Neither am I puzzled because I’ve written a few, one a year since 2003; much more fun than painting the garden shed again, and I’ve got to meet so many heroes and legends; it’s simply because there’s a small but dedicated bunch of avid readers out there who will always buy them. They might not buy them all at once, they might pick and choose; but nevertheless there is an enthusiastic group of maybe 500 or so people who buy every Burnley book that comes out. They might not sell in massive numbers but occasionally one will appear that hits four figure sales because it appeals to everybody, or it hits a chord at the right time.
There have been 7 new books that have appeared since August (unfortunately every publisher wants them to hit the Christmas market). Yes, that is a lot. But if the club is successful, then books will appear. If they were all much of a sameness yes of course I’d agree that there are too many of them. But they are not. They are all so very different. In just the same way there is a range of shirts on offer, there is a range of books. And books last longer as well. Some of them become genuine collectors’ items. The variety on offer is immense - from Dave Burnley’s tales of his football wanderings, to David Wiseman’s fascinating collection of trivia. Then there are two older books - If you want the facts then you get Clarets Chronicles; if you want the in-depth stories behind those facts then you get No Nay Never Vol 2. Look at the Derek Gill and Stan Ternent chapters. Overall, there’s a range of prices from the very affordable Wiseman Trivia Miscellany to the very expensive Jimmy McIlroy Scrapbook. The latter is the first football book of its kind and is a Burnley book. A few weeks ago it was the Brendan Flood book that hit the spot. Who wouldn’t buy a book that gives the insider’s lowdown on last season at Turf Moor?
This is a club with a history. We made history last season. Every day at the club is a day making history. We made history 50 years ago – the last small club to win what today would be the Premiership. This season we celebrate that 50th anniversary, and there is a book available worth reading that narrates that monumental achievement. It won’t ever happen again. In addition, if you want to know about the man who masterminded that title win, frequently given the accolade ‘Burnley’s greatest manager’, then there’s Harry Potts Margaret’s Story. This is the anniversary of his greatest achievement. His wife Margaret passed away recently and interest in the book was re-kindled. I had no end of emails enquiring about it, but it’s not in the club shop. However, you can buy or order copies from Badger Books, Colne High Street Bookshop, or Border Bookshop Todmorden.
If, however, you want the definitive book about the 1959/60 title win then you need ‘Never Had It So Good’ by Tim Quelch, 288 pages at £12.99. Bearing in mind the anniversary theme once again, I’m surprised this hasn’t been lauded, promoted, and greeted with fanfares. The Telegraph called Brendan Flood’s book a little gem. Tim’s book is another little gem and tells the incredible story of a bunch of guys who played in conditions with which our modern stars would be horrified and their agents would be on to the club to complain before they could say ‘percentage’. They were a true band of brothers then and it was just 13 of them who played 99% of the games. Of course we love our team that won promotion to the Premiership, and scared the pants off Arsenal, but every one of them should be given a copy of this book to make them realise just how fortunate they are, and how for the majority of them their financial futures are so secure. Do any of them know that the club’s greatest player, Jimmy McIlroy, went back to bricklaying when he finally finished with football or that John Connelly a man who has a World Cup winner’s medal ran a fish and chip shop? The players of yesteryear you could talk to on the bus on the way to the game; they lived in little semis like we do and talked to their neighbours over the garden fence. 50 years ago members of the championship team signed their names with clarity and pride. Today, a fan who does manage to approach and ask a player for an autograph is rewarded with a piece of scribble. It’s wrong. I remember getting John Angus’s outside the Turf. He had just arrived on a bicycle. Jimmy McIlroy in the last few weeks has signed his name over 2,000 times on various pictures and in the two books we have done. Every signature is legible. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, maybe it’s the old headmaster in me, but why can’t these blokes whose wages we pay do the same?
Never Had It So Good does two things. To anyone who was not around at the time it explains clearly and in depth the enormity and significance of what happened and how it was done. But, to anyone who indeed was there at the time it also provides a wonderfully nostalgic reminder of the times that we lived through. I was 15 then and reading Tim’s book brought so many memories of my life 50 years ago.
This, in fact, is more than just a football book. It looks at Burnley the town, and the background and culture of the age. It puts football into a historical and social perspective. It’s a book about “how it used to be” when life and the game were so much simpler than today and what Tim manages to do is paint a picture in words of what this life was like. His opening pages where he describes a street scene in Burnley in August 1959, is so redolent, so graphic, you feel you are there. A gang of lads in aertex shirts and short grey trousers are playing with their Chix bubble gum cards. Washing lines are strung across the street. Young girls are playing hopscotch; “the club’s totemic floodlight pylons shimmering in the glare of the day’s sun.” These first few magical, evocative pages continue until the scene is set for the story that unfolds in the following chapters.
