Dave Seddon's press view

It was sad to learn the news of Alan Jones' death this week, the former Preston North End chairman passing away aged 88.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 7th May 2016, 10:00 am
PNE charman Alan Jones and the legendary Sir Matt Busby.
PNE charman Alan Jones and the legendary Sir Matt Busby.

Mr Jones headed the PNE board for the best part of a decade, between 1973 and 1982, his association with the club spanning many years before and after that tenure.

My North End-supporting days starting during Mr Jones’ time at the helm.

As a young lad, I took no notice of who the chairman and directors were, in the same way that few primary school-age kids today will know who Trevor Hemmings, John Kay or Peter Ridsdale are.

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But a bit older – okay, much older – and slightly wiser, I look back now and appreciate what a fine job Mr Jones and his associates did in a difficult financial climate.

The same must be said of Keith Leeming, the man who succeeded him in the chairman’s role.

Mr Leemings’s passing was mourned last September – in a bright season for North End on the pitch, there have been some sad times off it.

Mr Jones and then Mr Leeming, led the club through an era far removed from today’s finance-dominated football world.

Foreign owners were unheard of, the majority of clubs living a hand-to-mouth existence.

Boards of directors were made up local businessmen who kept bank managers on side in order to pay wages on a weekly basis.

No Thai billionaires, Russian oligarchs or absent American owners.

Mr Jones was chairman in a time when motorway miles were put in to sign players.

One of his former colleagues on the PNE board shared a story with me a couple of years ago, about a road trip with a difference.

Him and Mr Jones drove to the East Midlands to sign striker Steve Elliott from Nottingham Forest.

With the ink fresh on the paperwork and Elliott officially a North End player, the car headed for home – but not before a detour to Oldham to sign midfielder Graham Bell.

PNE appointed Bobby Charlton, Harry Catterick, Nobby Stiles, Tommy Docherty and Gordon Lee in Mr Jones’ reign.

Charlton and Catterick were before my time but promotion under Stiles in 1977/78 was my first season supporting North End as a nipper.

The less said about the Doc’s short reign, the better, while Lee never thrilled.

On the eve of that fantastic promotion campaign under Stiles when Alex Bruce and Mike Elwiss excelled, the club had been forced to sell Mark Lawrenson and Gary Williams to Brighton to help balance the books.

Once promotion had been won, Elwiss was sold to Crystal Palace, with Mick Robinson going a year later for a then club record £765,000 to Manchester City. Such deals were a necessity, not popular in the least with supporters, but they kept the club afloat.

A problem that the club faced once promoted in 1978, was complying with the Safety of Sports Grounds Act.

It had not been applicable to them in the old Third Division but once promoted, work had to be done to bring Deepdale up to standards.

So healthy profits on Elwiss and Robinson went largely on ground improvements rather than on replacements.

My first meeting with Mr Jones came many years after he had stepped aside as chairman.

It came on the day when Trevor Hemmings launched his bid to buy North End in June 2010.

Hemmings and Mr Jones went back years, Hemmings joining the board when Mr Jones became chairman.

Thirty-seven years on, the former chairman called in at the Evening Post’s office to show his support for his former colleague on the board.

Mr Jones recalled how Hemmings had acted as guarantor to the bank when Elwiss was signed from Doncaster in 1974.

And when we chatted in 2010, he was adamant that Hemmings’ bid for the club should be accepted by shareholders.

Six years on, with North End guaranteed a top-half finish in the Championship and in a healthy financial state, Mr Jones’ words were certainly worth listening to.

In summary, Mr Jones’ era as chairman was a tough one, his job carried out with the best interests of the club at heart.

It was pioneering at times, with advertising on the Preston shirts introduced with him at the helm, so too the building of executive boxes at Deepdale.

The fact the club exists today owes much to his work over nearly 10 years, so too that of Mr Leeming when he picked-up the baton.