Clarets Raise a Glass to Preston North End's Demise
Wherever possible, we try to be neutral and unbiased in these parts. Not this week. Controversy Week continues on The Seventy Two with Burnley supporter Jamie Smith‘s no-holds-barred rant of pure joy at the demise of the Clarets’ neighbours Preston North End. The Lilywhites are on the verge of relegation. Jamie is shedding few tears…
Preston fans are a constant irritation. Ever since they won the Division Two (for that was its name at the time) title back in 2000, Burnley fans have had to put up with them.
But all of a sudden it’s gone quiet. Because Preston North End are going down.
The Championship’s current longest-serving outfit are on the brink of relegation, despite a minor fightback in recent weeks. Sacking Darren Ferguson didn’t work as it took Phil Brown weeks to notch his first win in charge. Even though performances have improved, there is now very little chance of North End avoiding the drop.
There’s been some debate among Clarets about how we should react to their demise. For many years we have lived ever so slightly in their shadow. We were promoted in second place behind PNE that year and have generally been below them in the final standings ever since.
Preston have made it into the play-offs a handful of times to our one finish in the Championship’s top six. But while they have failed on each and every occasion – indeed, they have never been promoted other than automatically – we beat Sheffield United at Wembley in May 2009 under Owen Coyle to enjoy a season in the sun.
That Premier League campaign made me realise how little I’m bothered about Preston. We’ve enjoyed – perhaps enjoyed is not the right word – a curious type of rivalry over the last decade, with our biggest neighbours Blackburn Rovers usually above us in the league structure and theirs, lowly Blackpool, below until recent years.
Being the only two Lancashire clubs in the Championship for many the seasons forced this fake hatred on us. Preston’s annoying habit of singing “we are superior” whenever they inevitably triumphed over us at Deepdale due to yet another shocking penalty award (more of this later) grated, but generally most Clarets were probably a little jealous of North End’s relative success, while we laboured in mid-table. But I don’t know, maybe we’d rather finish 12th every season than lose in the play-offs year after year.
Billy Davies didn’t help matters, though. He fanned the flames with his infamous “job done” speech after a win midway one of Preston’s ill-fated play-off attempts and he’s been amusing Burnley fans ever since as he desperately tries to claw himself into the Premier League while endlessly bleating about not being given more cash from his board.
Now of course, with our promotion push threatening to peter out while North End’s relegation nears confirmation, we’re looking like spending next season one level above our fellow Lancastrians, as we did last time out.
In fact, if we could pull off the unlikely and steal a place in the top six and triumph at Wembley again, we’ll be two leagues above. It will be hard to take any interest in North End’s trips to Rochdale while we have glamour ties against Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs to look forward to.
This season an exorcism of sorts appears to have eradicated much of the ill feeling Burnley fans have towards North End.
For years and years we have been beaten annually at Deepdale and it is honestly not bias speaking when I point to refereeing decisions often deciding the tie. I’ll never forget Graham Laws in February 2005, giving North End a penalty for their winger fouling our full-back, off the pitch. I genuinely have no idea how he reached the decision, even six years on.
The previous season, one of the worst Burnley defensive performances I’ve ever seen resulted in a 5-3 battering at Deepdale. We couldn’t blame the referee for this one, unfortunately, though Glen Little did miss a sitter for us at 3-3.
The year before that, in a pulsating 3-2 win for the Clarets, Nigel Pearson had given David Healy a penalty for being tackled by Graham Branch. Healy hadn’t bothered to appeal, knowing the fairness of the challenge. We still won that one, but there would have been hell to pay had Arthur Gnohere – a marauding centre-back no less – not somehow strolled through the North End defence to finish off a neat one-two for the winner, his second of that match.
Just a couple of years ago, Paul Taylor gave two (yes two, it actually gets worse) penalties to help North End win 2-1. Stephen Elliott hurled himself to ground over Brian Jensen to win the first and ludicrously Taylor gave another when Jon ‘good touch for a big man’ Parkin used his considerable weight to push Steven Caldwell’s arm on to the ball for the daftest handball decision I can remember seeing.
So North End’s luck with referees – or cheating, to put it another, more blunt way – has been a frustration over the years. I certainly won’t miss the journey back from Deepdale, complaining about yet another official robbing us of deserved points.
But yes, this year was the exorcism. Burnley went to Deepdale with North End desperate for a result to keep their slim survival hopes alive, while we needed a win to keep up the pace at the top. Jay Rodriguez gave us the lead, Barry Nicholson cancelled it out and Jack Cork won it at the death with a glorious diving header.
I wasn’t there – I vowed not to put myself through the heartache again after the Taylor year – but the relief was palpable, even wandering around the Arndale Centre in Manchester. We’d finally beaten North End at Deepdale, nine years after the previous win.
Some fans will say local derbies are special and they offer something to look forward to. But ever since Preston stopped competing at the top of the league, the number of supporters heading to Turf Moor has dwindled. Only about a thousand made the trip earlier this season when we beat them 4-3, from 3-1 down, although it was on telly.
But the truth is it’s never been a proper derby. It’s been a stopgap while we wait for a chance to get one over on Rovers and they await the chance to put Blackpool in their place.
I won’t miss Preston. Their ground looks like it’s made of Lego, their fans can be spectacularly idiotic and they cheat to win. Good riddance to them.