CLARET PENSIONER
DECEMBER PART TWO

I HAD A HUNCH IT WOULD BE SPURS NEXT in the Carling thus continuing the Capital Punishment theme… whoever thought that slogan up should be rewarded hugely. The club won’t be though; the financial rewards from this competition are niggardly unless you’re on TV.
     Seeing the build-up to the draw on Sky, seeing just the four names there, Derby, Spurs, Man Utd and little Burnley was quite something. Nobody can say we are not there on merit and those of us who saw both the games at Chelsea and then home to Arsenal will no doubt tell our grandchildren about it all one day. The media profile the club is enjoying at the moment is unparalleled. But sadly it has resulted in not one tiny offer of input from any gassy Russian or oily Sheik.
     And then on the same day off we go to Sheffield. We are in the unusual position now of saying that every game that comes next is a ‘big game’. The days of Cotterball seem an age ago and the record run of twenty games and no win.
     Up in the heady heights of the top six, every game takes on a meaning that is totally different than when you are simply floating about in mid-table under no particular pressure. And what is even more significant is that at the almost half way mark of the season people who let their season tickets lapse on account of three years of negative safety-first, survival football, are now trickling back and buying half-season tickets. OK at most games where there is no big away following the gates are only just over 11,000, but 18 months ago they were heading for a regular sub 10,000. 
    
SO THE NEXT BIG GAME WAS SHEFFIELD UNITED a graveyard for BFC for 35 years, after Arsenal. With McCann missing, Duff injuring himself in the warm-up, Carlisle suspended, with a right winger at right back, a right back at left back and a left back at centre back you could have been forgiven for thinking the gremlins were out early and this would be another dismal day.
     But to our astonishment what do we do – we go and WIN – and not by any fluke, but with yet more measured football and what the Sunday Telegraph called “pace and grace, guile and grit.”
     Eagles was outstanding; his goal, Burnley’s third, all elegance and craft and finishing off a mazy run that left two defenders standing. And what can one say about the amazing Alexander?
     As I wandered round the woods with the dog the following day, pondering, it occurred to me that this team is reminiscent in some ways of the team of 72/73 and 73/74. The Adamson team of that era was attractive, entertaining, had an incredible togetherness, and had several individually gifted players mixed in with what might call the bread and butter workers. At the moment it is a pleasure to go the Turf for a game.
     But with January and the transfer window near to opening, already the rumours are out – Newcastle allegedly want McCann and West Brom want Eagles whilst Blackburn reportedly look to Coyle to replace the stricken Ince at Blackburn.
     There are big decisions to make at boardroom level in the coming weeks – whether to hang on to all players, further strengthen the side with loans, commit to an all-out push for promotion in what has been so far a memorable season (BK calls it betting the ranch); or look at the club finances, the ominous losses, the mounting debts, and sell one or possibly two players (assume ng there are offers).

WHAT A PRIVILEGE IT WAS to be there when Jimmy Mac received the award of Freeman of the Borough of Burnley on December 9th last year, 2008. We’ve been meeting regularly for several months working on a publication. It will not be a biography but other than that I’ll keep quiet for the moment but if it succeeds it will be something no other footballer has produced before. His Freeman ceremony took place in the Council Chamber, a small room, but with the most beautifully decorated ceiling. The Town Hall oozes with that Victorian civic pride which was their hall mark as each town wanted to build their lasting edifices and symbols of their prosperity. The chamber was packed with councillors, friends and family, and the proposal for the award was unanimously accepted. The councillor speeches were short, the mayor dressed in her finery fixed the medal to his jacket, and that was it. The ceremony was dignified, simple and moving, as was Jimmy’s acceptance speech. His mother, he said, always pronounced the word ‘famous’ as ‘fameous’. If only she could see how ‘fameous’ he was now, he said finally. From there it was onwards to the Turf. The mayor had met him on the steps of the Town Hall, now it was Barry Kilby’s turn to meet the mayor at the front door to Turf Moor. The rest you all saw for yourselves, the half time presentation, the walk round the perimeter and the sustained applause showing the appreciation we all feel for this most mild mannered of men. Seeing things close-up and being part of Jimmy’s evening made me think how strange life is. He was my boyhood hero, I saw him play from 1959 to 1963, and he was a part of my growing up. We first met face to face when I did the chapter about him in NNN Volume One.
     In the same way that Jimmy’s father could never have dreamed that his son would go on to such illustrious fame and glory, my own father could never have imagined that one day his son would meet up with the great Jimmy Mac all these years later and be a part of his special evening. Life works in mysterious ways. My father was one of that group of supporters who lost interest when Jimmy Mac was transferred and I don’t think he went to another game.

