‘ “Last year it was God, this year it was Judas”, declared Owen Coyle last week in response to Burnley fans venting their wrath at him during the first encounter with his new team, Bolton. “If you’re going to get Biblical then I should be Moses,” he insisted. “I led them (Burnley) out of the wilderness.” Permit me to suggest that King Herod might be a more appropriate Biblical figure for Mr Coyle to compare himself with. A leader who embarked on a colossal building project that excited and enthralled his chosen people, then descended into vanity, arrogance, treachery and cruelty – turning on his own family and being responsible for the massacre of the innocents’.
“A Claret is for life, not just the Premier League,” wrote Barnshawclaret on Claretsmad as results began to point to a possible return to the Championship. I thought it was brilliant and considered having stickers produced commercially so we could stick them in the back windows of our cars.
It made me wonder if I was a tad harsh in the things I wrote about the Bolton game but I was bemoaning simply the worst 45 minutes football from any two teams I had ever seen in the second half of the game. Lord help us, Brian Laws inherited an almost poisoned (ish) chalice when he took over, charged with the task of trying to keep the Premier place with a team that was struggling weeks before he arrived, key players who hadn’t played well since October, a complete team of players out of contract in the summer, enough crocked players to form half a team, and the disgraceful exodus of the backroom staff. The latter of course indeed gave Coyle just cause to call himself the new Moses.
“I don’t care which League we’re in as long as I have a club to support,” said another fan again on Claretsmad. He wrote about the trappings of the Premiership blinding honest players who had taken smaller clubs up into the money-dripping higher Division. The guy was from Reading. He wondered if there were parallels between the two clubs’ sets of players. What he felt was that less gifted players can and do achieve promotions, but that it is a result of team spirit and the strength of togetherness, blending and bonding them into something greater than the individual parts. Isn’t that exactly what happened to Burnley in 2008/09? But once they get there do they become disillusioned just like us, the fans, or do their thoughts become solely money-oriented once they are in the Promised Land. He was writing about Reading players but I like to think our Burnley players though are still pretty grounded. Sharing the antiquated dressing rooms and the Victorian (circa 1882) communal bath, driving back from Gawthorpe in muddy kit in their car, pissing in the open-view urinals in the baths room, these things must surely keep anyone’s feet well and truly on the ground.
In January at Turf Moor nobody was giving up the ghost despite having inevitably slipped into the bottom three. Nobody was resigning themselves to the drop back into the Championship. But, little by little the opinion was being expressed that life was not particularly happy in the Premiership. “Like being in a 5 star hotel and only being able to afford beer,” wrote someone else. I recalled what Mrs T said before the Bolton game. “It’s just not fun anymore.”
And then Chelsea arrived.
It reminded us just why what life in the Premiership was all about. This was a game that was fun to look forward to, a game to be savoured; a game to enjoy. It was the kind of game that promotion was all about – the chance to see a ‘big’ team at the Turf, the galacticos, the big earners. The minute we’d won at Wembley the names had been rolled out, United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal and we were thrilled, and astonished, at the idea of playing them at little old Turf Moor.
Because there was no illusion about winning the Chelsea game, there was no tension in the build-up, no nerves or anxiety. No-one expected to win. Unlike the must-win-but-didn’t Bolton game there was no pressure. This was a game we could just sit back and enjoy, take what comes, relish the occasion and maybe experience something special like the Man U night. So if we did win - oh boy what a night; what a bonus. The signs were not good though. Sunderland had been hammed 7 – 2. The in-form Birmingham had been taken to the cleaners 3 – 0. What chance had we?
Drogba and Kalou were rested having just returned from Africa. Essien was injured. All eyes were therefore on John Terry, Dad of the Year in 2008, as decided by a Daddies Sauce survey. A major story broke on the day of the game that his daddies saucy bit was in fact Wayne Bridge’s ex partner, Vanessa Perroncel and infidelity had been the name of the game. If the Dad of the Year award was based on him being a good family man, Terry seems to have plenty of role models. The Mail Online revealed that his own dad had been caught allegedly organising a deal to supply cocaine to undercover reporters. His mum and mother in law were allegedly caught shoplifting. Terry himself was then allegedly caught making money organising secret tours of the Chelsea training ground. Terry is captain of England and was keen to protect his lucrative image (rights) so an injunction to prevent the infidelity story had kept it quiet until a judge over-ruled it.
