Preston North End fan John Baldwin has been supporting the team since his first football match at the age six. John, now 81, has been a season ticket holder for years - but will no longer be able to attend matches after a mini stroke. He talks to AASMA DAY about his life and the highs and lows of supporting North End through the years.
BEING carried over the turnstiles so his dad wouldn’t have to pay for a ticket, a six-year-old John Baldwin felt a growing sense of excitement at the prospect of his first football match.
John, now 81, who lives in Wesham, near Preston, has fond memories of his first taste of football but admits his dad George Baldwin wasn’t really a North End fan.
John explains: “In those days, going on football matches was an excuse to take the children out for the afternoon.
“Before the match, the men used to congregate in the Tithbarne Pub and the children used to be left outside because in those days, you couldn’t take children into pubs.
“The pub was next door to the old fire station near the bus station and across the road, there was a shop selling home-made produce.
“If you were lucky, your father would give you a farthing or even a ha’penny to spend at the shop.
“For a farthing, you could get a bag full of parched peas.
“If you were fortunate enough to be given a ha’penny, it would buy you a saucer sized meat and potato pie.”
John’s first North End match with dad George Baldwin was in 1938 - the season the Lilywhites won the FA Cup against Huddersfield.
John still has vivid memories of soaking up the atmosphere at his first match and the thrill of being there.
John recalls: “Even though I was only about five, I can still remember bits about being at my first PNE match.
“The men would carry the children over the turnstiles so they wouldn’t have to pay and children would sit on a cinder track around the pitch.
“I can’t really remember the actual match, but I can remember being in the West Paddock which is now the Tom Finney stand.
“I really enjoyed my first match and it whet my appetite for football.
“The thing that stuck in my mind about my first match was that it was the cup year.
“When Preston got to the final, we couldn’t go, but I remember my dad buying a blue and white rosette which had a small tin replica of the cup on it.”
John, who grew up in Lostock Hall near Preston with parents George and Mary Baldwin and an older sister and a younger brother, went to watch Preston a few more times with his dad until his dad was mobilised with the army.
John says: “It depended how much money my dad had in his pocket to how often we went to see North End.
“My dad worked at the rubble works in Leyland before being mobilised with the army for the war.”
It then got towards the end of the Second World War before John started going to Preston North End matches again. He was around 12 when he began going to Deepdale with other lads of his age.
He carried on going to Deepdale regularly until the age of 18 when he himself joined the Army.
John says: “Football was a way of life in those days because there was no television.
“There were no other distractions and going to watch Preston North End was my entertainment.
“I used to go to home matches and sometimes I would go to away matches at Blackburn, Blackpool and Bolton.
“I can remember quite a few of the players at the time. I have seen the likes of Sir Tom Finney, Bill Shankly, Tommy Doherty and George Fairbrother playing.”
John, who went to Lostock Hall St Gerrard’s School, worked as an agricultural worker after leaving school before joining the Army.
He signed up in 1952 and came out in 1954 and was in the cavalry regiment the 17th Oblique 21st Lancers, a tank regiment.
John says: “I was a signaller gunner and enjoyed my time with the Army.
“I was based in Catterick, then I was in Germany, then I went to Scotland and at the time of the Coronation of the present Queen, I was actually based in London.
“I came home when I could, but I didn’t manage to get to any Preston matches while I was in the Army.
“When I came out of the Army, I would go on PNE whenever the occasion was possible.
“Money was scare in those days so it was difficult to go on all the time.”
After leaving the Army, John worked back on the land for a while, then a short spell working for a building firm before joining BAE Systems - then called English Electric Aviation.
John, who was by now living in Wesham, ended up working on the fire service there and retired as deputy chief fire officer for the Warton site.
Friendships at work meant John, married to Maureen for 52 years with one son Shaun, started to go to watch other teams in the area - including Blackpool.
He explains: “There were a group of local men who would go on Preston one week and Blackpool the other.
“There was no segregation in those days. We were all pals. However, I always supported Preston.”
John, also a retained firefighter at Wesham for Lancashire Fire for 19 years, went to Preston matches sporadically because of work.
However, after retiring in 1990, he became a season ticket holder and went on every home match as well as some away ones.
John has supported the club through thick and thin, witnessed relegations and promotions and seen the team perform under many managers.
John says: “One of the days that sticks in my mind is my 70th birthday, which happened to fall on a Saturday.
“Preston played Rotherham United and my son and his colleague booked us into the Great Room for a meal before the match and entertainment after.
“Richard Cresswell got Man of the Match and I had a photo taken with him.
“One of my prized possessions is a replica PNE shirt signed by Sir Tom Finney which I received for my 70th birthday.
“A nurse friend of mine had a colleague who nursed Sir Tom’s wife Elsie and managed to get this for me. It is my pride and joy.
