THE EXTRA BIT
MAY 2009 PLAY-OFF SEMI-FINALS
NONE OTHER THAN SIR ALEX Ferguson says he hopes we will be promoted. It will be great if we are he went on. We have not been in the top flight for 30 years and it would be another local game. Furthermore he admires what Owen Coyle has done. This is very flattering and as long as Stan Cauliflower keeps quiet we should be OK. Whoops, he too is a Burnley admirer and hopes we succeed.
Robbie was the studio guest on Big League Weekend on Sky Sports on Monday the 4th after the Bristol game. He spoke well.
On the Monday I went out and bought every paper I could lay my hands on but only in the Mirror and the Sun did I find nice big almost full page spreads with a great picture of Elliot in one, and a warrior like picture of Alexander in the other. With his long hair, unshaven face, and the headband he would have made a good ‘extra’ in Braveheart.
MIXED VIEWS ON TICKET SALES FOR THE PLAY-OFFS: The sales started on the Monday preceding the Saturday Reading game with Bob Lord turnstiles available for cash sales only, and the ticket office for season ticket holders and non cash payments. Of course what should have been two clearly separate queues immediate merged. In hindsight it seems the system was ill thought out… but there’s the rub… in hindsight. Simultaneously there was staff dealing with telephone sales and on line sales. On Day One they ran out of actual tickets, change at the cash turnstiles and the computer on line system went down. The queues meanwhile stretched back to the traffic lights and beyond way down Harry Potts Way. Not for many years have scenes like these been seen. On the second day the office was unable to open until the afternoon in order to clear the backlog of the previous day’s sales. A modification was that people were given a ticket and we able to sit in the Bob Lord until their turn came. The messagebords were full of stories of people who had queued for 6 hours, or sat on the end of sat phone for hours, or just got to number one in the phone queue only to be cut off at the vital moment. On the whole people were patient, tolerant, stoical and understanding despite the inclement weather.
Burnley’s ticketing facilities are geared to quieter Championship needs not demands and surges like this. The staff themselves worked miracles and there was not one complaint about them. Their efforts were recognised and appreciated. But if there is something that needs attention it is clearly the unreliable online booking software. This might just be a taste of things to come.
Years ago we queued as a matter of course. Legend tells that for the 47 Cup Final the queue stretched right to Skipton and then all the way back again. I know I stood in a 62 Cup Final queue that snaked all the way round the ground. I have a vague memory of this being on a Sunday morning. It was a badge of honour to have been in this queue. Today we are just not used to a queue that stretches halfway into Burnley. It was maybe an example of how we muddle through things and get there in the end. The British are good at this.
However it was organised, queues were inevitable, and at the end of the day the fact is that over 20,000 tickets were distributed in basically just four days. The away tickets were sold out before the end of Day Two. Foundation members seemed to be the ones who got their tickets with the least inconvenience. However it was done there would be those who missed out for one reason or another.
By Wednesday the mania had subsided both on the messagebaords and along Harry Potts way. People by then had no trouble with queues; in fact most reported that they had been able to walk straight into the office. The club announced that a large number of season ticket holders had still not claimed their seats. It is time to own up. Two of them were me and Mrs T. An age ago we arranged a week away. OK we thought as the week got nearer we can still come back for a day for the home game. That remained plan A until the good friends with whom we had arranged to stay said they had specially arranged the SKY Sports channel for us. What could we say? What could we do? We shall be watching both games on SKY.
HOW NERVE-WRACKING IT WAS WATCHING ON TV. We did a leisurely three mile walk along the beach during the afternoon and then settled down to watch the game – if ‘settled’ is the right word. Squirm would be a better description of the time we spent watching until Alexander smashed home the late penalty. I jotted a few scribbled notes in my diary at half time and then at full time.
Half time 0 – 0: Here in Hornsea there is a strange sense of detachment and non involvement. It was as poor a 45 minutes from Burnley as we have seen for ages. No Elliot and how it shows, no running and no penetration. Eagles is having a poor and ineffective game. Long goal kicks continually give the ball to Reading. The closest chances all go to Reading. Burnley have had just two off-target shots. Gudjonnson is disgracefully taken out of the game by the giant Duberry. Little Paterson against the mammoth Bikey is a non contest. No football at all from Burnley. It is almost hoofball as they give the ball away time and time again. The long high goal kicks up to Paterson are embarrassing. So far a total non event, Reading are by far the better side and the lack of any fluent football from Burnley very disappointing.
Second half: More of the same, flat, listless and almost aimless. The hapless Eagles is replaced by the more muscular and robust Thompson who can now take weight off Paterson and offer more threat against the huge Bikey/Duberry combination. Reading still dominant and they have majority of possession. They must surely score and win this game.
And then, out of nothing, suddenly Thompson is clear and through into the area only to be hauled down by Bikey, dragged by the shirt for all to see quite clearly. PENALTY: will this be the one that Alexander at last misses. NO it damned well is not. The man is a robot, he does not miss. Incredibly the score is 1 – 0. This is quite unbelievable.
