Lindsay pulling Preston back from the brink
Preston North End will be delisted from the Alternative Investment Market at the end of September after 15 years and re-register as a private company, in the process completing Trevor Hemmings's takeover of the Championship club.
Hemmings, 75, was raised in the small town of Leyland just down the road from Preston and has been so successful in his many business ventures that he regularly features towards the higher end of the Sunday Times Rich List (although he suffered during the downturn in property prices).
There have been rumours around Preston for years that the media-shy Hemmings, supposedly a life-long fan of the club and a director at Deepdale in the 1970s, would do for North End what Jack Walker did at nearby Blackburn.
However, any suggestion North End are about to be transformed by a significant cash injection are quickly and emphatically dispelled by new chairman Maurice Lindsay.
Maurice Lindsay has brought a sense of austerity to Deepdale
Best known as the man who transformed the fortunes of Wigan rugby league club during the 1980s, Lindsay took over at Deepdale towards the end of June and soon discovered there was not a room for him at the club.
In a gesture designed to set the tone for his period at the helm, Lindsay sliced the boardroom in half to create space, bought a desk off an internet auction site eBay and persuaded the Rugby Football League to give him the chair he used during his time as its chief executive.
Lindsay, a former bookmaker, had been asked to take over at Preston by Hemmings. The two men have known each other for years and are united by their love of horse racing. Hemmings made what Lindsay describes as an SOS call one Sunday night several months ago. Since then, Lindsay has been trusted to run "the whole shooting match".
"Trevor was lending the club money but it had become too regular," Lindsay told me. "It was becoming a black hole.
"Preston had faced a winding-up order in May over an unpaid tax bill and he did not want to see such a famous club disappear. I suppose it was slightly reluctantly that he became involved, although I do not think he would admit to that."
Lindsay estimates that Hemmings has now ploughed in the region of £13m into the club to cover monthly shortfalls and it strikes me as obvious that a desire to protect his investment also motivated the new owner's desire to increase his involvement.
However, without Hemmings it could be argued Preston would no longer exist. The picture Lindsay paints of what he discovered when he arrived at Deepdale suggests a depressingly familiar story of a bloated club living way beyond its means.
There is a tone of incredulity as the chairman talks about 19 leased cars, far too many company credit cards and free tickets given away like confetti, as well as a wage bill in the region of £10m (it is now down to £8m, although £6.5m is the ultimate target).
"The club had been run like a five-star operation but it was running close to insolvency," added Lindsay.
Lindsay, just like Conservative leader David Cameron has done since he became Prime Minister, has introduced a series of austerity measures in an attempt to regain a measure of control at Deepdale.
The new chairman has introduced a three-year plan to stabilise the club and sat down with manager Darren Ferguson at an early stage to outline his strategy.
"We pushed the boat out in the summer and signed three players for Darren, but we had to make some sensible cost-cutting arrangements," said Lindsay.
"We had to change the culture. We had to move away from the belief that the club would just carry on and someone would eventually pick up the bill."
An immediate priority was off-loading some of the club's top earners, prompting the departure of Neil Mellor and Darren Carter. Others, such as Richard Chaplow, remain after failing to attract any interest.
Lindsay and Ferguson have pressed their contacts to try to strengthen the playing squad, with promising young striker Josh King and England Under-20 midfielder Matt James both arriving on loan from Manchester United, who are managed by Darren's father Sir Alex.
Negotiations are continuing with several players the club did not manage to sign before the transfer window closed, while Lindsay has written to the chairman of all the Premier League clubs asking if they have any players that did not make their 25-man squad available to loan.
Lindsay is frank enough to admit that this season's squad is a few players light of being able to challenge at the top end of the table, while he also talks passionately about the need to improve the match day experience at the club.
The redevelopment of Deepdale is finished but season ticket sales are on the slide
Season ticket sales have dwindled, slipping from 9,700 to 6,100. Prices started at £399 for adults for the current season (although some were initially available for slightly less if fans renewed by the end of May) , while the decision prior to Lindsay's arrival to introduce category ratings does not meet with his approval. All home games at Deepdale are now classed as category A, B or C, with a different price for each. It cost £30 to watch the recent category A game against Portsmouth and the attendance for the fixture slipped below 10,000.
"Disappointed fans have questioned their commitment and I cannot blame them because the pricing structure has been completely wrong," said Lindsay, who in an attempt to bring fans back to Deepdale has introduced a Super Saver policy for the home match against Norwich on 18 September, with tickets priced at £5 for adults and £1 for children.
The chairman turns 70 next year but there is no doubting his indefatigable energy and enthusiasm. He rises every day at 0530 BST and has not had time for a holiday this year. He estimates that he works 60 hours a week for Preston, in addition to spending time managing his other business interests.
Previous employees of Lindsay have complained that his failure to delegate even the smallest of tasks can be infuriating, while he can clearly be slightly abrasive, as a rather terse interview on BBC Radio Lancashire showed. A somewhat taciturn Lindsay called presenter Gary Hickson a bully as the two men discussed ticket prices.
Perhaps Lindsay's prickliness indicates his desire to succeed and a refusal to compromise.
"I am driven to refuse to accept defeat even if it is me against a thousand," he said. "I am usually one of the first in and last to leave and the work ethic at Preston has now changed - if Maurice is in, they are all in."
This Saturday, Preston travel to local rivals Burnley for a match that will be broadcast live on BBC Two at 1700 BST.
The Clarets spent last season in the Premier League, while Blackpool, Preston's other major rivals, are in the top flight this season.
Preston travel to Turf Moor lying 21st in the table and the success of both Burnley and the Tangerines does nothing to lighten the mood of North End supporters.
Lindsay, however, believes that the club should seek inspiration from the success of those around them.
"Burnley have never had sugar daddies, just committed and hard-working people such as chairman Barry Kilby and chief executive Paul Fletcher," he said.
While Burnley are set on regaining their Premier League status at the end of this season, Lindsay knows it will take time for North End to achieve that status.
But there is no question that he is incredibly determined to make it happen.