Tom Sandells’ Preston North End Press View: Normal service resumed for pre-season
It is a scenario that if I was speaking aloud I’d be saying it quietly, but it seems like there’s almost a sense of normality returning to football.
This week PNE announced some of their pre-season friendlies.
The first one was against Celtic at Celtic Park, followed the next day by a game planned against Bolton.
My go-to friendly each season is the first one that is generally against Bamber Bridge.
It’s normally the first one where you see the players in the new kit, those players that are new and have been brought in early enough in pre-season feature and there is also the annual return of the longer-term injuries too.
The weather is normally good, everyone is close and can have a chat and you can get stuck in with some of the food that’s for sale around the ground.
It’s a point where all the excitement really starts to build as the waiting you’ve done over the summer for football to return is thankfully over.
This season there is the glamour tie of Celtic.
I don’t think it would have taken much to excite PNE fans who are waiting to watch their team again but it does add an extra element to getting back into the swing of things.
But as these games are announced, with little pageantry from the club, it’s almost normal.
It’s exactly what you would expect as they prepare for their new season.
A pre-season friendly is announced and you move on. That is, like it hasn’t been well over a year since there has been a home spectator in at a North End game.
There has been light at the end of the tunnel before but this time it feels more secure, that this time we will in fact be able to attend.
Though I am more often than not in a very fortunate position when it comes to football and PNE specifically, it has been a bizarre period for me too.
Normally I would be given a free ticket to attend, food before the game and the chance to speak to the manager – now head coach – after the game.
Due to EFL regulations, I’ve been watching on from afar. I’ve instead swapped it for some toast at around dinner time and battling to keep my puppy from chewing on wires – and then trying to keep typing when she tires herself out and decides she’s sleeping exactly where my keyboard is and tries to nudge it out of the way.
There have been limits on how many attendees there can be from one organisation and as such I have been enduring iFollow, with my colleague Dave Seddon attending the games.
It meant that when fans would talk of their frustrations of the service, or of not being there or their detachment from the game, I got it.
I was still more involved than the average fan, I was still speaking to the manager each week and for that I was lucky, but it was still – relative to what I’m used to – a stretch from the norm.
I got this job in October 2019, as a PNE fan I couldn’t believe I’d get the chance to go to every game.
I’ve never been able to follow North End like that and I couldn’t wait to get started.
I got a decent chunk of the 19/20 season in before lockdown struck.
Since, I’ve been to a friendly, a League Cup game and two league matches covering the Lilywhites.
That’s still four more than most and I’ll always appreciate that fortunate position but the game just isn’t the same.
It almost became robotic to switch off my laptop after a defeat and forget the stream I’d just watched. It took away a lot of the human aspect of football.
That is why the cautious optimism I find growing with friendlies being announced as normal to be so heartening.
I grew to hate the routine of PNE not performing, being frustrated but just shutting down my laptop and being ready to go again the next time.
Each game is unique, no matter what, when you’re attending.
You may be stood or seated next to different people, at a different ground or even the weather may be different.
If you’re just in your house and watching the game, unfortunately for North End you’d generally get a similar outcome it became almost a routine.
I’ve often tried to stay clear of what is becoming a tired, ‘We need to get back to normality’ take on things, but rather than we need to get there, it now feels like we are getting there.
It’s been obvious to almost everyone that it would benefit a lot of people to get back to sporting events with even some sort of capacity.
Test events have been done, more are planned and the Euros plan to have 100 per cent capacities in attendance. Soon we will have Deepdale full once again.
Fixtures like the Celtic friendly are exactly what is needed to inject the love of going to away games back into fans. It’ll be a new ground to many and hopefully it’ll be the first step to PNE putting a torrid past 18 months behind them, looking ahead to building something new.