Strange dressing rooms and two coaches: Preston defender Paul Huntington on the changes behind the scenes during the pandemic

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The Covid-19 pandemic has given us all time to reflect on things we might have taken for granted when life was ‘normal’.

Away team dressing rooms might not be top of that list but facilities behind the scenes at football grounds have been different since games resumed in the summer.

It is common practice to have teams kept well away from one another until the time they set foot on the pitch before kick-off.

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Often that has meant the away team being located to a different area of the ground to change and listen to their manager’s team-talk.

Preston North End centre-half Paul HuntingtonPreston North End centre-half Paul Huntington
Preston North End centre-half Paul Huntington

That took a bit of time to get used as Preston North End stalwart Paul Huntington sought to explain in a chat with the Lancashire Post.

There are no complaints on Huntington’s part, one look at PNE’s away form compared to results at Deepdale since the restart showing having to change in a slightly strange location hasn’t done them any harm.

Huntington said: “It used to be a case of getting off the bus and straight into a nice dressing room.

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“Things have had to change and you just get on with where you are put.

Paul Huntington gets in a header during PNE's game at RotherhamPaul Huntington gets in a header during PNE's game at Rotherham
Paul Huntington gets in a header during PNE's game at Rotherham

“At Queens Park Rangers we were underneath the home stand behind the goal and it was a bit of a trek to get out to the pitch.

“I think it was a bar area with seats around the side.

“You walk out behind the goal rather than out of the tunnel.

“At Luton last season we were in something which looked like an old board room. When we played at Derby in the Carabao Cup, the press room is used by the away team to change.

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PNE's Paul Huntington gets up high against ReadingPNE's Paul Huntington gets up high against Reading
PNE's Paul Huntington gets up high against Reading

“In previous visits I’d done interviews in there, this time it was where we got changed.

“The medical staff set up their facilities in the space where normally fans would have stood to have a pie and pint before the game!

“It’s been something we have had to get used to and it looks like being that way for a bit longer yet. One thing I’ll never get used to is not having fans in the ground.

“There’s no atmosphere, no feel of there being a game. You come out of the tunnel and there is silence.

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“I don’t think there is a home advantage anymore, that is why some of the results have been the way they are.

“Normally if you get a goal the fans are pushing you to get another.

“If you are not playing well, they’ll let you know and give you a lift.”

Another difference for away games is North End travelling to the ground on two coaches.

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That is to allow players and staff to sit far enough apart to adhere to social distancing measures.

Huntington said: “We go on two coaches now which actually helps with the longer matches.

“The lads who don’t live in the Preston area travel on one of the coaches and that drops them off at Lymm Services if we’re on the M6 or Birch Services on the M62.

“The second coach goes straight back to Preston and after a midweek away game when you are getting back in the early hours, it saves quite a bit of time.

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“We’ve done quite a lot of travelling recently, QPR and Reading on a Wednesday night.”

It will be the familiar surrounding of the home dressing room at Deepdale for the North End squad.

On Saturday they face Sheffield Wednesday, then Blackburn Rovers make the short trip to Preston three days later. Without a home point all season, the form at Deepdale needs a boost and quickly.

“They are two big games coming up at home,” said 33-year-old Huntington.

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“Sheffield Wednesday sacked their manager after the last game and now have a new one in place.

“They’d picked-up a bit in the last couple of games and got given six points back from their deduction after they appealed.

“These two games are a good opportunity for us to get our home form going.

“When you look back at previous games, just a couple of good results at home added to the away form, would have had us in a strong position.

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“What we need to do is get the points necessary to push up the table and stay in touch with the pack.

“The ideal way to do things is stay and in touch and then come in with a strong finish.

“In previous seasons we have usually been there or there abouts in March and then dropped off.

“Maybe we need to get into a position where we kick-on in the last couple of months.

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“The Blackburn game will be strange because it is a local derby with no fans in the ground – usually the ground is packed.

“Blackburn started off really well, had some great wins and then dropped off.

“I suppose that is typical of the Championship.

“It will be a competitive game, even in an empty ground, and we’ll need to impose our game plan.

“We are a good side on our day, even if results at home haven’t shown that.

“Over the seasons we have tended to put good runs together.

“This time it’s been great away and not so great at home.

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“We have to find a way of putting form together home and away. If we can get a few good results we will push up the table.”

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