The majority of teams aren’t invincible, but some are. The majority of clubs are just clubs, some however are institutions. The origins of Preston North End can be traced way back to 1863, but at that time linked to cricket, athletics and rugby under the name Preston Nelson. The club at that time occupied an irregular strip of land, used by various other sporting clubs on the Ribble estuary at Ashton, known as the Marsh.
In 1867 there was a split amongst the club members when the majority opted for a move to Moor Park where a public cricket ground had been opened. The newly formed club using Moor Park was named North End simply as an indication of the club’s base now being in the north end of the town. They fell on hard times and almost immediately disbanded, but new members were recruited to ease the financial crisis. Despite the monetary problems not being resolved, the members made a memorable and courageous step on 21st January 1875 when they took a lease on a field at Deepdale, a field which was to be the home of the finest football team of the era.
Playing cricket and dabbling in other games such as lacrosse and rounders proved not to be financially viable and so in 1877 members turned to rugby. Unfortunately, this venture too was a failure since the club could not compete with the Preston Grasshoppers who were already a well-established force in English Rugby circles. Eventually, North End played its first football game under association rules against Eagley at Deepdale in 1878. By 1881 Preston North End decided the game should be their sole pursuit. Neighbours Blackburn Rovers were invited to a friendly match at Deepdale and lost 10-0. Well, you can’t be invincible every day.
Preston North End turned professional in 1885, one of the first clubs to do so. From August that same year to April 1886, North End were undefeated. Another season worthy of note was 1887/88 when North End won 42 consecutive matches. Part of the rout was a 26-0 victory against Hyde in the first round of the FA Cup, a result that still stands today as the biggest victory in an English first-class game. Such was the club’s dominance in English football at that time that it was dubbed The Invincibles. In 1888 they were founder members of the League and became the first team to achieve the double, doing this at the first attempt.
This remarkable feat earned them a distinctive privilege they share only with Reading, being a Royal Borough, of claiming the right, never actually used, of wearing their first colours whenever they wish, even if it means the home team have to change. The club colours have always been blue and white. After having played in either blue and white hooped or striped shirts, Preston North End starting sporting the famous white shirts and navy blue shorts which gave inspiration to Spurs and a myriad of other clubs around the country. This kit eventually earned them the nickname The Lilywhites.
Like the club colours the badge similarly has had a single-minded theme, namely a paschal lamb. It must however be said that this woolly character does little to conjure up images of Preston’s surging forwards and stalwart defenders. The club’s first official badge depicted the red roses of Lancashire and the lamb from the Borough’s coat of arms. The lamb is that of St. Wilfrid who is the Patron Saint of Preston. The letters ‘PP’ are taken to mean ‘Princeps Pacis’, ‘ Prince of Peace’ for those less acquainted with Latin.
Preston has a reputation for pride because in the eighteenth century it was a centre of fashionable society, and some people now allege that the letters are short for ‘Proud Preston’, an interpretation which has come to be widely accepted. However, on earlier versions of the arms the lamb was standing and three letters ‘P’ were depicted on it. The reason for the three letters was quite simply to give a general balance to the arms – modern graphic designers of soulless corporate logos take note!
The arms were in later years modernised and one of the letters ‘P’ was left out, again as a method of improving the general design balance. Preston North End eventually dropped the three red roses from their crest. Honour and history go hand in hand in Preston. North End is the only club from the founder members of the Football League who have played continuously on the same ground. Deepdale may have changed dramatically over the years, but this does not mean that the club belies its rich and illustrious history.
One of the new stands is named after Sir Tom Finney, the footballing legend, whose genius and gentlemanly conduct was and still is an example for all footballers to follow and who brought great credit, not just to the game, but also to his home town of Preston. Proud Preston indeed.