When Preston North End played only three games in 44 days - including two big FA Cup clashes against Derby and Southampton

As we come to terms with suspension of football in the weeks ahead, there have been spells in the past when the game ground to a halt for different reasons.

Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 12:28 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 12:31 pm
Alex Bruce scores for Preston North End against Derby in January 1979

Early in 1979, Preston North End played only three games in 44 days due to a harsh winter which left the country covered by snow.

Two of the three matches they managed to play in that period drew bumper crowds as Nobby Stiles’ men hosted two top-flight clubs in the FA Cup.

The Lilywhites beat Derby County 3-0 in the third round, setting up a home date with Southampton.

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The Preston defence clear their lines against Derby in the FA Cup in 1979

Both ties were played in midweek after their initial Saturday dates fell victim to the weather.

Southampton beat them 1-0 on a Monday night in front of a 20,727 crowd which produced record receipts for North End.

England World Cup winner Alan Ball scored the Saints’ winner and in doing so settled a score he had with PNE. The game came six years to the day since his dad Alan Ball Snr had been sacked by Preston as manager.

Winding the clock back a few weeks, North End had got through the December 1978 fixtures largely unhindered by the weather.

PNE striker Alex Bruce celebrates scoring against Derby

After a 1-1 draw with Bristol Rovers on December 30, they did not play again until Derby came to town on January 16.

The Rams, then in the First Division, were managed by former PNE player Tommy Docherty.

A crowd of 19,901, including 2,000 from Derby, watched North End win 3-0.

Alex Bruce gave the home side the lead in the sixth minute after Mick Baxter had flicked on a corner from Francis Burns.

Alan Ball celebrates scoring Southampton's winner against PNE in February 1979

PNE played ever so well against the club from the division above and doubled their advantage in the 77th minute, Bruce again find the back of the net.

Victory was wrapped up by Burns who had been excellent all night. He started and finished the move, with Mick Robinson providing the cross for Burns to score.

PNE did not play again for another 25 days, entertaining Brighton on February 10 in a Second Division clash.

Bruce scored the only goal to see off the Seagulls, the striker having passed himself fit after hurting his knee in a practice game during the long spell of inaction.

Action from PNE's FA Cup tie with Southampton

The win over Brighton was on the Saturday, then came Southampton on Monday.

Ball had stoked the fires in the build-up to the game as he remembered his dad’s sacking in February 1973.

“I want to beat North End for my dad’s sake,” said the midfielder. “It was one of the saddest day’s of my life when he was sacked.”

Ball got his wish, firing home in the 20th minute after a Terry Curran corner was not dealt with by PNE. Southampton were the stronger side on the night but North End had their chances.

However, they found Saints keeper Terry Gennoe in good form and the visitors from the South Coast held on.

After that defeat, North End did not play again for another 12 days as the bad weather returned.

Their season did not finish until May 22 when they won 2-0 against Millwall at The Den thanks to goals from Graham Bell and Eric Potts.

They had a 17-day gap between that visit to London and their previous game at Bristol Rovers on May 5 which they won 1-0.