George Ross looks back on his FA Cup experiences at Preston North End with much fondness.
“I had a love affair with the FA Cup as a player,” Ross told the Evening Post.
The Scotsman reached the final in 1964 with North End and twice got as far as the last eight of the competition.
Both times in the quarter-finals, PNE came up against Manchester United and twice went out after replays at Old Trafford.
In 1962, Ross was a teenager in the Preston side which drew 0-0 against United at Deepdale and was then beaten 2-1 in the replay.
Four years later, a bit older and wiser, Ross helped North End to a 1-1 draw against United. In the replay, the Red Devils won 3-1.
Had it not been for his leg being in plaster after Achilles tendon surgery, Ross would have faced United at the fourth round stage in 1972.
Looking back on the games against United – opponents for Preston in the fifth round this time –Ross remembers them with much clarity.
“In the 1961/62 season we beat Watford, Weymouth and Liverpool on the way to the sixth round,” he said.
“We played Liverpool three times, drawing 0-0 at Anfield and 0-0 in the replay here.
“Cup ties were not settled by penalties then so we had a second replay at a neutral ground which in this case was Old Trafford – we beat Liverpool 1-0 that night.
“Our reward was a home game against United at Deepdale, we were in the old Second Division and they were a First Division side.
“We drew 0-0 and the crowd was more than 37,500 – Deepdale was packed to the rafters.
“Four days later we played the replay at Old Trafford and were beaten 2-1.
“The crowd was 63,000, which was the best United had that season.
“Alan Spavin scored our goal, with Bobby Charlton and David Herd getting United’s.
“Nobby Lawton played for United in those two games and later joined us – he was our captain in 1964 at Wembley.”
North End and United locked horns again four years later, their divisional status the same in 1966 as it had been in 1962.
Said Ross: “The FA Cup was again good to us that season.
“We won at Charlton in the third round, beat Bolton after a replay and then knocked Tottenham out 2-1 here.
“That was the Tottenham side with Jimmy Greaves in – they were a great team. We were drawn at home to United and again the crowd was more than 37,500.
“Alan Kelly was magnificent that day, he made save after save in one-on-one situations.
“We took the lead with an Alex Dawson goal but United equalised through David Herd.
“George Best and Denis Law played for them, just to be on the same pitch as Best was a great feeling.
“Saying that, it was a privilege to be on the pitch with Alan Kelly and to be a team-mate of his.
“The United team was pretty much the one which went on to win the European Cup a couple of years later.
“Matt Busby was their manager and they were clearly a great side.
“In the replay we lost 3-1. Denis Law got a couple and John Connolly the other.
“I think one of the goals went in off Law’s knee or shin and I remember calling him a lucky so-and-so, or words to that effect!
“He just ruffled my hair and said something back, one Highlander to another.
“Tony Singleton scored for us. His only previous goal had been in the 1964 FA Cup semi-final against Swansea at Villa Park – you could say that Tony saved them up for the big occasion!
“When Preston played United again in the FA Cup in 1972 I missed it through injury.
“I played the first two games of that season and in the second one at Barrow in the League Cup, I got raked on the Achilles tendon and needed an operation.
“That was in August and I got back for the last two games of the season.
“I think I watched the United game with a huge plaster cast on my leg.
“My memories of the FA Cup are fantastic – it was great to play for Preston in the competition and get to the final.
“Just once in my career I played as early as the first round, that is when we had been relegated to the Third Division at the start of the 1970s.
“We got promoted straight away under Alan Ball.
“With Preston being drawn against United now, it brings back those great memories.
“I will be at Deepdale and it will be fantastic to see the place full again.
“I’m there to watch Preston try to knock out Manchester United – I’m not there to watch United.
“They might not say it but I would think United are a bit nervous about coming here.
“The pressure is all on them and they will want to avoid an upset.
“North End’s form has just picked up at the right time and they will be buzzing.
“We have won three on the bounce and a fourth would be lovely.
“It would be great to see Preston score and see where that takes us.”
There were earlier FA Cup meetings with United for North End. United were known as Newton Heath when Preston beat them 6-1 way back in 1890.
The clubs were next drawn together in 1946 after the end of the Second World War.
That was before the Football League resumed and cup ties were played over two legs to give supporters more matches to watch.
The first leg was played at Maine Road as Old Trafford was out of action after being bombed in the war.
North End were beaten 1-0 but won 3-1 in the return game at Deepdale.
In February 1948, they met at the sixth round stage.
Preston had beaten Manchester City 1-0 at Maine Road in the previous round thanks to an Angus McIntosh goal. It was back to Maine Road three weeks later to face United, Old Trafford still out of use.
A crowd of 74,243 saw United win 4-1, McIntosh being Preston’s scorer.
In terms of the FA Cup, it was to be the 1962 meeting, described by Ross, when PNE and United next met.