Mickey stays out of trouble

Back in June when I studied Preston’s fixtures for 2013/14 I was pleased that I would have the opportunity to visit Milton Keynes while I was in England.

The MK Dons are a relocated club. London outfit Wimbledon had an inspiring run in the eighties, where they progressed from the fourth division in 1983 right up into the stratosphere of the first division by 1986. They even won the FA Cup in 1988 when they shocked Liverpool. All of this when playing at a ramshackle 15,000-capacity ground known as Plough Lane. They had to find a new home  in 1991 after the Taylor Report directed clubs to provide all-seating stadiums. Wimbledon shared Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace for 12 years.

They fell into hard times and went into receivership in 2003. To stave off extinction it was decided to   kilometres up the M1 to Milton Keynes and to take up residency at a new purpose-built stadium in an industrial and retail hub on the outskirts of the city. Wimbledon officially became the MK Dons in 2004.

But a lot of their London-based fans were unhappy. They formed a new club, AFC Wimbledon, which is now competing in League Two.

In Notes From a Small Island, American-born Bill Bryson’s account of his odyssey around his adopted country, he declares, “I didn’t hate Milton Keynes immediately, which I suppose is as much as you could hope for the place.”

Milton Keynes is a new town. It was designed in the sixties by a panel of eminent urban planners to be a model for the future. Various industries were given incentives to make their headquarters there and it was close enough to London for residents to commute for work to the capital.

Why did Bryson dislike it so much?

He found almost every aspect of Milton Keynes objectionable. The grassless strips along the main boulevards, the grid pattern of the streets, the light industrial parks and the office blocks with their full parking lots. He wondered why nobody else seemed to be on the streets and concluded that unless you lived there it was virtually impossible to navigate your way round the city as a pedestrian. The footpaths meandered through submerged cuttings. He couldn’t make out any landmarks from the subways and went without lunch because he was unable to locate the shopping mall.

Somehow Bryson found his way back to the railway station and caught the first train out of there.

Who wouldn’t want to visit a place like this?

But I won’t get to Milton Keynes on this trip. Nottingham will have to do. The reason is that English soccer fixtures are subject to change and matches are frequently rescheduled. By virtue of FA Cup round victories over Barnet, Wycombe Wanderers and Ipswich Town Preston North End finds itself in a fourth round meeting with Championship contenders Nottingham Forest at their City Ground. It is to be played on the Friday night because Forest’s close neighbour, Notts County, is playing its own League One match against Walsall on the Saturday and regular league fixtures take precedence over FA Cup ties.

Nottingham Forest is managed by Billy Davies, who led Preston from 2004 to 2006 before departing for Derby County. Davies took the Lilywhites to the play-off final against West Ham in 2005 for a place in the Premier League and to the play-off semi-final against Leeds United in the following year, only to fall agonisingly short on both occasions. Preston fans were disgruntled with the manner in which their successful manager walked out on the club and gave him a hostile reception when he returned to Deepdale with Derby County in tow.

Although Forest has been absent from the top flight since 1999, they are travelling well in fifth place on the Championship table and they thrashed Blackburn Rovers 4-1 last weekend. They also destroyed Premiership club West Ham 5-0 in their third round FA Cup match.

I receive a shock as I stroll along Deepdale Road with a good thirty minutes to go before the coaches depart for Nottingham. I see a bus pulling out onto the road and suffer an instant flashback to my experience of missing the bus for the away game against Ipswich three weeks ago. I break into a run and arrive at the carpark before any other coaches make their escape.

A club official is standing next to the next cab on the rank.

“Is your name Green? Seat 23.”

It almost happened to me again. Unbeknownst to me Nottingham Forest had directed Preston to have their coaches depart a half an hour earlier. Their local constabulary didn’t think we would make it by the opening whistle if we left at 4:30pm for an eight o’clock start.

I had admired the aerial view of Nottingham during the telecast of the Test Match between England and Australia at Trent Bridge in 2013. There by the graceful River Trent I could see the cricket ground, Nottingham Forest’s City Ground and Notts County’s Meadow Lane. But with the light fading as we leave Preston for the M6 I will see nothing of this. Only the motorway, the headlights of cars and streaks of rain on the windscreen of the bus.

I am seated next to Mickey for the three-and-a-half hour journey. His brothers are in the seats in front of us and join the conversation. They are long time PNE supporters and grew up together just a few streets away from Preston’s home patch. I am introduced to their friends as “a man who has come 12,000 miles to see Preston play.”

The defection of Billy Davies back in 2006 is still a sore point.

When Preston met Derby County at Pride Park that year Davies enraged the visiting fans when he celebrated a goal by thrusting his fist in the air and looking pointedly in their direction. To make matters worse one of the stewards, responsible for maintaining order in the crowd and preventing unruly behaviour, constantly baited the Preston contingent by making obscene gestures at them.

