For some football clubs, history is what defines them and for some, it serves as the ultimate source of pride.
Preston North End’s story is like no other, and its meeting with Derby County at Deepdale tonight will signify a remarkable milestone in Football League history as it becomes the first football club to reach 5,000 league games.
Alan Kelly; Bill Shankly; Sir Tom Finney. Just a few of the famous names and faces that adorn Deepdale. To this day, there are constant reminders of the legendary ‘Invincibles’ of the 1888/89 season – the team that remains the only one to have won the league and the FA Cup without defeat.
One of the Football League’s founding members, Preston North End is a club with a rich history to be celebrated.
One man with his name in the history books, albeit more recent history, is Jermaine Beckford as he became Preston’s Wembley hat-trick hero back in 2015 – a day that lives long in the memory of PNE supporters.
A man for the big occasion, a man to score the big goals, he may have only made 60 appearances for the Lancashire club, but he soon became a local hero.
After joining Simon Grayson’s side in the 2014/15 season, the striker proved an inspired loan signing for PNE as he spearheaded the club’s promotion from League One with a memorable hat-trick in the Play-Off Final. And according to the man himself, it was one of his most memorable moments on a football pitch, one that will live with him forever.
“Winning promotion and scoring a hat-trick that game is one of the best memories I have in football,” he says, speaking to the EFL earlier this season.
“I don’t know many players that have scored a hat-trick at Wembley.”
Swindon Town were Preston’s opponents at Wembley, both fighting for Championship football the following season, and from the off Beckford deemed unstoppable.
He opened the scoring inside just three minutes, doubled his tally shortly before half-time and had secured the match ball before the 60-minute mark.
Preston ran out 4-0 winners on the day, securing promotion in emphatic fashion.
“Moments like that are moments that will last forever, “ he continues. “And I’m hoping that many players don’t score a hat-trick at Wembley, I’ll be honest, because my name keeps popping up in quizzes!
After working together at Leeds United and Huddersfield Town, Simon Grayson was a manager who appeared to bring out the best in Beckford and in 2014, the striker signed on loan for Grayson’s Preston.
“My time at Preston came at the perfect point in my career,” he reveals. “I was down at the time and I was starting to think that football was not for me anymore, because I wasn’t getting the opportunities that I was getting in the past.
“I knew after the first training session and the way that we played, that we would be onto something special, so I jumped at the opportunity, and after a slow start once I got going, I really started enjoying myself.”
It was a slow start for Beckford at Deepdale, as he scored just twice in his first 11 games. However, in his last 20 games, he made sure Preston fans would never forget him, as he racked up 16 goals – including a Play-Off Final hat-trick.
Wherever Simon went I would have signed for him,” he reveals. “That is because of the respect that I have for him, and his decision making no matter what he said or did.
“He knows how to get the best out of not just me but the players that he had in the squad. A lot of the time the players may not have even got in the Team of the Season, but he would have them playing like they were the best players.
“And that was all in his approach - I appreciate, loved and respected that, which I think is one of the main reasons why he has been so successful.”
Beckford may only be a small part of Preston North End’s history, but his contribution to the side was significant.
Tonight, Alex Neil’s side celebrate becoming the first-ever football club to reach 5,000 league games and as part of that impressive milestone, a new story is in the process of being written.