I am, to be honest, a casual football fan. While I have a basic knowledge of things, I’m not really qualified to talk about the gritty details like formations and which players work well together, and I go to matches when I’m in the right mood. But I was certainly in the mood today as I went to see Preston North End’s first game of the season against Notts County.
I first really became interested in PNE in the 2006-07 season, right after the World Cup – as I mentioned in my first post on this blog, the first match I went to was against Derby on New Year’s Day 2007. Happily, that was a season in which PNE happened to be doing very well, largely thanks to our brilliant striker David Nugent, who would score for England that year! (Against Andorra. And he kicked a ball that was already going in anyway.) Sadly, things went downhill towards the end of the season and we finished 7th, at which point there was no holding onto Nugent.
My happiest North End memories come from the 2008-09 season, where three matches stand out. First was the FA Cup match against Liverpool – a draw that was too good to be true for my family, since my mum is a lifelong Liverpool supporter. The fact that PNE lost 2-0 hardly mattered; it was just great seeing Liverpool’s first team at Deepdale. Then there was the absolutely brilliant match against Cardiff where, out of nowhere, we won 6-0 and our keeper saved a penalty – it’s worth noting that Cardiff were fighting for a playoff spot at that point just like we were. Then came the final league match against QPR; finishing in the playoffs depended on us winning and a couple of other teams losing, so there was plenty of Chinese whispers in the stands from people who had radios and were listening to other results. We won 2-1, the other matches went our way, and while I didn’t take part in the resulting pitch invasion, it was fun to see it.
But we lost in the playoffs and thus didn’t get into the Premier League that season. Two seasons after that, we weren’t even in the Championship anymore. And so things have been quite disappointing for North End – until last season, where we finished comfortably in the League One playoffs! Sure, we lost (again), but after that performance and some good pre-season results, I was feeling optimistic about today’s game.
It was in about the ninth minute that things got going, when PNE had three corners in succession and forced a save. From then on in the first half, we had a whole bunch of shots on goal while Notts County only had one or two, and we were keeping possession – the one thing we couldn’t do was actually score. Andy Little put a shot just wide, another from Alan Browne hit the crossbar, and when we finally did get the ball in the net, it didn’t count as it had already gone out before it was crossed.
I started worrying if we were going to pay for these missed chances – and we did. Neither team did all that much for the first few minutes of the second half, and then rather suddenly, Notts County scored from just outside the box! We then watched sadly as PNE took a serious dip in quality, not getting in many shots and being fairly clumsy with the ball. The Notts County players, meanwhile, spent a lot of time on the ground, to the disgust of the home fans – at one point, their goalkeeper was seen rubbing his head in pain after a PNE player lightly brushed against him.
But finally, our worries were eased a little as PNE created another chance and Joe Garner finally took advantage of it to make the game finish 1-1. At the final whistle, there wasn’t much cheering or booing – everyone just got up and left. So not the perfect start to the season, but it could’ve been worse. Here’s hoping for better to come.