Mickey was in the front row. When Derby scored again the steward suddenly leapt on him, dragged him out of his seat and pinned him to the ground. Despite the protests of the Preston fraternity Mickey was forcibly led away by a gang of stewards and taken to a room where he was questioned by police.

He swears he did nothing.

He was ejected from the stadium and wondered what to do with himself for the remainder of the match. There was a pub across the road. He knew the game was being televised on Sky TV. So he walked into the bar in his Preston shirt and scarf to be confronted by a room full of Derby supporters. Every eye was upon him as he explained his predicament. An elderly man delivered  judgement on behalf of the locals.

“Don’t worry lad. You’re not the first it’s happened to and you won’t be the last.”

Mickey had a few pints and watched the remainder of the match with his new friends. He didn’t want his wife to find out so he swore his brothers to secrecy. On the following Monday the Lancashire Evening Post carried the story of how the offending steward at Derby had been sacked  after the club received around a thousand complaints concerning his conduct toward the visitors.

Two weeks later Mickey was at work when he received a phone call from his spouse.

“You got a letter from the club.”

“Sale on at the club shop is there?”

“So you got arrested at Derby?”

Mickey had to come clean. When he was taken to the stewards’ room he had been compelled to provide his name and address to his interrogators. His details had been passed onto Preston North End. The club was obliged under league rules to issue Mickey with a breach of conduct notice and an official warning, although it was fully aware of the circumstances in which the incident had occurred at Pride Park.

Fortunately Micky’s wife imposed no further penalties and he has managed to stay out of trouble for the past eight seasons.

It’s a good thing we left early for the match because the convoy of 19 buses arrives at the ground with only 20 minutes to spare after running into Friday night traffic on the A52 between Derby and Nottingham.

From my experience the away fans seem to make the most noise. The Preston army, two thousand strong, is in full voice, right from the start of proceedings.

“Yel-lows, Yel-lows!” (for tonight the Lilywhites are arrayed in their away strip of yellow and blue)

“PNE-E, PNE-E, hey, hey-ey, PNE!”

“Bailey Wright, Wright, Wright!” (the young Australian is swiftly becoming a crowd favourite)

Or when the home barrackers become excited over a forward thrust that comes to nothing, the intriguing:

“Sit down you wankers, you’re stook here with your moom!”

Although I begin to learn some of the chants, I listen rather than joining in. It wouldn’t work for me anyway, because my accent’s all wrong.

The game is played before an audience of 26,000, which is Preston’s biggest crowd of the season. The rain falls and the ball skids across the turf. The combatants attempt to slice their way through their opponent’s defensive formations with deft movements of the ball and rapid counter attacks. Both keepers are called upon to make vital saves.

But soccer is a game where you might not score at all. Despite this, I am swept along in the ebb and flow of the contest where you are just one error, or one incisive move away from agony or ecstasy. Right up until the last few seconds of extra time, when Preston’s Josh Brownhill  lets fly with a final free kick with thousands of partisans urging him on, I am deeply absorbed in the game.

The Preston fans are happy with the 0-0 result. There will be a rematch at Deepdale and Forest better watch out. Once again their men have demonstrated that they are more than ready to make the transition to the next level, having beaten Championship sides Blackpool and Ipswich and drawn with an in-form Nottingham Forest. We heartily acknowledge the efforts of the players and they return the favour.

The chanting continues as we file up the steps to the exits.

“Na na na na

Na na na na

Hey Hey-ey



“Preston till I die

Preston till I die

I know I am

I’m sure I am

Preston till I die!”

It’s after midnight by the time we arrive home. The tarmac outside the stadium is filled with the cars of families and friends here to collect the travellers. Mickey’s wife is waiting for him.

His brother Ian has phoned his ex-girlfriend Natasha, who has borrowed his car for the day. They kindly provide a lift back to the Ashwood Hotel for me. We take a short cut around Winckley Square to avoid the congestion on Church Street as patrons spill out from the Warehouse night club. Natasha is playing some loud dance music of her own on Ian’s stereo system.

Ian grins as we say our goodbyes.

“See you at Bradford City then on Tuesday night!”





  1. JG – I knew ‘we’ drew at Notts in the FA Cup. Looking forward to the replay. You now have me checking the fixtures and results on a regular basis. I can’t wait the day for your reports (my short attention span and no capacity to delay gratification).
    The BBC on-line summary of the game said PNE had the better of it, and gave a wrap to “the Almanac’s own” Bailey Knight being rarely troubled at the back.
    Enjoyed your story being mostly about the Preston supporters. I love the way that in a life of rationality and responsibility, football (of all codes) lets us engage with our inner child/mad bastard (take your pick).
    Go the Lilywhites.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Another enjoyable report John an like Peter I now check Prestons results and Wolves
    ( Troy would have spat the dummy if I had not added that ) love reading about the adventure just getting to and from the games let alone the actual soccer
    Thanks again John

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