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03/04: Preview: Preston North End
Opposition opinion
by PNE fan Luke McLaughlin

What happened last season?
In the months leading up to last season, North End lost a manager with the rigour of John Maynard Keynes (David Moyes), a captain with the strength of 10 bears (Sean Gregan) and a striker with the finishing instinct of Harold Shipman (Jon Macken). Somehow though we didn't struggle.

But how did North End maintain such equilibrium, such mid-table poise? They harnessed the power of mediocrity.

Now harnessing mediocrity is not easy, you need the correct vessel. Ideally it should be short, fat, bald and shaped like a Scotsman. Luckily we found our perfect vessel in Craig Brown.

Craig was, and is, so mediocre because he has no secrets. Every three days he sends me an excerpt from his diary by email, he charmingly titles this diary "Craig's Deepdale Diary!". Craig is 60, but this is not faux-naïveté, it's the real thing.

His diary is like no diary I have seen before. Pepys' diary recounted in remarkable frankness his many extramarital dalliances; my diary recounts in remarkable frankness, the mess incurred by, and frequency of, my ménage-a-un's. Craig's diary talks about Simon Lynch's niggle. Maybe it is like my diary.

Anyway despite his inherent mediocrity Craig bought Ricardo Fuller.

Preston fans' opinions of Fuller essentially fall into two camps. The older fans think he's the greatest player we've had since Finney, the younger ones think he's the best striker in Europe.

Fuller had a scintillating start to the season scoring 11 goals in 20 games, (most of them last minute equalisers) and opening up a near bottomless box of tricks. But then Ricardo broke his leg and we were only in November.

Oddly though North End didn't suffer. Without Fuller we gave away less early goals and so had less need of his late brilliance. Mediocrity had reasserted itself. And that's just about the story of the season.

Admittedly there were ups and downs in the team. On the down side David Healy's form nosedived from a low height and our midfield looked a little polite in the absence of Sean Gregan. On the upside (apart from Fuller) Cresswell has continued his Duracell running and Eddie Lewis proved to have a first touch that was as delicate as a gay child.

But all in all it was mediocrity that dominated, and perhaps this is no bad thing. When mediocrity is necessary it is termed 'consolidation'; I'd like to think last season was one of consolidation.

What's going to happen next season?
Predicting the future is impossible so watch as I attempt the impossible (albeit in an exceptionally mundane manner) by predicting the course of Preston North End's season.

If you want the brief version though, it's this. If we keep Fuller, we're play-off certainties.

Carrying on their cracking pre-season form Preston defeat West Ham 5-4 on the opening day. "This is football. This is f***ing football! May I just say that is the greatest match of football I've ever played. Who needs the shitting Premiership anyway" says Joe Cole in the post match press conference. "I did eight Cruyff turns today", he adds.

In the transfer market Leeds make another insultingly low offer for Ricardo Fuller.

Still unbeaten Craig Brown reveals his team's secret, and a wicked sense of humour. "On that West Ham game I accidentally had three breakfasts because I kept forgetting whether or not I'd had breakfast!" he explains. "I now try and forget something before every match now. Who are you? Ho, ho, only joking."

Flexing their Premeirship muscle Leeds up their offer for Fuller by £3.

With Preston flying high in the league, tragedy strikes as Richard Cresswell looses both legs in helicopter crash. Doctors say he will never be able to make love again.

Leeds up their offer for Fuller by a further £8 or £6 plus Eirik Bakke.

Despite the loss of Cresswell, Preston's excellent form continues. Big Pole Pawel Abbot steps into the breach to prove there's more to Poland than Popes and snow.

Leeds kidnap Ricardo Fuller.

In a tragic case of history repeating itself Eddie Lewis loses both his legs in a helicopter accident.

Just when it seems the news couldn't get any worse, Lee Cartwright and his Thai wife Bart learn that their young son Fun has died choking on a toy helicopter.

His teammates stop dedicating goals to the dead child however when during in a live broadcast of their 8-1 defeat of Burnley, Alan Green repeatedly quips "He's scoring for Fun!". Green faces no disciplinary action because the BBC somehow remain deaf to the fact that he is a self-important prick.

Eddie Lewis' son Roy 'Rocky' Lewis emerges as a player of real potential. Of particular note is "Rocky's rocket", a really hard shot that paradoxically travels slowly enough for a member of the crowd to remark "Look! Roy's hit his rocket again" and his friend to reply "No keeper in the world would get near that!" before it goes in.

Rocky is tragically killed in a helicopter crash. Thousands line the streets of Preston following a highly emotional funeral at which Tony Blair reads a selection of bits from the bible which allude to sex.

But football must go on and Preston remain on top of the first division but West Ham are closing fast!

Graham Alexander is killed in a tragic car accident on the M6 when a helicopter lands on his car.

Shunned star David Healy is found by Craig Brown sobbing in a helicopter. "What have I done?" he asks Craig.

Torn apart by the fall-out of the Helicopter Murders, North End plummet from top spot to seventh. With a massive trial on the horizon, Craig Brown reveals once again his wonderful wit; "I see chopper(y) waters ahead!" he deadpans.

Can you recommend a pub for away fans?
I don't like pubs

What's the nearest railway station?
From the station Deepdale is about a fiver in a cab, or a half hour walk through town to the ground.

Where is the best place to park?
If you don't mind a short walk, which you shouldn't, free street parking is bountiful in all directions around the ground. If you're coming off the M6 park the M6 side of the ground.

Word Association
Preston North End Lee Cartwright
Beckham When I think of all the time I have spent reading about him, and think of all the books I haven't read, or old friends I've lost contact with, it makes me feel empty and shit.
Milton Keynes The Home of football
The Premiership Lies. Not premier (Tottenham v Leicester anyone?) and not a ship
Division Two Prevented from being more honestly descriptive by the lying Premiership
Dominic Ludden The most naturally talented left back KEGS produced in the late eighties
Watford The home of football again

Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)

"awight mate, I 'ate watford"

"Told you last season we'd play you at 3pm on a Saturday sometime soon, so far so good (just watch, there'll be a surprise friendly against Kazakhstan or a freak big freeze now)!!!"

"can you get butter pies anywhere down sarf?"

"This is all John Clayton's fault"

"A squirrel is heavier than a weasel (on average)"

"Preston bus station, the biggest bus station in Eurpoe, looks as though it is going to be torn down as that part of the city center is redeveolped"

"Well done on beating Burnley in the FA Cup"

"Terry Nutkins has lost both middle fingers to otters but, remarkably, in separate incidents"

"I once ate a goldfish named burt"

"Don't go to Burnley, it's all hills and is very scary! Have you ever seen the film Wrong Turn, it's at the cinemas now"