New training base was big attraction for PNE boss Neil
For most football clubs their most important multi-million pound bit of business in August would probably be a marquee signing.
A great deal of Preston North End fans were probably hoping that might be the case for the Lilywhites before the transfer window shut at 11pm last Thursday night.
And while PNE did hold onto prize asset Jordan Hugill in the face of Reading’s £8 million bid and other interest there was to be no jaw-dropping new arrivals.
The Lilywhites had however arguably seen their most important deal of the summer come off earlier in the month.
On August 10, when Preston City Council’s planning committee approved the blueprint for a new training ground complex at the second time of asking, the football club had won a major off-the-field battle and in their minds taken a big step towards becoming a Premier League club for the first time.
Their current day-to-day home at Springfields in Lea has its plus points but certain parts of the facility have seen better days, few can argue with that.
Manager Alex Neil, just short of two months into the job, admits the £14 million plans at Ingol Golf Club were part of the reason he was convinced to replace Simon Grayson back in July.
“It was something we spoke about when I joined the club initially,” explains the PNE boss, who has seen his side pick up eight points despite a tricky first five fixtures of the Championship season.
“As a manager you want to know there’s scope for improvement and that the club is going to be moving in a forward direction.
“The fact we’ve got the go-ahead is great for everyone connected with the club.
“The pitches and the gym where we currently are are great but the building itself is a bit tired and for us to move forward we really need to try and update and upgrade on where we are at the moment.”
All football clubs to a degree are defined by their stadium.
Think of Manchester United and Old Trafford springs to mind, think of Liverpool and Anfield is iconic and of course, think of Preston North End and the Sir Tom Finney Statue outside Deepdale is the image that is conjured up.
For the players and staff though, the training ground is the office and they might only see their home ground once every week or two.
The everyday place of work being up to scratch is therefore vitally important both for the current squad and when it comes to impressing any player that the club might be looking to bring in.
“The training ground is where we spend pretty much every day,” Neil says.
“It’s important that if we want to try and attract the best players that we show them somewhere that they think ‘this is impressive, I want to be here.
“It’s difficult when you’re bringing them to a tired building and you’re trying to convince them that you’re moving forwards and everything’s great.
“Some people maybe don’t look at it that way.
“I think for everyone it’s going to be a huge step forward for us.”
A modern facility will be perfect for a modern manager, Neil spending hour upon hour pouring over tapes of the next opposition for his side.
Given the PNE boss will be spending long days at the new training ground, has he had chance to make any late amendments to the plans, maybe the manager’s office?
“The manager’s office isn’t a big deal for me,” Neil says with a smile.
“I spend most of my time in the analysis room.
“As long as the players are well catered for that’s the most important thing.
“I could do my job in a car if I needed to.”
With all the focus on the move to Ingol in around 12 months’ time, what of Springfields?
It will remain the home of the academy and it certainly won’t be out of sight and out of mind for Neil and his staff.
In his first managerial job at Hamilton Academical Neil gave a clutch of academy prospects their first-team bows and certainly saw the benefits with a promotion in his first full season in charge and an impressive start to life in the Scottish Premiership being the reason Norwich came calling.
That faith in youth has now come to Deepdale and Neil has wasted no time in giving up and coming players their chance.
Ben Davies seems to have made a first-team breakthrough after his loan spell with Fleetwood in League One while first-year professional Josh Earl has impressed at left back in the last two games at the age of just 18.
“My background’s at Hamilton and I think I gave 10 players their debuts over the course of a season and a half,” Neil explains.
“That’s something I’ve done in the past and I’m really enjoying doing that here and giving young players a chance.
“It’s a great as a fan to go and watch good young players getting their chance and expressing themselves and playing with no fear and going out there and attacking the game.”