Down Memory Lane
A new Burnley book kind of snuck up on us unexpectedly. A chum rang up to ask did I know there was a new Tommy Boyle book? I scratched my head, thought a minute and mumbled that I thought I’d heard or read about something 12 months ago but no, I’d no idea really. My chum had already been sent a copy. Well fancy that I thought; Tommy Boyle – one of the Burnley greats – admittedly from an era about which few of us have any vivid first hand experience. If we did we’d have to be 100 at least.
So, this book is Tommy Boyle Broken Hero, the Story of a Football Legend, by Mike Smith and my copy is ordered and on the way. Published to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Boyle’s arrival at Turf Moor, it tells the story of a man who had an impressive career either side of World War One, won honours at Turf Moor, a First Division title winner’s medal and an FA Cup winner’s medal and a was key member of the team that went 30 games undefeated, a record that stood for decades. He spent the last years of his life in a mental asylum. The last years make sad reading, hence the title.
It’s an era about which at Burnley, so far, precious little of real academic depth is available to read unless you have Phil Whalley’s book Pride and Glory; or you subscribe to the London Clarets magazine in which years ago Phil did tremendous research and wrote at length and in great detail about the period. I’ve got Phil’s permission to put them in the next No Nay Never anthology whenever that might be.
So: a Tommy Boyle book is welcome. I know that Mike had to put up some of his own money to get it in print and that he needs to sell a minimum of 200 copies to recoup his publishing costs. Assuming it also costs him the same as me to actually write a book, materials, travel/petrol costs, paper and printer inks, phone bills, illustrations and picture costs, research materials and books; you can add another 8 or 9 hundred to that as well. Don’t ever think that writing Burnley books is profitable.
In April next year there’ll be another one. The current title is ‘Whatever Happened to Roger Eli?’ Although that doesn’t mean it will be the final choice. We’ve been working on this since about March, final draft should be sent to publisher by end of November, publication should be sometime in April to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the ‘91/92 win. Prior to that title win the previous season might well have seen at least a Wembley appearance in the play-offs if Burnley had done the business at Torquay. How the memories came flooding back once the regular weekly feature on the 1991/92 season started on Claretsmad.
And what did happen to Roger? After leaving Burnley at the end of the 93/94 season he had a spell in China, Scunthorpe (where he met a very young Graham Alexander), and then Scotland. Player of the year at the end of ‘91/92; he was still at Burnley but wasn’t even a member of the official party at Wembley in ’94. He was the forgotten man and had the best and worst of times at Turf Moor. His story is one that shows how a manager’s gratitude for and memory of past deeds and contributions can be so fickle. There are themes to do with the fleeting and fragile nature of football success; the way in which our lives are so often decided by the decisions of others; how injuries and poor treatment can so badly affect a career; and of course racism.
Racism and racist abuse was rampant when he became a footballer. This was the world of football he entered and had to cope with. As an apprentice at Leeds United he listened to a Leeds crowd viciously taunting Vince Hilaire who was playing for Portsmouth. He couldn’t help but wonder what they would shout at him if ever he made his debut in a first-team game. He found the oddest thing was the wheelchair supporters section at Scunthorpe abusing him whenever he went anywhere near them. Equally odd, he always felt, was the way in which he and John Francis were heroes at Burnley; but any other black players who came to Turf Moor with the away sides were roundly abused and jeered.
Today he is a very successful businessman based near Bingley and his place in Burnley history is assured. One of the great memories of working with Jimmy Mac on his two books were the hours we spent sitting in the publisher’s design studios looking at old pictures onscreen and hearing his stories as they came out. One of the great memories of working with Roger (as well as the stories) will be the weekly breakfasts at the place where we meet, The Potting Shed café at the Woodbank Garden Centre, Harden. Sometimes there you hear people whispering: “I think that’s a footballer, who is it? They must be writing a book.”
The transfer rumours continued. The Paterson stories to Portsmouth had rumbled on for several days with the newest offer being reported as £2.5million. But the bombshell (whether true or not) with a brow-furrowing headline was the story of Mears and Eagles being sold to Bolton for £3million, the story appearing on July 23 in both the Sun and the Mail. The messageboards went into near meltdown. General opinion was one of surprise that Mears was still here anyway but that to sell Eagles would portray lack of any ambition. But behind the scenes who knows what games players play; who knows which ones want to get away; and with them both having just a year on their contracts remaining, the dilemma was do the board and manager take the money, or wait a year when they can leave for nothing? Nobody could quite work out which player cost what. The joke was that it was just a special offer buy-one-get-one-free deal with Bolton being so hard up.
