Nowt much to write home about
Burnley 1 Ipswich Town 2
Leicester City 4 Burnley 0
Nottingham Forest 2 Burnley 0
Early April and with Thompson, Paterson and Austin all crocked, the next one to join them was Cork with a virus picked up in Iceland. Chelsea recalled him to use their vastly superior medical facilities to give him a thorough check. You could hear the collective groans all over Burnley. The luck didn’t exactly go Burnley’s way in March. Oh and Fox was suspended for two games as well. You could have been forgiven for thinking that the fates were conspiring against us especially when Bartley was sent off against Forest. All agreed it changed the game.
Having seen at first hand how poor Burnley were at Bristol we drove to Burnley with no great expectation of a good result against Ipswich. And for sure there was no good result nor was there even a good performance. There was a kind of sadness seeing so many of the Wembley heroes now all lined up on the subs bench – Jensen, Elliot, Alexander, Carlisle, and Duff. They were immense in that wonderful season. Not one of the Wembley team who started, and that was less than two years ago, started this game; the times they are a changing.
What did appear at the start of the game was a group, not so much a band of brothers, but a band out of tune that needed some serious practise and a serious injection of panache. This was a display lacking in anything inspiring. Some of them are square pegs in round holes, some of them are just not performing, some of them are struggling to regain lost form and some of them looked to be in the wrong division. It was pretty much a wasted afternoon. The worry too was that some of them are on damned high wages.
Once again the visiting team were hungrier, stronger, first to the ball, won the 50:50s and as a general rule passed to each other. They were by no means a good side. But they didn’t have to be. They were however rather good at going down injured. Burnley were lightweight, toothless, frequently aimless, meandering through the game without anything resembling leadership, power or impact, lacking in any real penetration until Elliot came on midway through the second half. Why he wasn’t on from the start in his best wide right position was a mystery. Burnley were a little better in the second half but the first half performance was woeful.
It could all have been so different if Wallace had not blasted a wonderful opportunity wide in the early stages when he was played through. It added to all the other shots off target which placed Burnley at the top of that particular league. I read somewhere that he’d been given a free role in central midfield. Would any of us have known? There was a good claim for a penalty when Iwelumo was bundled over in the box. Yet Iwelumo merely had to brush against an opponent to be penalised. Referee Kettle waved cards like folk whoare softies will wave flags on Royal Wedding Day. Call me Victor Meldrew but yours truly certainly won’t be.
Howe made a bold decision and dropped Carlisle so that loanee Duffy could be included. There was promise in his performance, not quite in the Cahill class when he made his debut, but it was a decent appearance. The Fonz initially in a wide role accomplished nothing. Bartley could have been sent off twice. Grant fell victim to a header that hit the floor and then bounced over his head into the net. It was almost comical in its slow motion progress. Wallace was taken off after just 36 minutes. Eagles struggled to do anything of note. This was a lad who was seriously off-colour.
It was hard to see exactly what the formation was, or what the tactics were. It was hard to see any real intent to get players forward or into the box. It was hard to watch players losing the ball so easily or passing straight to the opposition so often. It was hard to understand why blokes, most of whom do have some talent, performed as badly as this. It was hard to see where the next win might come from. Whilst sides like Norwich, Swansea and Reading have grown in stature, this Burnley side through the back end of March and then into April diminished game by game.
“Painfully average,” an Ipswich blog described them. “The home side gave a new meaning to the word ordinary.” And yet at the end of the day, with a game in hand, they were still just 3 points from the top six. It was difficult to decide if this prolonged the optimism or the agony.
The team or was it the referee were gently booed off the field at half-time. They were applauded at the end for the bit of extra effort they put in although you couldn’t really say it was anything like a brave or sustained spirited fight back in the second half after going 2 – 0 down in the first. There was a class strike from Rodriguez and then a few minutes pressure but then that particular bit of steam soon fizzled out and the end result was never really in doubt.
“So much for two weeks rest,” said the guy in the next seat. Like me he’s on the wrong side of 65 and can remember when there were three games in four days at Easter. “Ah but things are different now I hear you young ‘uns say. They’re finely tuned athletes and like the strings of an old Stradivarius you mustn’t over-stretch them.”
Eddie Howe’s programme notes made reference to the two-week break and the practice and training it afforded and the refreshment for tired bodies. The gap, he said, allowed us to spend some time on the training ground with the players. It gave us an opportunity to rest weary limbs and freshen everyone up for the final push. It allowed them time to stand back and take stock of the situation. Graham Alexander in his page said much the same. It gave everyone a chance to have a breather, he wrote, and the manager to do a bit of extra training to bring us up to speed on what he wants as well as how he wants us to play. Sadly it didn’t seem to have made much difference. If anything it was worse than the games before the break. This was not pass and move it was punt and pray. “Pitiful mediocrity,” was one summary. There was an almost end of season feel to it when players are ready for the summer.
The debates in the pubs and clubs and websites centred on the transitional nature of things at the moment; the need to give time to Eddie Howe to sort things out, bring a few in, shift a few out. Mention was made of the injuries to three key strikers. But that still left two England U21 internationals up front. An intriguing question on a leading messageboard asked had we yet recovered from Coyle. Does his shadow still linger was the basis of the question. As long as so many of his former players are at the club can any manager put his stamp on his own team? Will we not too easily make comparisons between then and now?
Having arrived without any real anticipation, we left the ground not too despondent. There was still a meal at the Stubbing Wharf to look forward to on the way home in Hebden Bridge. It was heaving with walkers, cyclists, ale specialists and canal boat people. If only Burnley had got as many people in the opposition box as they get round the bar at the Wharf, things might have been a bit different. Never mind we thought, as we shared a Sticky Toffee Pudding, the fat lady hasn’t sung just yet.
