Retro: Preston North End's '53 Miles west of Venus' promotion 35 years ago

It was celebration time for Preston North End 35 years ago as they celebrated promotion less then 12 months after hitting the lowest point in their history.

By Dave Seddon
Monday, 25th April 2022, 3:00 pm

A 2-1 victory over Orient at Brisbane Road on April 25, 1987, saw John McGrath’s side promoted from the Fourth Division, that achieved with another four games of the season remaining.

The season before North End had finished 91st out of 92nd in the Football League and had been forced to apply for re-election – the bottom four clubs having to go cap in hand to their fellow clubs to stay in the league in the days before automatic promotion and relegation with the non-league set up.

They re-built as a club, laid an artificial pitch at Deepdale for use by the community, with McGrath putting together an easy-on-the-eye promotion-winning side for a net spend of £15,000.

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Preston North End fans celebrate on the pitch at Orient's Brisbane Road ground after promotion in April 1987

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Some of the squad had been in the re-election squad, others were recruited by McGrath using his extensive book of contacts.

In East London 35 years ago, the team were backed by upwards of 2,000 travelling fans, some of who had made the trip on board the ‘Orient Express’, a football special train chartered by the club.

North End started well and took an 18th minute lead. Bob Atkins delivered a free-kick into the box which Sam Allardyce headed down into the path of Gary Brazil.

Les Chapman scores Preston North End's winner against Orient at Brisbane Road in April 1987

The striker ran in to meet it and struck a fine finish into the night in front of the away terrace.

Orient equalised in the 33rd minute from the penalty spot.

David Miller’s trip on Alan Comfort saw the referee point to the spot and John Cornwell did the business from 12 yards.

The second half was a battle but North End found a winner with eight minutes left through the unlikely figure of player/assistant manager Les Chapman who hadn’t yet scored for the club.

Gary Brazil in action for Preston North End against Orient in April 1987

Allardyce’s ball down the channel was laid off by Miller into the path of Chapman, the 38-year-old side-stepping a challenge and shooting into the net.

Interviewed after the game, Chapman famously said that he felt ‘53 miles west of Venus’ about scoring the winner, that a reference to a song from the B-52s.

PNE: Kelly, Miller, Atkins, Allardyce, Jones, Bennett, Swann, Chapman, Williams, Brazil, Thomas. Sub: (not used) Worthington.

Preston North End manager John McGrath celebrates promotion with Frank Worthington at Orient in 1987