PNE in Numbers: How does current crop compare to young sides of old?

Josh Earl and George Ross.
Josh Earl and George Ross.
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A look up and down the Preston North End line-up for Saturday’s win over Reading brought back memories of an unfortunate bit of punditry.

“You can’t win anything with kids.”

That was Alan Hansen’s declaration when a Manchester United side including Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville lost 3-1 to Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1995-96 season.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Preston’s 1-0 victory over the Royals saw 18-year-old academy graduate Josh Earl handed a debut at left-back by Alex Neil.

All in all, the average age of the side was 23, with the oldest PNE player on the pitch being stand-in Lilywhites captain Paul Huntington at 29.

Another youth team product Ben Davies may be a few years Earl’s senior at 22 but it was only his second game in the Championship.

At 22, 22 and 19, the subs that came on – Alan Browne, Callum Robinson and Stephy Mavididi – brought that average age down even further.

But how did Alex Neil’s crop compare to young PNE sides of the past?

In terms of a group of teenagers coming into the side, one could look back to those that came into the Lilywhites’ first-team thinking for the 1960-61 season.

Youth team products George Ross, 18, Alan Spavin, 18, Dave Wilson, 18, and Peter Thompson, 17, all made their debuts.

Only Thompson reached double figures in terms of appearances for that particular campaign but all had long careers ahead of them.

The quartet all played against Nottingham Forest at Deepdale on Boxing Day when the average age of the team was just 20 years and four months.

Midfielder Johnny Fulham was the oldest player in the side at 29.

Ross went on to make 441 appearances for PNE, Spavin played 481 times in two spells and Wilson 327 either side of an unsuccessful spell with Liverpool.

He moved to Anfield with Thompson in 1963. He was a member of Bill Shankly’s first great Liverpool side and played for England after playing 146 times for North End.

Those kinds of numbers are the stuff of dreams for Earl and it is important not to get too carried away.

But with 10 academy graduates having been given their first-team bows by Neil in an 18-month spell when he was Hamilton manager, the promising left-back soon might not be the most junior member of the side.

With thanks to Martin Atherton for help with this column.