The Fat Lady alas began to practise her exercises and scales at Leicester. It made for painful listening on ClaretPhilBirdplayer. This was the third consecutive defeat, not the most auspicious day to mark the Beast’s return. “Nothing really going right for Burnley at the minute,” said Phil after 10 minutes of the second half. Truth is nothing had been going right for some time.
“Is this the season over now?” was the question. It was hard not to say a resounding yes. “Confidence is so low… Burnley haven’t really got going… a disappointing performance… Burnley are going backwards… you don’t get promotion from 11th…" Phil’s verdicts were coming thick and fast.
In yet another half-hearted, spiritless display with an invisible midfield there were just 4 shots at goal. Just one of them was on target. Four shots in 90 minutes was a damning indictment. The final commentary observation was that Burnley were as bad as Leicester were good as they eventually ran out 4 -0 winners. The website messageboards and Facebook went into meltdown. From being promotion favourites at the start of the season this was now a side in serious decline with answers and solutions unforthcoming. It seemed a team that lacked aims, strategies, pride and heart with most players either swamped or just going through the motions. The fans who were there were far from happy. The end of this season can’t come soon enough was a frequent comment and then we see what Howe does in the summer. A clearout is essential was the overall verdict.
Eddie Howe was measured and diplomatic in his assessment of the performance and the players’ hearts and desire, the lack of “giving everything”, and drooping heads. But the translation wasn’t rocket science. In two words he was quite simply saying what fans could see, that they were p*ss poor and so were their attitudes. Fans make certain demands of their players, especially when they are on high wages. Those demands were not being met. Masses of fans left when the Leicester third goal went in. There was anger and huge dissatisfaction and with another difficult away game to follow within days it was difficult if not impossible to see anything but another defeat.
With Nottingham Forest struggling just as much as Burnley however, the halftime score there was 0 – 0 even though Burnley’s Marvin Bartley had been sent off. After this, Forest dominated the game said reports. Howe slammed the decision but in truth Bartley could have been red-carded twice in the Ipswich game. By all accounts the general performance was better and more spirited. We watched the Man U v Chelsea Champions League game and occasionally with attention bordering almost on disinterest flicked to Sky Sports News for Burnley updates. There it was in the teleprinter. Bartley sent off. What else can go wrong at the moment was the only thought.
This was the game that could have given Graham Alexander his 1000th game. With the playoffs a remote possibility this was a game he could have started from the off, 1000th game or not. He didn’t come on at all. Few people would have envisaged that at this stage of the season it was as good as over. The need for a rebuilding job was clear by March. The summer can’t come soon enough was the growing feeling.
It was another defeat, 0 – 2, the fourth in a row by the end. Bright early season hopes were finally ended and it was the game where at last we knew where we stood and what was needed. It was the game that confirmed the presence of overpaid and over-rated players or sadly just plain over the hill. The pall of dissatisfaction with them was clear. Many asked the question were some of them now fit to wear the shirt. In 90 minutes just three shots to add to the palty four in the previous game. Iwelumo missed a golden chance. Missing were Rodriguez, Paterson, Austin and McCann. The only hope was that these might form the basis of a new team along with just a smattering of the old, the retention of Cork and an influx of new young, hungry faces in the summer.
I got a surprise email from a guy called Eric Lord that slightly cheered me up; along with the thought of a possible Supporters Club jolly weekend trip to Brighton next year following their confirmed promotion.
“I have been going to get in touch with you for some time about a segment in your book on Jimmy Mac. You talk about rushing down to the market in Tod to buy a Last Sports newspaper off the lad who sold them.
I WAS THAT LAD.
I stood in the doorway of the then butcher’s shop which was next to the ice cream place to sell them. One of my regular customers at that time if they had been playing in our neck of the woods were the Leeds United team who would stop the team coach and I would get on and make a killing. I went to the 1962 Cup Final and was interviewed live on TV by Kenneth Wolstenholme before the match. Someone in Tod had a camera set up in front of the TV and took some photos of my moment of fame off the TV which I still have. If you would like to see the photo’s please call in if you are passing. I now live in Burnley on Brunshaw Road just up the road from where Jimmy Adamson lived before he went into Rosehill Nursing Home amd just down the road from where Stan Ternent lives.
Eric’s email made me quite nostalgic. I have happy memories of growing up in Tod and spent a day there last week showing some friends round. I recommend the cheese stall inside the market, the café upstairs in the old shop/deli opposite Tod library (cakes to die for). I think it used to be a branch of the Coop many years ago, Then it was a Polish grocery in the 60s before all the plumbers came over. You can sit at a window table and watch how many people wear a claret and blue scarf as they walk by. And: the Todmorden Toy and Model Museum at 13 Rochdale Road not far from the Town Hall. The guy deals and sells and I was open mouthed at the stuff he had in various rooms. I promised him I’d give his shop a plug; Tel 01706 818365 open Thursday Friday and Saturdays 11 am till 4 pm. It was like seeing ten years of my childhood on display. For him it’s a labour of love. And then of course there’s Victor’s Border Bookshop on Halifax Road. Victor is a Claret and has a huge number of old soccer books.
Feelings must have mellowed a little by Thursday the day of a book launch at the club. There was an appreciation of more effort and spirit at Leicester. The penalty was seen as the turning point. The football fan doesn’t stay down for long. Most of us always come back for more. It’s why some of us have been turning up for over 50 years. Dear God, is it really that long?