Every one of us wanted to draw a line under the Bolton affair and Coyle’s departure. But nagging questions would not go away and the affair was far from finished. On websites and texts and in the Press the main questions were these:
Just exactly when did Gartside and Coyle first discuss the possibility of the move, or make contact via a third party?
What was journalist Alan Nixon’s role in all this bearing in mind it was he who was instrumental in getting Coyle the Burnley job in the first place?
Why would any Burnley Board member give a rival club permission to speak to their most successful manager in 50 years?
Did that Burnley Board member exceed his responsibilities by disclosing Coyle’s phone number to Gartside and sanctioning the ‘informal chat’ they had in Scotland?
Was it agreed by other board members that he should do this or did he act alone?
Why was early contact not chairman to chairman?
How much went on without Barry Kilby’s knowledge whilst he was away?
How much of a compromise was the approximate £1million Burnley received in compensation?
Was this low figure the result of Burnley’s legal people advising them to settle for what they could get; because the terms of employment and contract had been unwittingly compromised by Burnley themselves?
Did the League Managers’ Association advise Coyle that because his contract terms had been ‘compromised’ he could just ‘walk’ if he so chose?
Was it correct that Coyle insisted that Bolton pay the compensation to Burnley?
How much truth was in the story that Flood exceeded his brief by offering to match any offer made to Coyle by Gartside?
Will we rank and file, ever know what really happened, I wondered?
I’d like to think one day we will. We all bought into the dream and in that sense we are all shareholders.
Alan Nixon’s piece in the Sunday People on Sunday the 10th “telling the whole story” was perhaps what we might have expected it to be, in effect a whitewash, designed to present Coyle in the best possible light and as a man in tears with a heavy heart when he left, collecting precious mementos as he cleared his desk. I was nearly in tears myself. Yet, it was difficult to find any other journalist who wasn’t critical in one way or another. More than one of them used the word ‘Judas’ just as Burnley fans had done.
Piers Morgan in the Sunday Mail was probably the hardest hitting, describing Coyle’s behaviour as “utterly disgraceful…. For a few pieces of mercenary silver he has betrayed everyone with whom he worked and everyone who admired him. He talked all the talk about how he loved the club, the fans, the town. What can you say about a man who seemed to epitomise all that is solid, reliable and loyal about the game… but who turned out to be Judas Iscariot in a claret and blue scarf?”
As if we weren’t reeling already: It was becoming difficult to keep up with developments they were coming so fast. The news was then released that as well as Sandy Stewart and John Henry, Steve Davis and Phil Hughes would also leave for Bolton, plus for good measure Chief Scout Cliff Roberts (although it was unclear if he had actually gone to Bolton). I re-read the story of the Pied Piper to see if there were any similarities. If this was not the systematic rape of a football club when it was already on its knees, then nothing was. All of us know what football is like and how it can operate, but never in the history of the game can pillage so wholesale as this have ever taken place, as one by one a complete management team was picked off at the worst possible time in mid-season, by one relegation candidate from another. You could scour a thesaurus to find adequate words and not find them.
Next up was the news that the assistant kit-man had gone. Add to that the emerging stories that even the bulbs and paper clips had gone from the office; he would move for players Eagles and Mears and maybe McCann in the summer; and it defied description. And this by the man of honour and integrity, who claimed that he had given his heart and soul to the club. And, all sparked by Director Flood giving Gartside permission to have an informal chat with Coyle, or as we will forever ask, was it mooted even before that? Nobody is convinced that it wasn’t, despite the full page article in the People headlined THE TRUTH, tabloid headlining at its garish worst. I truly felt for Barry Kilby who must have been on his knees on Sunday the 10th. But we hadn’t finished yet. There were unconfirmed reports that the medical staff, the physios and the prozone guy would be leaving for Lumpit Wanderers.
More events took place the same day with the announcement that Martin Dobson would be in temporary charge assisted by Terry Pashley, Steven Caldwell and Graham Alexander. It instantly brought a sense of order and organisation back to the club. Could Martin Dobson in his wildest dreams ever have envisaged this? He had only been brought into the club’s youth set-up a matter of just a few months earlier. There is a generation of supporters who always wanted one day to see him as Burnley manager. There is a different generation of supporters who have no idea just what a supreme player he was, how many games he played for Burnley, how he was part of Adamson’s wonderful team of the early 70s, how he was more or less forced out of the club by John Bond after he had come back for a second spell, how he took Bury to promotion as manager, became a scout for Ipswich, and was finally in charge of the academy at Bolton if all places. It was Bolton who rejected him as a youth. Life works in funny ways. If you wanted a man who knew his football, was elegant, articulate and dignified you could not have picked a better man.
The list of possible new manager candidates ebbed and flowed and the odds at the bookies went up and down faster than a ton weight on a trampoline. Simon Grayson came into it, Brian Laws was the favourite for a while, Lambert at Norwich ruled himself out, Holloway at Blackpool ruled himself out; Coppell was mentioned less and less. Curbishley, Reid and Jewell became the forgotten men. Hughes at Hibs vanished. But then Lee Clarke at Huddersfield entered the frame. Somebody’s Huddersfield pal waxed lyrical about him and said he had them playing good, open attractive football, great at home but rubbish away. Sounds just right for us then, he said. Even Gary Neville got a mention. But Burnley’s own Steve Davis, once in the running, had departed for Gartside’s shilling at Bolton. The Sun reported that a shock candidate was Paul Ince currently at MK Dons.
Because journalist Alan Nixon had so far got most things right we looked with interest at his tip that Simon Grayson was the man. But then this morphed into Sean O Driscoll from Doncaster. We also heard Nixon had been banned from Turf Moor. But if that was the case it begged the question why not ban Coyle as well… and Gartside for good measure… and anyone else who had contributed to the mass exodus.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, if taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,” wrote Shakespeare. I wonder if Gartside has that quote in a frame over his bed?
Oh, and will the last one to leave the club please turn out the light. If it’s still there.
Dave Thomas January 11th 2010