It is 25 years today since Preston North End’s first game back on grass at Deepdale after their eight year experiment with a plastic pitch. In this article first published in 1994 historian Ian Rigby looks back at the astroturf era at PNE.
The infamous artificial surface has seen 182 league games with North End winning just over 50 per cent.
Over the eight year period, 559 league goals were scored on the plastic at a rate of 3.07 goals per game, compared to the rate of 2.7 goals per game for the last eight years played on grass. In broad terms 66 more goals over the same period.
During John Beck’s reign as manager Preston North End have only failed to score on the plastic pitch on three occasion, with the goals rate as high as 3.7 per game. Although PNE won more games in the eight season on plastic compared to the previous eight years on grass, they still failed to win in over 48 per cent of the games, contradicting the theory that the artificial pitch was a great advantage to North End.
Preston’s last league opponents, Carlisle United, were the 66th different team to participate in league or cup matches at Deepdale on the synthetic surface. As it happened they were also the 34th to return home with a victory tucked under their belt. Two unfashionable clubs, Hartlepool and Aldershot, both played three leagues games on the pitch and, against the odds, remained undefeated. Walsall, on the other hand, played and lost three games here as well as failing to score.
Mansfield Town lost five of their six games at Deepdale, but won the one that mattered the most to Preston last season. How can we forget that defeat, PNE 1-0 up and a penalty squandered before going on to concede five goals against a Mansfield side who were already relegated.
The two teams who appeared in most league games on the plastic pitch were Wigan Athletic and Chester City, both clubs having seven games each on it. Excluding own goals, 57 different North End players have scored league goals on that surface since the opening game against Swansea in 1986, with North End’s current player of the year, Tony Ellis, out in front with a total of 45.
Eight North End players have recorded a hat-trick on the plastic with Ellis and John Thomas leading the way with three apiece. Mike Conroy scored on his Deepdale debut, as did Ronnie Jepson against Burnleyin the Leyland DAF semi-final back in 1991.
From December 26, 1987, to October 14, 1989, inclusive, Preston North End scored in 40 consecutive league games on the artificial surface with 94 goals totalled in the process.
For the record, North End’s last game on grass was a 2-2 draw against Exeter with Simon Gibson being the last PNE player to score on grass at Deepdale. The top five marksmen on plastic (league only) are: Tony Ellis (45), Gary Swann (30), Warren Joyce (25), Gary Brazil (22) and John Thomas (17). Comparing the eight seasons of plastic to the previous eight on grass makes interesting reading.
Of the 182 league games on the artificial surface, North End have won 94, drawn 46 and lost 42. On gras it reads played 178, won 72, drawn 59 and lost 47.
* This article was written by PNE historian Ian Rigby and was first published in the Lancashire Evening Post on May 19, 1994.