Dave Seddon's PNE pressview: A year without watching your beloved Preston North End in person
This weekend we reach the first anniversary of a key moment in our following of Preston North End.
It is 12 months since fans were last able to attend a PNE away game – next week it is a year since the turnstiles last clicked at Deepdale.
February 29, 2020, was Fulham away. North End snapped up their 2,900 allocation in quick time, a visit to Craven Cottage always a popular one.
Preston station saw a steady stream of fans on the platforms to catch the early morning trains to Euston.
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Carrier bags of cans were clutched, enough to see folk through the journey to the capital – in some cases supplies had been downed by Warrington Bank Quay.
Once in London, the mode of transport to Fulham changed from rail to water for some North End supporters, two ferries booked to travel along the River Thames.
For the record, I had a pre-match curry in the Craven Cottage press room sat next to Chris Kamara.
On the pitch, PNE were actually quite decent but didn’t take their chances, a familiar tale.
Fulham won 2-0 but those London away days go beyond the result – a big part is the day out and the camaraderie.
The 19.30 train home was a noisy one that evening but there’s been no chance of a repeat since.
Pandemic stopped play a fortnight later, with football played behind closed doors since it resumed last June.
We weren’t blind to the threat of coronavirus on that Fulham trip, it was circulating and other countries had lockdown.
However they were still different times, with just the odd mask spotted on the train and hand sanitiser not squeezed around in the quantity it is now.
Social distancing? That was an alien concept.
Life has not been quite as we knew it since, and that applies in spades to football.
Empty stadiums, banners covering the rows of seats, canned crowd noise, players getting changed in different parts of the ground, arriving on board two coaches instead of one.
This week we got some hope, some assurance that the present state of play wasn’t going to last forever.
Grounds can open again from May 17 with reduced capacities. A month later, the plan is to allow all seats to be filled – just in time for England to face the Czech Republic at Wembley.
The May 17 date will be too late for North End and the rest of their EFL brethren with regards this season.
PNE play their final home game of the regular season against Barnsley on May 1, with the final fixture being at Nottingham Forest a week later.
Bar a late challenge for the play-offs – no laughing at the back please – August will see us back together inside the home of football at Deepdale.
That is when a reconnect can start, between the fans and between the club and its supporters.
This last year, social media and a chat on the phone has been the only way for fans to communicate.
When the restrictions lift, fans will have to get used to sitting together, mixing on the concourse, having a pint together.
It sounds simplistic but we will almost be building up trust of one another’s company again after a year of being told to stay apart.
As for the relationship between club and fans, there has been a disconnect everywhere – it is not just Preston’s issue.
However successful a club might have been – Liverpool winning the Premier League for example – it will not have felt the same.
When results have not been as good, that disconnect will have been felt even more.
PNE have not pulled up any trees since last season restarted, especially at Deepdale.
Hence more anguish on social media when a game doesn’t go their way.
I don’t think victories are celebrated with any extra vigour but defeats certainly seem to raise the levels.
What we will have learned from behind closed doors matches is that being a television-watcher only of football is not the way you want to follow your team.
Nothing can replace that feeling of going to a game and being close to the action.
In my job I’ve been very fortune to attend games right the way through from the restart.
It is a far different experience than what I was used to, rather soulless, but at least I’m there.
The passing of my dear mum kept me away from two North End games recently.
Instead I became an armchair fan and reporter for the matches against Blackburn and Watford.
The Blackburn game I enjoyed, not least because North End won.
It was the Friday night game on Sky, plenty of camera angles and replays.
Watford I pressed the red button for and I did have a feeling of remoteness from the game.
The red button option with a solitary camera angle and no replays, is probably closer to the experience of being inside the ground.
You watch the game from one position and get a single look at what happens in front of you.
Still, it was good to get back to ‘live’ football when PNE played at Cardiff last Saturday, even if the game was a complete stinker from Preston’s point of view.
Conceding early in each half, missing two penalties, , it couldn’t get much worse.
I mentioned my mum earlier who, God bless her, was no football fan – tennis was her sport.
But it was 45 years ago this weekend that she took me to my first North End game, Mansfield at home in 1976.
It was a family trip, dad, my older brother Andrew, mum and myself.
Mum was there in case I got bored and needed to come home early – I was only four at the time.
I did indeed get bored so home I went while my dad and brother saw it out until the bitter end.
All these years on, I’m still hooked on PNE and earn a living covering their fortunes. Thanks Mum.
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