken, and one of the founder members of the Football League and twice recent Champions were about to be upset by some upstarts from even further north. Pete wasn’t there, of course. That took another 80 years. Let’s read on and find out how his visit went:

Our first visit to Deepdale was on the February 2, 1891 when we drew 0-0 with The Invincibles who fell two points short of retaining their title, losing out to Everton. This was our first season in the Football League and we finished a creditable sixth. The next season, and the season after that, we won the league – and then went and won it again two years later. It surely was “The Team of All The Talents”.

We had one of the finest goalkeepers in the history of the club in Ned Doig (456 appearances and four Championship medals), a splendid captain in Hugh “Lalty” Wilson, who took prodigious throw ins one handed and prompted a change in the Laws of the Game and a prolific goalscorer in John Middleton Campbell who managed 133 goals for the club in 199 appearances on his way to three Championship medals. Oh for players like that now.

For both clubs, the possibility of ever winning the top league is about as likely as Ryanair offering a full champagne and caviar service on their flights to Malaga – indeed, the way things are with us, we would welcome a chance to have a crack at the Championship title next season while Preston must think that if Burnley, Bolton, Wigan and Blackpool can get into the top flight, why can’t they?

Deepdale now*

Deepdale is a much improved ground since my first visit there in April 1972. Now, it is a thoroughly modern stadium with four new stands all named after prominent figures in the club’s history. We are in the Bill Shankly Kop, the old North End of the ground. Shankly played for Preston from 1933-1949, playing in the Cup Finals of 1937 and 1938. They lost the first one but won the second with a last minute penalty.

The opposite end is named after the long serving Irish goalkeeper, Alan Kelly who played for them when they last reached the Cup Final in 1964, while one side is called the Invincibles Pavilion Stand in homage to that splendid side that represented this proud town in the 1880s and 90s.

The Main Stand bears the name of Preston’s most famous son, Sir Tom Finney, a wonderful player who served the Lilywhites all his career and still found time to run his own plumbing business – a bit like Barry Dunn. Finney could play anywhere along the forward line, scoring 210 goals in 474 games and prompting Bill Shankly to say

“Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match, in any age …..even if he had been wearing an overcoat.”

We are in the presence of one of the great football clubs on Saturday, in one of the best medium sized stadiums in the country.

It wasn’t like that when I first visited in 1972, as you can see at

The Kop had a roof at the back and acres of empty terracing, the Town End had a very low roof which made viewing difficult, the main stand had seen better days and the Pavilion was standing aloof and remote from the rest of the ground.

The Grandstand was an impressive structure, running the length of the pitch and even curving to the right when it met the North End. It was bench seating if memory serves and there were more posts there holding it up than at any other ground I have seen, but you felt that you were in the presence of history when you were there.

But Deepdale’s pride and joy was The Pavilion, opposite the grandstand. Built in 1934 for the then astronomical sum of £9,000, (the money was raised by selling 9,999 shares at £1 each) it contained the dressing rooms, the directors’ area and rooms for special guests. They were whisked up to their seats by an electric lift past stained glass windows and away from the textile workers and dockers who made up the bulk of the North End support. By 1972, it was a bit down at heel as Preston completed their first season back in the second level. We had beaten them 4-3 at Roker in September 1970, when they had come back from 3-1 down, only to fall to a last second winner by 16-year-old debutant Jimmy Hamilton.

The return took place in April and was the third of the three traditional Easter fixtures. On Good Friday, a Ken Wagstaff goal had given both points to Hull City and just about finished our promotion hopes. Two days later, Burnley went into a 3-1 lead at Roker, the kind of thing that, in these impatient days, would lead to a mass walk out. Dave Watson, with his second goal of the game pulled one back in the 75th minute, Keith Coleman equalised in the 76th and then Billy Hughes got the winner in the 79th. There was much cavorting around in the Clock Stand Paddock……

So, the next day, I borrowed the family Vauxhall Viva and took off to Preston for an evening game with North End. Faint hopes of promotion lingered and Alan Brown hadn’t given up. He left out Brian Chambers and gave Mick Horswill his debut, and John Lathan was replaced by Billy Hughes who had come on for Tueart the previous day.

We lined up

Jimmy Montgomery; Dick Malone, Martin Harvey; Mickey Horswill, Richie Pitt, Ian Porterfield; Mick McGiven, Bobby Kerr, Dave Watson, Billy Hughes, Dennis Tueart. Sub; Jimmy Hamilton.

Preston’s team

Alan Kelly; John McMahon, Neil Young; John Bird, Graham Hawkins, Alan Spavin; Ricky Heppolette, David Hughes, Hughie McIlmoyle, George Lyall, Alan Tarbuck sub; Alex Spark.

