WILL THE REAL OWEN COYLE PLEASE GIVE US A WAVE
Football stories abounded as the old year changed to the new. Portsmouth faced a winding up petition, Stockport County went into administration. Irvine was sacked at Preston and Megson was sacked at Bolton, the latter decision largely brought about by supporters. Immediately those of a nervous disposition amongst Burnley fans wondered if Coyle would be tempted by the lure of a so-called ‘bigger’ club more established in the Premiership. Chairman Phil Gartside’s respect for Coyle was well documented. Certainly, Coyle was the romantic choice of many Bolton fans. Those Burnley fans with a bit more perception and logic simply asked why on earth he would want to move to a club that was struggling just as much as Burnley, both on the field and off the field financially. Other fans simply felt that Coyle was too honourable to leave Burnley in mid-season with much work still to do. Several days after Megson’s sacking, however, the Coyle link would still not go away with reports of Chairman Gartside’s keenness to offer him the post.
On top of this there were no end of stories regarding players about to join Burnley, Jack Wilshire from Arsenal on loan (oh yes he is, oh no he isn’t), Algerian team captain Yazid Mansouri for £1million; two players, Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden from Houston Dynamo, Gareth Bale from Spurs … and of course there was the issue of extending Nugent’s loan period due to expire at the end of January. Mansouri explained that he had already had talks with Burnley directors. The club website pointed out that this was rubbish… although that was not the word they used. You wonder how such stories appear and where they come from.
The end of the year also saw the end for Scottie the Scamper, star of several pages of It’s Burnley Not Barcelona. He passed away peacefully and with dignity aged something between 14 and 15 at the vets when it became clear the old lad was struggling with various ailments and the indignity of old age. He and I had many a walk along the canal or round the woods and I would tell him all about Burnley. He always loved to sit and listen even though until Wembley 2009 it was mainly grumbling. His favourite player was Robbie Blake. Towards the end he had slowed down dramatically (bit like Robbie I suppose) was unable to jump onto his favourite chair and was unable to get into the car for the short journey to the nearby woods, where, in his prime, no squirrel or any other dog was safe. He will be fondly remembered for his beard that was forever filled with bits of food, his constant scavenging; his attempts to climb onto the kitchen table to lick out the butter dish when our backs were turned, and his habit of washing all the plates in the dishwasher when the door was left open. His last treat was to lick out all the leftovers in the goose pie dish on Boxing Day. He started about 8.30 and was still at it at nearly 10 o clock. When he’d finished you could have seen your face in it. In truth taking him to the vets was a decision we’d been putting off for some time. He would have loved to see us win an away game and safe in the Prem for another season but it was not to be. Sadly he also missed seeing England win the second test in South Africa. Goodbye old friend.
How satisfying it was to see two bottom end-of-table rivals thumped by large margins. Arsenal beat the ailing Portsmouth, now being chased by the Inland Revenue and French club Lens, 4 – 1, and Man Utd put five past Wigan leaving Portsmouth anchored to the foot of the table and Wigan below Burnley with an even worse goal difference. So many teams were huddled down in the bottom half; it was clear at the turn of the year that goal difference would be crucial at the season’s end. Amazingly, although Burnley were just two points above the bottom three, their position was only three points away from the top half.
And so to Milton Keynes in the FA Cup; Coyle still manager, MK Dons/Asda the opponents, the club that hi-jacked the identity of the old Wimbledon and relocated to Concrete City to the disgust of every genuine soccer fan in the land. Overnight Milton Keynes obtained itself a League team and a supermarket. Quite astonishingly the new, purpose-built ground was nominated as a World Cup venue by the FA in their bid to stage the 2018 World Cup. Mrs T and I gave this away game a miss and went back to something we had not done so far in the season – tuning in to Phil Bird on Claretsworld.
Against a background of Bolton announcing yet again (featured in all the Saturday newspapers) they wanted Owen Coyle as manager; the team was subjected to change. With Stephen Jordan and Tyrone Mears suspended, Steve Caldwell out for a month injured, still no sign of a return for Martin Patterson or Chris McCan, it meant that fringe players awaited appearances. No question at all, this was a banana-skin game.
The only fringe player to be in the team was Eckersley. Blake took the place of Nugent who was not allowed to play by the chaos/disaster that is Portsmouth. Elliot went back to his midfield role. Sadly neither Elliot nor Blake were anywhere near the standards they reached in the previous season.