But, should we not be using this year’s considerable parachute money to keep the best players people then asked. But are they our best players followed on from that? One thing is absolutely certain whilst the exodus of the high earners has been laudable; the lack of incoming players induced much head-scratching and angst. Eddie has had a significant clearout of ‘senior’ players. Bit by bit we learn that the senior players gave Brian Laws a poor time and little support. Stories now begin to emerge that Eddie Howe’s life wasn’t exactly made easy either. The message is now clear; shape up, fit in, or shift out. What’s also clear is he’s not afraid to put young kids in.
Their pending departure led to a bout of nostalgia on the webs as folk began to remember other long-gone departed favourites. Jimmy Mac to Stoke City, John Connelly to Man Utd, Brian O Neil to Southampton, Andy Lochhead to Leicester, Willie Irvine to Preston; Martin Dobson to Everton, Dave Thomas to QPR, Steve Kindon, Leighton James, Brian Flynn, Ray Hankin, Trevor Steven, Billy Hamilton and then on to Glen Little and Robbie Blake. But the nostalgia thread that had me misty eyed was the one that was about ‘Sweets from when you was a child’. Boy did that have me going remembering kali, sherbert fountains with a liquorice dip, coltsfoot, spanish, flying saucers, liquorice torpedoes, white mice, gob-stoppers, bon bons, coconut mushrooms, hubba bubba, 5 boys chocolate, jaw breakers, bazooka joe, Cadbury’s Old Jamaica, cherry lips, penny arrow bars and space dust. You could go on and on. Then came the comment that woke me up. “You can get most of them today but they’re smaller and more expensive.” I did a bit of googling and came up with a place called Nostalgic Sweets. That was another hour going glassy-eyed and dribbling slightly. That reminds me weren’t there some sweets called glass eyes, or were they marbles. It was tempting to get nostalgic about “Did you play marbles when you was a kid and how many dobbers did you have?”
I don’t often buy the People but it was only 50p when I went in to the newsagent. There was only the briefest mention of Eagles and Mears. But one of the treats inside is always the Jimmy Greaves column. Jimmy never had a minute’s time for tactics, blackboards and diagrams. Football is a simple game and uncomplicated he maintains. Painful though it is to mention his name any more, this essentially was the basis of Owen Coyle’s management style; keep it simple and let the players loose; not for him complex tactics and instructions. On the training ground there weren’t even practice sessions for corners and free kick routines. Jimmy caught a glimpse of Chelsea manager Villas-Boas’s training notes.
“From the look of the detailed diagrams and advanced algebra found on the new manager’s flip chart in Malaysia the other day, it would appear that he has designed the replacement for NASA’s space shuttle programme.”
Eddie H demanded a better performance at Torquay than at Bristol. They weren’t in tip-top shape there he slipped in. But neither were Bristol Rovers was my first thought. Eagles and Mears were missing. Faster than the speed of light a fee had been agreed with Bolton and the pair set for personal talks and a medical. Who next then – Paterson and or Elliott we wondered. The speed at which players had departed so far with no replacements was alarming. But shining brightly was Alex Macdonald with another goal at Torquay in a 3 – 1 win. And then another loan came in, Kieron Trippier from Man City to take Mears’ place.
At Oldham with the big names ‘rested’ and a very young squad providing the team, there was a 0 – 0 yawn festival except for the player brawl and Trippier made his debut just hours after signing. The game was described as “a dull stalemate.” Astonishingly, there were reports of boos at the final whistle. Comments on the messageboards were critical and feisty with one comment summing up the air of “frustration, disillusionment and negativity that surrounds the club at the moment,” with “the legacy of the Premier League drifting away.” Chairman Kilby and Director Flood are both very silent at the moment with reports of power stuggles going on behind the scenes. Even if the latter is incorrect it certainly points to the state of uncertainty and inertia that fans sense in and around the club at the moment. What fans have seen is a sizeable player exodus, another substantial parachute payment, good season ticket sales and a considerable reduction in the wage bull. It is reasonable to ask, therefore, for what is the money being used. Fans are “confused and puzzled” (by a whole range of things) rather than “confident and upbeat” was another apt comment, along with “the club is doing a poor job of explaining how the journey will unfold.”
I went to Oldham years ago, just the once, and remember it being the coldest ground I’d ever been to. It’s where Jimmy Mac decided that management was not the job for him and Ken Bates was his chairman. When supporters at Oldham grumbled at him for putting up prices he answered with: “If you want Cheshire League prices you can watch Cheshire League football.”
At Leeds 50 years later when Leeds fans grumbled that he had put up prices guess what he said: “If you want Cheshire League prices you can watch Cheshire League football.” In football some things never change.