And time too, to pat a member of the Burnley staff on the back, the Media Manager Darren Bentley, responsible for the best award-winning programme in the Premiership. I believe Coyle tried to take away him from us as well. The mind just boggled and I wondered if our former manager had had all his scruples surgically removed at birth. But Darren chose to stay, committed Claret through and through. “How could I go to Bolton?” I imagine he asked himself. “THIS is my club.” That’s the thing about Burnley FC, so many of the people there in all the departments are Clarets, be they directors, catering or commercial, chief execs, or media or the youth team. It made it all the more possible, my weary old bones told me, that Laws would be the new man appointed.
The truth is I’ve seen behind the scenes at The Reebok where our ex went. ”I like to think I’m a very loyal person,” he said on August 15th in one news-piece (sorry I couldn’t help throwing that in). As part of the research for the Harry Potts book I went there to see one of the Bolton Directors, Des Macbain who had once been secretary at Blackpool when Harry was manager. The dressing rooms, plush carpeted corridors, the medical rooms, Press rooms, the technical facilities, computer playback room, everything was state of the art, quite superb. But then they should be for this was a purpose built stadium. They lived with debt then as they do now, but Des explained that debt was no problem as long as you could service it (fancy speak for pay the interest) and this they did from the income from the hotel and facilities around the ground, he said. I was impressed. Pay the interest and hang the rest. Nice if you can do that. The only ways at Burnley to pay crippling interest rates were directors’ loans, and therein is the difference. The Bolton infrastructure is certainly streets better than Burnley’s and there’s a spanking new training ground I believe, plus an established Academy. Coyle WAS right, the potential at Bolton is hugely greater. Using the analogy of the choice between a £10 Woolworths or a £2,000 Corum watch, for some people the choice is not a difficult one, even though both tell the same time.
I remember I saw the funniest thing there as well when I visited. We walked out to the perimeter of the pitch and looked around at the clean lines of the state of the art stadium. And there were all the rows and rows and banks and banks of seats rising higher and higher. When they are empty you get an impression of what works of architectural art and design these buildings are. There were thousands and thousands of them stretching further and further away. But there, high up, working her way along each seat one by one was one single, tiny, solitary, slow, elderly cleaning lady with a wet cloth and a bucket; just one little old dear to wash and wipe 22,000 seats. She looked like a miniature Norah Batty and I burst out laughing at the visual absurdity of it and Des wondered why. He didn’t see the humour of it. Perhaps they don’t see humour at Bolton as we do at Burnley. At Burnley we need it. They call it gallows humour in football.
Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail came up with a good suggestion. “Treat the boss like cup-tied players.” One rule, he suggested, would stop what Bolton did to Burnley, and what Burnley might have to do to find a replacement, unless they look from the ranks of the unemployed. All you need to do is ‘cup-tie’ managers just like you do players. In other words stop them moving during the season, unless they have already been sacked and are out of work. How fair is a sytem, he asked, that allows one club to strip another, and then the affected club do just the same to another club, whilst simultaneoulsy expressing moral outrage. Not rocket science is it?
The 11th was the Bolton Press conference and unveiling of their new manager. The less said the better. The day after came the reports in most if not all the papers. Mick Dennis in the Express came across as the least informed of them all, reminding readers that Coyle was ‘taken’ from St Johnstone in mid season, the inference being, who were Burnley to complain now? Dennis was clearly unaware that Coyle presented himself to Burnley as being interested in the job whilst in situ at St Johnstone, and it was journalist Alan Nixon who was the link. Coyle was not even in the frame at Burnley until Nixon did the introductions. Check your facts Mr Dennis. He asked would not everybody do what Coyle has done. The answer is no. If they did, the world everywhere would cease to function. But in truth, it’s the people who do this that generally rise to the top.
A nice large picture in the Express showed Coyle holding his newest shirt aloft. There too was the ever-present captivating smile that seduced us all so beguilingly at Turf Moor. But it was a small detail in the background that I noticed. Across the other side of the pitch was a large hoarding for, of all things – a funeral parlour. Nice touch.
