Almanac (English) Soccer: Love is in the air

Love is in the air


I realised something had happened to Joe Garner when I glanced across to the man opposite me on the Preston supporters’ bus as we travelled down the M6 motorway. My companion was reading the Lancashire Evening Post newspaper. The Post featured a supplement on the most spectacular goals scored by Garner for Preston North End over the last three years. Sure enough, I learned that he had been sold to Glasgow Rangers the day before.


Such a move seemed unthinkable when I saw Garner emerge as a substitute in a match against Ipswich early in 2014 and score a hat trick. After arriving from Watford he had quickly become a favourite of the fans because of his tenacity, pace and ability to chest high balls to his feet before blasting them into the net. He was leading goalkicker for Preston with 24 in 2013/14 and 27 in 2014/15; outstanding results for a striker. Last year Joe struggled with form after the Lillywhites played off in the Championship after earning promotion from League One.


And now he was gone, just like that. Yet the man with the newspaper wasn’t surprised.


“It ‘appens,” he said. “Joe got good offer. He did kick some loovely goals though.”


I watched Garner play what turned out be his final match in the white and navy blue of Preston on the previous Tuesday night against Derby County. Because of the way soccer is played, with as many defenders behind the ball as possible, he often had to contend with two opponents. It was also a game in which Preston failed to create many realistic scoring opportunities. Garner hardly touched the ball, became frustrated and frequently went to ground in an attempt to milk free kicks.


Professional footballers in the UK tend to play for a lot of clubs over the course of their careers. Since there is no reserves competition they can be sent out on loan to clubs in various divisions to get some time on the pitch. Even David Beckham played five times for Preston as a youngster when on loan from Manchester United. There are trade windows during the season when clubs can top up or sell players. The rich clubs tend to cannibalise the less affluent ones and make offers that are too good to refuse, both for clubs and players. Sometimes there is little choice for players on the fringe but to pack up and move to the other side of the country if they are to maintain their livelihoods as full-time footballers.


Soccer is all about taking opportunities. It doesn’t matter how many chances you create or how much time you spend in possession. You have to get that ball between the left and right posts and under the crossbar anyway you can. It’s extremely difficult. Although Preston matched Derby County in general play last Tuesday night, it was the Rams who struck late in the game. With a couple of minutes to go Will Hughes worked his way into space down the right and delivered the ball to the back post. The onrushing Chris Forsyth bested his opponent Ben Pringle in the air and headed the ball past Anders Lindegaard. Forsyth, a Scottish international, had recently returned to the team after suffering a serious knee injury. Ecstatic Derby fans jumped the fence to embrace their victorious players. The yellow-vested security men allowed the revelry to continue for thirty seconds or so before gently urging the pitch invaders to resume their places in the stand.


The reaction of the Derby players and fans brings to mind another feature of English soccer. Despite the propensity of players to move between clubs where they are here today and gone tomorrow, there is a genuine bond with the fans who pay at the turnstiles to watch them play. Whilst it’s also true that the supporters can turn on them if they are performing badly or not pulling their weight, there are frequent displays of mutual regard. Players and supporters applaud each before matches. Away teams stride to the section of the stadium where their fans are situated to acknowledge them. If players are substituted they clap the fans as they leave the field and the loyalists return the favour.


Today we are on the way to London for Preston’s visit to Queens Park Rangers. The journey south takes over four hours, with a brief stop at the Norton Keans Services for refreshments. Preston badly needs a win after losing the first three games of the Championship campaign to Reading, Fulham and now Derby. Queens Park’s small blue stadium, Loftus Road, is hidden behind residential streets in Shepherd’s Bush. Rangers began the season well with wins over Leeds United and Cardiff City before falling to a late goal at Barnsley earlier in the week. Their line-up includes Socceroo Massimo Luongo. He and Preston man Bailey Wright are teammates when they turn out for Australia. Massimo was man of the series when Australia won the Asian Cup at home in 2015.


It appears that a lot of Preston fans have made their own way to the capital, whether by road or by train. There are perhaps 800 fans in the visiting team’s section in the upper deck at the BT School End.


Rangers take the field to the sounds of London Calling, by the Clash.


But it’s the visitors from Lancashire who have come calling today.


At the 21-minute mark Tommy Spurr throws in from the left. The ball rebounds to him from the crowd  in front of goal, so this time he boots it to the edge of the box. The punch from QPR goalkeeper Alex Smithies propels the ball straight to Paul Gallagher. He drives into the mob and Jermaine Beckford pokes the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the net. The Preston supporters are overjoyed. They launch into their full repertoire of songs and chants.


We all follow the north end

by John Green (on tour)


Follow follow

We are Preston North End


Na na na na

Na na na na

Hey hey -ey

Preston North End


As Preston continues its dominance there are opportunities to bait the players of the home team. Queen’s Park striker Sebastian Polter goes down clutching his knee.


You’re a soft southern bastard is sung to the tune of Guantanamera, Cuba’s most famous song, even though Polter is German.


An outstanding challenge by defender John Welsh is acknowledged by wild applause and a rendition of There’s only one John Welsh. Typically authoritative play by Bailey Wright draws the Bailey Wright Wright Wright chant. When Paul Gallagher trots down to the sideline to take a corner kick the barrackers rise to their feet to acclaim him. Gallagher doesn’t take his eyes off the ball but gives a little clap in acknowledgement.


After 52 minutes Daniel Johnson, with his long dreadlocks flowing in the breeze, disposes of a Rangers defender and sends Beckford down the right. Beckford races away and delivers a low ball across the edge of the box, where it is met by a lunging Callum Robinson. He slides it home and the Lillywhites are two up. The players indulge in a group hug directly below us. Quite a few of them look up at the travelling supporters to share their delight. Big smiles and fist pumping all round.


Preston keep pressing. Johnson and Gallagher go perilously close to making it three or four.


The northeners sing their farewells to the QPR fans leaving early. In extra time with the seconds draining away they serenade the referee with It’s Time To Say Goodbye. The whistle sounds, players celebrate and the Preston supporters rise to their feet to exult their heroes. Even manager Simon Grayson ambles down to our end to express his appreciation.


Simon Grayson he’s alright, he’s alright, he’s alright

Simon Grayson he’s alright

Si-mon Grayson


Queens Park Rangers 0 Preston North End 2. I would have been content to see an away goal, but now I’ve experienced a victory on the road. We make our way along the curiously named South Africa Road to our buses for the long journey home.


One of the crew beams with pride, pats the Preston symbol on his white shirt and says,“ Our luds did alright, eh?”


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  1. Grand stuff JG. Dunno why you’d abandon the Tigers to watch that!
    One thing I don’t understand about European soccer is the “transfer” market. Is the XX million pounds/euros quoted in the media the amount between clubs or the payment to the player? If a player is traded without seeking it how does he negotiate his salary at the new club?
    In AFL the system seems largely player initiated, while in European football the clubs seem to have the whip hand.
    Enjoy those balmy northern nights.

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