Call me brave or foolhardy if you prefer but I am going to go out on a limb here and state that our greatest ever league result came against our next opponents Preston North End. The date was Saturday 28th May 1994. The venue was the home of football and the result was something of a dream for the 17,500 (ish) Chairboys (and girls) that had the pleasure of watching one of our finest ever performances. Anyway, more of that later.
Preston North End are one of the more famous clubs in English football. However back in 1862 they were actually formed as a cricket club. Thirteen years later they started playing a second sport during the winter, but the hideous experiment of playing rugby union predictably failed and in 1881 the football club was formed. Under the leadership of Major William Sudell the club soon established themselves as the greatest side in the country.
In the first round of the F.A. Cup in 1887, the year of the Wanderers formation, they thrashed Hyde FC 26-0. An English record that still stands to this day. Sudell`s plan was to recruit the very best players, many of whom were persuaded to cross the border from Scotland. The club were founder members of the Football League and in the very first season they completed the League and Cup double. They were Champions without losing a single game. They lifted the F.A. Cup without conceding a single goal. Hardly surprising therefore that they become known as “the Invincibles.”
They retained their league title the following season but haven`t won it since. They also won the F.A. Cup for the second time in 1938 with a certain Bill Shankly in their side. The Lilywhites have had many famous players, including David Beckham. Arguably their greatest player was Tom Finney. He was born on the street next to Deepdale but the start of his career coincided with the Second World War. He served with Montgomery in Egypt before returning to make 433 appearances, scoring 187 goals for his one and only club. The term ‘legend` is far too often used these days but in this instance it couldn`t be more apposite.
The club dropped into the third tier of English football for the first time in 1970 and then fell into the fourth tier in 1985. Of course it wasn`t until the Wanderers’ promotion to the Football League back in 1993 that the two clubs met for the very first time. The town of Preston itself was formed way back in Roman times when the main road from Carlisle to Manchester crossed the River Ribble and was the site of a Roman Camp.
At the start of the eighth century a parish church was built which is where the name of the town originates – it becoming known as Priest`s Town. In 1218-19 the town was the wealthiest in the county. The location of Preston, almost half-way between Glasgow and London has meant a number of battles have been fought there. Perhaps most notably during the English Civil War in 1648 and again in 1715 when the first Jacobite rebellion was brought to an end. That remains the most recent battle to have been fought on English soil.
Preston played a big part in the industrial revolution with it transforming from a small market town to one synonymous with cotton mills. It also became the first English town outside London to be lit by gas. The great Karl Marx visited the town in the 1850`s as did Charles Dickens, whose research during a strike by cotton workers formed part of his novel ‘Hard Times`.
The Town endured few Luftwaffe raids during the Second World War despite its heavy industry and it was the first to be by-passed when the United Kingdom`s very first motorway was opened in 1958 and it soon formed part of the M6. In modern times the University of Central Lancashire is a popular choice for those pursuing a career in Journalism, with several Wanderers followers having done so.
Preston is the birthplace of Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron, cricketer Andrew Flintoff, actor John Inman, Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park and Liberty X singer Jessica Taylor (aka Mrs Kevin Pietersen). There haven`t been too many players to have represented both clubs, but those who have include Andy Lonergan, Iain Turner, Wayne Henderson, Matt Carmichael, Tom Williams, Gareth Ainsworth, Andy Bell, Mark Stallard and the memorable Fola Onibuje.
We have hosted the Lilywhites on five previous occasions at Adams Park and have yet to win. We have drawn thrice and lost twice and have scored a paltry two goals in the process. The last meeting came over twelve years ago now in August 1999. The club were still on a high after achieving mission impossible under Lawrie Sanchez.
Striker Kurt Nogan gave the visitors the lead midway through the first half but Sean Devine levelled six minutes with a typically clinical finish. The most memorable moment came on the stroke of half-time when Sean Gregan was shown a straight red after throwing an elbow at Paul McCarthy. The Blues had the better of the second half but a winner proved elusive and the game ended all-square at 1-1.
Preston were promoted at the end of that season and it marked the end of four years of playing at the same level. Almost a year earlier less than 3,800 were at Adams Park to see the home side continue their desperate start to the season under manager Neil Smillie. Kurt Nogan was again on the score sheet with a goal on 75 minutes. Defender Jason Kavanagh wasted a great chance to level six minutes later but headed into the side-netting and North End held on to claim a 1-0 win.
In September 1997 the two sides played out a goal-less draw at Adams Park although the visitors really should have taken all three points. On the half hour mark Paul McCarthy was shown a straight red card for deliberate handball, making a great save to push Jon Macken`s header around the post after his first effort had come back off the bar. Lee Ashcroft blazed the resulting penalty over the bar. Substitute Graeme Atkinson then missed a sitter in injury-time when he hit the outside of the post from all of four yards.
