Replay: 4 January 1889 - So how good were the heroes of Preston North End?

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The Independent Football

Let's get the silly stuff out of the way first: the long trouserly shorts, the moustaches, the risible pay, the trams that took the players to home games, the League season that demanded only 22 matches each, and the indisputable fact that none of them spoke French or drove a Ferrari.

Let's get the silly stuff out of the way first: the long trouserly shorts, the moustaches, the risible pay, the trams that took the players to home games, the League season that demanded only 22 matches each, and the indisputable fact that none of them spoke French or drove a Ferrari.

Now let's look at Preston North End's 1888-89 "Invincibles" as a football team. Six of the first team were Scottish imports, they played the new fashionable 2-3-5 formation, and, even though they occasionally played a long ball, they were noted as the supreme passing side of their day - the "combination" game as it was known.

Even before the League began in 1888, they had been, for several years, the dominant side in northern, if not national, football. In 1885-86, they went unbeaten for 64 friendly and cup matches (59 wins and five draws), and in 1887-88 they won 42 consecutive matches, one of them being the famous 26-0 defeat of Hyde United in the FA Cup.

The men responsible for this record may seem, in those old fading photographs, an odd lot, but they looked pretty formidable to opponents. There was Jimmy Ross, forward and scorer of more than 250 goals in 220 appearances before the League even began; goalkeeper James Trainer, who would win 20 Welsh caps; John Goodall, forward, England cap, and one of the few men to score a hat-trick in a Cup semi-final; Jack Gordon, right-wing, fast and creator of many chances; John Graham, half-back and successful miler on the athletic track; Fred Dewhurst, inside-forward, schoolmaster, and England cap; Dave Russell, part-time music-hall comedian, centre-half and hard man; Samuel Thompson, forward, and holder of the North End skipping record (3,500); Robert Howarth, 13 stone of formidable full-back; and Robert Holmes, full-back, railwayman (he was known to play League games after a night shift), and future England captain.

In their first 1888-89 League match, on 8 September, Preston beat Burnley 5-2, and won their next five games. There was a slight wobble in a 0-0 draw with Accrington (the only match in which they failed to score throughout the entire season), but 12 goals in the next two games put them in firmly on top of the table when it was first published, somewhat belatedly, in November.

West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers (unbeaten at home all season) all made brief runs at them, but, by the new year, North End were on the verge of the title.

It was all settled on 4 January. Villa were the only side who could catch them, and while they went down 4-0 at Burnley, Preston beat Notts County 4-1 and were champions even before Twelfth Night. They won 18 of their 22 games, a win-rate of 88 per cent, drew only one at home, won two games by a margin of 7-0, scored 74 goals - an average of 3.4 per game - and conceded a mere 15. Oh, and they also won the FA Cup without conceding a goal.

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