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Cans & Megabus #7: Preston North End - the glorious return of chaos

A voyage to Preston in search of the wonderful and elusive element of football - absolute limbs.

Photo by Tom Walsh

There are not many instances in life that allow you to lose control more than celebrating a goal at a football match. That burst of spontaneous joy can make men, women and children do strange things. It’s the clambering over seats, the overwhelming urge to kiss the person next to you in a wild emotional embrace and the need to scream your entire lungs out.

It’s why we wake up with bloodied shins, aches and pains we never thought possible, a racing heartbeat and, above all, a smile. This unbridled release of joyous howls can mend a broken heart, reduce grown adults to tears, cause uncontrollable laughter and - in what could only be 20 seconds or so - make everything in this world seem that little bit better.

This is the feeling I crave, I yearn for and is probably one of the few reasons why I was rising on a Saturday morning, on my fourth hangover of the week and heading off to Preston.

Photo by Tom Walsh

Maybe it was the after effects of a lack of sleep, the alcohol still floating around my system, or the fact it was absolutely pissing down, but this was a game I was really not looking forward to. An excessively long Northern Rail journey, rattling through the likes of Halifax and Hebden Bridge was not improving the mood either.

Preston were flying high, Sunderland had just had their arses handed to them by *deep breath* Ipswich, Cardiff, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest and bloody Barnsley. So for all intents and purposes this was shaping up to be another brittle performance where we collapsed further and further towards League One.

The sense of outpouring emotion felt so far away.

In situations as such, you find solace in attempting to take the day on face value and embrace the surroundings of this drizzly town (sorry, city). The Old Vic became venue of choice as chat focused away from literally anything other than the club/players/manager/owner and onto more intriguing matters such as how many times you’d been sick at the match, the blokes who used to sell seafood in pubs and the fabled drinking patterns of Working Men’s Clubs in the 1980s.

As the pints flowed and the pork pies were consumed, the ambivalence towards the forthcoming match grew. Did we check the team? Nah. Could we fit in another German pilsner before wandering to the ground? Yes.

Photo by Tom Walsh

Seeing as we’re a group of blokes, and know everything, we decided to do a casual lap of Preston city centre before admitting defeat and asking a helpful eastern European market trader where the football ground was. With a series of hugely animated - albeit helpful - instructions including the repeated words of “TWO LEFTS NOT THREE! TWO LEFTS!” we had made it to the hallowed venue of Deepdale.

Such is the perennial kick in the balls that has been following Sunderland in 2017, it was quite difficult to get excited by a performance that was objectively a thousand times better than what we had been served up in recent weeks. And then it arrived. That moment. That feeling I had been craving.

A knockdown from James Vaughan, a backheel from Lynden Gooch and a finish from George Honeyman. Everyone erupted. Unleashed emotion. Embraced one another. Except me, of course. Who in mid-flight was mobbed by a bloke bemoaning the loss of two pies in the melee and as such curtailed my celebrations.

Thanks, mate.

The feeling of missed opportunity was compounded when Preston inexplicably scored twice in two minutes to wipe away any sense of optimism or joy. However, they say that even in moments of despair there can be something that pulls you off the ground and that something was Aiden McGeady.

As he won the tackle and curled it into the bottom corner it felt like a moment of defiance. We all exploded. We needed this. We can’t be the whipping boys, not for another year. This raw air of “fuck you” resonated in the stands and in McGeady himself. The chaos had replaced malaise and the realisation of “we’re fucking Sunderland” had returned.

Photo by Tom Walsh

We should’ve complemented this by grabbing the winner but, alas, it was not forthcoming. Even when the Preston goalkeeper decided to have a game of volleyball 40 yards from his goal we couldn’t find that slice of luck. This will change eventually.

It was far from perfect, far from ideal but it felt good to feel the chaos that a meaningful goal can bring.