Tom Sandells’ Preston North End Press View: Thin line between criticism and abuse

The mood around Preston North End at the moment quite simply isn’t enjoyable.

Fans are not happy, on multiple fronts.

It’s leading to protests being planned and fairly public disagreements with the club captain.

What is going on?

Alan Browne pictured as he went to apologise to fans for a poor display – and was met with abuse at Huddersfield

Many believe that North End will be in a relegation scrap this season.

They also think that more money should be invested, or they’re unhappy with how it has been in the past.

Their concerns are not unfounded, PNE are yet to pick a point this season so suggesting they will struggle as the campaign goes on is not outlandish.

The topic of investment in the club is always a contentious debate – many will say that Trevor Hemmings has been keeping the club afloat at a loss for years and looking elsewhere, at teams such as Wigan Athletic, would show you what a bad owner looks like.

Others will want more invested, more ambition shown and a slight change in approach.

It is undeniable that this squad has lost quality over recent seasons.

Losing the likes of Ben Pearson, Ben Davies, Callum Robinson and Jordan Hugill would have had that effect on any team in the division.

They’re all at teams pushing for automatic promotion or in Hugill’s case, in the Premier League.

Replacing them is not straightforward and each of those players took several years to come good for the Lilywhites.

I don’t think you can say for certain that either camp is wrong.

Football is a game of opinions and fans are also entitled to theirs when they pay to watch their side.

It is not quite as black and white as it is sometimes made out, financial fair play has been the most recent reason for a lack of movement by Peter Ridsdale.

That will of course be an issue, to what extent, those outside the club will not quite know.

On that note, the unrest from the fanbase has even led to conspiracy theories.

Tom Barkhuizen was quoted as criticising the club’s transfer policy not too long ago, in a shortened video from the club’s iFollow interview.

The clip was taken out of context, it has to be said, but also viewed, edited and published by PNE. If they didn’t like what he said it would not have been released.

He had been said to be isolating for a little while now, absent since the opening-day defeat to Hull City.

In reality, he has been suffering from Covid, some get it worse than others and it seems that for Barkhuizen it has taken its toll on him.

For medical confidentiality, the club were not in a position to disclose his situation – that is until Thursday where they checked with the winger and he gave it the green light.

Frankie McAvoy, who had already sat down with the press, returned to explain the situation.

The PNE faithful are almost like a wounded animal, they are defensive – or offensive – as their first response.

Any PNE supporter will know it’s a long-suffering occupation.

If you’re going to Deepdale expecting success after success, it just isn’t how it works around here.

Many would not have it any other way, it’s just part of the territory of supporting your local club.

But I think right now, in parts, North Enders are scared.

They’ve watched the club go backwards before and slip into League One.

It took four seasons to win promotion.

They are worried for their club and is being proactive rather than reactive not a better approach to take?

It is better for fans to voice their concerns and get change now, rather than to do it when it is too late.

There does however need to be a line drawn. Frankie McAvoy said something similar this week and I agree.

Seeing fans and captain Alan Browne arguing after the Huddersfield Town match was hard to watch.

As a fan, I was always one who saw value in players approaching the support after the game, coming close to show appreciation and Paul Huntington’s chest pump – though a small gesture – still means a lot to fans.

Browne went an extra 20 to 30 yards closer than any other payer, he did so to apologise. Is that not the sort of accountability fans look for?

He responded to fans shouting abuse at him, is he not human?

His response was not met well at all, it is understandable that people don’t like confrontation so in the same breath, Browne will not either.

North End had lost to a side that were very poor, there were little excuses to be made.

But that doesn’t then give fans the right to aim abuse at another person – you pay the money to watch the game and support your side, it doesn’t give you a free ride to hurl abuse at people.

The passion PNE fans have is exceptional at times and that can spill over into pure anger, but there needs to be a line. If that anger remained as passion and 
everyone was pulling in the same direction it is a tough thing to stop – we have seen it in the past with some performances North End have put in with the crowd’s backing.

Patience is a difficult ask after 17 months away from Deepdale, leaving them in a play-off spot last March.

The slide is there for all to see – the team’s best players have left and league finishes have been worse off for it.

Being proactive is good and at least the fans care enough to voice their feelings and are striving for improvements.

Things can change quickly in football, in two weeks’ time we may look back at a successful transfer window with sound investment – we might not.

But the split between the fans and the club must be sorted one way or another.