Moyes stays true to Preston tradition

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Deepdale's young generation are aiming to recreate the aura of Finney and Shankly by regaining coveted place in the top flight.

Deepdale's young generation are aiming to recreate the aura of Finney and Shankly by regaining coveted place in the top flight.

Of all the places they could have chosen to locate the National Football Museum, none was quite so appropriate as Preston. To make it part of the new Wembley would have been too obvious and ensured nobody would see it for three years. Manchester and Liverpool have shrines enough to football.

As befits the first club to win the championship, Preston North End have a proper reverence for their history. The two beautifully remodelled stands at Deepdale are not named after a brand of lager or sportswear but in memory of perhaps their two greatest players, Sir Tom Finney and Bill Shankly.

"You must have a sense of history at this club," said David Moyes, the manager who is steering Preston back towards those dearly-remembered days. "I am fortunate that I see Sir Tom Finney most weeks and anyone who has any knowledge of him or Preston North End will know how steeped in tradition they are. I hope the new group of players can be talked about in years to come."

Maybe that is not such a fanciful statement. Preston will not win the First Division title but they are young, well-drilled (three are products of the Manchester United youth system) and their often technically excellent football has earned them a place in the play-off positions.

"In our last game we had three 22 to 23-year-olds, a couple of 24-year-olds and Mark Rankine was the only person who touched 30. We're looking forward to building this team into something that can be taken further. The fact that they are all of the same age gives me a chance to mould them."

The manner in which he has done so, emphasising discipline and free-flowing football, has led some to compare Moyes to the young Alex Ferguson, who remains a source of encouragement to his fellow Scot.

The forced international break came at a good time for Preston. Moyes talks about his young side being mentally drained by the experience of playing First Division football. "It can be a frightening factor," he said. "It has been a step into the dark; most of them haven't visited many of the grounds we have been to this season." It has been a step in the dark for their manager too.

Since leaving Parkhead as a 21-year-old in 1983, virtually his entire playing career was spent in the lower divisions. He was Preston's centre-half before he was their manager, taking over the hot seat in January 1998 when they were 17th in the Second Division and, although in Sean Gregan and Michael Appleton there was the basis for a decent team, Preston's immediate future was parlous. "The players were underachieving and the team looked as if it would be relegated to the Third Division, from which the club might never have recovered."

In his first full season Moyes steered Preston to the play-offs, where they lost to Gillingham in the semi-finals. The next season they took the title with 95 points and accumulated more away wins than any club bar Manchester United. It may have been as well that they did not go up via the play-offs, they might have been too young and raw to have coped with the stresses of the new division, although their manager does not agree. "I thought we were ready to go up then. It might have been better to have waited but in football people are very impatient. At the time I was devastated and it took me a long time to get over it."

Promotion as champions gave Moyes time to prepare. He spent £900,000 in the summer (roughly what the club lost last year) although an attempt to raise £7.5m in a share issue to finance both the redevelopment of the Town End and the signing of new players failed to meet its target, while Preston became the latest club to discover that football and rugby do not necessarily mix and have sold their interest in the Lancashire Lynx rugby league club.

The chairman, Bryan Gray, blames Preston's bigger shareholders for a lack of enthusiasm for the share issue, although £2.8m was raised and he says two private investors are willing to invest a further £500,000. "I have money if I want it," said Moyes. "But I won't be chasing six or seven players. Manchester United look for one or, at most, two players a year and that's what we have to do."

Moyes' main concern now is to find a replacement for his striker, Steve Basham, who, having scored the winner against Tranmere on Saturday, was taken off on a stretcher, his leg badly broken. Another win, against Norwich on Tuesday, kep them firmly ensconced in a play-off position.

Preston's biggest source of revenue remains the money the fans put through the gate. A few years ago, ticket income would have been very dangerous ground on which to base the club's future. In 1986, when under Brian Kidd's stewardship, they finished second bottom in the Football League they had dominated almost a century before, the club of Finney and Shankly attracting smaller crowds than Bournemouth and Shrewsbury.

Gray has set a target of 15,000 gates not seen at Deepdale since the early 1970s, although they are still just short. "We have to match the attendances of the past," said Moyes, meaning the 50s not the 80s. "The club is in its highest position for 20 or 30 years and in that time a lot of supporters have drifted away, although attendances are up 30 per cent on last season.

"We are a big club," said Moyes. "You can't be a manager here and not realise that."

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