Young football fans are accustomed to seeing any bar or pub full of Arsenal supporters, and really all you hear about is their unbeatable 'Invincibles' season. It’s like they are a broken record. For arguments sake, I’ve met a lot of Arsenal supporters here stateside, and most of them are great people. However, they weren’t the first club in England to go undefeated in a season; step forward Preston North End. Back in their day they were among the best and among the first to do such a thing.
Preston had their 'invincible' season in 1888-89, whereas Arsenal did it this century in 2004, so the sport was completely different. As a side note, Arsenal played 38 matches, whereas Preston only had 22 matches to play, so most Arsenal fans would poo poo this whole argument. Let’s think of it this way, Preston won 18 out of 22 matches which would be a higher percentage, than Arsenal’s 26 from 38 matches.
Preston scored more per match regardless of whether you count the number of matches anyway, Arsenal had 1.92, and Preston had 3.36 goals per game. This was also during a time when players from the continent didn’t come to England. Most, if not all, sides were made up solely from the UK. Preston had (this is players who turned out for the national side), John Goodall, Bob Holmes, Robert Howarth, and Fred Dewhurst. Those who turned out for the Welsh national team were, Robert Mills-Roberts and James Trainer. But most of the team was Scottish, which was very common up until money came into the game in the 90s, with the likes of; Jimmy Ross, Nick Ross, David Russell, John Gordon and George Drummond.
Arsenal had only eleven players whom were from the UK: Ashley Cole, Martin Keown, Sol Campbell, Graham Stack, David Bentley, Justin Hoyte, John Spicer, Jerome Thomas and Ryan Smith, with many of those hardly featuring.
Where this whole debate goes pear-shaped is when you factor in competitions for each club. Again, this is comparing different eras. Really, the only other competition that Preston could enter was the FA Cup as there wasn’t a League Cup at the time and European competitions were a long way off. So Arsenal has this in the bag going away, since they got to the quarters of the Champions League, semi-finals of the FA Cup, and semi-finals of the League Cup. That’s a lot of extra matches for the club, although Arsenal was able to use substitutes, and carry more players. Substitutions in the sport didn’t come around until the 60s at the earliest, and three subs was the 80s. Preston entered only the FA Cup, won it by scoring 11 goals, and conceding nothing in six matches.
Despite the comparisons, and I'm sure you'll draw your own conclusions as to who's achievement is better, Preston's success was remarkable and shouldn't be sniffed at. They dominated English football and were one of the powerhouses, which is certainly different to the Championship side of today.
Of course with the expansion of the fixture list, and a number of players a club could have, the 2004 season for Arsenal is one for the ages. And all Arsenal fans should be happy about it. Look at what Preston did in their era, all players had to have other jobs, and there wasn’t the amount of access or wide variety in the transfer market as there is now. Different eras, yes, and both great for different reasons, but Preston North End's domination shouldn't be forgotten.
By Stephen Brandt – Liverpool fan – @