There are detailed chapters about the life of a Burnley footballer in the fifties; training and coaching, the nature of the game itself in the fifties; management and tactics; portraits of the team members, management and staff. Naturally the longest chapter is a diary of the season itself and woven into this are the full results of each Saturday in the season, with updates of the league table. Occasionally there will be a mention for a significant game that did not involve Burnley. Through all of it are the news events and the social background that took place at both local and national level.
Tim, one of the original and famed “London Clarets”, once called “the cerebral supporters’ club” by Barry Kilby, spent countless hours interviewing as many of the team as possible, even travelling as far as Dundee to interview Bobby Seith. He has garnered their memories, anecdotes and experiences even though he himself lives as far south as Hampton. These enquiries bring the book to life and the human detail they add is immense. The research carried out is enormous. I was in touch with Tim as he wrote it. I know how many sources he used, how long it took him, how many miles he travelled and how much of his own money it cost him. How lucky this club is to have such a dedicated group of writers to chronicle its history, which is why it irritates me to hear “there are too many Burnley books.” Look at that page in the Arsenal programme about them and tell me it isn’t a stunning range.
The depth of detail Tim has found is vast. Players were paid 2 shillings an hour for an 8 hour day building Gawthorpe Training Centre. Peter McKay used to be a steeplejack. Players broke their noses crashing into pillars and turnstiles training under the stands at Turf Moor. Manager Alan Brown was once a policeman. It was Alan Brown who invented shadow training where forwards practised moves against invisible defenders. One forward asked Brown where he should pretend to score. Brown was not amused. As a backcloth to the Burnley triumph there’s an examination of the state of football in the fifties; the mudbath pitches, the primitive training, poor facilities, ‘soccer slavery’, the heavy ball that could stun you if you headed it badly or if the cross came over at bullet speed.
Chapter Eight is delightful. One by one there’s a sort of meet the player section and this is where they come to life. It was one of those special groups of players who just blended together and then when you have the ‘brains’ of McIlroy and Adamson, a title win is possible. This is not to suggest that other members had no brains. Far from it, but it was Adamson and McIlroy who pulled the strings. I enjoyed the portraits of Bob Lord, Harry Potts, Ray Bennion and most of all Billy Dougall. What an unsung hero that man was and Jimmy McIlroy considers him the greatest influence of all on himself and the team. He knew all about sports psychology long before it was invented. “What he didn’t know about football wasn’t worth knowing,” says McIlroy. There were some ‘giant’ figures at the club back then, Lord, Adamson, McIlroy but the unsung hero was Dougall. The portrayal of him in this book is the best there is and a fitting tribute.
But of course the meat of the book is the account of the winning of the title. Month by month the chronology and narrative unfolds and all of it is set against what’s going on in local Burnley and in the wider world outside. This is more than just a collection and churning-out of old newspaper clips and reports. The writing is lively and vibrant. The research is meticulous, the detail fascinating, the illustrations profuse. But whilst Burnley Football Club triumphs; industry is fading. Whilst the football club succeeds, the town is in decline. No wonder the floodlight pylons are totemic. They provided light within the fog and industrial toil, and Bob Lord knew their value. If there was a match they were switched on early to let people know that Burnley were in business that day. There are constant ‘little slices of life’ as I call them, sprinkled on the pages, illustrating the era. “It was rare for working class families to eat out except when on a day trip or on holiday.” In April the Burnley Palace was showing The Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn. “Tory Alderman Brooks decided to have a pop at MP Daniel Jones for meddling in local affairs.” There was concern about the unruly behaviour of some local young people after a train from Blackpool arrived late on April 23rd in a heavy vandalised state.
It all leads up to the climactic game at Maine Road, the last game of the season. For those who were not there, and have no notion of the scale of the achievement, then think about ‘Wembley 2008’ if you were there. That’s how it felt. Both were the result of a long hard slog for a small group of players. It was amazing. Tears were shed; the streets were lined with fans at midnight as the coach came home from Manchester.
We, the readers who want to know about club history; and the club itself in this anniversary season, should be hugely grateful to Tim Quelch for the book that he has produced and the work he has invested in it. He spent nearly two years writing it. Packed with immense detail, terrific research and evocative writing, it should sit proudly on any Burnley fan’s bookshelf. Well done Tim, it is a wonderful tribute to a terrific achievement.
Dave Thomas December 2009.