Preston North End’s meeting with Derby County on Wednesday will contain two remarkable milestones. Not only will it be the first ever league fixture played in July (it has the earliest kick off of the eight matches on July 1) but it will also see Preston become the first club to reach 5,000 league games.
Notts County would have arrived at the 5,000 mark first had they not been relegated to the National League last summer, so Preston, who joined them among the 12 founder members of the Football League in 1888, will achieve that honour in a match that was originally scheduled for March - before COVID-19 interrupted the season.
Top ten Clubs for most league games played*
Preston North End 5000
Notts County 4986
Wolverhampton Wanderers 4924
Derby County 4894
Bolton Wanderers 4877
West Bromwich Albion 4866
Blackburn Rovers 4850
Sheffield United 4845
*After Wednesday night. Does not include play-off matches.
Two factors have placed Preston top of this table. Firstly, obviously their early league start as founder members, and secondly the fact that they have played in divisions with lengthy 46-game campaigns for most of the past half-century: they have done so as Championship regulars in recent years and also previously while operating in the lower half of the league when only those two divisions played 46 matches.
Preston, whose two league titles came in the Football League’s first two seasons, beat Burnley 5-2 at home in their first league match on 8 September 1888, so it is appropriate that their Lancashire rivals remain the club Preston have faced the most in the league, as the table shows.
Only three teams have met Preston more often than Derby County, so again it is apt that the latter are the visitors at Deepdale for the momentous fixture this week.
Opponents Preston have faced the most in league:
Bolton Wanderers 124
Wolverhampton Wanderers 116
Derby County 108
Sheffield United 106
Aston Villa 104
West Bromwich Albion 102
Sheffield Wednesday 101
Sir Tom Finney, the forward who won 76 England caps, is widely considered to be Preston’s greatest player, and the team’s record during and after his career reflects his influence.
Preston finished in the top half of the top division eight times in his 14 seasons at the club up to his retirement in 1960 – but, without him, they were promptly relegated the next summer and have never returned to the top flight.
Their lowest point came in 1985-86, when they finished second bottom of the entire league.
Preston games by league division:
Top flight: 1720
Second tier: 2000
As the table above shows, Preston’s 5000th league game will, coincidentally, also be their 2000th in the second tier (Barnsley have featured the most at this level – they played their 3188th such game this midweek).
Three players have made more league appearances for Preston than Finney’s 433. That list is topped by Ireland goalkeeper Alan Kelly Snr, whose son, Alan Kelly Jnr, also appeared in goal for Preston and Ireland.
Most Preston league appearances
Alan Kelly 447 (1961-73)
Peter McBride 442 (1898-1912)
Willie Cunningham 440 (1949-63)
Tom Finney 433 (1946-60)
Alan Spavin 424 (1960-74)
The list of Preston managers features many Manchester United links: it includes three of United’s 1968 European Cup-winning side (Sir Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles and Brian Kidd), two who managed United (Tommy Docherty and David Moyes) and the son of their most successful manager (Darren Ferguson, son of Sir Alex).
Moyes, in charge of Preston from 1998 to 2002, has overseen the fourth most league games for them, as the table shows:
Preston managers with most league games:
Jimmy Milne 317
Cliff Britton 203
Simon Grayson 198
David Moyes 196
Preston’s league record:
Played 4999, won 1940, drawn 1284, lost 1775. Goals for: 7400. Goals against: 6968.
Biggest league win: Preston 10, Stoke City 0, Sept 1889
Biggest league defeat: Nottingham Forest 7, Preston 0, April 1927; Preston 0, Blackpool 7, May 1948