Derby memories for former PNE hitman

Alex Bruce tries a shot in the derby at Ewood Park in March 1979
Alex Bruce tries a shot in the derby at Ewood Park in March 1979
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While Saturday’s derby will be the 98th competitive clash between PNE and Blackburn, meetings have been relatively few and far between recently.

J ust eight times have the two old Lancashire rivals met in the last 38 years, competitively at least.

Two of those games stick in the memory of former North End striker Alex Bruce.

In the 1978/79 campaign, Preston did the double over Rovers in the Second Division.

Bruce scored twice in a 4-1 win at Deepdale early in the season.

However, the best was still to come as the Scotsman hit the winner in the return at Ewood Park seven months later.

A volley from outside the box almost took the back of the net out.

Granada TV, who covered the game for their ‘Kick-Off’ highlights programme, liked it that much that they had it on the closing credits for the rest of the season.

It is with much fondness that Bruce, now aged 62, looks back on the 1-0 victory at Ewood in March 1979.

Bruce told the Evening Post: “If I remember rightly, Blackburn were struggling at the time and we were going quite well.

“I always used to love derby games – some players don’t for some reason and think they fall flat.

“On this occasion there was a big following from Preston and it was a good atmosphere.

“I scored at the other end of the ground from where the North End supporters were.

“Graham Bell, who I’m sure was making his debut, put a ball in and I just sensed their centre-halves were going to miss it.

“I don’t know if I was a bit lucky but I hit the ball really well and it flew into the net.

“The footballs were a lot heavier back then compared to what they use now.

“To hit a shot as hard as I did, you had to catch it well.

“I shocked myself because I rarely shot from outside the box!

“Many of my goals came from much closer in, I liked to score tap-ins and rebounds off the keeper.

“That was what my game was all about, I just wanted to play in the penalty box.

“A fair few managers who I worked under, wanted me to track back but that was never me, was it?”

The first game between the sides that season had been when the Lilywhites were a newly-promoted side.

Under the management of Nobby Stiles, they had clinched promotion after finishing third in Division Three.

Rovers came to Deepdale on a Tuesday night in August 1978 and took an early lead.

But back came North End, with Bruce (2), Steve Doyle and Ricky Thomson on the scoresheet.

Said Bruce: “My first goal in that game came from outside the box too, Ricky Thomson set me up for it. I think the second one was a tap-in which was more like me.

“We were a good side who played really decent football.

“Our defence was strong and we had Roy Tunks, who was a great keeper.

“Going forward we had some good players and that season we finished seventh .

“Football changes through the eras and it was different then to how it is now.

“These days there is less risk-taking, sides look to keep the ball as much as possible.

“I still follow PNE’s results and this season I’ve seen the games against Wolves and Nottingham Forest.”