NOVEMBER PART TWO
YOU CAN KEEP YOUR VA VA VOOM
There was a nice Stan Ternent story in the Man City book-sized programme that I actually got round to reading a few days after the game. It concerned ex City player Paul Lake who became a physio after injury prematurely curtailed his career. “I had a spell at Burnley (as physio) under Stan Ternent and the fans impressed, because, like City, they were loyal. The club was a proper football club. I loved my time at Burnley, it’s a fans’ club just like City. Because I wanted to impress I got lots of information together on nutrition and gave it to Stan. He looked at me and took the information away. The following Saturday the pre-match breakfast came. It was a full fry-up and Stan told me: “I do the meals at this club.”
Hughes after the 3 – 3 at City came up with a lovely quote: “We shot ourselves in the foot and then switched off.” You can be fairly sure that will be in some future book of the daft things managers say.
Was it only a year ago that we won at Chelsea? What a night that was, one of the greatest in Burnley’s long history. We left quite disbelieving what we had seen. It is possible to look back and think that it was the night that really began the season for us, and that from then on the momentum grew. Yet that would be to forget the deflation felt during the run of five defeats that soon followed in the League. I will always believe that the result that was the most significant last season was the 1 – 0 win at Blackpool on that filthy, tempestuous night when the wind and gales were so strong that it was nigh impossible to play any football match and it seemed ridiculous to carry on playing. Yet play we did, the referee deciding against all common sense to continue. How glad we were that he did. The Kalvanes goal was the kickstart to a fantastic end to the season and ultimate triumph at the end of the greatest single season I can ever remember – and yes I include the title win in ‘59/60. The title then was won by a group of international class players; some of them world-class at a time when the playing field was still just about level. Promotion was won last season with a group of players, none of whom could be classed as outstanding in the sense that top clubs would queue to buy them, but who gelled as a team and had a spirit and fortitude that was quite exemplary. What is all the more remarkable is that so many of them were there in the Cotterill seasons, they were his signings. But with him they went 20 games without a win, and the next season played a brand of football that was at best functional, but at its worst awful. We have to thank Steve Cotterill for assembling this little band of players; Jordan, Caldwell, Carlisle, Gudjonnsen, Elliot, Alexander, Duff, re-signing Blake, McCann; but it was only under Owen Coyle’s guidance that they became a Band of Brothers.
The Villa game on November 21st marked the second anniversary of Owen Coyle’s arrival. Conjecture was rife at the time as to exactly how and why Steve Cotterill had been ‘sacked’ but Brendan Flood’s book that came later made it quite clear. Although it was described as by ‘mutual consent’ at the time, it had been made clear to him by Flood that a change was needed; and this was at what became known as ‘The Last Supper’. After a dreadful night and a defeat at home to Hull City, it was Flood who decided that the time had come and that performances like this could not continue. The initiative was Flood’s. The meeting was held with Flood. Prior to the Hull game, Cotterill had lost the support of some directors; he had gone into the boardroom after the Southampton game “clearly angry and swearing. He was venting his spleen quite spectacularly about the players, the club and everyone who was at fault apart from himself.” He was becoming more and more impatient and aggravated with the players. Though it was not mentioned in the book, some players had become equally impatient and aggravated with him. There are stories in fact that he had ‘lost’ the dressing room. His excuses for defeat had become quite irrational culminating in the occasion where he blamed the pressure put on players by the new ground development plans. Towards the end, to the man in the street it looked as though he had, quite simply, ‘lost the plot’. Two years later he had still not resumed his career in management. The progress made by Owen Coyle between November 2007 and November 2009 can only be described as phenomenal and must surely have exceeded even his wildest expectations.
