Dave Seddon’s pressview

Keith Leeming
Keith Leeming
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Flak from the terraces has come as part of the territory for football chairmen and directors down the years.

However, Keith Leeming took far more than his fair share during 12 years in the chair at Preston North End.

Mr Leeming, who passed away last weekend at the age of 83, oversaw the most turbulent period of PNE’s history.

Nothing so trivial as the sort of ‘drama’ we get these days, such as a sulking player or the occasional inappropriate comment on social media.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Mr Leeming and his board of directors battled mounting debt, an unsympathetic bank, a creaking ground, broken floodlights and dwindling attendances.

This was not an era of multi-millionaire owners and oligarchs pumping cash into football, the golden goose that is the Premier League no more than a far off dream.

Instead, local businessmen sat at boardroom tables up and down the country, attempting to keep clubs afloat on a week-by-week basis.

It is fair comment that Mr Leeming and his colleagues of the time kept Preston in business against the odds.

For three weeks during the re-election season of 1985/86, he even paid the wages out of his own pocket when the club’s overdraft limit was reached.

While Deepdale and the club have changed beyond recognition for the better since then, without Mr Leeming’s work, Preston North End in its current form would probably not exist.

It was probably the case that some aspects of the board’s management in that era could have been better.

But on reflection, the stick dished out on a regular basis by supporters was harsh.

That criticism was well meaning – no fan wants to see their club struggling – but was aimed, in hindsight, at the wrong people.

As a youngster, I sat with hundreds of others in Lowthorpe Road to protest after a night match – earlier that evening the crowd had waved pink leaflets in the air as a way of showing discontent about the direction the club seemed to be going in.

Looking back, few if any of us, were aware of the full facts of how dire the finances were.

There were breaks in the cloud in that era, namely the 1986/87 promotion season.

The appointment of John McGrath was a shrewd one, a promotion-winning side built for just £15,000.

That was one of my favourite campaigns watching North End – plastic fantastic.

Mr Leeming deserved that season of success for what he had done, crowds rising from 4,000 to 17,000 in a matter of months as John Thomas, Gary Brazil, Ronnie Hildersley, Oshor Williams, Sam Allardyce, Les Chapman and Co performed in style.

He was a loyal servant of Preston North End, not just in his 12 years as chairman, but as a director for long spells both before and afterwards.

I hope some fitting and lasting tribute can be put in place at PNE to mark such dedicated service in the most difficult of circumstances.

Meanwhile, North End return to action after the international break against Derby County.

After a diet of England’s World Cup qualifiers, the England Under-21 friendly at Deepdale and a brief flirtation with the Lancashire Senior Cup for Preston’ second string, I’m looking forward to seeing Simon Grayson’s men in action once again.

Since the last outing, two new faces have arrived in the shape of strikers Stevie May and Eoin Doyle.

It would be pleasing if potential debuts for them add a few more to the attendance which should be decent anyway with a Rams following of more than 3,000.

A discussion I’ve had many times over the past week is how Grayson will fit May, Doyle, Joe Garner and Will Keane into the front line.

Three starters and a sub, two to start and two on the bench or all four of them plus one more in a Sir Tom Finney-era front five? I jest with that last suggestion.

A few past meetings with Derby stick in my mind, the first being a 3-0 win over them in the FA Cup in January 1979.

Too young to attend a night game, my dad gave me chapter and verse the next morning about two Alex Bruce goals and another from Francis Burns at a freezing Deepdale.

There was the heartbreak of beating the Rams 2-1 at the Baseball Ground on the final night of the 1980/81 season but still being relegated.

In March 2003, George Koumantarakis and Fabrizio Ravanelli scored in the same game, PNE winning 4-2.

Two years later, there were the play-off semi-final meetings.