Dave Seddon's Preston North End Press View: PNE fans ready to make a welcome return after 16 long months
Back on March 13 last year when the turnstiles were padlocked, did any Preston North End fan envisage that Bamber Bridge away 16 months later would be the next chance to watch their team live?
A trip to the Sir Tom Finney Stadium, or Irongate in old money, is always one to look forward to.
It tends to have been the opening pre-season friendly, the chance for players and fans alike to shake a layer of rust off after the summer. In normal circumstances seven or eight weeks will have gone by without a game of football to watch in the flesh. The fact is has been 16 months is crazy.
Supporters who fancy a pint and 90 minutes of football have almost had to go back in time to secure a ticket.
Queue up at the clubhouse or try and get through on the phone.
Credit to Brig and the fans, the 1,300 tickets were sold smoothly over the course of three days ago.
But it still won’t be as simple as showing your ticket and pushing through the turnstile.
You need proof of a negative lateral flow Covid test, hence swabs being pushed in 1,300 nostrils and throats sometime between Thursday afternoon and Saturday’s kick-off.
Then for a week, it is back to the ‘new normal’ for North End supporters.
The friendlies against St Johnstone and Celtic are off limits to the PNE faithful, with crowd numbers very restricted north of the border for the time being.
After the recent Tartan Army invasion of London for the Euros, a few hundred North End fans will get no further than Hadrians Wall when all they want to do is watch 90 minutes of football and get a change of scenery.
All being well, there will be fewer hoops to jump through as the summer goes on and the start of the season approaches.
The fact that 600 tickets went on sale in midweek for the friendly with Bolton in ‘neutral’ Leyland, was a step in the right direction.
It’s a real shame that the Scottish friendlies are no-go for Preston supporters.
In years gone by, there have been terrific trips north of the border.
As a young pup, I watched North End in 1990 take on Arbroath and Forfar a couple of days apart.
No better sight when enjoying a post-match pint in the pub across the road from Arbroath’s ground, then PNE skipper Bob Atkins leading the whole squad into the same watering hole in search of refreshment.
A couple of years later, North End played in a four team tournament hosted by Queen of the South at their Palmerston Park ground.
For the record, PNE finished third – beaten by the host club before victory over Gretna the next day.
The abiding memory of that trip was a somewhat inebriated Preston fan attempting to get on board the team bus to protest about the Queen of the South defeat.
Since then I’ve seen the PNE play Falkirk at two different grounds – Brockville Park and the Falkirk Stadium.
The 2002 friendly at Dundee was my first meeting with Craig Brown after his appointment as the North End manager.
Never mind what happened on the pitch that day, every photographer’s lens was focused on Brown in the dug out with it being his first game in the country since leaving the Scotland manager’s job.
Afterwards they sat the Broon next to a table laden with cakes and biscuits in the Dens Park press room, hence his post-game thoughts being delivered between mouthfuls.
Kilmarnock and Hibs are two other Scottish grounds I’ve seen PNE play at.
My last visit north of the border was to Livingston’s Almondvale Stadium.
Motherwell were North End’s opponents that night, their Fir Park ground out of bounds while a new pitch was bedded in.
Wind forward to the present day, the games with St Johnstone and Celtic will be big tests early in the schedule.
PNE’s squad hasn’t changed a great deal over the summer, with two of the four signings having been here last season.
So it is only Izzy Brown and Matthew Olosunde who are bedding in – two signings who by the looks of it have caught the imagination of the Preston faithful.
Frankie McAvoy will be looking to get his ideas across though, not withstanding his interim stint last season.
He’s preparing for a full campaign, not just eight games, so the time with his squad in Scotland will be valuable.
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