We played some decent football that night. Dave Watson put us ahead only for Neil Young to equalise. He was the former Manchester City forward who had scored the winner for City in the 1969 FA Cup Final. His career had stalled at Maine Road and he had moved to Preston for the then tidy sum of £48,000. His Preston career lasted three seasons before he left for Rochdale and a subsequent sad decline which saw him have financial problems and suffer from depression. He died of cancer in 2011 and is still regarded with great affection by those City fans who have watched the club in the days prior to them becoming a sporting arm of the Abu Dhabi ruling family.

Ian Porterfield restored the lead seven minutes later and Dennis Tueart wrapped it up with a splendid goal early in the second half to give us just a glimmer of hope. A 1-1 home draw with Cardiff City and a 1-3 defeat at Ashton Gate soon extinguished that.

Check out the rest of our PNE-SAFC buildup:


** See yet another of Salut! Sunderland‘s brilliant ‘Who are You?’ interview. Mark Collard on the manager they lost, the manager they gained and who got the best deal)

Deepdale is a ground we have struggled on over the years. Roy Keane lost twice there in the last promotion season and there was a disappointing defeat there on New Year’s Day 2005 when Andy Welsh made his debut and Stephen Elliott and Sean Thornton scored. My best day there was in February 1980, despite a 1-0 defeat. It was a prodigious drinking day with Sixsmith Minor and Sixsmith Minimus in the Moorbrook Hotel on North Road, a fine Thwaites pub and a 15-minute walk to the ground. Much ale was taken and Young Michael gave his rather splendid monkey impersonation as we walked through the park. Happy days……

I shall not be reacquainting myself with Deepdale as I am off to Banbury to watch Shildon in their FA Cup Third Qualifying Round game against a team who started out as Banbury Spencer, representing the town’s corset factory employees. Hopefully the Railwaymen will roll on to the next round and we can show the world that we are not quite dead and buried. Hmmmm.

*Deepdale Stadium: Attribution: English Wikipedia user Hudson6dogs.

*Mick Horswill & Dave Watson courtesy

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2 thoughts on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground: Preston North End’s Deepdale”

  1. Never been to Deepdale and probably never seen it. Come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever seen Preston play either. I have however been on a train which stopped at Preston – I might even have needed to change there. I was at Liverpool Exchange and needed to get to the opposite corner of Lancashire (Burnley) for a 1966 Easter Saturday game which we lost 1-0 and also lost Mike Hellawell (sub was a fortuitous George Mulhall 🙂 ) at half time because he needed to thaw out. I have a feeling I somehow returned to Liverpool via Manchester.

    Preston though had a great team in those days. After Leeds United they were our main rivals for promotion in 1963/64. It was going to be any 2 from 3 and on 21st March 1964 we had a home game against them. On that same day I was at Fratton Park watching Portsmouth lose 2-1 to Plymouth Argyle. Not that far away from me was a fan with a radio and they were giving half-time summaries of 2nd division games. They were saying how well Sunderland were playing and they gave 4 examples of this. I never heard a score and assumed it was 0-0. It wasn’t until I got home and heard actual scores that I realised each of those 4 good pieces of play were actually goals :). Looking up the match I find we actually scored 4 times in 12 minutes – Crossan 25′, Mulhall 30′, Sharkey 34′, Sharkey 37′ – and that was the final score.

    Sunderland: Montgomery, Colin Nelson, Ashurst, Harvey, Hurley, Dave Elliot, Usher, Herd, Sharkey, Crossan, Mulhall. (9 Christian names superfluous)

    Preston: Alan Kelly, George Ross, John Donnelly, Nobby Lawton, Tony Singleton, Ian Davidson, Dave Wilson, Alec Ashworth, Alex Dawson, Alan Spavin, Doug Holden.

    That was an excellent Preston team which included some players who played around 400 games for them (Kelly, Spavin, Ross) and a couple of 2nd level Manchester United players who didn’t quite make the United grade (Lawton, Dawson). Maybe their best players were “schemer” (you don’t hear THAT term anymore these days) Alan Spavin, right wing Dave Wilson, and keeper Alan Kelly. And it wasn’t that long before this game that they had lost left winger Peter Thompson to Liverpool. 2 or 3 years later they picked up Jimmy McNab from us – my goodness they say you can’t buy loyalty but Preston got as close as anyone ever did. They didn’t make promotion. They had the consolation of an FA Cup final but didn’t win that either. Up-and-comer Howard Kendall played in that final just before his 18th birthday but was of course better known as an Everton player.

    In the 60s a club which retained old fashioned values but weren’t able to hang on to their best players. I know next to nothing about their more recent exploits.

    I once read on a Sunderland supporter website: “Preston – a proper town with a proper football team. I like Preston”. No it wasn’t me that wrote that but it could quite easily have been.

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