Memory match: Preston North End's historic win over Swansea on the Deepdale plastic pitch

Preston striker John Thomas turns to celebrate opening the scoring against Swansea at Deepdale in August 1986
Preston striker John Thomas turns to celebrate opening the scoring against Swansea at Deepdale in August 1986

At first glance, Preston North End’s meeting with Swansea City on August 30, 1986 might not have much significance.

A Fourth Division clash in front of 4,362 people in the late summer sunshine would not normally be one for the club history books.

Preston striker Gary Brazil on the attack against Swansea

Preston striker Gary Brazil on the attack against Swansea

But what made this one special was that it was first competitive game played on Deepdale’s plastic pitch.

The artificial surface had been laid that summer in a joint venture between North End and the local council.

It was part of the rebirth of the Lilywhites who three months earlier had been forced to apply for re-election to the Football League.

They had finished 91st in the league in 1985/86, that a season which was a complete and utter disaster.

Preston's John Thomas watches the ball go across the Swansea six-yard box

Preston's John Thomas watches the ball go across the Swansea six-yard box

As well as doing away with grass and putting down the magic carpet, the PNE squad was gutted that summer and they started again.

A few players survived the cull but largely the squad was rebuilt by new manager John McGrath.

He did it all for £15,000, the fee received from the sale of Nigel Greenwood to Bury.

McGrath’s men had drawn 1-1 at Tranmere on the first day of the 1986/87 season.

John Thomas fires Preston in front against Swansea, watched by strike partner Gary Brazil

John Thomas fires Preston in front against Swansea, watched by strike partner Gary Brazil

Then they had drawn 0-0 with Blackpool in the first leg of the League Cup.

In pre-season North End played a couple of friendlies on the plastic but this game with Swansea was the first in the league.

Goals from John Thomas and Oshor Williams delivered a 2-1 victory. The 4,362 attendance was actually the highest outside of the Second Division that day – that indicative of how football was struggling as a sport in the mid-80s.

Just five years earlier the sides had met in the Second Division at Deepdale, a win for the Welshmen seeing them promoted to the top flight for the first time.

It had been a rapid rise up the league for Swansea but their fall back down was just as dramatic – this their first season back in the basement.

The opening half-hour of the clash was pretty even, with both sides seeing half chances.

McGrath felt his midfield was a little too ‘fussy’ to start with, not taking a proper grip on proceedings.

Steadily they did get on top, with new boy Ronnie Hildersley and skipper Jon Clark – playing his 100th game for PNE – catching the eye.

North End took the lead in the 33rd minute, two of the players left from the previous campaign combining.

Andy McAteer delivered a free-kick into the box from the wing, Thomas meeting it on the turn and volleying in from close range.

Thomas had scored on the opening day at Tranmere too, the striker going on to be a man in form all season.

North End went close to doubling their advantage when Williams’ cross from the byline found Hildersley, who volleyed against the bar.

However, they did not have to wait too long before their second goal of the afternoon arrived.

McAteer again supplied the ammunition, his cross from the left met by Williams who headed home.

A free transfer, Williams and all the experience which he brought proved valuable for North End that season.

Swansea were to halve the deficit with seconds of the contest remaining.

Shaun McCarthy forced the ball home but it was not enough to prevent North End collecting the three points.

McGrath said: “We sorted out one or two issues during half-time and I thought that things improved from there.”

PNE: Brown, Bulmer, Chapman, Jones, Allardyce, McAteer, Williams, Clark, Hildersley, Brazil, Thomas. Sub: Atkins.