SKY News homed in on the 12th with a live reporter at Turf Moor (always better than a dead one) and informed us that it was down to a two-horse race between Brian Laws (free agent no compensation required) and Sean O Driscoll from Doncaster (talks going on about possible compensation with Doncaster). You did wonder therefore if the ever thrifty chairman would favour Laws. At the SKY Sports News desk was the newest bimbo. Whilst the UK shivered and sneezed in freezing temperatures, she had a flimsy, low cut, rather nice red dress, with a zip-up front that one must admit was quite fetching. Of course my only interest was that it did make me worry that she might catch her death of cold. On it went all day, Laws or O Driscoll, but then a text arrived from someone ‘intheknow’ that a mystery third candidate had thrown his hat in at the last minute. Mrs T and me spent the evening thinking of managers who wore hats. Bob Stokoe, (no, he was dead) or Jim ‘Bald Eagle’ Smith? The tension mounted. I still couldn’t stop looking at the dishy dolly-bird in the low cut dess – my interest still only medical of course, worried even more that her cleavage might catch a chill.
The 13th and still it dragged on. The smart money was on Brian Laws. It seemed to be sorted but then more live reports from Turf Moor suggesting that interviews were still going on and the decision was not yet made. It was a different live reporter, presumably the prevous one having been put in the microwave to defrost having been stood at a freezing ground throughout the 12th. These guys earn their money. Fans were copped outside the ground and asked for their views. One of our local characters Big Dave Wynne summed it up. “We don’t want anyone coming here just to improve his CV.” For the life of me I couldn’t think who he was possibly taking about. New stories emerged. There were rumours of yet another very strong candidate. It was Geoff Capes.
All the while the Old Trafford game loomed. There were mixed feelings about this Manchester United game. Some folk said it was the best possible game to play so soon. If this one didn’t gee up the players, nothing would. Others thought it wouldn’t matter if we lost; we were expected to lose anyway. A small sub-group said why not do a McCarthy then and play the reserves? It’s a funny old game, thought some, anything can happen and all the top clubs this season seemed vulnerable. And the anoraks and historians pointed to their scrapbooks and facts and figures, peered over their magnifying glasses, and said ecky thump, Dobson, appointed temporary manager, scored there exactly 39 years ago in a 1 – 1 draw. And, in fact, scored his first ever League goal in a win over Manchester United. The three witches in Macbeth couldn’t have found a better set of entrails to read as they muttered, “Hubble, bubble, Coyle and trouble.”
Shame: With the omens being so good Dobbo didn’t get the chance to lead the team to Old Trafford but at least he could say he was a Premiership manager for 4 days with an unbeaten record. On Wednesday afternoon at last the announcement came. Brian Laws was the new man, Old Trafford his baptism of fire. What a first game: The small-town town against the mega global giants. The club with no debts and a homely chairman, versus the club with £700million debts and owned by the rapacious Glazers. And Brian Laws back at BFC where he first started his football career in 1979 as a superb attacking full-back. The laws that rule and decide how all our lives and careers are mapped out are somewhere in the heavens I always believe. The laws of probablilty somehow decreed that he would return one day. John Bond moved him on and he was devastated. After he moved to Huddersfield, he returned to the terraces at Turf Moor several times to watch the club he loved. Now he was back again just 5 days after Coyle had departed. Was it only five days? It felt like five months.
The big freeze had decimated the football programme in the two weeks leading up to this game. It was good to think about being back on the coach and heading west to Manchester with Brian Laws’ Claret and Blue Army. The last time I was at Old Trafford was for a Rod Stewart concert sometime in the 80s. Occasionally as a kid I used to go with pals on the train and watch the team of Charlton, Viollet and Quixall around the beginning of the 60s. The nerves were jangling a bit two or three days before the game. None of us wanted a 6 – 0 drubbing or Rooney running amok; we’d had a rough enough time already.
People tried to analyse, why Brian Laws. Didn’t we try to sign him from Sheffield Wednesday before the Coyle appointment? So in fact he’d always been on the radar and he’d had promotions at Scunthorpe. It seemed reasonable to assume that after the departure of the man who professed loyalty but soon upped sticks and left, perhaps the Board now wanted a man who had a record of laying down roots, just two clubs in something like ten years, and who wouldn’t see the club as a stepping stone to the Liverpool job. Perhaps the Board wanted someone who really could identify with Burnley, rather than just say he could and having started his career at Burnley, this really was a case of ‘coming home’. Clearly they wanted someone who could work with budget restrictions and Laws had shown he could do that at Sheffield. Some survey had analysed the Championship and shown that relative to budget, his performance at Sheffield was the best in the Division. Perhaps if the manager search was as Barry Kilby suggested a “beauty parade” he was the best looking. Of course we presumed that the £1million compensation received for Coyle might go straight into Laws’ player fund.
Yep, by Thursday 14th we felt all was well with the world once again. The Chairman probably got his first good night’s sleep for a week. And it was a different bimbo on SKY Sports News. Presumably the other one by now had pnuemonia.
Dave Thomas January 14th 2010