Monday, 25 May 2015

Vanquishing the Wembley Wobbles: PNE promotion

May 24, 2015. Play off Final: PNE v Swindon Town
Lugubrious Lawro gives away his sponsored drink
The line ups
Manager in excelsis celebrates third goal
Team spirit was indubitable 
Nathan Byrne of Swindon, the best player on the park
Beckford, 4 - 0
The Wembley arch complete with Middlesborough kit buried in the steelwork
Well that was a surprise, I have attended a cup final and a couple of play off finals at Wembley and the Millennium stadium over the last 50 years and never seen Preston North End win. I was in London on the weekend of the Division 1 play off final and, after failing to get a ticket from Deepdale because the post would not arrive in time, I decided to take a risk and go Wembley in the hope of buying a ticket and, if not, maybe finding someone with a spare ticket to sell. It worked perfectly. I was able to buy a good seat with a 50% discount for being a pensioner. I have never had such a good seat just a couple of rows in front of Mark Lawrenson, who proved his genuine credentials by sitting with the Preston punters rather than along with the pundits.

There was an expectancy that this might be the occasion when PNE broke their duck of failing in 9 consecutive play offs since they were introduced in 1987. Simon Grayson, the manager, has a good track record of winning play off finals with his previous clubs and seemed to have created a strong team ethos. It was my first visit to the new Wembley and I was quite impressed with the stadium and the organisation of the event. The only downside was the paucity of decent beers, Carlsberg seem to have that wrapped up that franchise with Coca Cola and Walker's crisps completing the stranglehold over captive supporters. It was not hard to resist these blandishments before the start of the game.

I had a seat next to a Chelsea hospital veteran, resplendent in his bright red coat. It made me nervous that the cameras may pick him out as a part of the crowd backdrop for TV. He had lived in Preston until a year ago but qualified as a Chelsea pensioner by virtue of his army background and lack of dependent family. He told me that the hospital was a great institution that treated him like minor royalty and gained him access to all the big events in London from the flower show to trooping the colour and VE day celebrations. His knowledge of football was encyclopaedic and he even had the temerity to instruct the youthful drunken fans in front of us to sit down. " We're just singing" they retorted, at which he told them "I can hear that but I can see bugger all".

Preston were the more clinical team with a tight discipline and robust defence. After eleven minutes we were two up and 'going up' according to the massed Preston fans. They were pogo dancing and chanting whilst the Swindon's fans, like their team, seemed demoralised. Nevertheless their winger Nathan Byrne was the best player on the park. At half-time and 3 - 0 up, the atmosphere was electric in the concourse. I treated myself to a beer when I found a real ale bar that sold Marston's IPA and I soaked up the sheer exuberance of the North End supporters whilst seeking out my nephew.

When Beckford scored his third and Preston's fourth goal halfway through the second half it was all over bar the shouting/singing/dancing/clapping/drinking. I have not known the Preston fans to be so animated since Tom Finney retired in 1960. And with every reason, it was not just a deserved victory but the highest winning margin since the play offs began.

I was amused that Swindon Town were sponsored by 'Imagine Cruising', a Swindon based tour operator. I suspect most Swindon fans must have wished they had gone cruising instead of travelling to Wembley. Meanwhile Preston were sponsored by Virgin Trains and on the day of the final they were unable to offer any Virgin Trains owing to track works they claimed. It confirmed my long held belief that corporate sponsorship is a form of customer abuse.

Fair weather fan

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