Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: Celebrate Gentry Day...and forget the rest!
Gentry Day might not have fallen at the best time this year but we must look beyond the football on this special occasion.
The speculation over Alex Neil’s future at Preston North End amid interest from West Bromwich, has dominated the agenda in recent days.
PNE’s form dip just at the wrong time of the season may also have dampened some fans’ enthusiasm for a day wearing a bowler hat at The Hawthorns.
Forget the covetous stares being cast in Neil’s direction from the Sandwell area and put to one side too recent results.
Gentry Day goes beyond that, it is more an occasion to remember those North End faithful no longer with us and to do so in a unique way.
No other fans dress up to the nines and don a bowler in the way PNE supporters do.
It is a nod back to the 1970s and that glorious Third Division title-winning season of 1970/71 under Alan Ball Snr.
Ball christened Preston fans as the ‘Gentry’ after a midweek away game against Shrewsbury in 1970.
Getting on for 49 years later, that tag is still going strong.
That is why Gentry Day is about much more than who the manager is, who might or might not be interested in him and what is happening on the pitch.
Of course a good result can help the day go with a swing, as we witnessed at Bolton last year. But it is not a deal-breaker, with Gentry Day and victories not always going hand in hand.
The day is remembered better than the result – just ask those 200 fans who sailed down the River Thames on a boat ahead of the 2017 game at Fulham.
Do they talk about the river cruise and beer or the 3-1 defeat that afternoon?
PNE’s 2,773 allocation for The Hawthorns sold out in 24 hours.
That was some going but did raise questions in itself about the selling method and whether there have been some sort of priority sale in place.
So it was with a little bit of alarm that I read on social media after the Leeds loss on Tuesday night that people with tickets were thinking about knocking Gentry Day on the head and staying at home.
Plans can change, people do have other demands on their time.
However, it would be such a shame if some seats are empty at kick-off time.
A feature for many fans on Gentry Day is the chance to have a drink or two, raise a glass to absent friends.
On the football front, it is very much a case of Preston drinking in the last chance saloon at West Bromwich Albion, in terms of the play-offs.
Realistically, last orders was probably called on their top-six chances when Leeds won here the other night.
Five games to make up an eight-point deficit, and hope for three or four clubs to go off the boil, is asking a lot.
Having worked so hard to put together a great run of results from January through to mid March, form has deserted them since the international break – three defeats tells its own story.
The gap in the fixture list was meant to provide the chance for a breather and for injuries to clear up.
It seems to have had the opposite effect, the casualty list even longer than it was last month.
Having got level on points with sixth place following the win over Birmingham, it has been a case of so near yet so far away.
North End were closer to the play-offs last month than they were in the latter stages of last season.
The sideshow to Gentry Day will of course be WBA’s interest in Neil.
What timing that is – their flirting of the last few weeks set to turn into an attempt at full-on seduction once this game is out of the way.
It will be a big decision for Neil if indeed the Baggies do come calling. There are some obvious attractions down there – in the fact this is only Albion’s first season down after 10 campaigns in the Premier League.
They are a big club at this level, play at a nice stadium and of course look secure for a place in the play-offs.
That gives them a crack at a return to the top flight at the first time of asking.
The word is that Albion want Neil in office in advance of the play-offs.
While there are reasons to be attracted to that job, there are attractions to staying at Preston too. Neil has steadily built the squad here into the image he wants and the job is certainly not complete yet.
He’s got a squad of mainly younger players who are still to reach their potential and, with the right guidance, can go far in the game.
On several occasions, Neil has referenced the straightforward reporting structure at PNE and how he likes that approach, rather than being stuck in a game of football politics which can develop at some clubs.
The picture looks like it will become clearer early next week, should Albion make their expected official approach.
It could well be a huge few days for both Neil and North End – the word is they will fight hard to keep their man.
Before then, enjoy Gentry Day and keep at the forefront of the mind the meaning of the occasion which is unique to Preston North End fans.