|Review of the season (Feb 2010) "Thirteen cup finals & pay up Pompey"|
|Written by davethomas|
|Saturday, 13 March 2010|
THIRTEEN CUP FINALS & PAY UP POMPEY
That’s what manager Brian Laws said immediately prior to the game at Aston Villa; an away game; the very words enough to make anybody shiver. Thirteen games remained and time not quite running out, but the position at next to bottom looked distinctly unpleasant after Bolton got a draw in another poor game against Wigan that had Bolton fans on their main messageboard critical of Coyle. I was so sorry about that, shame, such a nice man.
I’d dug out some stuff on Chris Waddle though for something I was working on and on checking the results noticed something rather good. The shuffling mullet-coiffured, wizard of the wing had endured a torrid time in his season as Burnley manager and in March the club was bottom. But then something rather miraculous happened under the lack of his touchline guidance. Burnley went on to win five of the last nine games. One of them was the final nailbiting game at home to Plymouth. It was a 2 – 1 win and kept Burnley up. I remembered too I was sheltering up behind Hadrian’s Wall somewhere in the wind and rain and listened to it on a useless transistor radio (that’s what they were called in those days) that faded away or crackled or just went off every two or three minutes. Funny how you remember these things that are football related, and where you were and what you were doing. But wives’ birthdays are so much more difficult.
Speaking of birthdays it was Jimmy Greaves’ 70th on the 20th. You wonder sometimes if people get fed up of old-timers like me saying, “I saw that,” or “I was at such and such a game,” or, “I remember this and I remember that.” Truth is you should treasure us because we did see players the like of which we shall never see again in the modern game and we can bore you to death and tell you all about them. Greaves was simply inimitable. Less than ten stone even when sopping wet and hardly tall enough to see over the garden hedge, in any game he rarely raised a sweat but usually managed to score. His record was phenomenal, and this in an age of mud, heavy footballs and clodhopping defenders who’d as soon break your leg as look at you. He hardly ever scored a rasping goal from 20 yards; most of them were inside the area and the 6-yard box. He just had the uncanny knack of being in the right place, at Chelsea and then Spurs to flick, stroke; guide, nudge, roll or tap the ball home. He hated training, could barely run a hundred yards, hid behind hedges and had a smoke, and did his best to avoid any undue exertion in a game, yet had this little burst of speed over the last 6 inches that got him in front of the defender. Any Jimmy Greaves book is well worth a read for his endless stories and anecdotes of how it used to be. His football ‘stage-show’ is the equal of any evening with Ken Dodd.
One of the perks of doing the Jimmy Mac book was being able to ring up people like Greaves and chat to them. When I made these calls to any of these distant legends my first words were always, “Hello Jimmy McIlroy sends his best wishes.” It was like turning a key in a door. That way they never put the phone straight down. “Oh Jimmy McIlroy,” responded Greavsie immediately. “My wife’s favourite player, she always fancied him.” He chatted for a good twenty minutes about Burnley v Spurs all those years ago and I don’t think I got a word in.
There was a quality piece about Jimmy in the Daily Mail by Martin Samuel. Greavsie commented on the John Terry situation whilst managing to put it in the context of the early 60s.“Some things haven’t changed.That business with John Terry could happen in any walk of life at any time.The difference is that when I played, Mrs Terry would have gone down the pub with a mate for two Mackesons and a packet of Gold Flake. Now she pisses off to Dubai for a month. My wife Irene must be willing me to have an affair. ‘Do me a favour Jim; I could do with a week in Dubai’.”
February 20th and four of the bottom seven teams lost, leaving Burnley to attempt Mission Impossible at Villa Park the day after. At that particular point in time no team in Prem history had endured a less fruitful first 13 away games than Burnley. I took heart from Martin O Neil’s pre match comment. “We’re quite capable of losing,” he announced, but privately he must have been licking his lips, relishing the idea of three easy points against what someone cruelly described as the Prem League’s pub team, in one of the Sundays.
It was funny really. There we were watching on SKY, reasonably pleased that it was 1 – 1 at Villa Park in the second half, thinking maybe we can hang on, and that we hadn’t played too badly. In fact the first half we played well and the Burnley goal was perfect training ground stuff. And then the SKY signal went. A few expletives echoed round the room I can tell you. It was several minutes before we retrieved the picture but it wasn’t 1 – 1 was it? It was an eye-popping, f***ing 4 – 1. We just stared at each other and then the screen in astonishment and yet more expletives bounced loudly round the parlour walls. Another soft goal made it 5 – 1 and than Pato pulled one back. Not even Bolton losing 3 – 0 could cheer me up, or that Coyle had set a record for the number of Prem games Bolton had gone without scoring. I gleefully read the Bolton messageboards where he didn’t half come in for some stick.
