From being one of the founding members of the football league, to becoming the first team to win both the FA Cup and the league title in the same year, Preston North End football club has been through a lot over the years. Featuring everything from The Invincibles, to the Tom Finney years and of course the signing of Bill Shankly, delve into some fascinating Preston North End history.
The Origins of Preston North End
The origins of Preston North End can be traced all the way back to 1862. However, at this time the club was predominantly a cricket team, known as Preston Nelson. They occupied an irregular strip of land, used by various other sporting clubs on the Ribble estuary at Ashton, known as the Marsh.
In 1867 there was a split amongst the club members after the majority opted for a move to Moor Park, where a public cricket ground had recently been opened. They later changed their name from Preston Nelson to Preston North End, to reflect the fact that the team played their games at the north end of Preston.
Throughout the following years, the club fell on very hard times and were close to collapse many times. New members were recruited to ease the financial crisis, one of which was William Sudell, a 16-year-old Preston born boy. He was a keen swimmer, cyclist and rugby player, and would later become the first chairman of Preston North End football club.
On 21 January 1875, despite monetary problems never being resolved, the club and its members made an extremely memorable and courageous decision. They took a lease on a field at Deepdale, a field which was to be the home of the finest football team of the era.
It turned out that playing cricket and dabbling in other games such as lacrosse and rounders did not prove to be financially viable. So, in 1877 members of Preston North End decided to turn to rugby. Unfortunately, it was soon obvious that this venture was also a failure, mainly due to them being unable to compete with the Preston Grasshoppers, who were already a well-established force in English Rugby circles. So, at some point between 1877 and 1878, Preston North End began to play football instead.
The Birth of the Beautiful Game
Their first ever football game took place on 5 October 1878, when Eagley beat them 1-0. Two years later, Preston North End decided to focus solely on football rather than cricket or rugby. However, following their defeat at Eagley, their bad luck continued. They invited neighbours Blackburn Rovers for a friendly match at Deepdale and lost 10-0. It soon became clear that the team needed some better players if they were going to challenge the surrounding teams.
When William Sudell, now a manager of the local factory, became the secretary of Preston North End he had a vision. He wanted to improve the quality of the team by importing top players from other areas. This included several players from Scotland joining the club.
Over the next few years players such as John Goodall, Jimmy Ross, Nick Ross, David Russell, John Gordon, John Graham, Robert Mills-Roberts, James Trainer, Samuel Thompson and George Drummond joined Preston North End. He also recruited some outstanding local players, including Bob Holmes, Robert Howarth and Fred Dewhurst. As well as paying them money for playing for the team, Sudell also found them highly paid work in Preston.
Preston North End Go Professional
Over the next few years, Deepdale gradually improved its facilities and increased in size. Football had become a major attraction in the town and Sudell was on a mission to make Preston North End the best team in England.
In May 1880, aware of the success of other Lancashire football teams, team captain Harry Carmel proposed the formal establishment of the football club. Other teams had also noticed the improvement of Preston, with many claiming the Scottish players they had bought were pretty much professionals!
Over the years they continued to improve very quickly and by 1885, Preston North End became a professional football club. The team were one of the first in the UK to do so, making it a real highlight in Preston North End history.
The Old Invincibles
From August 1885 to April 1886, Preston North End were undefeated. During the 1887/88 season, the club won 42 consecutive matches, a period that saw the development and supremacy of a team that became famously known as ‘The Old Invincibles’. One of which involved them beating Hyde 26-0 in the FA Cup, a result that still stands as the biggest victory in an English first-class game.
This period of Preston North End history is particularly fascinating as in 1888, they were one of the founder members of the football league. They then went on to win the first two league championships in 1888-89 and 1889–90. During this time, they also won the FA Cup and so became the first team to achieve “The Double” in English football.
In 1889–90 Sudell’s team repeated the feat in the League, but it wasn’t long before rival teams improved. Despite many close calls, North End would never match ‘The Old Invincibles’ feat by winning the Football League Championship again.
