In among the 22,025 crowd for Preston North End’s League Cup meeting with Manchester City last week, a reunion of sorts took place.
Nothing fancy, just a few friends having a meal in the Greats’ Room at Deepdale and taking the chance to reminisce about an event a quarter of a century ago, one they were at the heart of.
That event was huge in the history of North End and revived the fortunes of a club for which every day was a financial struggle.
On September 25, 1994, the Baxi Partnership took a controlling share in PNE.
Under their watch over the next few years, three new stands were built at Deepdale and results were to take an upturn on the pitch.
Twice the Lilywhites were promoted, they got to within 90 minutes of the Premier League.
David Moyes kicked off his managerial career when Baxi were in control, a young kid called David Beckham wore the Preston shirt five times when on loan from Manchester United.
Chief executive of Baxi when they bought North End was Bryan Gray. He was named chairman of PNE, a role which Gray combined with his Baxi day job until late 2001.
Has there been a better Preston chairman? Gray’s record is there in black and white – the club went from strength to strength.
Gray looks back with pride at his era as PNE chairman.
Seeing Deepdale full last week, under those distinctive floodlights, was a fine sight for him and those colleagues he shared a meal with before the game.
The Baxi takeover had its origins in the summer of 1994 when the company were looking to have more of an involvement in the local community.
Reflecting on events 25 years ago, Gray said: “Ben Casey and myself met – Ben was a big Preston fan and designed the stadium.
“He asked me whether Baxi would sponsor PNE?
“I got in contact with Malcolm Woodhouse who was the major shareholder.
“There was a meeting at Deepdale and I said, ‘If you let us have this, we could turn it around for the benefit of the local community.
“Malcolm and his son Malc, told me they would be interested.
“From there, Trevor Hemmings spoke with the other shareholders, got them all together and said it would be the right thing for them to support what we wanted to do.
“Without Trevor it would not have happened, with his help it was very easy to bring it all together. It has come full circle with him being the owner now.
“When we took over in some way I was naive but I was equally clear that we could run Preston North End as a business for the benefit of the community.
“Malcolm Woodhouse and Keith Leeming had been running the club well but on very limited resources.
“They were extremely good businessmen, were big Preston fans but didn’t have the resources to take it to the next stage.
“We now had the chance to do that,the development of the stadium one of those stages.
“When we took over, we found a very loyal staff who wanted the best for the club.
“The biggest problem for me was that John Beck was the manager. I didn’t think I could work with John and quite quickly we appointed Gary Peters.
“It was a good move, a decision which worked well.
“One of the things which I learned is that you can choose the right people for the time but they aren’t necessarily the right people forever.
“When we got promoted from the Third Division we stayed loyal to the players which was a mistake, we needed different skills in the Second Division.
“Eventually Gary felt he had done all he could and it was his decision to go.
“We had David Moyes ready to become manager and it was Gary’s decision on the timing of that.
“David was the right man for the next phase. What we needed was a new approach, not the usual suspects.
“We wanted someone with vision and drive.
“When you look back over the years you can see the consequences of our decisions – Gary was the right choice at the time, then David was right. Both won a promotion.”
Deepdale in its current guise is a legacy of the Baxi era, three of the four stands built over six years.
Not for North End was a soulless bowl-style ground which some clubs have.
Said Gray: “Whenever I go to Deepdale I feel proud, I see it as a fabulous stadium.
“Ben Casey designed it based on an Italian ground – the floodlight towers I really like.
“It was designed so it could be built in stages as we could not afford to do it all at once. There’s nothing I would change about it.
“When we took over 25 years ago, the ambition was to get to the Premier League.
“It was a distant dream then but Preston have been knocking on the door since.
“There have been ups and downs but I genuinely believe one day the club will get there.
“I’ve still got a really good relationship with the people in charge – Peter Ridsdale, Trevor Hemmings, Ben Rhodes. It is nice to have that relationship and I never look to interfere.”