It was the day after when a few glasses of falling over water had dimmed the Sunday pain that I looked at the main Burnley messageboards. Some comments made for sorry reading: What a joke….. Total embarrassment… What a shambles… Do the players care…? Going down…
This was ridiculous stuff I thought. Did these guys really expect us to go to Villa, a class outfit with top four hopes, and win? We looked good in the first half when we went 1 – 0 up; it was a lovely goal, nor was there anything much wrong with Laws’ team selection though personally I prefer Duff in the middle to Cort. Or Edgar, what has he done wrong at centre back in the games he’s played? Elliot and Blake have offered little in recent weeks so no grumbles from me at their absence. Alexander and Caldwell were unavailable. Hardly Laws’ fault if the team had a daft ten minutes or if Jensen mystifyingly punched a ball he should have caught and this resulted in the equaliser; or one goal was a wicked deflection.
For a few glorious minutes we were out of the bottom three and up to 15th. And the final goal of the day was text book stuff and Pato scored his first ever Prem goal. Amazingly there was still everything to play for even after this painful thrashing, with none of the bottom-end teams winning other than West Ham. It seemed at that moment to be a League where relegation was the aim rather than something to be avoided.
So, I cheered myself up and remembered Steve Cotterill as well as Chris Waddle also managed a good end of season when at the end of 2006/07 he won five out of eight. Reading that, I decided (unusually for me, the original glass half empty says my wife) that nothing is impossible and all was not lost. “Next up Portsmouth – bring ‘em on,” I announced to the cat that was forlornly looking out of the window as yet more snow came down; “bring ‘em on.”
They arrived having chosen administration to wriggle out of their problems so we did not witness the last-ever game of this stricken club. Minus nine points would probably take them to certain relegation, was the forecast, with possibly another 20 to be deducted by the Football League, when they joined the ranks of the Championship. Hello League One here we come. If I’d had my way the directors and chairman, all four previous owners, and chief executive would have been made to sit at Turf Moor with enormous dunces’ caps on their heads. Perhaps the biggest one should have gone to Mike Hancock, the Liberal-Democrat MP for Portsmouth South. This is the tripe/guff/twaddle/piffle/garbage he came out with on June 6th, 2008, basking in the glory bought with money the club never had, and players they couldn’t afford, when he tabled a House of Commons motion:
“This House congratulates everyone associated with Portsmouth Football Club for their magnificent achievement in winning the FA Cup; offers its full support to the campaign being run by THE NEWS, for Harry Redknapp to be knighted in recognition of not only leading the team to FA Cup success, but for his services to football and charity generally; and calls on the Government to add its support for this honour to be bestowed.”
Then, not much more than 18 months later, he was on the radio talking about the state the club was in, appalled by the financial situation, the state of collapse, and blaming all and sundry for the chaos, the mistakes various people had made, and the Premier League for allowing them to happen.
A knighthood for ‘arry Redknapp and his services to football; dear God it’s up there with David Gold and his talk of the “integrity” of the Premier League. Hancock clearly wanted rewards to go to those who had an incredible ignorance and disregard for basic good housekeeping. And to think, blokes like this are in charge of the country.
The Portsmouth News revealed that the team would fly up for the game with Flybe, the budget airline, rather than their usual chartered private jet. I laughed so much I nearly had a heart attack. Surely the Number 57 from Portsmouth Bus Station, change at Droitwich, would have been cheaper. Apparently they came up the day before the game so some hotel somewhere presumably will be waiting a long time for their bill to be settled.
Putting all that to one side and returning to matters on the pitch, disappointed, but not surprised, that no–one was wearing a dunce’s cap, this was a must win game for Burnley. Win this one and the door to Premiership survival was still open despite the dreadful away record. Dammit, most of us had decided we rather liked it here. Better to go to the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea and lose, even if embarrassingly, rather than ghastly Darlington or Macclesfield on a wet, foggy Tuesday night in February. The worry was that once administration had been put into effect, the Portsmouth players would rally, gee themselves up, come out fighting and decide to show the world “they cared.”
Opinion was it would either be a cakewalk for Burnley, or Portsmouth would come out like tigers, there being no inbetween. All in all it became a very high profile game, Burnley yet again in the spotlight, admittedly only because of the coincidence of being Portsmouth’s opponents on this unique weekend, the famous old chant of PLAY UP POMPEY, PLAY UP, being replaced by PAY UP POMPEY PAY UP.
Nugent was unable to play. We expected Pato and Alexander to return and we’ve missed them both. McCann was still unavailable. But Portsmouth players certainly had a spring in their step, they’d actually been paid on time – in actual fact a day early. One of their players, I forget which, was thoroughly indignant the other week when newspapers alleged that he was on £30,000 a week. The player angrily contacted the Press to say he was only on £7,500 a week. The words Wonderland, Alice and in, sprang to mind. And there but for the grace of God and four directors, nearly went we, in April last year.Dave Thomas February 26th, 2010
|Last Updated ( Sunday, 14 March 2010 )|
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