His affair with Perroncel had thus been made public on the day of the game. The tabloids were filled with it, page after page. The Mirror headlined (the day after the game) that he’d made Perroncel pregnant and then arranged an abortion. Another of his conquests revealed that in the back of his car when they had rumpy pumpy he kept his shoes on. Was this man fit to be captain of England they all asked? Of course not, a gentleman takes his shoes off my father always advised me, when having rumpy pumpy, good advice I have always followed. If it’s cold I do leave my socks on.
If anyone thought it might affect his game they were sadly mistaken. Baited throughout the game, he was without a shadow of doubt the man of the match and scored the winning goal with just eight minutes to go. It was a heartbreaker yet again for Burnley fans. If we wanted a performance, we got it. If we wanted a response to the awful second half at Bolton, we got it. We so nearly got a deserved result and a priceless point.
Maybe the football wasn’t quite so flowing as it had been in the early weeks and maybe the first half was a bit of a non event. Chelsea took a 1 – 0 lead. The ball was thrown out by the goalkeeper with superb accuracy to a player out wide. Within seconds it was in the back of the net, the Burnley defence shredded, and spectators stunned by the sheer speed of it. It was an object lesson in how a goalkeeper’s throw can set up a move. We could have been forgiven for thinking here comes a three or four nil lesson. But far from it; come the second half a delicate chipped ball by Blake released Fletcher and with superb, deft skill he controlled the ball, beat the defender and had the equaliser. The ground erupted.
From then on it was a thrilling game with neat, tidy, passing football from Chelsea versus some passionate and not unskilled responses from Burnley. The minutes ticked by and a deserved 1 – 1 draw and a priceless point looked likely. Eight minutes to go, Cort, who’d had a good solid game in defence, cleared the ball for a corner. Maybe it was unnecessary but how was he to know? The corner came over and who else but Terry could have powered home a header from 12 yards that bounced between Fletcher and Jensen’s despairing dive to finish in the net. Critics bemoaned the freedom given to Terry. The eagle-eyed (but not the referee) spotted the shirt tug on Bikey that kept him from making the challenge.
Burnley fans groaned. It was undeserved. The second half had been cut and thrust, livened up by the introduction o
f Paterson’s pace and energy. But the result was another example of Burnley’s luck running dry again and good fortune being noticable for its absence – another good display – another defeat. But how could we grumble? Effort, spirit, and plenty of skill and good second half moves from Burnley on another day would have brought a just result. But there was a just result at Anfield where Liverpool beat Owen Coyle 2 – 0. My own day was not entirely depressing – I picked up a crumpled £10 note off the floor of the concourse.
Win or lose, I’d sat in my seat before the game as the ground filled up, thinking what a great little club this is, proud to be there. The ground looked superb, the bright floodlights heightening the spectacle and increasing the sense of theatre; I looked at the twilight and deep blue darkening sky, the lights of Burnley and car headlights on the faraway hilltop roads crystal clear. I felt the buzz of anticipation and warmed to the sense that this is my club and I shall support and travel with them whatever happens either now or by the season’s end. Maybe we will not go down, I thought, it’s still in our own hands. There are still games that can be won and points to play for. Play like we did against Chelsea, I thought, and it is by no means over. The romance and the dream of Burnley playing another season in the Premiership is nowhere near dead.
I felt a bit for Brian Laws. He’d come out to his first home game to a superb reception from the crowd. But afterwards it was four defeats from four games. Ironically the good displays had been against the good teams, Chelsea and Man U. Against Chelsea he couldn’t have done much different, couldn’t really have picked a better team. Couldn’t have come much closer to a deserved draw against the best team in the country – and let’s remember, top of the Division. Sod’s law and the football gods, had decided that come what may, Terry would score. There was the inevitable headline: Terry Scores Away From Home Again.
At the end of the month the pace hotted up. Brian Laws’ phone was on overtime. Agents phoned him at 1.30 a.m. in the morning. David Nugent’s loan was finally extended to the end of the season. Goalkeeper Nicky Weaver once of Man City, Danny Fox from Celtic, Leon Cort from Stoke, Jack Cork from Chelsea and Freddie Nimani from Monaco were brought in as reinforcements. It pointed to exits in the summer for several others and questions being asked about the likes of Rodrigues, a player of great potential and hardly inferior to 6’ 4” Nimani who hardly won a ball in the air at Bolton. The flurry of transfer activity brought to an end what must surely be one of the most dramatic months in the history of the club. It saw the exit of a man who was set to be a legend in the town and who might well one day have been made a Freeman such had been his impact. But after his distasteful, untimely exit, promotion or not, many will see or say his name again, only with feelings of contempt and derision.
Dave Thomas January 31st 2010