Despite ‘The Old Invincibles’ team being gradually dismantled, Preston continued to perform well in the league, finishing runners-up first to Everton and then twice in succession to Sunderland.
In the 1892–93 FA Cup, Preston reached the semi-finals and were drawn against Everton and were set to play at Bramall Lane. It was a 2–2 draw and a replay was necessary. This took place at Ewood Park and was goalless. A second replay was arranged at Trent Bridge and this time Preston lost 1–2.
PNE Begin to Struggle
Soon Preston’s top players were starting to sign for other clubs. John Goodall went to Derby County, Jimmy Ross to Liverpool, David Russell went to Nottingham Forest and Samuel Thompson signed for Wolves. Whereas Bob Holmes, George Drummond, Nick Ross, Robert Mills-Roberts, James Trainer and John Graham retired from full-time professional football.
In the 1893-94 season Preston finished third from bottom and continued to struggle, finishing 15th in the 1898-99 season and 16th in 1899-1900 season. On 20th March 1901, Preston’s excellent goalkeeper, Peter McBride injured a shoulder in a trial for the Scottish team. As a result, McBride missed the last five games of the season. His deputy let in 15 goals in those games and Preston were relegated from the First Division.
These pre-war years are often referred to as yo-yo, when PNE were relegated to the Second Division twice and immediately came back. In 1922, they once more reached the FA Cup final, but were beaten 1-0 by Huddersfield Town who scored from a penalty.
Back to Their Best
Several more of the old guard either retired or moved on to rival teams, which resulted in Preston narrowly missing relegation to the Third Division. It was time for the club to sign new players, so under the chairmanship of JL Taylor, Holdcroft, Lowe, Harper, Rowley, Tremelling, Shankly, Gallimore and Dougal were signed, and Preston North End gained promotion in 1934.
Jimmy Milne and Bill Shankly would both prove great servants to the club. With this new injection of talent, Preston once again began to prosper. They performed admirably in the First Division and reached the FA Cup final in 1938, beating rivals Huddersfield and taking home the trophy!
After the Second World War, Preston made one of their best and most iconic signings in the club’s history. At just 24 years old, Tom Finney made his officially debut for PNE. Despite the setback of relegation in 1949, they bounced back within two seasons, setting themselves up for a prosperous time in the 1950s.
Throughout the years, Finney showed his true genius and gentlemanly conduct through his football. He remained loyal to the club throughout the many ups and downs, becoming a true legend in Preston and the UK.
The End of An Era and New Beginnings
Sadly, Sir Tom Finney retired at the beginning of 1960 due to injury. It marked the end of an era in Preston North End history, however the next generation of Lilywhites’ own talent was very much its way up.
Since the glory years, PNE have faced hardships and defeat, but also shining moments of glory. After being relegated to the Third Division following the 1969-70 season, Alan Ball senior became manager of the club and fought hard to get the side promoted again. He was successful and won the title in his first season.
Not only that, but it was Ball’s words which inspired the current Gentry Day tradition, the former midfielder declaring of the club’s travelling support that season: “Preston fans are the best, they are the Gentry.”
Celebrating Preston North End History Today
We can’t wait to open The Shankly Hotel in Preston, dedicated to the man who helped PNE win the 1938 FA Cup. Within this luxurious hotel, there will be a fascinating football exhibition, featuring memorabilia from both Shankly and the iconic Tom Finney.
The items kindly donated by the Finney family will be in addition to the trinkets and memorabilia that the Shankly family are loaning. It will mark a permanent and touching tribute to two legends of the football world and Preston North End.
Alongside the exciting football exhibition, The Shankly Hotel Preston will feature 65 luxurious bedrooms, a bar and restaurant dedicated to Bill Shankly and a beautiful weddings and events venue. Our stunning hotel will follow the same brand and DNA as the successful Shankly Hotel set the heart of Liverpool.
For future news, updates and offers at The Shankly Preston, make sure you’re following our Facebook page. We will soon be recruiting for positions at our new hotel, check our Signature careers website for more information.