The banana skin was avoided and in truth this was a bit of a damp squib in a soulless stadium. Two first half goals allowed Burnley to progress although the last few minutes were decidedly hairy when Milton Keynes scored in the last few minutes. An Alexander penalty, a Fletcher well-placed 20 yarder and the game was won by-half time. Elliot hit the bar, Fletcher rattled a post and Jensen made several good saves. A meagre total of 6 Burnley shots indicated that this was certainly not a vintage performance.
The remainder of the weekend was spent with various newspapers and messageboards approaching meltdown with speculation regarding Coyle and the Bolton job. What was abundantly clear, just as in the case of the Celtic appointment was that Coyle once again studiously avoided any categorical, unambiguous statement announcing he was not interested in the job and would not be taking it even if approached. Then when it became known he had skipped the post-match interview, to catch a plane from Luton to Scotland, conjecture and speculation reached fever-pitch. Where was he going, who was he seeing, what was the purpose of the trip? Most newspapers interpreted his wave to the fans after the game as a lingering goodbye wave. Interested, or not interested, a question frequently asked by the more sceptical and sensible was: why on earth would anybody leave for a place like Bolton, a club in a position not that much better than Burnley? Why on earth would someone who turned down the Celtic job want to move to Bolton, who, according to the departed Megson, are a club that has no more money than Burnley?
The Sunday papers, TV and radio channels were full of it; Burnley would report Bolton for tapping him up. £4million compensation would be demanded. Bolton would ask permission to speak to him. Coyle would talk to them. Private text messages and messageboard reports suggested that he and Nugent would go to Bolton, and Darren Ferguson come to Burnley, and this was a done deal. Ferguson was reported to be at the MK stadium and perhaps the best story of all was that Coyle had been spotted with Gartside at the Deever Hotel. True or false, one can only imagine this came from a dyslexic trying to spell de Vere.
A brief interlude from worry was provided by watching Leeds United win 1 – 0 superbly at Old Trafford to knock United out of the FA Cup. It was noted that assistant manager Micky Phelan was absent from his usual spot sitting alongside Alex Ferguson. There was only one possible conclusion. The inference was clear. Websites and messageboards went into overdrive. He was talking to Burnley officials and would be the next Burnley manager. You heard it here first
“ONE MAY SMILE AND SMILE AND BE A VILLAIN” (Shakespeare Hamlet)
The Cup draw paired us against Liverpool or Reading away. We don’t have the best of luck with Cup draws. Whilst Aston Villa got a lovely easy game against Brighton, it was on the road again for the Clarets. Home ties were in short supply this being the seventh successive Cup away draw. At least the Cup draw gave fans something other than Owen Coyle to talk about for an hour or so after all the speculation of the last week … until…
Bolton make approach to Burnley for manager Owen Coyle… the info bar announced on SKY Sports News on Sunday the 3rd.
Bolton hope to appoint Owen Coyle today SKY announced on Monday the 4th and on the same day
Coyle to quit Burnley wrote Alan Nixon in the Mirror adding that Coyle and Gartside had met in Scotland, he would quit Burnley, and Burnley would seek compensation. Those in the know revealed that this was a clause in his contract saying a fee of £3.6million would release him. Meanwhile the number of people claiming to have seen Gartside and Coyle in the de Vere Hotel, Bolton, increased dramatically.
Coyle happy at Burnley and proud to be Burnley boss, the Burnley club website was still proudly proclaiming on Monday morning. In an earlier conference he had issued the statement that it was a privelege to be Burnley manager.
Burnley FC confirmed that Coyle spoke to Bolton on the club website in mid afternoon. It announced that Chairman Kilby would meet Coyle in the evening to discuss his future at Turf Moor, following his return from Scotland. The club website was still running the two stories that Coyle was happy at Burnley and proud to be boss.
Burnley would be powerless to stop Owen Coyle leaving if Bolton stumped up £3.6million reported the Lancashire Telegraph.
Perceptive Burnley fans with memories recalled how Coyle came to Burnley in the first place – he left his club just before a Cup Final that St Johnstone were about to appear in. But, whilst understanding St Johnstone fans might have thought it was a great move for their manager, nobody in their right mind could say that the same about a move from Burnley to Bolton. The difference in the St Johnstone to Burnley move, however was that he wasn’t first softened up for a week by the media.
How swiftly events moved again this time following the well-worn soccer process of poaching and tapping-up. The first week was spent with a barrage of unofficial reports and statements in the Press and media outlining Bolton’s interest. It is reasonable to suppose that behind-the-scenes dialogue took place during this period between Coyle and Bolton, either directly or via third parties. Come the weekend it was thought to be pretty much a done deal prior to any of the official approaches and statements. Texts flew around from fan to fan, the best one that confirmed the deal, being from someone who knew someone who worked at the Mirror.
