Perspective is a rare commodity in football at the moment. Less than a week ago, I suggested that Preston’s opening two fixtures would immediately shape fans’ attitudes towards the rest of the season. Mouth-watering fixtures yes, and a great way to launch into what could be an exciting campaign – but in reality only fixtures one and two of a long, hard season with plenty of time for fortunes to change should early results not go our way.
As it happens, PNE have made a strong start. A point at home to Wolves hints at a bid to re-establish Deepdale as the difficult away trip it used to be for visiting teams. But what has captured the headlines this week is the cracking victory over Blackpool in the Capital One Cup. While the dust is still settling on the aggro and aftermath, my point about perspective is this. I’m all for passion in football, especially games against big rivals. Too many games against Blackpool have slipped by in a stupor of midday kick-off mediocrity. And with the Lancashire pecking order turned on its head in the last few seasons, Tom Clarke’s late winner felt very, very good indeed. Throw in the evening game atmosphere generated by an impressive attendance and you’ve got the potential for a memorable tie.
But a pitch invasion? This was the first round of the League Cup. It feels small time to celebrate with the same gusto that should be reserved for real achievement. Of course it wasn’t members of ‘The Gentry’ on the pitch – it was more ill-fitting shorts and trainers than bowler hats. Yet the consensus after the game seemed to place this result in company it hardly deserved.
In my opinion, to justify a mass swarm over the barriers you need a moment mentionable in the same breath as the Paul Raynor-inspired comeback against Torquay to book a place at Wembley in 1996. I saw one fan compare the moment to Mark Rankine’s late goal in the 2001 Birmingham City play-off semi-final second leg which sent us to penalties, Cardiff, and the chance to win promotion to the Premier League. This was not even close. Trust me, I was there.
Was this, as another tweet said, revenge for the ‘We are superior’ plane stunt over Deepdale when we were relegated in 2011?. Hardly. That was one of the lowest points of my time watching North End and Blackpool had just enjoyed an unforgettable season in the Premier League. It’ll take a few more of these victories to wrestle the bragging rights back down the M55.
Even the official club twitter account got a bit giddy, @pnefc tweeting: ‘Tom Clarke – welcome to North End folklore!’
Maybe we will replace Super Micky Conroy’s name in the famous old Town End song about putting the ball in the Blackpool net – I doubt many of those on the pitch on Monday night were around in 1999 and perhaps the aging chant needs modernising. The same point about over-reaction applies to the pitch invasion.
A combination of factors have culminated in negative attention on the club: the presence of Sky Sports cameras; the absence of any other real ‘football news’ as the Premier League has not yet started; and the image of steward being trampled by a police horse.
Paddy Power’s sharp-eyed marketing wizards have been quick to jump on the bandwagon – offering Seasiders a free £10 bet because of PNE’s ‘shameful’ actions and rolling out a tongue-in-cheek ‘Lets hope Preston don’t get to Wembley’ campaign.
Though I can see the point Paul Ince is making about player safety, in reality there was no violence and just plenty of vigorous goading by about 200 North Enders towards the thousands of travelling Lashers supporters.
The Paddy Power blog called the celebrations “shameful, but not sinister” – and even that is probably taking it a step too far. Pitch invasions happen often and sometimes players and managers will come face to face with one or two morons. God forbid that they have to mix with the general public.
There have only been six arrests so far, five of which appear to be Blackpool fans for less serious offences of criminal damage and using threatening language.
Strong words from Lancashire Police have condemned “completely unacceptable” behaviour before, during and after the game. Some Preston fans are now boycotting the online bookies over the perceived slight.
The season’s not yet a week old and we’re already drowning in a wave of hyperbole.
Written by Sam Chadderton, We Are Going Up’s Preston North End Blogger
Sam tweets at @samchadderton