Tom Sandells' Press View: Excitement builds as a special season for Preston North End begins this weekend

The excitement for Preston North End’s season is at levels we have rarely seen at Deepdale, and it all begins on Saturday.

By Tom Sandells
Friday, 1st July 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Friday, 1st July 2022, 12:35 pm

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Although officially PNE’s season will begin on July 30, as they face League One champions Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium, they will play their first game of their 2022/23 campaign on Saturday against Bamber Bridge at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium (3pm).

It is the traditional curtain-raiser in North End’s calendar and is generally the point where football begins again for those around PR1 – other postcodes are permitted.

Preston North End manager Ryan Lowe after the final game of last season.

Sometimes it is the case that the new kit is out, there are some new faces and the sun even makes an appearance. Generally speaking, this fixture does quite well in terms of the weather, which boosts attendances. Last season, not so much, as it was rained off after a torrential downpour and some hard work by volunteers in trying to clear the water was in vain.

Tickets are £10 or £5 for concessions, there is pay on the day and dogs are allowed too, what could be better than a welcoming non-league ground where you can get close to the action and watch the Lilywhites?

It has been 56 days since Ryan Lowe’s men last played a game, an excellent 4-1 win over Middlesbrough. It was somewhat of a statement win, Boro were still in with a chance of the play-offs and North End stopped them in their tracks.

It’s the position PNE want to find themselves in next season, aided by some recruitment, but to be beating a side chasing the top six before that recruitment took place could be a big help mentally for the players going into this season.

Fans at Irongate during the last PNE game played there three years ago.

That will of course be the target that Lowe sets his side, languishing towards the bottom of the league when he took over, he aimed for the top half, and very nearly made it. This season he won’t be any less ambitious.

What can actually be achieved by Preston this season remains to be seen, the transfer window has yet to really spring into life for most teams.

North End’s additions of Freddie Woodman and David Cornell whilst smart business was pretty straightforward – they had no goalkeepers.

Other areas may require a little more finesse and their outgoings so far have said more than their incomings. Cancelling the contracts of Tom Bayliss and Josh Earl to allow them to move on, with one year left on the deals of the 23-year-olds says a lot about Lowe’s working.

Rio Spurr, son of former PNE player Tommy, who continues to battle against cancer.

They may be young, they may still have room to grow, but they’re not at the level required. He wants success. That is not to say that potential will be ignored, but you must be able to contribute right away and be relied upon.

Saturday’s game against Brig will be a little different to others in the past, North End will be in last season’s kit and there are just the two new signings to welcome into the fold, and they can’t both be on the pitch at the same time.

It is the first chance to see Ben Woodburn in action however – his contract expired at Liverpool this summer. He has had loans with Oxford United, Blackpool and Hearts but has so far not lived up the excessive hype he received when becoming the Reds’ youngest-ever goalscorer, then coming second in Wales’ list behind only Gareth Bale.

Either way, it is some much needed reinforcements in the forward area as Lowe still wants two new additions. He also wants a wing-back on both sides but these things take time and North End are not prepared to rush.

One thing is for sure, whoever does join the club, they will be well backed. The mood around the club at the moment, as is quite often noted but rightly so, is fantastic.

Fans are buying in to what Lowe is trying to do, quite literally with the season ticket sales, and speaking to the players they are recognising that.

The club held their annual media day this week and I asked everyone I spoke to about the fans and their buying of the season tickets. It is appreciated within the North End squad and essentially, their aim is repay that support.

With the pre-season summer camp trip to Spain just around the corner, five coaches have been organised to transport those going out for the game from Benidorm to the golf complex where the game is taking place.

Getafe are the opposition but there will be around 275 North Enders in attendance, a remarkable effort all round and particularly by those organising the transport.

We have also seen the wider football family come together in aid of ex-PNE defender Tommy Spurr. Sadly, his young son Rio is suffering from Wilms’ tumour, a rare cancer. The brave tot has so far had his kidney removed and one round of chemotherapy, with a more intense round to come alongside radiotherapy.

Spurr is now a school teacher and he and his wife, Chloe, have had to split themselves between young Rio and his even younger brother, Rudy.

A GoFundMe has been set up for the Spurr family and at the time of writing more than £15,000 has been raised.

A percentage of the recent match-worn shirt auction will also be donated to the efforts, money that was originally set to go towards PNE Online and North End Souls but gladly redirected.

In horrible circumstances, it is another moment of things being done right in and around the club. Everyone is working as one around PNE at the moment and hopefully Saturday’s game against Bamber Bridge can as much be a celebration of that as much as football’s return after the summer off.

There is a feeling that this could be a big year for North End. There are four local derbies to look forward to, one on the opening day of the season.

There is a manager in place that understands the supporters and the club, who wants to build and be ambitious and be active in the transfer market.

Those higher up are investing in the club, improvements to the training ground, willingness in the transfer market and the recent auction to help fans improve the atmosphere at Deepdale.

It is the first season in about five where you think North End could seriously be in the mix in the top six, and it all starts this weekend.