The first pre-season friendly, expectation, eagerness, the sun shining intermittently, familiar faces, the green turf in pristine condition, hundreds of new claret shirts on a huge variety of body shapes and sizes, here again – the football season. This one different, no longer Championship but Premiership and put your hand up if you weren’t thinking “whoever would have thought this possible?” Ten years ago we were in Division Two and it was Bradford who were Premiership.
Inside the ground the hairs stood up on the back of our necks as the Burnley fans broke into a spontaneous: We are Premier League, WE ARE PREMIER LEAGUE.” And as the team ran out minds were cast back 50 years ago when the great team of ‘59/60 ran out in their away kit of plain white shirts and socks, and black shorts, now resurrected as our away strip again. What a class strip this is, oozing elegance and simplicity.
Ripples of applause broke out as during the early warm-up the players jogged to the stand housing the away fans. Some players smiled, some were stony-faced. There were the new lads Edgar, Fletcher and Mears. Eagles and McCann were missing suffering minor knocks we were told. All of us wondered if Eagles drove over in his Lamborghini. Would he maybe drive it round the Valley Parade pitch to give us all a look? A Burnley player driving to Gawthorpe and parking a Lamborghini, imagine that. If you want proof we are in the Premiership that must be it. And once one player buys one they’ll all be at it. Jimmy McIlroy the greatest player we ever had still drives a spluttering ten year old family saloon held together by rust and a prayer.
Anticipation and pride: boy they looked class in that strip and for the first 30 minutes played a brand of football that had us purring and applauding. Slick, fast, accurate, ball to feet, fluent fluid moves that dominated the game and gave Bradford barely a touch of the ball. Blake jinked across the 20 yard line and squared the ball across to Alexander. Bingo a lovely shot and Burnley were 1 – 0 up and we sat back and waited for the avalanche – and probably so did all the home fans. This was exhibition stuff, but what else should we expect, are we not Premier League? Paterson missed two sitters that my granny could have scored. Fletcher missed a sitter my other granny could have scored. Never mind, we thought, more goals will come.
And there it came to a grinding halt. In his own half Alexander gifted the ball to a Bradford player, and ten seconds later in went the equaliser. Just minutes later a wayward ball again gave the advantage to Bradford. Bloody hell again they scored. Elliot had a few moments in Prima Donna mode and gesticulated that it was not his fault with any Burnley player within earshot.
Ah well, not to worry, we’ll get back on track we thought. After all, we are Premiership are we not? Half time and still 2 – 1 down; we expected the full ‘B’ team but several of the first-half lot stayed on including Blake and Elliot.
If the game began with we are Premier League, WE ARE PREMIER LEAGUE, from the away fans, it ended with Premier League you’re having a laugh from the Bradford side and sadly one could only agree. Did we have a shot on target in the second half - I don’t think so. Did we string any move together of three or four passes - I don’t think so. Does it matter asked the cognoscenti, it’s only a friendly. Did Bradford deserve to win – yes they did. They were excellent in the second half with their ‘next’ team and on several occasions were all over us bursting forward time and again. A goal line clearance saved us from a 3 – 1 scoreline which would have turned mere red faces into actual embarrassment.
Afterwards the clichés were rolled out. It doesn’t really matter… it’s early days… it was only a friendly… it’s all about fitness not winning… we don’t like to lose but it was a good workout… it’s the match practice that’s important… we’ve only had five training sessions… the new boys did well though… we’ll take the positives… I’m not going to worry…
Well I’m sorry folks but at the end of the day, friendly or not, I don’t like to be outplayed and to lose to lowly Bradford and the supporters within earshot were in agreement. After all we are Premier League, WE ARE PREMIER LEAGUE.
Ah well, it was only a friendly. Let’s hope that the norm will be the beautiful football we played in the first 30 minutes which was worth a fiver of anybody’s money.
Meanwhile: a London friend emailed me to say: “Paul Fletcher came to the London Clarets AGM and was very impressive. He brought the play-off trophy with him for us to see and hold. What a lovely gesture. Christ it is heavy. As he drew the trophy out of his bag and plonked it on the table he just welled up (as we did also).) How reassuring it is to know that this club is run by fans, who at the top, a least, seem to have their heads screwed on. He told us the playing budget this year was £18million – that covers salaries of playing and management staff and transfer fees. Last year it was £6million although Brendan Flood put £2million in to help buy Eagles and Paterson. Chelsea’s playing budget is £170million. He said the club wasn’t up yet to dealing with the extra demand. He told us the BFC staff were lovely people but they didn’t have the systems and infrastructure in place to respond efficiently to the new demand. He assured us they were getting there though. He was confident that the promotion guaranteed BFC financial sustainability for the next 3-4 years but could not say beyond that, not because he was alarmed at future prospects but that it was a difficult to see that far into the future.
Way back in August of 2008 we never saw into the future. The future then was promotion. And boy was it good when it arrived in May, 2009.
Dave Thomas July 12th 2009