Preston North End Deepdale
Division One v Crystal Palace
Saturday, November 24th 2001, 3pm
Many years ago I had the
pleasure of playing on Preston North End's old artificial pitch and, having been
substituted during the second half, I spent a good half an hour wandering around
the stadium at leisure. It was a dark, miserable evening but that seemed
to compliment the setting for our match; Deepdale had seen better times and the
club was on a downward spiral to the basement division of the League. Now,
almost 15 years later, I found myself driving north to return to Deepdale but
this time I was aware that the appearance would have somewhat changed.
Quite an atmosphere had already built up, nowhere more so than the stand in which I was sitting which is the predominant home 'end'. I have quite an affection for Preston North End as my home of Southport lies only a dozen or so miles away and I found myself warming to the passion and humour displayed by the locals. My warming to the home side grew during the 90 minutes of action as at times, Preston displayed glimpses of Premiership class and ran out comfortable winners even if the scoreline slightly flattered Palace, who in fact took a first half lead.
The stadium too is shaping up for top flight football and will be a more than appropriate venue for the Premiership high-flyers to visit in the coming seasons The recently constructed stands are identical in design and size (allowing, of course, for their width). The stand behind the goal opposite to where I was sitting - the Bill Shankly Stand - housed a sprinkling of home supporters alongside the visitors from London. Although Palace brought a fairly decent support with them, the sheer size of this stand meant that there were vast chunks of seating left empty giving an slightly eerie appearance from the other end of the ground. The stand to my left, the Tom Finney Stand, ran the entire length of the pitch and sandwiched in between that stand and the Bill Shankly Stand was a viewing gallery inside the Football Museum from where visitors can enjoy an excellent view of Deepdale. The Pavilion Stand, to my right, was the sole remnant of yesteryear. It comprised a small stand - together with an extremely low-slung roof - above a section of open terracing. The seated stand ran only slightly across the halfway line towards the Bill Shankly Stand, however the paddock terracing continued alone and without any cover from the elements.
With a few minutes left
until the final whistle I hurried around to the Bill Shankly Stand, not only to
allow a prompt return to my car which was parked a matter of metres
from the exits, but to also properly view the Alan Kelly Stand.
Once the final whistle blew I walked back to my car and noticed that
there wasn't too much traffic snaking it's way through the crowds streaming away
from the stadium. I decided to go for it instead of my usual tactic of
sitting with my flask of coffee, allowing the crowds to disperse
whilst listening to Radio 5 Live. Within only a matter of seconds I was
through the immediate set of traffic lights and onto the trunk road towards
the M6. Amazingly, about 5 minutes after the final whistle I was on the
motorway and heading home! I made such good time that I phoned my wife, Mel, just
south of Birmingham to let her know that I'd be home by about 8 pm (no
mean feat considering we live on the Hertfordshire-Bedfordshire border) but
my luck on the roads continued as I walked through the front door just
after 7.30 pm!
The warm meal she had prepared for me - not one I expected as I anticipated a return home about an hour and a half later - rounded off a cracking day out. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Deepdale, and Preston North End are a club seemingly heading in the right direction. With friends and family so close in Southport, I will return to visit the Football Museum but I can only recommend any visiting fans to combine that with their trip.
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