“Another momentous occasion was when a friend of my son’s who has a box on the Invincibles Stand invited us both to watch Preston playing Crewe.
“Preston won 6-0 and Joe Garner scored four and received Man of the Match. I was lucky enough to have my photo taken with him.
“It was great to meet the lad as he was a nice fellow and easy to talk to.”
John, who always made sure he was fit and healthy for his work in the fire service and ran 17 marathons between the ages of 45 and 57, confesses his son Shaun, the vicar at St John The Baptist at Broughton, Preston, is actually a Blackpool fan!
But he says they have always enjoyed a friendly banter about their chosen teams.
John says: “When I found out Shaun was a Blackpool fan, I took it in good sport. I said: ‘You go your way and I’ll go mine.’
“I went on Blackpool with him and he sometimes came to Preston matches with me.
“I was never disappointed he wasn’t a Preston fan. You make your own choices in life.”
John’s happy times watching Preston North End came to an abrupt end this year after he suddenly suffered a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA)- a mini stroke. This temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain causes symptoms similar to those of a stroke.
John recalls: “It was the beginning of February and I was sat at home reading.
“All of a sudden, there was an explosion of bright colours in my right eye. It was like a firework going off.
“I wouldn’t have thought any more of it as I could still see and watch television.
“However, that evening, I was talking on the telephone to a friend of mine who is a retired nursing officer and told her what had happened.
“She made me promise to go to the doctor.
“She said it might be nothing, but that I should get it checked out.”
John was referred to hospital and underwent tests and scans and discovered he had suffered a mini stroke.
John explains: “They told me I had suffered a slight bleed into the left side which was affecting the vision on my right side.
“I can still see and read and watch television, but have lost the peripheral vision in my right eye.
“Anybody or anything to my right, I can’t see. I have to physically turn my head to see.”
Under the advice of his consultant, John has not driven since the day of his mini stroke - and as a consequence, he has been unable to attend Preston matches.
John says: “I have filled in the medical paperwork and sent it to the DVLA. It is now up to them. I have left it in their hands and will just do what is best.”
John admits he has lost a lot of his independence and he misses his 3pm appointments at Deepdale on a Saturday afternoon. He says: “I got a motorbike licence at 16 and my car licence at 26 so have been driving most of my life.
“I also drove fire appliances for years and I drove in the Army.
“It was a huge wrench when I found out I couldn’t drive. It has stripped me of a lot of independence.
“I have been a season ticket holder since the 1991/92 season and had ambassador status.
“But this coming season, I will no longer have a season ticket as I can’t get to the matches any more.
“There’s no point having a season ticket if you can’t get to the games. I lost half of last season after the mini stroke.
“Public transport isn’t great from here and I have problems with my legs so can’t walk so well.
“I do feel sad that I won’t be able to go on Preston North End any more.
“It had become a way of life and my Saturdays have not been the same since the TIA.
“One of the biggest heartaches last season was when I couldn’t go to see Preston against Manchester United in the FA Cup.
“I had a ticket, but ended up having to give it away as I could not get there. That made me feel rotten!
“Preston were in the play offs nine times and lost nine times before finally going up the 10th.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see them win at Wembley even though I went most of the nine times they lost at the play offs.
“But I am really glad Preston have been promoted to the Championship and now I follow the matches on the radio.
“There’s no point me getting down about not being able to drive. That is just life. There are a lot of people far worse off than me, so there’s no point getting down about missing football matches.
“I will always be a Preston North End fan - and not being able to actually go to the matches won’t change that.”
Rev Shaun Baldwin, Vicar of Broughton and John’s son, said: “Although my dad is a North End fan, he grew up in the heyday of both Preston and Blackpool seeing players such as SirTom Finney and Sir Stanley Matthews.
“When my dad was younger, he and his friends used to go to watch Preston one week and Blackpool the other and they were very fortunate to be able to watch the top players of their time.
“I was born in Blackpool and raised in Wesham and I went to school in Blackpool so had an affinity with the seaside, so naturally became a Blackpool fan.
“Rugby was a big part of my life and it is ironic that I am now the honorary chaplain of Preston Grasshoppers when I am a Fylde lad at heart!”
Commenting on his father’s inability to get to Preston North End matches since suffering the mini stroke earlier this year which robbed him of his peripheral vision, Rev Baldwin says: “To look at my dad physically, you wouldn’t know there was anything wrong.
“But unfortunately, the loss of his peripheral vision has restricted him a lot - especially with him not being able to drive.
“My dad has always been used to getting up and going.
“However, my mum and dad look after each other beautifully.
Shaun, who has been vicar of Broughton, north of Preston, for the past year, says: “It has been a fantastic 12 months - apart from all the stick I have had about Blackpool!”
Jokingly, Shaun added: “It is ironic as every time I come to live and work in Preston, Preston North End seem to go up while Blackpool go down!”