As a fan of a team who’ve never been in the Premier League, you sometimes have to redefine what enjoying football is.
I was born in 1992, my first game was in 1998. I don’t at all regret supporting North End, but I’m a realist too. I’m aware that success, if any, is often fleeting.
There are fans who have been following this club for 20, 30 years longer than I have, that will have never seen us in the top flight of English football. We know we’re unlikely to ever be one of the top clubs around, barring a Sheikh Mansour appearing out of nowhere.
For that reason, you have to learn to live for the moments. Those key points that you’ll never forget; the late winners, the comeback wins, the promotions, the goals more fitting of the Camp Nou than Deepdale.
Today, May 10th, marks the anniversary of two such goals. It’s one thing that North End had two such goals just a year apart; it’s frankly bizarre that they fell on the same date.
May 10th, 2014
The half time whistle was a merciful one. The buzz of a big game had subsided, replaced by anxious groans that have often been synonymous with Preston in the play-0ffs. Eight failed play-off campaigns preceded this one, and the first 45 minutes suggested a ninth notch on the record.
Rotherham United had arrived at Deepdale and played North End off the park. Ben Pringle was running the game, two years before starting his dismal spell with North End, Preston were struggling to break the Millers down, and Alex Revell had given the visitors a lead with a poorly-defended solo strike.
North End needed some inspiration, anything to get going. Fortunately, they got it straight after half time, and some fans may have missed a goal that will go down in Preston folklore.
When Tom Clarke has the ball on the halfway line, there’s little immediate danger. Not just in this game, but in pretty much any game. Here though, he sends a diagonal ball forward, hitting Joe Garner on the chest.
Garner takes the ball down, past a defender. With another defender approaching, Garner flicks the ball over his head. With the ball dropping, the Deepdale faithful held their breath. Rather than take the ball through on goal, Garner volleyed the ball from the edge of the box.
As if his chest control and impudent flick weren’t perfect enough, he caught the volley perfectly. The ball sailed over Adam Collin and into the top corner, sending the Town End into raptures.
On pure quality alone, it’s easily one of the best Preston goals of all time. What really pushes it to the heights of fan memories is that Garner was a boyhood Preston fan. He lived out the dream of North End fans around the world by scoring the greatest goal of his career, in such a huge game.
That’s why appreciating the moments is so important. We may never see a goal like Garner’s again, or that particular situation. We’d all love for that goal to have led to promotion, and sadly it didn’t. Regardless, that goal is one of legend – and deservedly so.
May 10th, 2015
Just a year later, North End find themselves in the League One play-offs once again. This time, final day defeat to Colchester United saw Preston throw away automatic promotion, bottling it in true North End fashion.
Chesterfield were looking to pile on the misery, with North End fans assuming this would be the tenth play-off failure. A 1-0 first leg win came in unconvincing circumstances, but the second leg proved much more enjoyable for Simon Grayson and co.
Jermaine Beckford’s first half goal had North End 1-0 up, before Garner struck a penalty for 2-0. The tie was all but over, and Preston were simply seeing out the game. Yet Beckford had bigger ambitions.
With just three minutes to play, Beckford received the ball in his own half, turning away from a defender. He had runners coming up on his right, and one defender ahead of him, over to that side of the pitch. Beckford spotted goalkeeper Joe Murphy of his line for a split second, but losing his balance, shooting seemed foolish.
Beckford went for goal, somehow generating great power on his effort despite falling to the ground. Murphy stood no chance of saving himself for embarrassment, desperately flailing to no avail. Beckford had pulled off a ridiculous goal, and North End were heading to Wembley.
Whereas Garner’s goal ends in disappointment, Beckford’s was one chapter in North End’s promotion to League One. Being back in the third tier wasn’t exactly a great era. Phil Brown lost his way, Graham Westley was a disaster, the squad upheaval was huge, and it took North End four years to get out.
Yet get out they did, and two goals on this day were crucial, memorable moments from the League One days. They’ll never be recreated, as much as fans would love to themselves. They’re moments we’ll watch again and again, even with North End on to better things now. Whether we’ll go much further remains to be seen, but it’s these moments that we live for as fans, the dream moments that came true, whilst we await for the bigger dreams to potentially unfold.