2020 has been a strange year for a number of reasons. In terms of football, we had one season disrupted and another delayed. Stadiums have been empty for 9 months barring a few areas.
As for Preston North End, it’s been a year of ups and downs but I think it’s safe to say a lot of fans are either already disillusioned with the club or are perhaps starting to feel that way, despite a strong end to the year.
Here are five things we learned from 2020. Here’s to a better 2021! Happy New Year!
The Club Seems Happy To Stand Still
It has undoubtedly been a tough year for many, jobs wise, health-wise and money-wise. For North End; a club who already struggle to compete in the Championship against many big spenders, the lack of income from the match days have undoubtedly made it even harder.
The voice of the club, Peter Ridsdale, has on numerous occasions pointed out that we are one of only a few clubs who have managed to pay all of our staff their full wages throughout the pandemic. That is, of course, great for the ones directly involved but it seems as though that has been the only thing the club has been able to shout about all year. Loads of other clubs push the limits and go above and beyond in order to invest in their playing squad in order to move forward.
However, it seems we are happy just to keep our heads above water and as other people have said in football, failure to move forward in this league and just standing still is as good as going backwards.
The fact we have allowed some of our best players to head into the last six months of their contracts is unbelievable. How have we managed to let it get to this stage? It should have been sorted one way or another by now.
It’s things like this that completely frustrate the life out of the fans.
We Still Lack a Goalscorer
Jordan Hugill and Callum Robinson still haven’t been replaced. We lack a natural goalscorer and it’s hard to find one without spending a ridiculous amount.
Jayden Stockley and Emil Riis are the ones to have been signed since and neither has quite hit the spot yet although it is still very early days for the Big Dane.
It’s frustrating that Riis and Sinclair have been the only signings of the year despite them both being impressive ones. We still manage to compete to a good standard based on some strong recruitment under Simon Grayson (see Pearson, Browne and DJ etc).
However, we must start to loosen the purse strings a little because one thing is for sure, Alex Neil won’t be staying around too much longer if he isn’t given more power in the transfer market. He has spoken of the squad becoming a bit stagnant and January is upon us now so let’s hope that he gets some quality in through the door.
The Scott Sinclair Signing Excited Fans
It was the highest-profile signing we had made for some time. Scott Sinclair has shone in the Premier League and Champions League.
The talk of his transfer whipped the fans up into a frenzy and it was finally confirmed at the beginning of the year. Ahead of his debut against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park the concourse was bouncing with fans singing his song. He scored on just his second appearance at Deepdale; a great effort against former club Swansea City but it did take him time to find his feet with some hit and miss displays.
However, he is definitely an important member of the team now and is capable of goals out of nowhere. He’s clinical and will continue to produce moments of magic that will single-handedly win us points.
In fact, the lads on the podcast referred to Scott as a “moments player”, something that Alex Neil has since come out and also said in the press. Thanks for listening, Alex.
🗣️ Alex Neil on Scott Sinclair: "He's a moments player who will work hard, his shape and structure is good, and what he'll do is pop up in moments – that's what he's done this year."— From the Finney (@fromthefinney) November 6, 2020
Which podcast did you hear that on a few weeks back? 😎 #pnefc pic.twitter.com/Dx1SZ8AkBP
Football Without Fans is Nothing
It’s just not the same is it? Not being able to go on Deepdale for more than nine months has been heartbreaking for me. The feeling of standing on the Town End with my Dad as we score a great goal or grab an important win is one of the best feelings. It’s hard to describe and not much comes close to it. It’s a great moment to share with my Dad and it’s hard to replicate in any way away from Deepdale.
Seeing familiar faces, going through your Saturday routine, the feeling at 5 pm when we’ve got the three points. I long for the chance to walk up those steps again and look out onto that hallowed turf. It’s a sense of belonging, it’s home.
Even watching it on the television with empty stadiums is weird. The players don’t seem to enjoy it as much and the results have become very unpredictable as a result of that. There’s less direct pressure on them and it’s not as enjoyable viewing as it used to be.
It also feels as though we’ve been overfed with the amount of football on the television as a result of the pandemic these days.
Alex Neil Needs To Be Backed
By the fans and the board. It hasn’t always been plain sailing for the gaffer since he arrived in Preston back in 2017.
He’s seen key players sold in that time and the budget he’s been given has only been enough to bring in sometimes below par replacements. Although the performances haven’t always been easy on the eye, especially of late, he’s always managed to bring us to the periphery of the playoffs. We even topped the table just over a year ago.
He seems to be settled here, rejecting advances from West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City. He’s still very young for a manager and the board should realise that he will have ambitions to manage higher, sooner rather than later. We should do everything to make him realise those ambitions here. Realistically could we bring anyone better in?
Many fans were calling for his head, especially after the abysmal home defeat to Blackburn Rovers back in November. It’s been a tough season, watching from the armchair and not being able to get too excited by a win with a defeat usually just around the corner. But he needs the support from the fans.
He’s our second longest-serving manager since David Moyes. Just imagine if the ‘big 4’ signed contract extensions and Alex was given a little more to spend. We could quite easily go on to achieve something.
However, imagine if Alan Browne, Ben Pearson, Daniel Johnson and Ben Davies all leave the club for nothing at the end of the season. I imagine Alex Neil wouldn’t be too far behind them either and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’d be in a very precarious position then.
If you haven’t listened to the final episode of 2020 of the From the Finney podcast, check it out below or find it wherever you stream your podcasts normally, it’s available on the majority of the big streaming platforms.
Finally, we’re on Twitter here – @fromthefinney.