We were back from the Everton game. A gin and tonic for Mrs T and a whisky for me marked the occasion of another win. As if the win over Manchester United on the Wednesday before hadn’t been stunning enough, a second win was even better, even though it was only Everton.
It was better because it showed we could repeat the process. You couldn’t help but think the United win was a one-off; a win that was the result of the occasion, the adrenalin, the pumped-up partisan crowd, destiny if you like. But a chap coming down the stairs at the end of the Everton game with a huge grin on his face summed up the feeling.” Unbelievable innit, unbelievable, now it’s two wins,” he said over and again like it was some kind of incantation. “Six points already, six points already.”
Maybe that’s the thing; “six points already,” and if we’d had the awesome Bikey at Stoke, who is to say the result there wouldn’t have been very different. Six points and up there in seventh place said the SKY tables. So OK I know its only two games and there are 36 left, but six points is more than anyone dared hope when we saw the fixture lists for the first time and those horrendous five opening games. Hands up those people who nodded their heads at what the pressmen wrote in their papers that our season wouldn’t really begin until October when we’d got these first five games out of the way. And then we’d start with nil points.
On the Wednesday before the game against Manchester United, there was nervousness and there was apprehension all mixed up with the anticipation and expectation. There were plenty of people who expected a drubbing by maybe four goals or more. We’d seen the defence not at its best against Stoke when Edgar, Duff and Caldwell had all been unavailable. And even though we had dominated much of the game 63% to 37% possession said the stats in one newspaper, we’d lost it to two sucker goals.
What a diference Bikey has made. He oozes power and presence. I watched him and thought back to Arthur Gnohere and thought this is what Gnohere should have become if his head hadn’t gone off the rails. Who will forget how good he was in his first season and it seemed like we had discovered quite by a chance our centre half for the next six or seven years. The programme notes for the Everton game said that the other players welcomed Bikey with a predictable shirt-ripping routine. If there’s one thing that’s time honoured about footballers it’s a sense of humour and practical jokes.
Against Everton before the game we wondered if our circumstances might now catch up with us, you know what they churn out in the papers; smallest budget, smallest squad and all that stuff; and that if Wednesday had been a dream would reality kick in and a workmanlike, organised side now show us the real world of Premiership and put us firmly in our place.
But no, they didn’t and again the papers were full of us on Monday saying it was we who looked the Premiership side, singing our praises, and all of them underlining that the penalty awarded to Everton was a Hibbert dive and the referee had been well and truly conned. Surely Beast would not save a second spot-kick we all thought. He had no need to. Saha put it wide but in any case Jensen dived the right way and would have for sure saved it by the post.
And, on top of all that, if any of us had thoughts that last season would be Blake’s final glorious swansong, the Everton game proved us wrong when he had another outstanding game and had Everton defenders in knots from the start to his departure, eventually replaced by Guerrero. Those of us who had seen the latter in Scotland and at Stoke had no qualms about his appearance. He didn’t disappoint, with one run and a chip to the far corner of the net that missed by no more than a foot.
The Press continued to be kind to us, none more so than Ian Ridley. “Call me sentimental but almost the best thing about Burnley are those shirts. The V-neck, claret body and light blue sleeves are a throwback to the early sixties when Burnley were among the best teams in the country and occupued a soft spot for schoolboys besotted by the game. In those days, you learned much about the geography of the country from football. Burnley was some mystical, romantic place in the undustrial north. For an adult now, the realism may not match the mysticism bu there is romace anew after that win over Manchester United.
“No kick and rush here,” wrote Phil Thomas. “Not a hint of lump it long and hope for the best. This joy ride is based on the beautiful game, a pass, a move, a flick, a finish. And no-one gave a more polished example of that than the old warhorse, Robbie Blake.Although classic thoroughbred would probably be a more appropriate description. At 33, Blake is enjoying the most incredible twilight to a career that has taken him across the land and rarely into the spotlight.Talk about making up for lost time.
The old dog, in fact, had to come on at Hartlepool. He was on the bench for much of the game. Here’s another thing we never thought we’d see or hear; Burnley made TEN changes and played, apart from Bikey, a totally different team than the previous game. Surely only Premiership clubs do this.
