Preston North End ready to welcome Spurs and generate some good news

IT’S not been a great week for the Football League’s first champions and original invincibles, Preston North End (PNE) who announced a big pre-tax loss for 2021-22 and then lost 4-0 at home to Norwich City in the Championship.

Preston are hovering in mid-table but it would seem unlikely they will challenge for a play-off place this season. There is a chance of glory in the FA Cup, though; Preston are at home to Tottenham Hotspur on January 28 in the fourth round and given the current erratic form of the London side, the tie could be a big banana skin for the Spurs. Victory would also ease some of the pressure on the club’s finances.

PNE made a pre-tax loss of £ 20 million in 2021-22, higher than the £ 17.5 million lost in 2020-21. By Championship standards, that’s not dramatic, but for a club of Preston’s size, it is very significant and amounts to a weekly loss of £ 400,000.  Fortunately, the club has generous owners in the Hemmings family. PNE owe them around £ 77 million in soft loans and without their support, there is no way the club could entertain Championship football. Over the past 10 years, PNE have made a loss in eight, but the 2021-22 deficit is the highest.

The big question is, can Preston sustain the level they are at and should they even be trying to given the amount of wages they are paying out just to stay in the division? They are currently in their eighth consecutive Championship campaign after winning promotion from League One in 2015.

In 2021-22, the wage bill at Deepdale was £ 24.6 million, which represents 177% of income, a dangerously high level. If that figure appears somewhat frightening, then consider that in 2020-21, the wage-to-income ratio was 216%.

PNE’s revenues for 2021-22 were £ 13.8 million, 16% higher than the previous season’s total of £ 11.9 million. This was boosted by a return to near normal conditions for matchdays at Deepdale in 2021-22, with earnings rising more than fivefold to £ 3 million. Media income was down by around 10% to £ 8.1 million, while commercial revenues amounted to £2.8 million.

How can a club like Preston change their current situation? In 2022-23, they are averaging 16,000 at Deepdale, their best average since 1964, so it is difficult to see that climbing much higher. The club’s commercial income was up by 12%, a welcome trajectory after a few years of decline, so there is continued scope for improvement, but essentially, the elephant in the room will always be the wage bill.

PNE could do better in player trading judging by the last two years in which they have made around £ 1 million. It is not so long ago that they sold Callum Robinson to Sheffield United for £ 7 million and Jordan Hugill to West Ham for £ 10 million. Many clubs have tried to implement a strong player trading culture in order to generate income because it is arguably the way ahead for small-to-medium sized clubs. Of the current squad, midfielder Ben Whiteman could yet earn PNE a decent fee and already Premier League Fulham are apparently showing an interest in the 26 year-old.

Preston’s dilemma is they are plying their trade in a division where everyone lives beyond their means as they chase the dream of a place in the top flight. In order to remain competitive, the pressure to follow the crowd is intense. But for most clubs, the prospect of the lucrative world of the Premier is beyond them. The game with Tottenham will give the Deepdale regulars a glimpse of the promised land.

The day I met Tom Finney, “the Preston plumber”

tomfinney1955_275x155 (384x277)Tom Finney died yesterday, aged 91. In 2005, I was lucky enough to meet one of the nicest professional footballers you could ever wish to shake hands with. It was at a reunion of the Chelsea 1955 Football League Championship winning side and Tom Finney, who only ever played for his local club, Preston North End, was a special guest.

The thing is, not many people realised that “The Preston Plumber” – a reference to his trade – was at the event, because there was no fanfare, no grand announcement and certainly no hubris. I was keen to get the signatures of all the 1955 team present on this unique occasion. I reached the table on which Finney was sitting, quietly enjoying a glass of fruit juice. I said, “Sorry, please forgive me, but who are you?” I asked, as I didn’t recognise this rather slight, figure. “Oh, I’m Tom Finney,” he replied, in a humble, endearing way. “Tom Finney!. Tom Finney!. My God, I am sorry. Tom Finney!. I cannot believe I have met Tom Finney.”

I shook his hand firmly, told him it was an enormous pleasure to meet him, and he signed my menu. What could I say  to such a legendary player? He told me he played a few games and was lucky to have been alongside some “wonderful lads over the years”. I spluttered out something about who the greatest individual he had come up against and he remarked, “that Puskas fellow was some player. He made me wonder what the devil had we been doing all these years for someone to be able to do that to us.”

Of course, Finney was in the England side that lost 7-1 in the Nep Stadium in 1954. He was also in the England line-up that [infamously] lost 1-0 to the USA in the 1950 World Cup! He featured in three World Cup finals for his country.

It was quite a moving experience speaking with this grand old man of football, but of all the players at the Chelsea Hospital that night, Finney was undoubtedly the greatest, and he didn’t even play for Chelsea.

In 1954, Finney captained Preston at Wembley
In 1954, Finney captained Preston at Wembleyy the greatest. And he didn’t even play for Chelsea!.

The Tom Finney story should act as a lesson for some of the characters that claim to be “legends” today.

You’re not a legend, really, until you’re dead, but in footballing terms, as soon as you hang your boots up, you’re a legend.

Finney played 433 games for Preston North End and scored 187 goals. He was capped 76 times for England (30 goals) in an age when he had Stanley Matthews to contend with.

If Finney had moved from Deepdale, home of Preston, he would doubtless have won many domestic honours to go with his England caps. But he stayed loyal to his home town club and never won any significant honours. It is doubtful we shall see his like again.

But for years, he kept Preston North End afloat and one satirical comment sums up his value to PNE: “Tom Finney should claim income tax relief…for his 10 dependents.”

I expect a lot of people are glad today that they once met Tom Finney.