Villa fans have terrific memories of Andy Lochhead who went there after a spell at Leicester City. We forget that Andy had success wherever he went; a Cup Final appearance with Leicester, a promotion, League Cup Final and 1973 Midlands Footballer of the Year at Villa, where he became a true legend, and then another promotion and Third Division Championship medal at Oldham. I haven’t seen a single Villa website or blog that doesn’t pay him homage, for his terrific heading ability, his hardness, and being one of the main reasons why they won promotion in the early 70s. On British Pathe if you google, (titled Burnley Beat Spurs 1963) there’s footage of an icebound White Hart Lane and Lochhead scoring Burnley’s third.
John Robertson was the Aston Villa number two at Turf Moor. There he was on the touchline and in the dug-out looking very round and portly. “He’s a proper scruffbag,” said Villa player Ashley Young, “You think no way was this geezer ever a player. He just doesn’t look like a footballer at all.”
Believe it or not that’s pretty much how he looked as a player in the great Brian Clough European Cup winning teams. But what a footballer he was. Martin O Neil too could play. Individually, player by player, how Nottingham Forest were so successful and won not one but two European Cups, is one of the great football mysteries, but somehow Clough moulded these disparate cast-offs and misfits into an outstanding team. Perhaps ‘team’ is the key word, just like at Burnley now with Coyle. Clough stood no nonsense from any player, just as Coyle did in the case of Andy Gray when his head was turned by Charlton and he announced he was not in any mental state fit enough to perform on the next Saturday. Coyle acted swiftly. Out went Gray and in came Cole to fill the gap and provide a memorable evening at QPR.
BURNLEY 1 ASTON VILLA 1
By the law of averages Turf Moor was due for a 1 – 1 draw. By the law of averages Emile Heskey was due to score. He hadn’t scored since April. Heskey was brought on as a sub, and duly scored the equaliser with just a couple of minutes to go. Aston Villa fans claimed this was a fair result. In Burnley the most oft used word was “robbery.” New T shirts are in the shops ‘I’ve seen Heskey score.’
This was a football match played in conditions that would keep all normal people indoors in front of the telly with a coffee and the newspapers. The word monsoon would not have done it justice. Yet despite the atrocious weather 22 players plus subs gave us a superb match. It was a first half of scintillating stuff from Burnley, superb one-touch football, precision passing moves, incisive balls, accuracy and pace; but at the end of the half only one goal to show for it. With the squalls and the driving rain in their faces Villa had no answer. They were outplayed and outpassed in every department. Their one chance came when Jensen raced to the edge of the box to make an interception but on the wet, sodden grass the ball raced away from him leaving him sliding and floundering doing a good impression of a seal sliding on ice, somewhere near the touchline. Ashley Young missed a glorious chance to equalise while the net was unguarded, undeserved though it might have been. I think all of us might have known that one goal would never be enough and so it proved.
The second half was different. This time it was Burnley playing into the weather, and it made a difference. That, plus Villa coming out with a flea in their ear, more fired up, more hardworking, winning far more possession and looking better as the half went on put Burnley more and more on the back foot. There were more terrific moments from Burnley, more shots flashing on goal, two outstanding saves from Friedel, but now the Burnley flowing moves were less frequent. The turning point was a disallowed Nugent goal, on for Fletcher who had another tremendous game in his proper position. Maybe 40 yards out and played through he audaciously lobbed Friedel. In it went. The lineman’s flag was raised immediately but way over on the touchline far away from the linesman a Villa player clearly played Nugent onside. Back at home by the warm fireside, replete with lasagne and Pinot Grigiot and by now dry, we froze the SKY Football First picture and there was the Villa player making Nugent onside by at least two feet.
2 – 0 with less than five minutes to go, and game over – it should have been. Instead Villa more or less immediately won a corner. Over it came and for the second time in the game Jensen elected to punch instead of making the catch. Maybe in the dreadful conditions he thought a punch was the safer option. The punch was strong and had good distance but of course went straight to a Villa player, no Burnley player anywhere near him. Why was no-one picking him up? The ball was slung back over, the 6-yard box teeming with players. Jensen stayed on his line. Damnit, who was there but Heskey, to make a simple header? The nearest player Jordan, up to then who’d had a superb game, made no challenge, but stood looking at Jensen as Heskey rose above him. Who do you blame? Things being what they are it’s always the goalkeeper who cops it, despite his superb finger-tip save earlier to keep the score at 1 - 0. Poor Jensen; a bad judgment on an atrocious day, the wind and rain driving into his face, and Jordan not challenging Heskey who must have thought it was Christmas.
