SOCCER SPECIAL: Preston North End’s history recalled through the pages of their programmes

Author Cliff Hague has produced a new book focusing on the wonderfully nostalgic world of football programmes and here recalls his first visit to Deepdale as a visiting fan.

Friday, 29th October 2021, 4:45 pm

The glory days of Preston North End in the 1950s and 60s are among the memories recalled in the pages of my new book.

‘Programmes! Programmes! Football and Life from Wartime to Lockdown’ tells of Tom Finney, of course, but other Deepdale heroes too.

It captures the days when flat-capped men cycled to the match from their Saturday morning shift in the factory or at the docks.

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Author Cliff Hague with his North End programmes

It shows how the beautiful game was reshaped by wider changes in how we lived our lives – televisions, motorways, a shorter working week, strikes, deindustrialisation, the collapse of the Soviet Block, and the arrival of the internet.

Having been born and brought up in the north of Manchester, playing football in the street and following the Busby Babes, my first away match was a visit to Deepdale as an 11-year-old on a cold afternoon in January 1956.

I stood at the front, near the halfway line, the sort of place where the tackles made you wince, and the speed and twinkling footwork of the wingers was just a few yards away.

Up close was Willie Cunningham, the North End right-back. Born in a mining village in Fife, he had worked down the pit.

Like many from similar backgrounds, he was hard as nails, but his wider qualities saw him win Scotland caps and captain his country in the 1954 World Cup.

In front of him that day, and wearing number four, was another Scot who took no prisoners, Tommy Docherty.

The Doc’ is perhaps better known today for his later career as a manager, but he made 324 appearances for Preston, as well as winning 25 caps.

These men provided the protection – in every sense of the word – that enabled the peerless Tom Finney to weave his skills ahead of them. There was no obligation for wingers to drop back in those days, but Cunningham and Docherty ensured that there was no easy passage in the space behind Finney.

The programme noted that the visitors were four points clear at the top of the league (by the end of the season the lead would be 11 points) and had won every one of the last eight meetings with Preston. Such is football, the home side ran out 3-1 winners.

Programmes store memories and tell of their times.

The back cover of that 1956 programme was an advert for ‘The Ford “Popular” – the lowest priced car in the world!’ The price? £275, plus £138, 17 shillings purchase tax.

Cars, even those like the Popular at the cheaper end of the market, were luxuries and heavily taxed.

There was also an advert for the Vauxhall Wyvern ‘the roomiest car under £500’. The five/six seater saloon promised ‘smooth riding qualities’, and a ‘sturdy engine’, all for £495 plus £207, seven shillings and sixpence tax.

In 1953 North End had been pipped by Arsenal for the league title on goal difference. The following season they reached the FA Cup final, and Finney was voted Footballer of the Year.

They had overcome Derby County then Lincoln City, both by 2-0 away from home.

A fifth-round 6-1 romp at home to Ipswich was followed by a 1-1 draw with Leicester City, then it was 2-2 in the Deepdale replay, before the tie was decided at neutral Hillsborough when goals by Baxter, Foster and Finney settled it at 3-1.

The semi-final was at Manchester City’s Maine Road. Finney was an injury doubt.

Writing in the programme, journalist Eric Todd mused on the prospect of “a battle between Sheffield Wednesday’s forwards and North End’s strong, redoubtable defence. That’s the way I think things will go – unless Tom Finney is available in which case your guess is as good as mine!”

He added: “Finney’s very presence is capable of transforming any game.” Finney played and North End won 2-0.

That programme also gives insight into the debates in British football at the time.

In an article Edgar Turner made a strong case for using a ‘waterproof ball’ for every match.

Turner conceded that ‘Most British footballers dislike the waterproof ball.

“It gets blown about by the wind too much”, to which objection Turner countered: “It wouldn’t get blown about by the wind if it was kept on the ground.”

He pointed out that a white (and so waterproof) ball had been used in Hungary’s famous 6-3 demolition of England at Wembley just a few months earlier, and, ‘those Magyar melody-makers had ONLY ONE SHOT over the bar with it.’

His point was that the Hungarians had the skills to control a lighter ball. Turner looked forward to players wearing lighter boots, gaining greater speed, concluding: “I’m tired of watching plodding footballers.”

A decade later North End were again on the way to an FA Cup final, with a side featuring keeper Alan Kelly, Nobby Lawton, Alex Dawson and Doug Holden.

They met Swansea Town (as they were then) in the semi-final at Villa Park on a day of torrential rain.

The YouTube highlights provide a reminder of what it was like to stand on the open terraces in those conditions.

This programme also included thoughtful articles about the transition the game was going through.

Journalist Cyril Chapman highlighted the serious fall in attendances. Aston Villa v Arsenal had attracted only 23,000, and Wolves v Bolton drew only 19,000.

The problem came, he argued, because going to a match now had to compete with watching afternoon TV or other leisure pursuits.

This was an indirect consequence of successful pressure by trades unions for a five-day working week, with the whole of Saturday ‘off’.

‘A shrinkage in the number of clubs looks inevitable’, Chapman said, with ‘the major football concentrated on the main centres of population’.

There would also be ‘some kind of European competition, with our teams travelling frequently to the continent.’

Despite the binning earlier this year of the proposed European Super League, time has proven Chapman to be right.

In particular, clubs from towns like Preston suffered as the motorway network made it easier for fans to desert their local club and travel instead to Old Trafford or Anfield.

The greed of the big clubs led later to the formation of the Premier League, further tipping the scales against the rest.

But back in 1964, North End were able to beat Swansea 2-1, the winner a long-range shot from centre-half Tony Singleton speared through the deluge and into the net.

One form of resistance by the less advantaged clubs was investment in artificial pitches.

That at Deepdale, installed in 1986, achieved near legendary status, but the return of grass was widely welcomed by fans.

The programme for the last game on it (May 18, 1994 against Torquay United in a Division Three promotion play-off second leg) was labelled ‘Farewell to the Plastic Pitch – Last Game Souvenir’.

Down 2-0 from the away leg, a headed goal by No.6 David Moyes helped North End take game into extra time with the aggregate score 3-3.

The winner came four minutes from the end, a Paul Raynor header making it 4-1, and 4-3 on aggregate.

However, the trip to Wembley, as in 1954 and 1964, brought disappointment, with Wycombe Wanderers triumphing 4-2 despite goals from Raynor and Ian Bryson.

So when you buy a programme, keep it. In your old age it will rekindle memories of players and times gone by.

Programmes! Programmes! Football and Life from Wartime to Lockdown by Cliff Hague is published by Pitch Publishing and is available from all good booksellers.