Preston North End: I will be remembering my grandad this Gentry Day at Middlesbrough

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It is that time of year again, Gentry Day is upon us and now it is time for duty to take over.

Preston North End will be making the trip to Middlesbrough on Saturday and it’s been picked out as this season’s Gentry Day, so expect bowler hats and pinstriped suits galore.

Boro are one of the form sides in the division, certainly since they last played PNE, and lost, in October, and North End are unbeaten in their last seven. It has the makings of a good contest.

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It’s a special day, there really isn’t anything quite like it, and it’s the best side of football. Of course there is the good and the bad, we’ve seen plenty of the bad over recent months at North End but Saturday will well and truly be a good day. Regardless of the result.

PNE fans in the 1950s on their way to the FA Cup final, with Tom Sandells' grandfather, Sandy, centrePNE fans in the 1950s on their way to the FA Cup final, with Tom Sandells' grandfather, Sandy, centre
PNE fans in the 1950s on their way to the FA Cup final, with Tom Sandells' grandfather, Sandy, centre

Obviously three points will make things much, much better but the football is very much playing second fiddle at the weekend. It’s instead a pilgrimage of sorts, it’s a chance for North End fans to honour those that can no longer go to the game.

There will be many attending the game that would have previously gone with others, and instead mourn their loss. They are now the Gentry.

The tradition started in the early 1970s after Alan Ball Senior dubbed the travelling Preston support as the Gentry and was revived in memory of a fallen fan, since then it has lived on as a lasting memory to any PNE fans that have been lost, mainly over the last 12 months since the previous occasion and fixture. It’s become a very special part of the club.

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This year’s game will be particularly poignant for me as I will be mourning the loss of someone I loved and someone who loved PNE. My grandad had been battling dementia for over a year by the time we lost him, in November of last year.

Last week my dad and I went to the National Football Museum in Manchester and in there was his megaphone – and somewhere not on show – is his rattle. Both are emblazoned with PNE and are from his trip to London in 1954 to watch them at Wembley and he did so in a blue and white suit. Little did he know PNE had knackered themselves out watching the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, had stood in the cold and were hungry before the game, so they went on to lose to West Brom 3-2.

Still, it was him who instilled the love of North End into my dad and then my dad onto me. He was at Wembley again 60 years later, alongside his son and grandson, to watch PNE beat Swindon 4-0 and secure promotion back to the Championship, his passion for the club still going strong.

He was an avid reader of this newspaper and would always keep an eye out for PNE news, so when I took over this job it was special to be able to share it with him because he kept getting the paper, he kept clippings of all my stories and I knew I always had at least one person reading my stuff!

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I miss him dearly and so much of the time we spent together centred around football, so this weekend’s game, at least for me, is for him – my grandad Sandy.

It will be like going to one more game with him. Reminding me of the years I spent sat next to him on the Sir Tom Finney Stand, getting handed £1.50 (really!) to go and get a pie 15 minutes into every game.

It’s just one story though, of many that will sound very similar, but they are exactly what Gentry Day is all about.