Retro game: Preston North End's FA Cup clash with Manchester United which saw a 37,000 crowd pack Deepdale in 1972

The magic of the FA Cup descended on Deepdale when Preston North End landed a fourth-round tie with Manchester United in February 1972.

Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 3:00 pm

PNE facing George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, drew a crowd of 37,025, an attendance not bettered in the 49 years since.

On a heavy pitch and with the BBC Match of the Day cameras in position above the West Stand, North End pushed United all the way.

They were within five minutes of holding out for a 0-0 draw and a lucrative replay at Old Trafford.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Manchester United take to the pitch at Deepdale for their FA Cup clash with Preston North End in February 1972

A replay would have swelled the PNE coffers by £9,000, a grand sum of money back then.

But two goals from Alan Gowling in the last five minutes won it for United.

The game was played on the same day as Hereford’s famous win over Newcastle.

Unfortunately, North End were unable to produce a similar shock result against United who were in the division above.

PNE midfielder Alan Spavin (No.6) clears against Manchester United

PNE manager Alan Ball Snr was without influential skipper Graham Hawkins because of injury.

Alex Spark was playing his first game since the end of December, while Ricky Heppolette only made it with the help of a pain-killing injection according Ball.

Recent signing David O’Connor was played at left-back and given the task of marking Best.

Deepdale was heaving with its biggest crowd since a 1966 meeting with United in the FA Cup.

A packed Kop at Deepdale for North End's FA Cup tie against Manchester United

Preston keeper Alan Kelly had to be on his toes to beat Gowling to Charlton’s through ball.

Later in the first half, Kelly held a Charlton shot at the second attempt after Law and Gowling had linked up.

North End drew more confidence as the half went on, Alex Stepney having to gather a through ball from Alan Spavin before George Lyall got there.

Lyall drove a shot wide, then a John McMahon effort hit team-mate Sparks and was saved by Stepney.

Action from PNE's FA Cup tie with Manchester United, with the Match of the Day cameras on cranes above the West Stand at Deepdale

In the second half, United push forward looking to break the deadlock and Kelly was a busy man between the Lilywhites’ posts. He pulled off saves from Best and Charlton, before another Charlton shot as the game entered its final stages saw Kelly block wonderfully.

A replay that midweek was getting closer and closer before PNE had their hearts broken.

United right-back Tommy O’Neill brought the ball up field, exchanging passes with Best, before lifting a cross into the box.

Law jumped high to head it down into the Gowling’s path, the makeshift striker finishing from close range.

His second goal came with time almost up, Best delivering a corner which stayed low.

Charlton moved to meet it, kicked fresh air but the ball rolled to Gowling who netted from six yards.

Fans cross Friargate ahead of PNE's FA Cup tie against Manchester United in February 1972

Ball wrote in this LEP column that week: “Five minutes to go and we've cracked it. No score, a replay at Old Trafford, Nine thousand pounds or so more for the kitty from the gate.

"Four days to give the casualties a chance to step up for the return.

"But Alex Spark and Ricky Heppolette are showing signs of the strain. They're tiring. United are starting to see more of the ball.

"Bang, bang, it’s over. They’ve snatched two goals. Goodbye replay, goodbye £9,000.

"You walk off, sick at heart. People come up and say 'Well done', bestow praise on you for the tactics which kept the great Manchester United quiet for almost all of the game.

"Frank O'Farrell smiling his relief, enjoying his cigar."

PNE: Kelly, McMahon, Bird, McNab, O’Connor, Heppolette, Spavin, Spark, Lyall, Ingram, McIlmoyle. Sub (not used): Lamb.

Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 per month for the first two months. Try us today by clicking here