Preston North End at Home – Back to the Future

At the end of this one I was hanging with my entourage* when my friend Tim wandered over to chat. He asked, as he often does, what I’d be writing about. I have to be honest, I gave a bit of a blank look. “Not sure. I’ll be lucky to get a hundred words out of it” I eventually replied. I realised, as we headed for my friend’s house for a large bowl of stew and further restorative glass of wine, that I would need some sort of literary device.

*wavy lines and spooky music*

Come with me to pretty much halfway between the release of Back to the Future and its sequel, the imaginatively named Back to the Future II. It is 1987, it is a dark evening, I am sixteen and watching the news (because I was a fun kind of sixteen year old) on one of the four analogue television channels available to us back in the day. After the news Michael Fish came on to do the weather. This he started off, unusually, by stating that an old lady was mad. Or, at least, that the one who had contacted him to say a hurricane was approaching was wrong. I’m sure he would have added the phrase “the deluded old bat” if he could but I digress. ‘That’s ok then’ I thought and went to bed. I was fun, remember?

The next morning my alarm went off at six in the morning and I got up to do my paper round. I was careful not to wake anyone else in the house and tiptoed down in the dark as was my habit. It certainly sounded wet and windy out and, oddly, I could not turn on the kitchen light. ‘Bulb must have gone’ I thought. I got on my bike and cycled off to the paper shop at the speed of Sir Bradley Wiggens in the Olympics, for the shop was to the west of me. I got to the shop and it was closed. No one was about. At all. Anywhere. I looked down to Hove seafront and saw bits of beach hut blowing round in the air. ‘Bugger this’ I thought and headed home. It took me half an hour to do a mile.

Why had I gone out in the Great Storm to do a paper round? Because I needed the money for the weekend. Brighton were at home to Preston North End and I wanted to go, as I had been to every home game that season.  “Never mind” said my dad. “They’ll have to pay you and the game will be off anyway.” Forty eight hours later I was walking through the ruins of my school via its playing field with my friend Colin to the North Stand. Along with 6041 others I watched the game which did go ahead (and, yes, I did get paid). To this day it is one of the worst games of football I have ever seen. It had 0-0 written all over it from minute one. By seventy minutes I was willing it over. Older people in the North Stand were doing that raising an invisible pint glass gesture to one another that suggested that they would be much better off in the pub – indeed most probably wished they’d never left, but luckily this was the eighties and the pubs weren’t open all day. otherwise the crowd would have been about twelve.

So, Brighton v Preston has form. And not in a good way. What would be needed to avoid such a snore fest this time round? Well, we would certainly need our midfield to be at its creative and competitive best. We would need an opposition who weren’t negative from minute one, eyeing up a 0-0 like it was the World Cup. And we would need our strikers to take their chances. Getting out of the day without further decimation to the squad would be a bonus. Oh dear.

Back to the Future II imagines the world in October 2015 from the perspective of a couple of years after the Great Storm. It thought we would all be riding hover boards, but that the concept of time travel would still be unique to Doc and his Delorean. Twenty three odd thousand Brighton fans, however, time travelled yesterday back to last season. With Kayal out suspended and Stephens missing, presumed injured, Crofts and Ince would have to run the midfield. Instead, they went about proving that while our strongest eleven is very strong indeed, our squad is still fairly weak. Where there had been midfield dominance and creative tricks, now there was panic and sideways passes. Where clear cut chances had been made and taken, and I had been certain we would score at least once, now we looked at the goal like it was an alien object. And this was just in the first half. In the second we made an ordinary, physical, negative Preston side look like Manchester Bloody City.

It was painfully apparent by about forty six minutes that we would not score. On fifty The Boy started reading his programme and REALLY mucking about. By seventy he was willing the game finished. If he’d been older he would have done that raising an invisible pint glass gesture. What we really needed now was for the ref to blow before any real damage was done to the squad. Just then Bong went down on the left touch line as if he had been shot. He didn’t move and a stretcher was called for.

At the time of writing what I know about the injuries is what everyone knows from the press conference and subsequent tweets. Stephens’ injury is hopefully minor. Greer and Lua Lua are close. Bong had hurt his knee, which I’m taking could be anything from a simple twist to ligament damage. Expect Rosenior to fill in at left back at Reading and a juggle all the way around the midfield, and possibly defence, to cope (for example could Calde come in at right back with Bruno playing the Rosenor role? Could we instead go 4-5-1 from outset?).

What is certain is that we are in to the phase of the season where your squad players need to be stood up and counted. If yesterday is anything to go by we might just want to put that fizz back in the cellar. Still, with other results going our way we are still undefeated and still four points clear so the collateral damage – for now – is minimal. And I got more than a hundred words out of this puppy. Thank you Michael Fish. Thank you Michael J Fox. Thank you Preston, producing memorably crap games since 1987.

*having a pint with some friends and our kids, the kids weren’t drinking

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