This was a game I deliberately missed having decided that there was a limit to the way in which I wanted to be dragooned and organised and told what to do. An experience at Stoke City after a Championship game where we were penned in behind fencing and locked gates for 30 minutes by police, whilst the rain poured down soaking us all to the bone, made me think enough is enough. For the Blackburn game there were many like me but there were 3,000 others who decided that the effort was worth it. We all make our choices. The police decided on safety grounds that everybody would have to be bussed from Turf Moor to Ewood. Well – not quite everybody; the Chief Executive, the Chairman, corporate folk and the Directors were allowed to make their own way there. I asked why and received the answer that there have been no fights between directors in car parks in recent years.
The system was simple; no bus ticket, no game ticket, and the Police Commander issued inflammatory, aggressive statements that anyone trying to approach the ground by any other means would not get anywhere near it. This meant an early departure from Burnley and then sitting waiting at Ewood for an age in the ground. They probably had time to read War and Peace.
It produced a situation where people who supported Burnley yet who lived in Blackburn, had still to get to Burnley only to have to make their way back to Blackburn again. It produced the ridiculous situation where one supporter who lived within walking distance of Ewood, nevertheless, had to get to Burnley, just to get the bus back again. Other supporters had to drive past the ground on their way to Burnley only to have to come back again, and then after the game do the reverse.
As ever, the great British public, ever tolerant, ever patient, content to humph, grumble, write or phone about denial of civil liberties, generally OK to be trampled on, went along with it. But, interestingly, a barrister I know questioned the whole legality of it.
I found it inconceivable that in a league where there are derbies such as Liverpool-Everton, Tottenham-Arsenal, Villa–Birmingham, or Man Utd-Man City; that this particular game produced such a draconian policy. Of course I watched the game, but I watched it in a manner and place of my own choosing. A few of us like-minded folk got together in an Ormskirk pub. If that diminished my 50 years support for the club, then so be it. Ironically the journey from Leeds to Ormskirk is more than Leeds to Burnley and then to Blackburn.
Clearly, the police directive was not meant for all and sundry – just the 3000 sundry, each and every one of them tarred with the suspicion of being a potential hooligan.
Meanwhile there was the smaller matter of the home game against Birmingham; the club that at one time signed so many players that it seemed like a one-club campaign to solve the unemployment problem. This was the sort of game that had to be won if there was to be any chance of staying in this division. Bread and butter games you might call them, bread and dripping if it’s the very bottom club. The first half had some nice football but was almost a non-event. There were spells when there was warm sun to bask in, and the eyes turned heavy and nodding off to sleep was a distinct option. Caldwell was back, so that Bikey moved to midfield as several of us hoped he would. And then, if the first half was uneventful, the second half was the total opposite and it became a game where Burnley turned it on, showed all their skills, passed crisply, moved sharply, won the headers, the 50:50 balls, the tackles, and Bikey strode about like a colossus. Add to that an England class display from Mears, a spring chicken 45 minutes from Alexander, the twinkling toes of Elliot back to his best, energy, bustle and power from Nugent and Fletcher, plus all the guile he could muster from the old fox Blake – and this became a walk in the park for the rampant Burnley side. “Measured, text-book football,” said Stuart Hall on Sports Report. And so it was, it was a delight to watch, my hands were sore from constantly applauding and my face ached because I was smiling so much.
Fletcher scored the first, a great through ball from Mears to set him up; he ran from inside the half, fired it hard and low, goalkeeper Hart made a mess of it and in it went. In the first half Fletcher had been in his accustomed, but ineffective, right side position. In the second he moved further inside to make the 4 – 5 – 1 into 4 – 4 - 2. Bingo, it worked and he slotted home. The Bikey goal was a gem, with tigerish ball winning and retention, a smart lay-off and a wonderful side footed goal when he took the return pass running into the space. The acrobatic somersault celebrations afterwards were well worthy of a slot at Billy Smart’s Circus.
This was the tenth consecutive home win. All opening four home games won in the Premiership… a record, and beating that of Blackburn Rovers in 1992. “This season’s no-hopers are a pleasure to watch,” said The Independent. “Absolutely outstanding,” said Paul Merson on SKY Sports. The two big-money buys scored, leaving Burnley 9th in the table with 12 points and next up was Blackburn Rovers. Oh dear, they lost 2 – 6 at Arsenal.
Sometimes I felt in need of a good laugh and because BFC has been so well run and games were thrillingly won at home, there was, in the month of September, not a lot to find funny at Burnley, not even a parachutist landing on a stand roof, or the Smartie Pants Dog Troupe. I turned to the events at Newcastle for amusement and noticed Keegan was awarded £2million plus interest for his “constructive dismissal”. The icing on the cake for him just before he walked was the signing of an obscure Uruguayan by the name of Gonsalves. Speedy or not, Keegan did not want him. It was a Dennis Wise inspired signing, signed allegedly on the strength of Wise watching him perform on Youtube, and because he wanted to do a favour for two agents. As if Dennis the Menace’s appointment at Newcastle was not, in itself, hilarious enough, the idea of him scouring the world (allegedly) for its greatest players by watching YouTube had me in stitches. Usually we watch Youtube to watch people fart the loudest fart, fall accidentally into a vat of custard, sing God Save the Queen underwater… or maybe Bikey’s celebration somersaults after his Brummy goal. Now that is a Tube clip I would recommend to anybody.
