It’s the end for the North End allotment

Leo Gornall at the PNE Allotment
Leo Gornall at the PNE Allotment
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The final spud has been plucked out of the ground of Preston North End’s famous garden allotment.

The little plot of land on the corner of Blackpool Road andGarstang Road hit the headlines many years ago when it was revealed that many of the club’s former greats were green fingered enthusiasts.

Striker Tommy Thompson along with wingers LesDagger and Leo Gornall used to frequently hit the onion bag during their playing days.

But after hanging up their boots, they switched their attentions to cultivating potatoes and cauliflowers.

In bid a to grow the tastiest caulies and the biggest spuds, the trio enlisted the help of a number of their old team-mates.

The club’s greatest ever player, former England international Sir Tom Finneywas a frequent visitor as was George Ross, who played in the 1964 FA Cup final.

After doing a bit of spade work, the PNE legends would take a break in the allotment shed – otherwise known as the Tommy Thompson Suite – and have a brew and a bacon butty.

Sadly, over the years, the group’s number have begun to dwindle and four of the PNE quintet have passed on leaving Gornall as the only one left to tend to the patch.

Now aged 80-years-old and after two hip operations, Gornall has decided, with a somewhat heavy heart, to give up the allotment and he is due to hand back the keys to the committee today.

“We’ve had the allotment for about 20 years,”said Gornall.

“But I’m handing the keys in today down at the cabin where the committee meet.

“I’m 80 now and I can’t do it on my own any more.

“Obviously Sir Tom passed on, Les, Tommy and George have all passed on and there is only me left from the lads.

“To be honest, it makes me a little bit sad now when I come down when I think of all the laughs we have had.

“There wasn’t much gardening done at times.

“We would talk about the old days at North End – they were good times.

“I had a little stove and would make bacon or sausage butties and pass it through the serving hatch.

“Granada Reports once did a television feature on us and George came out with the line that Tommy grows it, I cook it and and Les eats it.”

The inside of the ‘Tommy Thompson Suite’ is a shrine to North End and there is a visitors’ board where many ex-PNE stars who have visited the allotment have signed their names.

Gornall revealed the board will be going to a good home as a North End supporter has expressed a wish to acquire it.

“We’ve had quite a few ex-North Enders come down over the years,”said Gornall, who was a reserve team player at North End in the 1950s before joining Wigan Athletic.

“Alan Kelly senior, Cliff Portwood – even David Moyes popped down once.

“You can imagine what it was like –just imagine all of us together. It was just like being back in the dressing room – you know what footballers are like having the craic.

“It just recreated it all.”

Just like the goings-on in a dressing room, practical jokes were also a regular occurence.

“I always remember Les going on about a garden place in Barton Grange, which had the best potato seeds. He put them down into the soil and left them to grow.

“When it was time to dig the potatoes up, I went down to Morrisons to get the biggest potatoes I could find and buried them in the ground where Les had planted his seeds. He came to dig them up and he was like, ‘Woooaah, look at these. I told you Barton Grange was the best place to go’.

“I never did tell him that the potatoes were from Morrisons.”

Gornall will always treasure the memories, especially the time he spent with Sir Tom.

“We would meet up every week, pretty much every Friday afternoon Sir Tom would come down.

“What a great man he was.

“I always used to think, ‘We’ve got one of the greatest ever footballers sitting in a garden shed – eating a bacon butty.

“But he was brilliant with me when I was at North End

“I played on the wing like Tom did.

“I always remember when I was a player at North End, he came to watch me in a reserve team game against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road once.

“He was very supportive like that of all the younger players.

“On the Monday morning, he came up to me and said, ‘Leo can I have a quiet word with you’.

“He said, ‘When you’re receiving the ball from the full-back, you have got your back to goal – make sure you’re on the half-turn so you know what’s behind you.

“ It was a simple thing he said, but it was so effective and helped my game.”