When PNE's plastic pitch era came to a dramatic end

Tony Ellis in action for PNE against Torquay in May 1994
Tony Ellis in action for PNE against Torquay in May 1994
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Deepdale’s playing surface is currently having its summer overhaul – 23 years ago today the Preston North End fans did their own gardening.

On May 18, 1994, North End brought their plastic pitch era to a dramatic conclusion.

Paul Raynor and David Moyes are chaired off the pitch by fans after PNE's win over Torquay

Paul Raynor and David Moyes are chaired off the pitch by fans after PNE's win over Torquay

They beat Torquay 4-1 in the Third Division play-off semi-final second leg, having trailed 2-0 from the first leg in South Devon.

Supporters swarmed on to the pitch at the final whistle of extra time to celebrate going to Wembley and also to get a memento of the artificial pitch, which had been underfoot since the summer of 1986.

Strips of the plastic were ripped up and carried home, many a Preston household getting a new doormat or a patch of lawn.

In terms of excitement, it was a case of plastic fantastic.

Fans get ready to invade the pitch at Deepdale after PNE beat Torquay in the play-off  semi-finals in 1994

Fans get ready to invade the pitch at Deepdale after PNE beat Torquay in the play-off semi-finals in 1994

Having been soundly beaten in the first leg four days earlier, the odds were against them.

North End cut the deficit just eight minutes in, Tony Ellis heading home.

But quickly Torquay were back in charge with a goal from Gregory Goodridge to make it 1-1 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate.

The visitors went down to 10 men when Darren Moore was sent off for hitting out at Paul Raynor.

David Moyes headed PNE in front just before half-time, then Stuart Hicks brought the aggregate score level with a header in the second half.

The game went into extra time and with four minutes left of that, Andy Fensome’s cross was headed home by Raynor – sparking jubilant scenes on the terraces.

It was the first time North End had made it to Wembley since the 1964 FA Cup final.

While it was the right time for the plastic to be rolled up, the artificial pitch years had been a success.

The club re-engaged with the community, with the pitch available for hire.

In its first season in use, PNE had won promotion from the Fourth Division just 12 months after having to seek re-election.