Memory match: Fulham v PNE

Alan Ball Snr lifts the title trophy on the steps of the Harris Museum
Alan Ball Snr lifts the title trophy on the steps of the Harris Museum
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It will be with a warm feeling of nostalgia that some of the 2,000 Preston North End fans heading to London at the weekend remember their 1971 visit to Craven Cottage.

May 1, 1971, is etched in the memories of PNE followers of that era, that the day when Alan Ball Snr’s men turned the destiny of the Third Division title on its head.

On the final Saturday of the 1970/71 campaign, Fulham and North End met in a promotion showdown.

It was a first-versus-second battle, the Cottagers needing only a draw to be crowned champions.

PNE had endured a bit of a promotion wobble, going seven matches without a win.

The trophy was there to be presented to Fulham – leaders of the table for 24 weeks – if they got the point needed.

North End had designs on the title themselves and had the fallback of a game in hand against Rotherham the following Tuesday night.

They were able to welcome Bobby Ham back to the side, the striker having missed the 1-1 draw at Wrexham the week before.

The Match of the Day cameras were there to capture the event and PNE, wearing a red away kit, were far from camera-shy.

Graham Hawkins headed just over the bar from a Clive Clark corner as the visitors made a positive start.

That start became a very good one when North End took the lead in the 22nd minute.

They forced a corner on the right, one which Clark delivered left-footed into the middle.

Hawkins flicked it on at the near post, the ball travelling across the box for Ricky Heppolette to send a diving header into the net.

It was the midfielder’s ninth goal of the season and arguably the one which would define his time at Preston.

That prompted a response from Fulham, whose search for an equaliser was repelled by strong defending from George Ross, Hawkings, John Bird and Jim McNab.

Perhaps that was not too much of a surprise, bearing in mind PNE had the strongest defence in the division.

Alan Kelly made some good saves in the second half, this being the keeper’s 69th successive appearance.

In the closing stages, Fulham threw everything at North End as they looked for the equaliser which would deliver the draw they needed for the title.

But the visitors were made of stern stuff and hung on.

Hero Heppolette recalled in an interview with the LEP in 2006: “Fulham were favourites for the title, they needed a point to clinch it, but we seemed to be infused with a special confidence, an inner-belief that we could do it.

“We won all our tackles and sweated blood for the cause, and I remember our manager Alan Ball senior standing in the dressing room before the game, and he just said, ‘Attack, attack, attack’.

“His motto was, ‘Be brave, be strong’ and that summed up the 1970-71 title squad.”

North End completed the job three days later, beating Rotherham 3-0 at Deepdale, two goals from Alan Spavin sandwiching an effort from Clark.