The magic of the FA Cup is alive in Preston at the moment as Manchester United’s visit to Deepdale gets ever nearer.
When PNE chief executive John Kay glances out of his office window, he is greeted by the sight of a queue of fans stretching from the ticket office and beyond the Deepdale administration office.
Cup fever has struck as PNE prepare to tackle United in a competitive game for the first time in 43 years.
Back in February 1972, it was Alan Kelly, John Bird, Ricky Heppolette and Alan Spavin mixing it with George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Alex Stepney.
This Monday night, Paul Gallagher, Joe Garner, Kevin Davies, Thorsten Stuckmann and Co will battle it out with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, David de Gea and Angel di Maria.
The ground will be packed, millions will watch it live on BBC1 and North End fans will pray for a giant-killing act from their side.
While progress to the last eight of the competition is the highest item on the agenda, the financial benefits which a game of this magnitude brings, is not far behind on the list.
There are no mind-blowing sized television deals outside of the Premier League.
For a Football League club like North End, paydays such as this one are a huge financial shot in the arm.
Kay, chief executive at PNE since November and the chief finance officer for a dozen or so businesses owned by Trevor Hemmings, estimates United’s visit will deliver in the region of £500,000 to the Deepdale coffers.
“The biggest source of income comes from television and advertising,” Kay told the Evening Post.
“It is live on BBC1 and we get £247,500 for that. We will have electronic advertising boards around three quarters of the ground, which is worth around £100,000.
“The gate receipts are spilt 45% to each club and the remainder to the FA, so our share is around the £100,00 mark from that.
“We got £90,000 prize money for winning at Sheffield United in the last round.
“So I think we will bring in around £500,000 from the various income streams.
“In terms of tickets, we wanted to do our best to reward those fans who have been loyal to us and I think we got that right.
“It will be great to have a full house inside a stadium which is not full often enough.
“For Preston, it will be a great night and can only help raise the profile of the club and the city as a whole. We are playing world-class players.
“Away from the pitch, it has been good for our operation as a club, it tests us to a new level.
“We don’t normally have to gear up every day to sell 21,000 tickets.
“There has been a lot of planning done in a relatively short space of time.
“The people in the ticket office have been fantastic – I think things have run well.
“As a team, Preston have earned the right to play Manchester United, our players and management staff deserve so much credit.
“Yes, it is the luck of the draw who you come out of the hat with but the players won the games to put the club into the draw.
“We started off at Havant and Waterlooville back in November.
“That had banana skin written all over it and was why the television cameras were there.
“One of the reasons why the United game is being shown live is that people want to see a cup shock.”
Kay, 62, was appointed as PNE’s chief executive on November 1 last year but has been in the background, so to speak, for much longer.
He has worked for Preston owner Hemmings since 1994.
“I’m enjoying the role here. I started three months ago and it is a well-run machine, a very good club,” said Kay.
“If by my presence we can improve it by 10%, I would be pleased with that.
“But it is not about me, it is about the team here.
“I didn’t have the best start because my first game as chief executive was the 3-0 defeat at Rochdale.
“January wasn’t a great month but results have picked up recently.
“Coming from a financial background, there are one or two things on the football side which I have had to get to grips with.
“I’m a quick learner though, things are going very well.
“In terms of my association with Mr Hemmings, the company that represents the shareholders is called Hemway. I am the finance director of Hemway and chief finance officer of the Hemmings business interests – that is how it works.
“There are about a dozen companies which I oversee.
“They are all run by very capable managing directors and finance people. My role is to co-ordinate that.
“I have spent a lot of time in the last few years speaking to banks because the financial crisis hit every business in the country in some way, shape or form.
“Much of that is now concluded successfully for our group of companies.”
Kay describes himself as the ‘eyes and ears’ of Hemmings at Deepdale.
The desire of the owner is to see North End back competing in the Championship – this the fourth season in League One.
Said Kay: “We need to get to where we should be, which is challenging in the division above.
“In sheer financial terms, it would bring about £5m in from Football league and FA support. We would be playing a different calibre of team and getting higher crowds.
“I’m Mr Hemmings’ eyes and ears here.
“I have been at the other end of the finance pipeline previous to becoming chief executive but without being involved in all the details.
“We just felt it was time to put me in here.
“There is a strong team behind the scenes – we have Peter Ridsdale, whose knowledge of football we can take at any time we want.
“We have Kevin Abbott as finance director and Ben Rhodes in the club secretary/general role.
“When you have someone committing the amount of money per annum as the owner is, he is entitled to have the feedback that his money is being spent wisely.
“Mr Hemmings is a self-made man and wants to know his money is being spent as carefully and the best it can.
“Football is not like a normal business in that you have to take some bigger risks day to day.
“The risks are being taken with individual players who you then have to mould into a team.
“We do an annual budget as a club and then show that to Mr Hemmings, show him what we think is needed.
“Then there is a healthy discussion and we try and stick with that budget.
“The upgrading of the team is an ongoing business.”
Preston-born Kay can trace an association with PNE back to the 1960s when his dad first took him to Deepdale.
He has lived most of his life in Leyland, attending school locally and working in the region – he trained in accountancy at KPMG in Preston.
“I first went to Deepdale in 1963. My dad had a pint with his brother-in-law before the game before taking me to the ground,” said Kay.
“That was the Alex Dawson and Nobby Lawton era. Dawson was some player.
“You could always expect a goal from Dawson and he was definitely one of my early heroes.
“Preston finished third in the Second Division that season and got to the FA Cup final.
“I will not claim to have been a consistent fan down the years – I haven’t been to every game.
“In this role, you have to take a step back from being a fan, you have to have certain parameters.”
Kay joined the Hemmings empire in 1994 and has been in it ever since. Hemmings’ association with Preston North End is a long one, starting back in the early 1970s when he was vice-chairman.
Over the years he remained in the background offering financial support, becoming outright owner in 2010.
“Mr Hemmings is not in it for his own glory,” said Kay.
“It is not his style to get publicity but he wants Preston to succeed.
“When I first joined him in 1994, one of my early jobs was to draft some minutes for a meeting which saw the club sold to Baxi.
“There were 20 shareholders or so at the time and they had to decide whether PNE was going into safe hands.
“They decided that was the case – Baxi were putting in £3.5m.
“We stayed around in the background in terms of being supportive to Baxi when they took the club public.
“We later supported the regime under Derek Shaw.
“Then in 2010 it came time to decide where were we going to go from here.
“Mr Hemmings was committing a lot of money but essentially the shareholding was spilt.
“The club is now wholly owned by Mr Hemmings’ companies and he wants to take the club forward.”