The meeting in November 1996 will certainly be remembered by those who were there. Not necessarily for the result, North End took all three points with a 1-0 win, but for the performance of referee Rob Styles who sent off three Wycombe players. His first red card was shown to defender Matt Crossley on 52 minutes after he had pulled back Kevin Kilbane inside the box. Ashcroft beat goalkeeper John Cheesewright from the spot.
Steve Brown was the second man to be sent for an early bath when he received a second booking for the softest of challenges on Ashcroft. Despite having just nine men the Blues searched for an equaliser and their best chance fell to Miguel De Souza with just two minutes remaining but he made a complete hash of his shot. Terry Evans was then shown a straight red in injury-time for a wild lunge on Russ Wilcox by the corner flag as the home side finished with just eight men!
The first ever meeting on the edge of the beautiful Chiltern Hills came in May 1994. The side had just lost the initiative to Crewe Alexandra in the race for the third automatic promotion place. An all-ticket crowd of 7,442 packed into Adams Park in hope rather than expectation and they were dealt a blow when Ryan Kidd scrambled the ball over the line to give the visitors an early lead.
The equaliser came five minutes before the break when Glyn Creaser crashed a volley into the top corner following a Dave Carroll corner. Despite dominating after the break a winner just wouldn`t come with striker Simon Garner clipping the outside of the post in the final minutes. In the end it didn`t matter as Crewe won 2-1 at Chester which meant the Blues would have to win promotion via the play-offs.
Three weeks later the two sides met again in the final at Wembley. The preparation wasn`t ideal when goalkeeper Paul Hyde, who hadn`t missed a single minute of action that season, was struck down through illness, was unable to train and had hardly eaten during the week. O`Neill waited until the morning of the game and Hyde passed himself fit to play. This is the point where I start getting goosebumps. It might have been over 17 years ago now but the memories will never fade. It was a rollercoaster of a game from the very first whistle.
Wycombe created a succession of chances but just couldn`t find a finish. Steve Guppy in particular was denied by Steve Woods knee, although the North End goalkeeper knew very little about it. With 32 minutes played Preston stole the lead against the run of play. Striker Tony Ellis flicked on a long throw for Ian Bryson who executed a perfect overhead kick to find the net. Inside sixty seconds the Blues had levelled. Garner slid the ball through for Steve Thompson and he coolly side-footed past Woods and the defender on the line.
Sadly parity lasted for just five minutes. Some loose play from the Wanderers saw Ellis find space down the left and he crossed for Paul Raynor, who got in front of Creaser to head past Hyde from six yards and Preston took a 2-1 lead into the break. Most Chairboys (and girls) spent half-time trying to work out how on earth their team was losing. They needn`t have worried.
Two minutes into the second half, David Titterton lofted an inch-perfect, right-footed pass *cough* forward for Garner, who showed his predatory instincts to find space and take a touch before slamming the ball past Woods to level the scores at 2-2. Wycombe were already playing some fabulous football but they cranked the dial up to 11 and absolutely tore their opponents apart.
They say ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ and with an hour almost played they put together a passing move that has since been used as THE model upon which Barcelona play their football, Steve Guppy passed the ball inside to Thompson. He played a first time pass into Garner who also took just one touch, pulling the ball across the face of goal for Carroll to tap home at the far post and spark wild celebrations amongst both players and supporters alike. It is the greatest team goal I personally have ever seen Wycombe score.
Hyde had to make crucial save following a goalmouth scramble on 72 minutes and the Blues launched a counter-attack which ended with Garner shooting at Woods. He quickly booted the ball down-field but Cousins cleared. Reid chested the ball down for Carroll who began a mazy run forward. Thompson made a decoy run to the right, taking away a couple of defenders and Carroll twisted inside to the edge of the box. He had Guppy to his left but he fainted back onto his right foot and cracked a shot that thumped against the inside of the left-hand post and into the net.
Despite a couple of penalty appeals there was no way back for Preston and the final score should have been 5-2 with Garner finding the net with a sensational effort from 50 yards only for the goal to be wrongly ruled-out for offside. It didn`t matter as the Wanderers celebrated promotion to the third tier of English football.
The eleven heroes that day were: Paul Hyde, Jason Cousins, David Titterton, Matt Crossley, Glyn Creaser, Nicky Reid, Keith Ryan, Dave Carroll, Steve Thompson, Simon Garner and Steve Guppy. After the game Martin O`Neill said: “I honestly thought we were absolute class for a Division Three side.” Meanwhile match-winner Carroll was his usual understated self saying: “I’d like to be remembered for scoring a good goal.”
“All that`s left are memories”