Dave Seddon’s PNE Press View

Alan Ball Snr christened PNE supporters 'The Gentry'

Alan Ball Snr christened PNE supporters 'The Gentry'

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Quotes from football managers rarely stand the test of time.

They are churned out, tweeted, spun and twisted, scrutinised for a while before getting forgotten.

But sometimes a few words from the boss strikes a cord and sticks in the memory.

You could write a book on what Bill Shankly said to the press in his years managing Liverpool.

And as Preston fans get ready for Gentry Day, the words of Alan Ball Snr still hold a place in club folklore 46 years later.

His observations to a group of journalists after an evening game at Shrewsbury in the autumn of 1970 was to spark a fashion trend among North End fans of the time.

Almost five decades later, Ball’s words are remembered on an annual basis.

Gentry Day is unique to North End – it would mean nothing elsewhere.

Once a season, a day out at the football accompanies a sense of remembrance.

North Enders no longer with us are remembered – dads, mums, grandads, grandmas, uncles, your friend you stood next to on the Kop for years.

Players who once wore the white shirt and have sadly passed away are also at the front of minds on Gentry Day.

Never for a moment would Ball Snr have thought his words from all those years ago would be the basis for this act of remembrance.

The Gentry was the name Ball christened the Preston fans with as he marvelled at their dedication in travelling around the country early in the 1970/71 campaign.

In the book ‘A Season to Savour’, local author and Preston supporter Edward Skingsley traces the first mention of the Gentry to Shropshire on a Tuesday night.

Skingsley wrote: “Ball’s famous words cemented the bond between fans and the new manager.”

Ball had told reporters: “It’s great to see these people travelling as far as Shrewsbury for a night match.

“To see youngsters clapping and cheering behind the goal is terrific.

“Some people may call them hooligans. As far as I’m concerned they are the gentry.”

We know the rest, with fans dressing up in their best clobber for games that season – bowler hats, crombie coats, even rolled umbrellas.

The Gentry’s finest hour came at Craven Cottage on May 1, 1971, when Ball’s men beat already-promoted 
Fulham 1-0 with a Ricky 
Heppolette diving header.

That clinched promotion for themselves and was to prise the London club’s hand off the Third Division title trophy.

Three days later, North End beat Rotherham 3-0 at Deepdale and the title was theirs.

Gentry Day came into being in 2005 in memory of a fan who had travelled the length and breadth of the country watching North End under Ball Snr.

It has been an annual event since 2008, taking in visits to QPR, Charlton, Newcastle, Hull, Sheffield Wednesday, Brentford (twice), Barnsley and Bolton.

Fulham was the natural choice for this year, Ball Snr’s big moment having come on the banks of the Thames.

The trip to London fell at the right time of the season and as it turns out, it is a vital game in terms of making a push for the play-offs.

There was the argument of having it nearer to home after the success of Bolton a year ago – 4,400 Preston fans made the short trip and were rewarded with a first victory on Gentry Day.

The capital just felt right this time – when the fixtures came out last June, it stood out like a beacon.

Perhaps next season, it can go local again should the fixture list oblige.

A repeat of the Gentry Day result 12 months ago would be most welcome at Fulham.

This is a seventh-versus-ninth battle, the two teams separated by just a point.

If Simon Grayson’s men do come away with victory, what a big twist that would be in the battle developing under the play-off zone.

As things stand, I would guess at the current top five still being such come May 7.

It is Sheffield Wednesday who look less secure in sixth and the club to catch.

This week is a big one for North End, a barometer as to how the season could go.

A healthy points return from Fulham, Derby and Reading would serve up a big dollop of optimism.

On the flip side, getting just scraps from those three could effectively put an end to any top-six hopes.

Going back to earlier in the week, PNE academy’s run in the FA Youth Cup came to an end against Stoke City.

It had been great to watch them progress to the last eight, the lads getting four chances to play at Deepdale.

That will have given them a taste of what could come their way should they make it in the game.

A lot of hard work is ahead but this cup run will not have done them any harm.

It was a decent turnout in terms of the crowd too, with 1,747 inside Deepdale.

Fair play to Stoke who filled five coaches,provided free of charge, to make sure their young – and tall – side got plenty of support.