When Gowling upstaged Holy Trinity to KO PNE

Denis Law and Alan Gowling (right) at Deepdale in 1972
Denis Law and Alan Gowling (right) at Deepdale in 1972
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Preston’s last competitive meeting with Manchester United came in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Deepdale 43 years ago

The ground was packed, more than 37,000 inside to see Alan Ball Snr’s Second Division side take on the big guns from United.

George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton – the Holy Trinity – were in the visitors’ side that afternoon.

So too were Francis Burns, David Sadler, Alan Gowling and Brian Kidd.

Together with Charlton, that quartet ended-up on Preston’s books in years to come.

Burns, Sadler and Gowling went on to play for North End, while Charlton and Kidd both managed PNE – Charlton combining managing and playing for one of his seasons in charge.

The North End side included Ricky Heppolette, Hugh McIlmoyle, George Lyall and Gerry Ingram.

PNE right-back John McMahon had started off on United’s books as a schoolboy before moving to Deepdale.

Recalling the cup tie with United, McMahon said: “The wall at the Kop collapsed because of the sheer weight of the crowd.

“They had to put all the fans on the track around the pitch.

“But United had George Best, Denis Law, and Bobby Charlton playing that day.”

The Match of the Day cameras were there to capture the highlights of the tie, the producers perhaps hoping to have a cup shock on their hands. Unfortunately from a PNE perspective, it was not to be, with United winning 2-0.

Both goals came in the last six minutes from Gowling, the player in the No.4 shirt taking the spotlight away from Best, Law and Charlton.

But at 0-0, North End had squandered a great chance.

The ball fell to Alex Spark six yards out but he blasted his shot over the bar and high into the Kop.

Gowling then went on to do the business at the Town End with his two late goals.

A feature of the game was the crowd trouble which happened during and after the clash.

United supporters were in different parts of the ground and afterwards, there was fighting in the streets around Deepdale and in the town centre as police tried to escort the visiting fans back to the train station.

North End’s form in the league after the cup game really tailed off, with them winning only two of their last 15 matches.

The United players from that day who ended up coming to North End in later years, had differing fortunes.

Centre-half Sadler, who played more than 300 games for United, joined Preston in 1974 after a short sell in the USA.

Charlton signed him during his reign as manager and he was to play 120 times for PNE.

During his stay at Deepdale, Sadler had a testimonial game against United.

Burns was another signing made by Charlton, with him signing from Southampton in 1973.

The midfielder had not settled at Southampton after his move from United and Preston’s offer gave him the chance to return to the North West.

Burns was in the 1977/78 promotion-winning side under Nobby Stiles.

He stayed at Deepdale until Preston were relegated at the end of the 1980/81 season when he joined Shamrock Rovers in Ireland.

Gowling played the 1982/83 campaign in Preston colours at the end of his career.

After leaving United, he played for Huddersfield, Newcastle and Bolton.

The early part of his career at United saw him play as an amateur in order for him to complete a university course.

That amateur status enabled him to play in the Great Britian Olympic football team in 1968.

In an interview with the Evening Post in August 2012, Gowling said: “I wanted to continue my studies, so I played as an amateur to start with at United

“I was an amateur when I made my first-team debut, and after my first year at university I signed on as a part-time player.

“Being an amateur player at United meant that I was able to play for the Great Britain Olympic football team.

“That was in 1968 and we had to play a qualifier against Spain in order to try and get to the Mexico Games.

“We lost 1-0 in the first leg in Spain, then drew 0-0 in the return leg at White City.

“Alf Ramsey had been hoping to use the Olympic team as an experiment for the 1970 World Cup, which was also being held in Mexico.

“He wanted to see how we played at altitude, but us failing to qualify meant that his plan went up in smoke.”

Looking back at his time at Deepdale, Gowling said: “I actually played for Preston as a 
part-time player.

“I had intended to retire after finishing at Bolton a few months before.

“But Gordon Lee and his assistant Geoff Nulty got in contact and asked whether I’d give it a go at Preston.

“So the boots came out of the airing cupboard and I got myself as fit as was possible for a part-time player.

“I’d got a job outside of football by then, so I didn’t really have much time to commit to training.

“What I’d do was train at night at a park in Bolton, underneath the street lights on the edge of the grass.”