Preston North End In The 90s

Preston North End may currently be established as a Championship side under Alex Neil, but rewind 29 years and the club’s position was far more uncertain.

Four years previous to the start of the decade (1986), North End had been the beneficiaries of the final ever re-election, with the process abolished the following season.

Re-election essentially meant that the bottom four clubs in what was then known as Division Four (now League 2) had to re-apply to the league to ensure they could stay in the league, rather than suffer relegation.

The clubs had to face their fellow Football League peers at an AGM meeting, who would decide whether or not to promote whoever was top of the Conference or relegate the bottom Division Four clubs.

Thankfully for North End, relegation was rare – the last team to lose their league place was Southport, to Wigan in 1978, and the club did avoid dropping out of the Football League.

Had they been relegated, there was a chance that the club could have folded altogether.

Going into the 1989/90 season, Preston were at least more stable on the field, achieving promotion to Division Three under the management of John McGrath.

Partway through that season, however, McGrath left the club with PNE in 21st place and in danger of another relegation.

Under the new management of Les Chapman, Preston managed to stay in the Third Division, largely thanks to 14 goals from top scorer Warren Joyce.

After a couple of seasons of consecutive 17th place finishes, Chapman was sacked midway through the 1992/93 season. The recently sacked Cambridge manager John Beck took over.

Given his unorthodox style, it is fair to say that Beck is well remembered by many football fans of the time.

He regularly employed extreme long ball tactics and grew the grass longer at Cambridge to allow the ball to hold up when kicked from the other half of the field.

However, he had plenty of success using the approach, guiding Cambridge to the playoff semi-finals of the Second Division having been in the fourth tier when he took over.

Beck was not the only one in the running for the job, with Sam Allardyce, who was placed in caretaker charge following Chapman’s sacking, keen to take over permanently.

Beck’s style of play was implemented throughout the club, Beck telling Allardyce to change his style with the youth team after the club reached the FA Youth Cup semi-final.

Allardyce combined his job as youth team manager with part-time scouting, and regularly visited Scotland.

One player, in particular, was signed from Falkirk on his recommendation – centre half David Moyes, who would have a massive part to play at the club for the remainder of the decade and beyond.

On the pitch, although results marginally improved, North End were relegated back to the Fourth Division at the end of 1992/93 season.

Beck sanctioned a vast array of signings in an attempt to get the club back up, including now club heroes Andy Fensome and Ian Bryson.

North End reached the play-off final that season but lost 4-2 to Wycombe despite an overhead kick from Bryson.

A good start to the 1994/95 season was preceded by seven straight defeats, leading to Beck’s sacking and subsequent appointment of his assistant Gary Peters, who would look to stabilise the club and get North End back up the leagues once again.

One of Peters’ first signings was a little known 19-year-old – Manchester United winger David Beckham.

Beckham made an immediate impact at Deepdale, scoring directly from a corner on his first appearance against Doncaster Rovers.

He then scored another set piece, this time a free kick against Fulham.

Beckham was quickly recalled by Sir Alex Ferguson and thrust into the first team at United.

As for North End, they reached the playoffs at the end of the season, under Peters, with the club once again just three games away from promotion to the Second Division.

They would go on to suffer play-off heartbreak again, however, losing in the semifinals to Bury, but there was still plenty of optimism around the city that the club would be back up sooner rather than later.

North End initially struggled under Peters at the beginning of the following season (1995/96) however, winning just two of their opening nine games.

That run included three consecutive 2-2 draws, preceded by a 3-3 draw, showing that their problems definitely hadn’t arisen from not scoring enough.

The draws continued to come but North End began to turn more of those draws into wins and sat top of the table at Christmas with 38 points.

They kicked off the New Year with a 5-0 demolition of Cardiff on New Years’ Day, and never looked back from there.

They won their last three games, eventually clinching the Division Three title on the final day with a 2-0 victory over Exeter.

With North End back in Division Two once again, their main aim for the following season was to stay there.

In the close season, they signed forward Jon Macken from Manchester United for £250,000, with the forward going on to have a major part to play for the club for the next four years and beyond.

And a number of good results, including a comfortable 3-0 win over local rivals Blackpool at Deepdale, meant that Preston sat 12th in Division Two at Christmas.

Their away form was poor – one win out of 12 – but as so many clubs now do in the modern era, Deepdale had become a fortress.

By the end of the season, PNE had won 14 of their 23 home games, and finished in a respectable 14th position.

Despite being John Beck’s assistant for so long at Cambridge and then Preston, Peters had revolutionised the club’s style of play from long ball to a more attractive passing game.

He was also popular amongst the club’s fan base given the job he had done in putting North End in their best footballing position in many years.

The club struggled during the 1997/98 season and Peters resigned from his position in January, but such was his connection with the club he was appointed manager of the club’s Centre of Excellence the following month.

His replacement would shape the future of the club for years to come – centre half David Moyes.