January 5th: The pace hotted up. The word bitter appeared to describe the relationship between the two clubs. Confusion and disagreement appeared as to the compensation fee. Was it £1million or £3.6million? Reference was made to the Sunday meeting between Coyle and Gartside. Was Gartside permitted to make a formal offer or just have “an informal chat?” Meanwhile the statement on the BFC website simply stated that Coyle had met with Burnley officials to talk and that no further announcments would be made for 24 hours in order for both sides to digest the information. Journalist Alan Nixon, of the Mirror, whom Burnley fans saw as Coyle’s mouthpiece, reported that he still expected Coyle to be Bolton manager within 24 hours.
Bolton cancelled a scheduled 8.30 a.m. press conference. This was allegedly to preview the upcoming Arsenal game and the reason given for the cancellation was snow. As if we believed you. A case of snow news is good news. The Burnley club website was still running the stories – ‘Coyle very happy here’ and ‘Coyle proud to be Clarets boss’.
Mid-afternoon and SKY was live from Turf Moor for the latest news that Coyle had now come out in the open at last to announce his desire to leave Burnley. All that remained now was a compensation settlement. £3.6million or £1million, nobody quite knew the answer
COYLE TO LEAVE BURNLEY ran the headline at the top of the short Burnley piece. SKY News took up residence outside the club. The club shop removed all items with Coyle connections.
And then an earlier quote from the man himself came to mind: As soon as a player mentions money my interest in them has gone.What kind of man would I be if I sold this club to a young player when signing him, offering him the chance to progress to a Premier League quality footballer, if I jumped ship as soon as a better offer came along?
As recently as Thursday December 31st there was: I always concentrate on the job I have and that’s here at Burnley Football Club.
And from assistant Sandy Stewart after the MK Dons victory: We love it here and we think we are taking the club forward and that’s all we are interested in.
Meanwhile I re-read parts of Brendan Flood’s book to remind myself how Coyle came here in the first place. Just in case you didn’t know, whilst still manager at St Johnstone he alerted the club to his interest via an email from his journalist buddy Alan Nixon. Being reminded of that one did wonder if this is how his move to Bolton was initiated. Another email via Nixon to Gartside immediately after Megson was sacked perhaps, or even before? Only conjecture you understand. I have no idea really but Coyle having done it once already, the supposition is not inexcusable.
Mrs T my saintly wife who feeds stray cats, sells poppies for the British Legion, who rarely thinks ill of anyone, and who I use as a yardstick of restraint and fairness – even she commented the walk-out left a very sour taste. “One may smile and smile and be a villain,” wrote Shakespeare years and years ago. He was spot on. Yet few of us would ever have imagined that the ever present smile on Coyle’s face would be the mask behind which lay a man prepared to walk out on a club and town that revered him.
We approached the next game against Stoke City with butterflies in our stomachs but the burning thought that if there was justice and fairness in the football world (but we all know there isn’t) that we would win it; and the fixture at Bolton as well. What a travesty it would be, we thought, if we went down and Bolton stayed up. The scenario was ripe for either a remarkable Burnley recovery if the new manager appointed was the right one; or a descent like a plummeting stone if the appointment was the wrong one. Fortunately Darren Ferguson was grabbed by Preston North End.
Names began to be thrown into the hat. Our own solemn-faced Steve Davis, Paulo Sousa from Swansea, the eccentric stand-up comedian Holloway at Blackpool, the available Curbishley, the available Coppell, the always evergreen scallywag scouser Reid, the young and hungry Hughes from Hibernian, oh and Gareth Southgate, and even Souness got a mention. But poor Barry Kilby, we thought, with genuine empathy, just when we thought it was safe to enjoy stability; Coyle lands him in it and gives him anything but a happy new year.
Tuesday January 5th: Still not sorted, compensation still not agreed and SKY news happily featuring as many Burnley fans as possible describing him as a Judas. All of us wanted it sorting and all of us even more wanted to show unity, loyalty and support at the approaching Stoke game. Oh what we wouldn’t have given for a win, a scrappy win, a lucky win, a boring win, just any kind of a win to restore our faith, hope and morale.
Wednesday January 6th: Burnley put Owen Coyle on gardening leave reported the Telegraph, which is the polite way of saying piss off till we can sort something. The cogniscenti discussed his next problem… what to do if Mowbray was sacked at Celtic within 12 months? How then would the emails fly back and forth?
Dave Thomas January 6th 2010.