And still the drama is not over. With just minutes remaining Bikey stamps on Blake. The referee sees it and gives the red card to Bikey whereupon he storms and rants around like a man demented ripping off his shirt, wailing with temper and frustration and resentment. The word ‘mental’ would not go amiss.
At last he leaves the scene after his disgraceful histrionics and animal-like display of aggression. We coast home with the 1 – 0 lead and shake our heads in disbelief. I can’t think when we last played so badly, so ineffectively with so many players either off form, or just invisible.
From feelings of being so distant and detached I now feel quite drained especially as this whole tie is now in our own hands and we take to the return game the flimsiest of leads. Reading have not won at home for weeks. Can we do it?
The only sour tastes left by the game were the comments that came from Coppell the Reading manager. Firstly he questioned the legitimacy of the penalty award, asking how the referee could be sure and suggesting that the shirt tug began outside the box. Dear God man, the shirt was still being pulled off Thompson’s back four feet inside the box and a more blatant penalty you could not wish to see.
Then Coppell, whilst not defending Bikey for the stamp, suggested that he was provoked by an initial foul by Blake. Funny that; not one of the seven papers I bought mentioned Blake fouling Bikey. The pictures of Bikey resembled an animal going wild.
Collymore in his column this morning predicts a Burnley-Sheffield final and his fingers are crossed for a Burnley return to the top flight. That’s us goosed then.
We stayed in Hornsea for the full week so again the Tuesday night game was a date with SKY. This time there was no initial sense of detachment or distance. This time the place at Wembley seemed within touching distance, a real possibility. There were nerves and apprehension. Meanwhile Sheffield beat Preston. Cold logic says that Reading must surely win a home game and will this be the one? But, for Alexander these are his seventh play-offs, and in all the previous six he has lost the final prize. Surely he must win through at last. Again I scribbled notes in my diary straight after the game.
WE’VE DONE IT. We’ve bloody done it. Got to Wembley, won the game, done it and it still hasn’t sunk in. In hindsight (such a luxury) it was a comfortable win, 2 – 0. There was an early storm to weather and there was a difficult nervy first half with Jensen making a couple of good saves. Reading were up for it, they moved forward relentlessly. The second half began in the same way with Burnley playing just a little more football than in the first leg. Coyle allegedly was not happy at half time, whatever he said may or may not have been the key to the game. But what certainly turned it came in the 50th minute when an astonishing, world-class goal by Paterson won us the game (though we weren’t to know it at the time). Out came the ball from the defence, Thompson (my MOTM) found Paterson on the right round about the halfway line. He set off diagonally, the space opened up in front of him as Reading retreated. And then WHAM a superb and wonderful strike from 35 yards arrowed its way into the left side of the goal and there it was nestling in the back of the net. It took seconds to sink in. This was a wonder goal, a candidate for goal of the season at any level, a goal that would have graced the Nou Camp, Wembley, the Emirates, a quite mind-boggling strike that somehow summed up the modern game, that you can be under the cosh for such long spells, and then in seconds the ball can be in the opposition’s net in an instant. The light ball that bends and curves, the speed of the game, the accuracy of passing, the speed of a shot; this was not a goal that you would ever have seen in the 50s or 60s.
And still there was more to come. Within minutes the game was over as Thompson controlled the ball, turned and hit a wonderful dipping shot that arced over the goalkeeper, hit the underside of the bar and ended up in the net. Cue delirium and a wall of noise and joy and elation that was probably heard miles away whilst Reading fans sat dejected and crestfallen, the game for them well and truly over.
We coasted the remaining period of the game. Proper Burnley football emerged, possession, ball to feet, little passing moves and intelligent movement.
When Thompson’s goal went in I dived off the sofa and beat the carpet with my fists in disbelief.
Is this a fairytale I wondered the morning after?
Can it continue?
Can a small town of just 80,000 people get as far as this and make it to the Premiership?
This is the stuff we have dreamed about and of which dreams are made.
I bought six newspapers. All were generous in their praise. It is almost as if we have become the ‘peoples’ club’. Unless you come from Sheffield everyone seems to want us to succeed. They know we were within two minutes of the Carling Cup Final. They admire our football and flair. Coyle is the man of the moment.
To do this after that dreadful start to the season, and then endure the spell of five defeats over Christmas is astonishing, but we are there and it feels wonderful, just wonderful.
SO NEXT IT WAS TICKETS FOR WEMBLEY and if there were problems getting the Reading tickets then they seemed tenfold for the Final. 36,000 were available of which 3,000 were the very expensive Club Wembley seats. In theory these seemed easy to obtain, just phone Commercial and buy them over the phone or counter. Hmmm, not quite so easy, they were sold out by mid afternoon, sold to people buying them in great wads in certain cases. Without a couple of staff mobile phone numbers I doubt I would have got one with the office phone lines continually engaged.
