Having an Invincible season is a phenomenal feat shared by only a few teams, with the nature of football making the sport arguably the most heavily contested in the world it means having the illustrious honour of being ‘undefeated’ is extremely hard to come by.
Nevertheless the title isn’t unobtainable, with Arsenal’s team of 2003/04 frequently achieving the plaudits of being England’s ‘Invincibles’. But something that isn’t as well-known is that Preston North End are the original Invincibles of English football – being credited the honour 115 years before Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side.
Fans of Preston certainly haven’t forgotten that fact, and when the two teams met in the 2017 FA Cup third round there was chants of ‘we’re the original Invincibles’ from the Deepdale faithful.
But the question is, due to the lack of attention surrounding the Preston side of 1888/89 does anybody else other than the fans of Preston know a lot about the first team to go an entire League season unbeaten?
The team comes from a vastly different generation to that of the Arsenal side, with North End competing in the first-ever Football League campaign containing the 12 founding members. Preston North End’s very own club historian, Ian Rigby has detailed that Willam Suddel, the manager of Preston at the time, had far greater responsibilities than just managing his players. “He was like a trainer, come masseur, come groundsman, come kit man, come player. There was one game where he had to fill in as a player and they beat Reading 18-0 in the cup and he scored a hat-trick on the right-wing”.
The differences between the lives of the players at Preston during that time and those over a century later at Arsenal are astronomical. A story that is commonly told is that when Preston played Blackburn the players would get a horse-drawn coach across to Blackburn. Nowadays that fact is inconceivable, but it certainly generates a humorous picture in your mind of Arsene Wegner leading his side consisting of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and co by horse travel to Tottenham. What a sight that would have been.
There is also a story about Preston captain Fred Dewhurst, who kept his job as a teacher at a school, which meant he missed weekday away games. Dewhurst was also the scorer of Preston’s first-ever League goal. Playing as an inside centre-forward Dewhurst racked up 16 league appearances in the unbeaten campaign, scoring 12 goals for the Lilywhites.
Striker John Goodall also played a vital role, assuming the responsibility of organising the attack and carrying the side’s development a stage further by instigating many tactics that would never have otherwise become part of the team’s repertoire. He was awarded the title of being the Football League’s first-ever top goal scorer, scoring 20 goals in 21 appearances. The front-line of Preston’s Invincible side scored 3 or more goals on 13 occasions in the League, something that is an incredible achievement.
Becoming the first-ever League Invincibles is not the only honour that this great Preston side of 1888/89 should be credited with. In the same season they became the first- ever ‘double’ winners, winning the FA Cup against Wolverhampton Wanders. This feat is outstanding in itself, but they also didn’t concede a single goal in the entire FA Cup campaign, while also playing with only 2 at the back. Technically the FA Cup was the only trophy Preston won that season, as no silverware from winning the League was handed out.
These facts speak brilliantly on how this Preston side should be more revered in modern day football.
North End would often play four games in five days with no squad rotation, and with professionalism coming into football in 1885, players could only expect a wage of around one pound per week, rather less than today’s fabulous fees. In addition, the limited resources, lack of scientific knowledge and inadequate means of transportation paint a clear picture of how different football was in the 19th Century compared to now. The conditions raise a big question as to whether today’s ‘modern-day footballer’ would be able to cope in the same way their counterparts did.
With this it is obvious that the Preston team under the management of William Suddell should gain more admiration for their Invincible and Double winning season of 1888/89. Next time when the word Invincible gets mentioned either in the terraces, punditry studio, at home or work, try to remember the original Invincibles, Preston North End.
Will we ever see an invincible season again in the top tiers of English football? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!