8,000 SHIRTS and 38 FIXTURES
They’d sold 4,000 by the end of the first day in the club shop out of an initial batch of 8,000, we were told. “We’ve ordered another 8, 000,” said the shop manager. Make hay while the sun shines was my first thought as SKY News interviewed one woman who had driven up from Cornwall. Cornwall for God’s sake! The commercial department certainly made hay as prices for one of the Dining Lounges, the 1882, jumped from a modest £80 plus VAT (naturally) to £200 per game; £250 for an ‘A’ list game. Amazing what you can do when you’re a Premiership side. Sell enough of the shirts and the mark-up probably just about covered the million pounds needed to refurbish the dressing rooms and Press facilities to stipulated Premiership standards.
Based on the 1959/60 Championship kits the shirts oozed simplicity and from that came class. A simple uncluttered design, claret body and blue sleeves, with a V neck and with them came crisp white shorts and claret and blue hooped socks. Those of us who were there at the great games of the 60s could easily cast our minds back to when Jimmy McIlroy shimmied his way along a goal-line to set up a goal, Jimmy Adamson’s long legs and strides ate up the yards, John Connelly cut in from the wing to unleash a 20 yard thunderbolt or Ray Pointer darted here and there, covered every inch of grass and wore out centre-halves twice his size.
And sure you can always tell when you’re a Premiership side because you’re on SKY news at every excuse. For a while as soon as anyone mentioned the word queue, they were there to film it and of course there was a queue when the new shirts went on sale. Who can blame SKY for homing in? The ticket office was opened for just one day and then had to close and draft in extra help in order to cope with season-ticket order processing, and postal applications and phone orders and on-line demand. Just four days after opening its doors when tickets were put on general sale, huge swathes of the ground were sold out apart from single seats here and there – the Bob Lord, the Upper Jimmy McIlroy and the upper James Hargreaves.
Corporate boxes too all sold out, all gone, demand unprecedented. A club that had two transfer embargoes imposed because of late payments to other club for players already bought; and allegedly couldn’t have paid the April 2009 wages without another wodge of director cash; now coining it in so fast the accountants and bank manager thought that every day was Christmas. The chairman happy as Larry and not a person begrudged him that state of bliss. Ten years in the chair he’d been on that fateful May Day at Wembley, and during that time he’d seen the club progress from Division One to Championship, then lurch along for several years, haemorrhaging and losing money year by year, muddling through, flirting with administration, hanging on and eventually coming good. And on the first day the shirts were in the shop on sale, there he was buying one for himself along with the rest of the fans. His father Roy was a Burnley supporter many years ago and took young Barry along with him. If Barry had a Burnley shirt then, it would have looked much the same as the one he bought the day the new ones arrived 50 years later. Life works in funny ways.
Later, came the master-stroke; the decision to open up the Cricket Field Stand to home supporters. For many years this had been a taboo subject but with Premiership status comes a new mindset and solutions appeared as to how to segregate the stand so that 1,500 Clarets could take their seats. Stan Ternent had asked for this and Steve Cotterill too. Premiership status swayed the day.
Funny too the way things work out. Take parachute payments, the payments that are made to clubs when they are relegated from the Premiership. For two or three years the chairman railed and spoke out against them saying how unfair they were on little clubs like Burnley. How could Burnley compete against clubs given money for being relegated? And of course we all agreed. Damn right we did; it was unfair; of course it was bloody unfair. And then, promotion to Nirvana, and of course with eventual relegation (widely predicted by the experts) what would Burnley receive? Why parachute payments of course and with nobody outside of Burnley expecting anything other than immediate relegation, by God how we might need them. So, suddenly there’s a moral quandary to contemplate. I can’t speak for the chairman but what once we objected to, now seemed essential to me.
