Preston North End’s FA Cup final defeat to West Ham might have been half-a-century ago, but the memories of it are crystal clear for George Ross.
Now chairman of the PNE Former Players’ Association, Ross was a young full-back in 1964, an ever-present in the Lilywhites side which battled their way to the Wembley showpiece as a Second Division team.
The odds were stacked against North End that May afternoon, West Ham a side from the top division and packed with talent.
But twice Preston led in the final through first-half goals from Doug Holden and Alex Dawson.
In 17-year-old Howard Kendall, they had the youngest ever player to appear in the cup final, a record which stood for many years.
Eventually, the Hammers’ status and experience was to tell, as they hit a 90th-minute winner.
That meant heartache at the time but 50 years on Ross looks back on the final and events before and after with a huge sense of pride.
Ross told the Evening Post: “It was an era when the FA Cup final was a huge event.
“Basically the whole country stopped what it was doing from late morning on cup-final day to after the trophy had been presented to the winners.
“Preston were in the Second Division in 1964, what is now the Championship.
“We were the underdogs as West Ham were in the First Division – the Premier League in old money.
“It is hard to describe the feeling which you got being stood in the tunnel at Wembley waiting to walk out on to the pitch. We were stood outside the dressing room and we heard them start to play ‘Abide With Me’.
“The hairs on the back of your neck stood up at that point – it was THE moment when you realised the huge scale of the occasion.
“We then had that long walk up the tunnel miles behind the goal and out into the stadium.
“With each step, the noise became louder and louder.”
Nottingham Forest, Bolton, Carlisle, Oxford and Swansea were beaten on the way to the final. “The semi-final against Swansea was played at Villa Park, and it lashed it down with rain from 5am that morning until after the game,” said Ross.
“Tony Singleton scored from 45 yards in a 2-1 win.
“In the weeks between the semi-final and final, we were treated to a few days in the Isle of Man – it was my 21st birthday when we were there. We sailed from Liverpool and the crossing was so rough that the club flew us home to Blackpool instead of chancing the ferry again.
“On the Wednesday before the final, we travelled south and stayed in Weybridge.
“We got our first look at Wembley on the Friday and we noticed that the grass seemed very short. Overnight it rained and by the time we played the game it seemed that the grass had shot up a couple of inches. It was heavy and energy-sapping.
“I think we surprised people with our performance – we went 1-0 up then West Ham equalised. Then we went 2-1 up but their experience took over in the second half as we got tired. After the game, we had a reception at the Park Lane Hotel in London, and we started to feel a bit better about ourselves.
“The newspaper reporters traditionally went to the winners’ reception and off they went to the West Ham dinner.
“But later they turned up at ours because they said the West Ham one was too downbeat and quiet.
“On the Sunday, we got the train back to Preston and our coach was waiting at the bottom of Butler Street.
“There was not a soul there but we were asked to sit on the roof of the bus.
“We drove up Butler Street, turned right into Fishergate and we were met by thousands of people lining the route.
“It was like that all the way to the Town Hall where we had a civic reception.
“After the reception, we got back on the bus and drove along Lancaster Road, Church Street and Deepdale Road, back to the ground.
“Sat next to me was Howard Kendall. The next time we sat together travelling that exact same route was after Sir Tom Finney’s funeral – that was a poignant moment to say the very least.”