Oh, bugger me: I forgot. We ARE a Premiership club.
Anyway, the reserve team at Hartlepool (even Penny played), faded after a bright start and the Monkeys took a 1 – 0 lead and looked like they were about to send the Clarets out. Just in case you don’t know why they are called the Monkeys it’s because in the days of olde when the French and the English kicked lumps out of each other with the same ferocity as a rumble between Millwall and West Ham fans, the good folk of Hartlepool, a bit slow upstairs, hanged a monkey that lived peacefully on a French ship that had been captured and towed into the harbour. How on earth you mistake a monkey for a Frenchman is anybodies guess… except in hindsight I suppose maybe it is an easy error to make.
Anyway in the nick of time the equaliser came and then in extra time Eckersley was sent off; Fletcher, brought off the subs bench, scored his second, and Burnley saw the game out. Mrs T kept saying, “Well, I’m not really bothered,” in a resigned kind of way whilst Burnley were 0 – 1 down.
I chastised her soundly and reminded her that Owen does not like to lose and neither do I. In truth, both of us thought that a defeat at Hartlepool would be richly ironic in view of last season’s heroics.
Meanwhile, as the game was being played in front of an audience of not much more than 3,500; Sol Campbell demoted himself to lowly Notts County. He wanted the challenge he said – very noble of him. Some of us think that a five-year contract at an alleged £40,000 a week might just have had something to do with it now that County have super-rich backers and Sven Ericsson as chief consultant. Manchester City at last signed Lescott from Everton for £24million, thus ending the most boring transfer saga of the decade. As soon as he knew, weeks ago, that they were interested there was never any possibility of him staying at Goodison Park. Manager Moyes wanted City to be fined and have points deducted for misconduct and ‘tapping-up’. And we all know we can have a good laugh at that request.
At West Ham there was tribal warfare as Millwall arrived for a Carling Cup-tie. What a throwback it was seeing the full-scale mayhem outside the ground and what was noticable was that these were not spotty immature teenagers out for a larf but middle-aged grown men whose dormant violence and tribal allegiances were re-awakened by the chance of a good rumble, just like those of the good old days. For a flavour of what it was like back then in the 70s and 80s have a quick look at Dave Burnley’s book ‘Got To Be There’. Dave suffered many a kicking and bloodied nose on his travels.
Seventh place didn’t last very long though. I think we all knew it wouldn’t but it was nice while it lasted. Chelsea away was the game next up and Chelsea had won every game of the season so far. The first televised game of the season as well and many of us fearful of a public thrashing. Possession and attempts on goal; indeed it was a lesson and a drubbing. This was the fantasy team against the homespun, the dream team against the journeymen, the young hopefuls and the old pros. It was no contest. But for Jensen’s heroics there would have been an avalanche of goals. As it was Chelsea could only muster three. The statistics say it all. Chelsea’s 27 shots against Burnley’s thee; and Burnley did not have one shot on target. If only Paterson had done better very early on in the game with a golden chance and the score at 0 – 0, maybe it could have been very different. Mears robbed a Chelsea defender near the penalty area, squared the ball across to Paterson but the latter pulled his shot wide. It was a fantastic opportunity. From that moment on there was only one team in it. In truth it was a Chelsea masterclass of movement into space at high speed, crisp first-time passing and keeping possession. Time and again Burnley gave the ball away up front but Jensen and the back four were outstanding. Once Chelsea went 1 – 0 up we knew it was over and it was damage limitation. Cruelly it was a minute before the half-time whistle that they scored, Drogba and Anelka combining at pace. After that other than occasional Burnley possession and brief forays it was exhibition stuff.
It’s a funny old game though and the next away game at Liverpool does not seem to hold the same ominous threat as this one did. It’s doubtful that so many Burnley midfielders and forwards can all have such an off-day again. This was not the same level of play that saw off Manchester United and Everton. And add to that a Chelsea display at their absolute best, then this was indeed a bad day at the office.
Courage mon braves, as the saying goes. This was a day and result not entirely unexpected and we were not disgraced. This was a game against one of the finest sides in Europe.
Dave Thomas August 29th 2009