Tom Sandells' PNE pressview: I am sensing disconnect among the Preston fans
There is an ever expanding disconnect between football fans and the game at the moment.
The reason behind it is obvious but only in recent weeks have I been able to truly understand it.
It has been emphasised of late by the anniversary of the last North End game in attendance by the Lilywhites’ faithful.
Fulham away on February 29, a 2-0 defeat but a day out in the capital.
Shortly after, a long awaited trip to Luton Town was put on hold, as was the Championship season.
PNE then failed to build on a play-off position from the re-start and the rest now is history.
Initially after football’s return supporters were galvanised.
A sort of ‘we might not be there in person but we’ll make our voices heard from afar and be back soon’ approach.
The problem being that soon never came around.
It’s been commonly said that defeats are less hard to take now, that wins do less for the spirit.
Football is made into what it is by the people, the fans.
For some of the fans that went to Fulham, even remembering the specifics of the game might be difficult, instead it’s about having a good time with the people you travel with, you stand side by side with.
There is nothing quite like hugging a complete stranger after your team has scored.
So many parts of just that one scenario seems like it took place in a parallel universe.
I’m not saying that all football fans just go around hugging strangers but emotions do take over and you share those moments with whoever is around you, you’re all a part of the same team, the same cause.
Unfortunately that camaraderie, that special feeling has been lost over the last year or so with fans barred from attending games.
In recent weeks, I have detected a feeling that supporters’ opinions have become black and white. That everything is analysed in the cold light of day.
Players are either good when we win or bad when we lose. The manager? Well, the same.
The emotions of the game are not there anymore and it is hard for fans not to feel distant or remote.
This is not a defence of any particular performance by the team or decision taken by the manager.
With my colleague Dave Seddon unable to attend a couple of games, I was able to attend, in person, my first two Preston league games of the season – Blackburn away and Watford at home.
I had also been fortunate enough to watch the Tranmere Rovers friendly last summer and the Carabao cup fixture against Mansfield Town game in the cup.
Back then, there was an air of expectancy that things would be back to normal soon but unfortunately all these months later, things are still the same.
The Rovers game was obviously a derby, but until midfield man Ryan Ledson started to put his foot into a few rigorous challenges, you would not have known it. The usual 7,000 raucous
PNE fans in the Darwen End were conspicuous by their absence.
Deepdale under the lights for the Watford game would normally be a beautiful sight, but it all felt rather strange looking at all the empty seats – not seeing the fans with their flasks of coffee or tea, and pie – getting ready for kick off.
I know that many people would like to have been in my spot, being at Deepdale and I felt fortunate, but it was such a strange experience.
Like many people I grew up watching PNE and you take for granted all the little things which you enjoy so much about going to the game – it’s not just about the footy.
What I have found watching games on television – whether it’s iFollow, Sky Sports or the dreaded red button – you do not get a true perspective of the game.
You do not get a true sense of the effort which goes into games – the 60-yard recovery runs, the frustration when something goes wrong or the effort which goes into games.
Fans question if players care but just because a team loses does not mean they don’t care.
Having been away from attending games, and not even being able to play for my local team on a Sunday, it’s important to remember that it’s the people involved that make football great.
I fear that the longer fans are away from the ground the longer it will take to reconnect to the club, to the game and to those involved. It may be instant but there are some that are falling out of love with the game and that is a concern for me.
Hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel after the Government announced its roadmap out of lockdown with amateur sports making a comeback by the end of this month.
Deepdale isn’t the loudest of stadiums, but any sort of hum from the crowd is far better than the canned fan noise that is pumped in during the game.
I can’t wait to hear the sound of real emotion on the terraces again.