How wonderful it must have been in the Burnley boardroom in the few weeks immediately after promotion. £60m on its way to the bank vaults and with that came the pleasure of planning the budget, how to spend it and make it work. Loans to be paid off, debts to be settled, the Gawthorpe training centre to be upgraded, a nice £18m or £16million (depending on what paper you read) player budget for manager Coyle, and even after all that there would still be money in hand at the season’s end. And of course that £60m did not include all the revenue from increased ticket sales, blossoming commercial and match day activities, and of course the 24,000 shirts the shop manager hoped to sell; Nirvana indeed. 24,000! That’s a long way away from the empty terraces during the seven wilderness years of life in the old Fourth Division in the eighties and the early nineties until Super Johnny Francis smashed home a goal from close range at York to take Jimmy Mullen’s claret and blue army into ecstasy. Gates of under 2,000 were not uncommon in those dreadful days.
I doubt Owen Coyle got too carried away with his £16/18m budget. He’d have had to spend £12million of it on Gareth Barry alone from Aston Villa and the rest on his wages. Birmingham spent that on new players within weeks of promotion. Coyle knew what he wanted, season long loans, two pacey full-backs and some youthful bargains from Scotland. If there was one thing that we learned from the win over Sheffield United it was what a difference pace can make at the back of a team. If the rest of the Sheffield team had matched the quality of their two full-backs there would maybe have been no Premiership season for Burnley.
61 games Burnley played in 2008/09. We avidly waited for the fixture lists that came out on June 17th. Only league 38 games to play in 2009/10 and what supporters had to get used to was that a traditional 3 0 clock kick off on a Saturday afternoon would be a rarity with SKY and Setanta pulling the strings. As it happened Setanta folded, unable to meet their payments. Scottish football clubs were badly hit. Goodbye Setanta, hello ESPN.
Eight of the Premier teams were in Lancashire and we looked to see when it was Manchester United home and away, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. And then there was Blackburn Rovers, the neighbours and rivals from just down the road. In the good old days spectators from both teams went to the match together, rubbed shoulders, mingled in the ground. How things have changed. Segregation rules OK.
On June 17th the fixtures came out. All of us waited to see if it was a first game of the season at home. It was not to be, it would be Stoke City away and their team of giants. But the next game was indeed at home, and it was guess who? The first home game of the season would be against none other than Manchester United. Then Everton at home followed by two games away at Chelsea and Liverpool. Our mouths watered. This was the stuff of dreams and the reward for daring to dream.
The days and couple of weeks following this were unreal. New signings were made, a club record of £3million paid to Hibernian for striker Steven Fletcher. The decision was made to house 1,500 home fans in the Cricket Field Stand. Manager Owen Coyle had specially asked for this so that home fans were now around four sides of the ground. Having home fans in this Stand was a hugely significant move since it had been for away fans only for years.
15,000 season tickets were sold in just days plus the extra 1,500. There were two games in the USA, the youth team played in a prestigious tournament in Ireland, our name was never off SKY, pre-season TV programmes were filmed at the Turf, and we were rarely out of at least one national newspaper. Alan Nixon worked overtime. And if one signing signified just how far we had come, it was that of the highly rated David Edgar from Newcastle United who chose to leave the stricken, relegated ‘giant’ club to come to Premiership Burnley. How often did we say those words and shake our heads coming to terms with the enormity of it – Premiership Burnley.
There are Burnley fans all over the world. Some of them from Seattle motored down and made the three hour interstate journey to Portland to watch the friendly against Portland Timbers and a 4 – 2 win for the Clarets after penalties. One such fan was John Gibaut whose family has Burnley connections though his mother lives in Jersey. The Burnley umbilical cord is strong. He was one of the many fans who travelled thousands of miles to see the fabulous Wembley win. He could never have believed that one day he would actually see the Clarets almost in his own back yard. “Surreal,” he described it.
At the club, pre-season, I bumped into Vince Overson from the Youth set-up. He looked worn out already. “A lot of change,” he said, “and there are masses of things to organise for the youth tournament in Ireland. Equipment to take, parents to contact, tickets to sort, visits there to check things out. I haven’t had a holiday yet, but I’ll take my wife over to Ireland with me.”
I thought of the story about Bill Shankly that on his honeymoon he took his wife Nessie out as a treat but when she got there she discovered it was to see a reserve game where he wanted to check up on a player. Vince, methinks if you work in football, some things never change. It’s probably the wives who are the unsung heroes… heroines.
Dave Thomas July 2009