But, nil desperandum, it’s a measure of how well we played again, we all said, to be disappointed that we didn’t take all the points. Two of them went up in smoke, sure; but not just because Jordan and Jensen messed up for the equaliser, but also because for all our brilliant play earlier in the game we only scored one goal and it was always going to be touch and go in the second half in those atrocious conditions. At the end, yes, it was all so disappointing. Ron Bojangles Atkinson on Midland’s radio said we’d played some of the best football he’d seen all season. “Robbed and a real case of smash and grab,” said Stuart Hall on the radio. Phil Thompson on Soccer Saturday said we were a class act. “Their boyish zeal is a joy to behold,” said the NOTW. “The Premier League is a better place for their presence.” And, at the rate we are accumulating points, we will stay up, with £2million on offer to the players as a bonus if they stay up.
What, I wonder, would have happened if Elliot’s goal at Wembley had been identical to Thierry Henry’s in France, when Ireland were knocked out of the World Cup by a blatant handball that kept the ball in play, and allowed him to cross the ball for Gallas to score. What a way to win through to South Africa. What a way to have lost knowing the prize at stake and the economics involved, the lost millions, the broken hearts, as well as national pride and sense of achievement. France on the other hand instantly became the side nobody wanted to see in the Finals – unless you were French of course – and even then many French folk thought the game should have been replayed. FIFA, Blatter and Platini, surprise, surprise, were instantly silent. Indignation, rage, frustration and thousands of words filled the sports pages. I’ll guess many of us felt outraged at the result and FIFA’s instant announcement it would not be replayed. But… what if… just suppose… how would we feel if this was our team, and it had been the goal that beat Sheffield United. Maybe it’s wasted energy thinking about such a hypothetical question, the sort of thing to ponder on if you’ve got nothing better to do. But, our club at that time was on the brink financially, the accounts, newly released in November, showed a debt level that only promotion to the promise land could have solved. Knowing all that, would we have thankfully accepted the result, at the same time feeling very uncomfortable? The accounts showed there was an £11.7million loss at the end of June 30th 2009.
An esteemed player I interviewed some years ago talking about his own career said that a foul is only a foul if the referee sees it. That was pretty much Henry’s first public announcement when he said it was up to the referee to spot it. Within hours he had modified that to take into account the mood of most of the football world. Another few hours later, he was saying the game should be replayed. From some players you expect cheating. The fact that it was the saintly Henry involved made it all the more ironic. The Irish lost the chance to appear in South Africa. Maybe Thierry Henry lost even more – his reputation for good sportsmanship, the respect in which people held him, and his image of being the perfect role model. When you hear the name Maradona do you not think first of the “hand of God” incident in the World Cup years ago? When you hear the name Zidane do you not think first of the World Cup Final head-butt? And now Thierry Henry (the “hand of Frog” the Oirish Sun labelled him); no matter how great a player he has been and how many great goals he has scored, now whenever his name is mentioned, it will always conjure up an image not of va va voom, but of the man who cheated so blatantly and then tried to be contrite and apologetic.
But hey, tell you one bloke I felt sorry for. At half time in the Villa game it was the draw for a brand new car. The announcer got it wrong and awarded the car to a chap who hadn’t won it… only to realise his gaffe, (nowt to fret about, only in front of 21,000 people) correct the mistake and dash the hopes of the poor sod who thought he was about to take charge of a brand new set of wheels. If the Irish were disappointed, spare a thought for this poor bloke. If I were him I’d ask for a replay. And I think we all know what the answer to that would be.
Dave Thomas November 21st 2009