The queues at the ticket office were inevitably long ones again. No system is perfect. For this game the outside agency Ticketzone were employed by the club. The loyalty points system was not used. Systems crashed, phone lines were engaged for hours and people queued for hours. Some struck lucky others did not. The unscrupulous and dishonest phoned Ticketzone and used season ticket numbers that were not theirs. People in the main observed the etiquette of queuing but a minority did not. Tickets at inflated prices appeared via other agencies. Purchase of Club Wembley tickets was certainly open to abuse. The messageboards were filled with grumbles and unhappiness. But what system, or systems, is or are perfect?
A friend emailed. Tim’s email seemed to be just one of dozens of instances of frustration.
“Yes the ticket purchase process was horrendous. The telephone line was routed to the club whose phone message informed you that their ticket office was closed (after several minutes of unwanted info) and told you to ring the number you had just rung. Meanwhile the Ticketzone website for on-line applications kept crashing. When you did get through to a seating option page, the rows available disappeared at a rate of attrition that would have graced the Somme. By using the backbutton you could restore the full option but then you found that when you clicked on a particular seating row the message came up ‘all seats taken’. So you had to be quick on the buttons to find an alternative row before ‘wipe-out’ cut in again. I eventually found a seat nearer to Mars than the pitch - a two hours nightmare!”
Tim’s two-hour nightmare was one of the shorter ones by all accounts. There were no complaints about the heroic ticket-office staff, but people queuing along Harry Potts Way, or waiting their turn in the Bob Lord Stand had tales to tell of waiting for 6, 7 and 8 hours and more. Many queued only to be told after hours of waiting that they would have to come back the next day. Another frustration lay in store for supporters living in areas with certain Yorkshire postcodes. Their applications were automatically blocked.
And where do 1st 4 FOOTBALL TICKETS get their tickets from? They had the £98 Club Wembley seats on sale at £240. Did this company buy them from Burnley Commercial or direct from Wembley?
ON A WET, COLD, GLOOMY SUNDAY I whiled away odd bits of the afternoon watching the game at Reading again. Paterson’s goal will thrill us all over and over again in years to come just like all three goals we scored at home to Tottenham. It should have won SKY goal of the month award but didn’t, only because more Man U supporters voted for Tevez’s goal which was not a patch on Pato’s. Imagine that goal being scored by Messi, or Henry or Ronaldo. The coverage would have been endless and the description ‘world-class’ used continuously. Thompson’s goal was not far behind. I can’t imagine how Phil Bird must have sounded to Clarets World listeners. At last another pal got his tickets via the Ticketzone phone lines. From 10 a.m. until one p.m. he tried without success to get through. After lunch he decided to have one last attempt and got through first time; 5 tickets in the £64 area. The message boards are still filled with stories from people who have tried and tried and have been unable to get through either by phone or online.
THEY ARE COMING FROM Philadelphia, Dallas, Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Washington, Wellington, Mexico City, Bulgaria, California, Vancouver, Seattle, Yemen, Kazakhstan, Florida, Belgium, Norway, Ireland, Cyprus and France. They’ll be coming up from Cornwall and down from Scotland, from Wales and the Northeast. Clarets from all over the world and all over the UK will meet at Wembley. I remember driving up from Sussex for the last Wembley game in ’94 and seeing so many other cars from the south festooned with flags, scarves and badges. There’s an umbilical cord that binds so many people who have left the town and now reside far away. There have been messages of support from dozens of other supporters from other clubs who want to see Burnley win. They all admire the team that plays football; that has such a small squad; that has one of the smallest budgets, a team that just keeps on going. The stats say 23 players have been used but in truth some of the squad have hardly featured. It’s probably just 18 players that have carried us so far this season. That’s a staggering statistic for a season when we have played so many games.
If we win, the Wembley names will trip off the tongue, and we’ll say them off by heart in just the same way that we can recite the team of ‘59/60, or ‘72/73, York, Wembley ’94 and Scunthorpe 2000. They will go down as legends. It’s a daunting prospect.
DID YOU SEE THE KYLE LAFFERTY INCIDENT? What an odious thing Lafferty is. Isn’t he just a loathsome, horrible, repellent, revolting, repulsive, dishonourable, ignominious… now then what am I trying to say, I’ve got a bit carried away – oh yes – embarrassing cheat. Burnley Football Club is well rid of him. Our gain is Rangers’ loss. Could he still do a job for Burnley… yes… cleaning out the urinals.
So what’s all the fuss about? Well, if you want to see the worst ever example of feigning injury, deception, falling to the ground and conning the referee after being supposedly head-butted by an opponent, then Lafferty is your man. In the Rangers v Aberdeen weekend game he went down as if pole-axed clutching his face in a dive worthy of a Hollywood Oscar. The referee, totally convinced, sent off the Aberdeen man. Then to compound matters, clearly proud of his conduct he winked at what was presumably one of his colleagues. There’s a post somewhere on this message board under the title Lafferty with a YouTube link to the incident. Watch and cringe.
I don’t know what’s been worse… the Bikey incident, the Lafferty comedy show, or Anelka in one of the Sunday articles revealing that he once spent £3,000 on a designer T-shirt.
Dave Thomas May 18th 2009