Dave Seddon's Preston North End Press View: The return of the Blackpool derby and a welcome emergence of a new PNE fans' group
The fixture list for the 2021/22 season is published in a little less than three weeks and the date for the resumption of hostilities on the pitch between Preston North End and Blackpool will be the focus of many supporters.
It is nearly eight years since the teams last met, more than 11 years since they crossed swords in the Championship.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Not quite in this case, there’s no love lost.
You would say that this is the Lilywhites’ biggest derby, if not quite the most geographically local.
However, not every North End fan will agree with that statement, for some they see Blackburn Rovers as their biggest derby.
It comes down to age, where you live and history.
Some PNE supporters living south of the Ribble will regard Blackburn as the big one by reason of geography.
Indeed over the last few years it’s been the only derby to contest due to Blackpool being in Leagues One and Two and Burnley’ stay in the Premier League.
There’s been those great away days at Ewood Park with a Darwen End packed full of North Enders.
For a long time though, Rovers were missing from Preston’s fixture list due to being in higher divisions.
When they reunited in the 2015/16 season there was a similar anticipation to what is felt now with Blackpool.
For a long spell in the 1990s and into the 2000s, Burnley was the big one.
So derbies come and go and now the focus is back on the Seasiders courtesy of their League One play-off final win last Sunday over Lincoln City.
For me, Blackpool is the big derby for North End, there has always been that edge to the meetings.
My first experience of it was in 1982 in the FA Cup, PNE winning 2-1 at Deepdale in a second round tie.
There were 14,000 there for it in a season where the biggest league attendance didn’t hit 8,000.
In 1985 and 1986 there were League Cup meetings, both two-legged affairs with North End coming out on top.
Those cup meetings came in a 13-year break in league action between 1974 and 1987.
For PNE the return to league action against Blackpool was a painful one, a 3-0 defeat in September 1987 at Bloomfield Road.
Revenge came on a wet Boxing Day at Deepdale, North End scoring twice late on to come from behind and win 2-1.
A memorable trip to the Fylde coast was the Tony Ellis hat-trick game in October 1992 – Ellis’ treble delivering a 3-2 victory.
Two years later, Ellis was on the other side wearing tangerine when Mike Conroy netted PNE’s winner over Blackpool in the FA Cup in front of the Sky cameras.
There was the ‘night of shame’ 3-0 win in December 1996 at Deepdale, Gary Bennett finding his scoring legs to net a brace.
It hasn’t always gone right for North End, with Pool winning two seasons in a row at Deepdale.
In the campaign when Charlie Adam scored their winner in Preston, the Lilywhites had won 3-1 by the sea – one for Chris Brown and Neil Mellor to remember.
So we come to the present day and a diary reminder for 9am on Thursday, June 24 when the fixtures come out.
Hopefully by the time the season kicks-off and when the meetings with Blackpool come about, we will have returned to an era of full capacities and some sense of normality after all the disruption and gloom of the last 15 months or so.
In anticipation of a ‘normal’ 2021/22 campaign, North End announced their season card prices this week.
Traditionally such announcements divide opinion but the response was overwhelming positive.
With those who held a season card in 2019/20 given a loyalty discount, so too the fans who bought one for the campaign just finished, it’s a good deal.
For some supporters, the discount will be as much as £100. North End have with this scheme rewarded loyalty from the faithful during a very difficult time.
A big development on the supporter front this week was the formation of the ‘Preston Underground’, a PNE fans’ group.
Their aim is have better engagement between North End and the fanbase.
It is not a protest group, the fans wanting to work with the club and develop a better matchday experience.
Ultimately they want to come up with ideas to help lighten the reliance of North End on Trevor Hemmings’ back account.
The ‘Underground’ is named as it because the fans involved want to keep it as a collective rather than have one or two of them speak out and be there to be shot at.
It’s been a while since North End had an active supporters group.
There used to be quite a few operating in various ways and all for the common good of North End fans.
For many years the official supporters club ran coaches to matches – my first couple of seasons going to away games were on board Fishwicks coaches.
There’s been the PSG which was very popular, so too the Lancaster Supporters Club and the South Ribble Supporters Club – picking two out of my memory there.
In the early 1990s, the Independent Supporters Club was formed by a group of PNE fans.
Early meetings took place in the Princess Alice pub, then moved to bigger venues at St Anthony’s and then London Road.
The ISA helped things change for a better at PNE in times when life was tough for football clubs.
Their campaign to get Preston fans back on the Town End in 1993 was a particular success.
This is a different era but one when engagement between supporters and club is so important.
Football has merely existed since March 2020, we’ve all seen how hollow things are without fans being in grounds. Having a reunited front and common goal is the way forward.
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