Dave Seddon's Preston North End press view: Gentry Day reflections as football faces a spell without fans

Today should have been Gentry Day for Preston North End fans, all roads and railway tracks leading to Brentford’s Griffin Park ground.

By Dave Seddon
Saturday, 18th April 2020, 6:00 am

For 12 years in a row, the PNE faithful have donned bowler hats and suits for an away game of choice, their unique act of remembrance and indeed celebration.

Hats are tipped and a glass raised to those of a North End persuasion no longer with us.

The occasion celebrates too being a PNE supporter, an emotional ride which never really leaves you once you pick up the bug.

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Hats off to the Gentry - Preston North End fans on Gentry Day in 2018

Gentry Day 2020 will be somewhat different – that ‘different’ tag will apply to most things we do this year.

A doff of the bowler hat in the house and posting a photo on social media is going to be as good as we get.

There will be no packed terrace and upper seats tier at Brentford, no filling the pubs which sit conveniently close to Griffin Park.

The early morning trains out of Preston and the 19.30 service back from Euston will be so quiet compared to the noisy merriment of a London away day.

Young PNE fans get into the Gentry spirit at West Bromwich Albion last season

Covid-19 has halted play and halted life as we know it for the foreseeable future.

North End will eventually play Brentford, with the EFL currently planning for the season to restart in early June after a mid-May return to training.

There’s little point putting Gentry Day on hold until the summer because games are highly likely to be going behind closed doors when the campaign gets going.

The plan is to get the season played to a finish in the shortest possible time in empty grounds.

The PNE Gentry

Games will be broadcast and streamed live as we all turn into armchair viewers.

That is a pastime quite commonplace at some bigger clubs anyway, perhaps replica shirt-clad barstool viewers would be a better description for them.

A few weeks ago the thought of behind closed doors left me cold.

But if there is going to be a summer restart, there seems little alternative but to have empty grounds.

Behind closed doors games could be the norm for the foreseeable future

Covid-19 had forced us to become anti-social. Doing so is keeping people alive.

We stand in line outside the shops, a couple of metres apart. That said, once inside some folk do tend to lose their sense of distance as they dive in to grab things off the shelves.

If feasible, we work from home – this page has been produced from the dining room table at Seddon Towers in sunny downtown Lea.

We can’t socialise with family and friends, we swerve to avoid others out walking.

To suddenly go from that to sitting in football grounds is unworkable.

Could you honestly go from distancing in the supermarket, smeared in hand sanitiser and wiping down your trolley one day, to going to a football ground and mixing with thousands of other folk the next?

People would be nervous to do that and anyway, the social distancing advice is unlikely to be relaxed too much for quite a while.

An alternative is for the suspension of the season to run for many more months, even well into 2021 until big strides are taken on the medical front regarding a vaccine or effective treatment programmes.

That would allow fans to return to watch football safely.

The reality of that scenario is many clubs would have gone to the wall by then.

While cash taken on the turnstiles is vital to clubs in the EFL, so is the television money they get and the solidarity payments from the Premier League.

Some kind of income is needed because at the moment there is none.

So however unappealing behind-closed-doors games are, it might be the lesser of two evils.

What effect the lack of a crowd would have on the quality of games will be interesting.

Would the tempo of play suffer without the noise and tribalism of fans?

Players will want to push themselves to the limit for the cause but having several thousand supporters there must help them.

Most of us have attended pre-season friendlies or reserve games in front of sparse crowds when every shout on the pitch echoes around the ground.

It seems strange that league matches could soon to be played against such a background.

If all EFL games are to be accessible to supporters, the broadcasters and online streamers will have to step up to the plate.

Pictures freezing and commentary dropping out just won’t be acceptable.

Quite rightly, the support for playing this season to a finish remains very strong.

You cannot abandon a season with 37 games played and only nine to go – plus the play-offs. The June 6 restart proposed by the EFL would have things wrapped up by early August.

Why there is the need to rush into the 2020/21 season, I’m not sure. Streamlining it could buy more time, allow a later start when hopefully we are further through the pandemic.

I’ll finish where I started, with a nod to Gentry Day.

Have a moment to think about your mates at the football, toast those sadly no longer with us. Preston fans are the Gentry, as Alan Ball Snr said all those years ago.