The other little chuckle I had, or maybe it was more a snort of derision, was when I saw the Svenerable Svede, former England Manager now of Notts County, Goran Eriksson, on SKY TV waffling on about how you need money to get to the Premiership these days. “It is impossible to get to the Premiership without money,” he announced, looking and sounding learned, intelligent and professorial. “And that’s a fact,” he added to give emphasis and gravitas. “And that’s a fact.”
Look this way sir; look beyond the end of your nose, look towards East Lancashire, and then home in on little old Burnley. I don’t recall that we had any money at all in April of 2009. In fact we were distinctly in the red, skint, broke, penniless, not a bean, beam ends, not a pot to piss in. The word numpty came to mind followed closely by suede and turnip.
The build-up in the Press to the Rovers game began on the preceeding Wednesday in the nationals. By Sunday morning you could have wall-papered the lounge with the full page articles that appeared. Anyone keeping a scrapbook of the season must surely have filled one already by mid-October.
The barnstorming, grandstand finish to the Blackburn game could not disguise the fact that after Blake scored the first goal of the game, this was a shambolic display from Burnley until Fletcher was taken off and Eagles was brought on. It was the recurring away-game grumble, no width, no threat, no wide outlet, ball given away too often, under-par performances, no-one to do the unexpected or cause any panic in the opposition defence. Blake’s goal very early on was a gem, with pace and movement from the back and a superb ball from Bikey. Blake, via Elliot, took possession, moved inside and unleashed a wonderful right foot shot from outside the box that was in the net in a flash. But from that moment on, it was entirely downhill so that Blackburn took a 3 – 1 lead having equalised immediately.
Sadly, individual errors contributed to the annual video of classic Burnley give-aways and chaotic soft goals. Jensen in his 250th game, Jordan, Fletcher and Alexander, all culpable, all part responsible for the three goals, and who else but the odious Dunn could have scored the leveller. The script was written for him. The Blackburn second goal was a result of defending and goalkeeping so comical it would not have been out of place on Towneley Park on a Sunday morning. There were claims that Jensen was nudged in the back but should a big man have been so uncomfortable today whenever the ball was in the air in his six-yard box. Add to that the totally ineffective displays up front from both Fletcher and Nugent (my granny could have tackled Chimbonda better than Fletcher prior to the third goal), by the end of the first half Burnley were simply outplayed, outthought, outrun, and had the level of display continued as badly it might well have been six by full-time. Paterson’s running, pace and energy was badly missed.
It ended 3 – 2, respectable, and the lack of goals away from home ‘duck’ ended emphatically. Had Eagles’ goal in extra time come ten minutes earlier who knows what might have happened? As it was; a really classy goal, with good passing, a great cross by Jordan and the ball tucked home by Eagles, it served only to have Rovers supporters biting their nails for just the final minute or so, but the relief on Blackburn players’ faces was there for all to see.
The bus journey for the 3,000 who were prepared to be herded like cattle seemed to pass off uneventfully in terms of the lack of bricks lobbed from motorway bridges. The vast majority put up with it, a handful made their feelings known on the websites. “A parade of old buses the like of which has not been seen since the days of Reg Varney,” said one disgruntled traveller. “A level of police presence that made me wonder if we were driving to Beirut,” said another.
Sometimes the view is re-inforced that Burnley FC really is “a proper little football club.” I got a phone call some weeks ago. It was a woman’s voice wanting tickets for the Jimmy Mac book launch. “Do you remember me?” she asked. “I was Margaret Price and we were at school together.” It turned out this was infants’ school in 1950! That is nearly 60 years ago. Anyway after some serious reminiscing and ordering three tickets she went on to say that her mother in law was 93 years old Gladys Woodall, still a fanatical supporter and proud owner of a season ticket in the Bob Lord. “Why could she not be made an honorary member of BFC?” wondered Margaret, “in recognition of her years of support.”
To cut a long story, a few phone calls, and a couple of emails later… the Chairman and the Chief Exec agreed that Gladys, whose support dates back to 17 years old Tommy Lawton, the ‘47 Cup Final, Harry Potts the player, and Jimmy Mac’s debut game, should have a complementary season ticket next year.
Anyway, something funny happened in the Jimmy McIlroy biography. There’s always somewhere where I drop a ricket. Somewhere there’s a section where I wrote about the players of today – overvalued, overhyped, overrated, and over paid. Downing, Defoe, Jenas, Crouch – players I doubt would have made it past the reserves in the great days at Burnley. I mentioned Lafferty sold for £4million. And then I mentioned Nugent bought by Portsmouth for £6million. “A journeyman centre-forward,” I wrote, “and seldom heard of since.”
The book went to print. And then Owen Coyle signed him. I was praying he didn’t score a hat-trick at Ewood. You couldn’t make it up.
Dave Thomas October 21st 2009