Preston North End players and staff swapped their tracksuits and boots for black tie and jacket to attend the North West Football Awards in Manchester this week.
The gathering of the region’s football great and good took place at Lancashire Cricket Club’s The Point venue.
It was a good night for the North End contingent, in particular Joe Garner.
He took to the stage twice to collect the League One player of the year award and also the goal of the year honour.
The latter award saw him among some exclusive company but Wayne Rooney, Yaya Toure, Ross Barkley, Luis Suarez or Ashley Barnes could not better THAT strike against Rotherham in the play-offs.
Garner’s team-mate Josh Brownhill was at the event after being shortlisted in the rising star category.
He missed out to Manchester City youngster Rony Lopes but can look back on an encouraging breakthrough year.
North End physio Matt Jackson was among the nominees in the sports science and medical category.
His healing hands have kept the injury list manageable at Deepdale in recent years.
Jackson missed out on the award, one-time Tranmere boss Les Parry lifting it instead for his work as a physio at Manchester United.
Also in that category was Morecambe physio Simon Farnworth, the former North End goalkeeper.
Preston manager Simon Grayson and his No.2 Glynn Snodin were guests there and Grayson was proud of how well the club had fared.
“We got some fantastic recognition on the night,” Grayson told the Evening Post.
“For Joe Garner to win the goal of the year was superb.
“He was up against some big names who often win this sort of accolade.
“I thought the vote would be a close thing between Joe and Wayne Rooney – he was up for the goal he scored from the halfway line at West Ham.
“But Joe thoroughly deserved to win it with his goal against Rotherham.
“The technique he showed for that one was superb – it was a brilliant goal.
“Joe got the League One player of the year award, which was deserved too – he is such a good striker.
“It was great that young Josh Brownhill and Matt Jackson were recognised too with their nominations.
“They called Jacko ‘Tom Jackson’ in the event’s programme so I think that one will stick with him for a while now around the club!”
It is the third year running that a Preston player won the League One player of the year award.
In 2012 it was more by default, David Buchanan collecting it for his displays with Tranmere the previous season.
Last year, John Welsh won it and Garner made sure this award stayed under lock and key at Deepdale.
In the North West, it was difficult to look beyond Garner for the best player gong.
He finished ahead of the other shortlisted nominees Jason Koumas (Tranmere) and James Wesolowski (Oldham).
What a remarkable 12 months the flame-haired striker has had.
His arrival on a free transfer in January 2013 was somewhat under the radar, North End signing him after his contract at Watford was cancelled by mutual consent.
A couple of months earlier, he had done to Preston in the colours of Carlisle – where he had been on loan – what he is doing now to other clubs in this division.
He was spiky, rubbed up defenders the wrong way and ultimately found the net from the penalty spot.
Graham Westley saw enough that night to make him a target when the transfer window opened. His opening few months at Deepdale were unremarkable.
He tended to be played wide in a three, a position which did not bring him any goals.
Pre-season 2013 saw him red-carded in a friendly at Fleetwood for kicking out.
Garner started last season probably last in a striker’s pecking order behind Kevin Davies, Stuart Beavon and Iain Hume.
He opened his PNE account in the 2-2 draw with MK Dons.
It was to be two-and-half months before Garner found the net again.
His header in stoppage time against Tranmere on November 2 rescued a 1-1 draw for the Lilywhites.
Garner has not stopped scoring since, with 36 goals in total coming from his boots and head.
Clearly the best of those was in the Rotherham play-off semi-final first leg.
Collecting Tom Clarke’s knock forward, he chested it down, flicked it on and then sent a volley from 25 yards dipping over Millers goalkeeper Adam Collin.
It was a goal good enough to grace a game at the highest level. Such a pity it could not help take North End any further forward than the semi-final stage.
Garner’s strike clearly caught the imagination of football folk in the region.
The goal of the year was a vote-by-tweet affair on the night, the hashtags buzzing in his favour.
He puts it ‘up there’ with his best and it would be difficult to find a strike from his back catalogue as good.
Accepting his prize, Garner said: “It happened so quickly. I saw the ball coming over the top.
“We were 1-0 down at the time and I knew I had to get my shot away.
“It sat up nicely. I hit it early and luckily it flew into the top corner.”
A handful of his other goals for Preston have been top-drawer, although not on the scale of the one which ripped into the Rotherham net.
The volley at Leyton Orient last season springs to mind and his 20-yarder after twisting the Port Vale defence inside out at Vale Park almost a year ago, is a particular favourite of mine.
This term, he hit his shot at Walsall in September with venom, while his calmness in the finish against Chesterfield was excellent.
Then there was the hat-trick in the comeback win over Fleetwood – two textbook headers and the volley with his ‘weaker’ left foot.
The recognition for teenager Brownhill was nice to see. It is only 13 months since his full league debut.
Just at the moment he is finding a regular place hard to come by but we will see more of this lad as time goes on.
Brownhill got a recall to the side for the Havant and Waterlooville FA Cup tie, only to pick up an injury which ruled him out of the Bradford defeat last week.
Said Grayson: “Josh has done well for us since forcing his way into the side at a very young age.
“He rolled his ankle in the first half at Havant and that is why he wasn’t in the 18 last week.
“When we get him fit, Josh will be another very good option for the midfield.”
Physio Jackson is well thought of at Deepdale and the club were pleased to see him shortlisted for the medical award.
The Deepdale sports science and medical department has been one to be steadily strengthened by Grayson in his 21 months in charge.
Former Preston right-back Conor McLaughlin won the League Two player of the year honour – he was presented with his trophy by North End striker Kevin Davies.
McLaughlin was freed by PNE in May 2012 after a struggle to regain his place following a serious injury the season before when he broke and dislocated his ankle.
He has had a new lease of new life since signing for Fleetwood, becoming a regular member of the Northern Ireland squad.
His award was recognition for his performances in helping the Cod Army win promotion via the play-offs from League Two in May.
Other winners on the night included Southport midfielder Luke George, who was voted Conference player of the year.
Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling was the Premier League player of the year but could not pick up his award in person as the night clashed with England’s win over Scotland in Glasgow.
The other nominees in the top-flight category had been Yaya Toure, David de Gea and Seamus Coleman.
Danny Ings, the Burnley striker, won the Championship player of the year for his goals in helping fire the Clarets to promotion last season.
His boss, Sean Dyche, was voted manager of the year, ahead of Manuel Pellegrini and Brendan Rodgers.
During the awards ceremony there was a special tribute in memory of Sir Tom Finney, who passed away in February at the age of 91.
A moving video, documenting his career and including tributes from leading figures in the game, was played to the audience.
The evening was hosted by the BBC’s Dan Walker and was given extensive coverage on social media.