Why Preston will always be a top club to some

VIEW FROM THE PRESS BOX: The ebb and flow of football fortunes mean that Preston North End will always be a big club to those of a certain age while Cheltenham would be regarded as cheeky upstarts. ANTON RIPPON takes a trip down sepia-coloured memory lane and draws up his own League table. 

In an upstairs room of the Old Cock Tavern in Fleet Street the annual meeting of the Sports Journalists’ Association of Great Britain had just ended and, over a few drinks, Ian Cole and Trevor Bond, both seasoned veterans of the days when national newspapers really were produced in the Street of Ink, and myself got reminiscing.

Ian asked a question: “If I say ‘Preston North End’, what division would you put them in?”

“Top division,” was the instinctive reaction, because were are all old enough to have begun taking an interest in football in the late 1940s and early 50s when Preston really were proud. After all, they had Tom Finney.

Bolton Wanderers, Blackpool, Newcastle United, Wolves, Aston Villa, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Derby County (of course), all elicited the same answer. But when Bournemouth’s name was mention – that would be Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic to us old-timers – “Third Division South” was the unanimous reaction.

Same for Brighton and Hove Albion, although there was a brief debate as to whether we would allow the Seagulls into the Second Division.

MAKING A SPLASH: Tom Finney statue Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

As regards the likes of Fleetwood Town, Stevenage, Morecambe, Crawley Town, Yeovil Town, Wycombe Wanderers, Barnet and Cheltenham Town, well they are all really non-League clubs aren’t they? And the least said about MK Dons, the better.

Then I remembered what Harry Storer said when someone told him: “Derby County’s rightful place is in the First Division.”

“No”, spluttered Storer, who was in the throes of steering my beloved Rams out of the Third Division North, “Your rightful place is where you are!”

He was right, of course. There is no point in having a league or merit table in any sport unless you accept that competitors move up and down. The Americans seem to do all right with their major sports but, over here, tradition counts for nothing. Otherwise today’s Premier League would look very much like the First Division table of 1948-49, which would be nice since Derby finished third that season when Pompey were champions.

‘Men like Francesco Becchetti, who has run Leyton Orient, a club with a 136-year history, into the ground’

In those days we knew the names of hardly any club directors – Bob Lord, the “Burnley Butcher”, being one of the few exceptions – nor those of many referees unless there was something noticeable about them, like Alf Bond, who had only one arm. You couldn’t really miss him.

Today, alas, we know the names of lots of club owners, and lots of referees. In the latter case probably because of the saturation television coverage of the game; in the former undoubtedly because of the number of rank losers who have somehow found their way into English football.

Men like Francesco Becchetti, who has run Leyton Orient, a club with a 136-year history – 112 years of it until now spent in the Football League – into the ground.

BECCHETTI (Getty Images)

Of course, Becchetti isn’t the only owner who has shown no regard for the feelings of thousands of supporters for whom their football club is their life. People change their spouse, their job, their house, their car, but they never change their football club.

Once you take it on – it can be a generational thing, or just convenient geography – you never change it. Just get Ian and Trevor on the subject of West Ham United 

I have a passing interest in Hull City because had it not been for Adolf Hitler I would support the Tigers not the Rams. My parents grew tired of the Luftwaffe keeping them awake all night and moved from the banks of the Humber back to Derby, where my Linotype operator father had managed to find a job on the Long Eaton Advertiser, which didn’t pay as well as the Hull Daily Mail but then again it was better than being bombed every night.

So when I first became aware of football, it was the names of Raich Carter, Peter Doherty and Jack Stamps that I heard. That by the time I was old enough to attend matches at the Baseball Ground, those stars and those golden days had gone, and the Third Division North loomed, did nothing to alter the fact that Derby County would be my club, then and for evermore.

We’ve had a long list of owners, some of whom have in recent times have breakfasted on porridge, courtesy of Her Majesty, but the Hull owner tried to change the club’s name – now that is a hanging offence – and we’ve never had to suffer like the fans of Leyton Orient, Coventry City, Portsmouth, Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers, Charlton Athletic, Nottingham Forest … I’m running out of space.

I mean, Fleetwood could soon be in the second tier; this season Blackpool have been in the fourth.

Nostalgia really isn’t what it used to be.