I READ A LOT OF FOOTBALL BOOKS and one that has really absorbed me is yet another book about Alex Ferguson. He has attended a couple of Burnley games this month.
     This is the one: Sir Alex Ferguson: The uncut story of a football genius: Published by Aurum, and written by Daniel Taylor who writes for The Guardian.
     Trouble is I don’t know where you’d get one. It’s a remaindered book and I got it in a discount bookshop in Skipton. But boy what a book this is. It’s not just about the two seasons at Man U from 2005 to 2007, but is as much about one reporter’s experiences of all the Press conferences at Old Trafford and the way Ferguson treats the Press – mainly with utter disdain, frequent undisguised contempt, all liberally sprinkled with abuse and put downs.
     2005/06 (The Keane on MUTV fiasco) is when it looks like things are going dreadfully wrong at Man U and Ferguson seems finished. But the next season back he bounces, wins the Premiership, and gets to an FA Cup Final. It’s a warts and all book, but mostly warts.
     By and large the Press begrudgingly admire him, even though getting close to him is impossible, and he gives them as little time as possible. Taylor follows the team home and way for the two seasons, describing with graphic narrative Ferguson’s apparent total disregard for and dislike of journalists. Sometimes one of them is picked out individually for the Ferguson ‘treatment’ and a withering broadside. The rest of them sit there relieved it’s not one of them. There is good and bad in Ferguson, charm or offensiveness, generosity or verbal brutality. The Press seem to see little of the good but most of the bad.
     And yet they (or at least most of them) begrudgingly love him for the curmudgeon that he is, in the same way that we all love old Victor Meldrew I suppose. I guess we all have this sneaking admiration for someone who has no qualms about fearlessly giving somebody, anybody, a roasting, whilst at the same time saying a silent prayer it isn’t ourselves.

THE SOUTHAMPTON GAME WAS NOT GOOD FOR THE HEALTH: What a strange game this was. After 20 minutes of the second half and us hanging on to protect a 3 - 2 lead it looked odds on that it would become 3 - 3 as we panicked every time they approached our penalty area and the rest of the time we just disappeard anyway.
     But, a 6 – 0 score line at HT would not have been unrealistic. After their purple patch however we got back into the game and by full time a reasonable score would have been 5 – 2 as we carved out more chances and either contrived to miss them or Kelvin Davies made great saves. One he pulled off from Thompson at point blank range was superhuman. You can say it was either a bad miss by Thompson or a great save by the goalie – I prefer the latter. Folk on the Claretsmad messageboard frequently ask what he brings to the team or what his impact is. Funnily enough we seem to win most games that he plays in and his arrival early in the season was the catalyst for our 40 points by game 23.
     He is a target man and will never be a prolific goalscorer or run about at 100mph. He can actually head a ball, his first touch is good and his link-up play is excellent. Without him, long punts high up in the air by any defender are a waste of time. We immediately lose the ball.
     His introduction in both the Cardiff and Southampton games in the second half was vital. Suddenly we had a strongman, someone up front to gather the ball and hold it. He took pressure off us, the ball stopped coming back at us straightaway, and both games turned in our favour – leading to a point against Cardiff and the preservation of the lead against Southampton.
     A team isn’t 11 individuals. A team is the sum of its parts and the great thing about Burnley at this, the halfway stage, is the incredible teamwork. Player for player there are teams below us I would argue have better individual players – but our players have gelled and work for each other.
     Another ghost was laid to rest as well. We hadn’t won a home game against Southampton since the 70s. We hadn’t won at Brammall Lane since the 70s. The record at Bristol City is not quite as bad as that, we had a 1 – 0 win there in 95/96. In ‘31/32 we won there 6 – 1.  

APPARENTLY THE AGM on December 16th lasted all of nine minutes. Not much to say here then is there, other than if things are going well on the field, it kind of masks the off-field financial woes, about which no searching questions were asked. I certainly know of two invoices sent in to the club two months ago that have still to be paid. I wonder how many more there are? 

BRISTOL CITY - OWEN COYLE’S 150th GAME AS A MANAGER:
His win percentage at Falkirk was 63.16%
His win percentage at St Johnstone was 51.43%
His win percentage at Burnley up to Bristol City… was 43.33%
His current overall win percentage is 49.66%
If these figures are wrong then blame the anorak I cribbed them from on Claretsmad.
Few managers have a win percentage over 50%.
So far this season (again before the Bristol game) his Burnley record is 11 wins out of 23 games. Rounded up this is a 48% win percentage. The win at Bristol City made it 12 out of 24… a 50% win record so far. This is excellent.

THREE CRUCIAL GAMES: I went into the Christmas games period thinking jeez oh for 9 points. It’s just too much to ask for. And at the same time there were more rumours about Owen Coyle. This time it was Sunderland allegedly sniffing around. There were Blackburn rumours but they were discounted as soon as they appointed Big Sam Allardyce.
     Three points at Bristol and an afternoon sitting on the settee, pacing up and down, soaking in the bath to while away the time…  I forced myself to sit still for the last 15 minutes; heard Thompson slam the ball in to make it 2 – 1 and a fabulous win. This was yet another game to add to the list where Thompson comes on and makes an impact. These are heady days and our lads will enjoy their Christmas – like we supporters will.     
     And then… oh dear, just when you think it’s safe to be reasonably optimistic, football has a habit of smacking you in the face, and along come Barnsley on Boxing Day to add another joke goal (this time a cruel deflection) to add to the two freak efforts they had at Oakwell. We had 18 goal attempts. Other than their two goals I can’t remember a moment when Barnsley looked at all dangerous in the box, except for the one-on-one that Jensen saved. Eagles missed a sitter of a chance just before half time that might have knocked the stuffing out of them. Elliot had a leg whipped from underneath him in the box at the Jimmy Mac end for a sure penalty. Our view of this was perfect. He missed the chance to put Paterson in for a simple goal when he elected to shoot himself. Their goalkeeper was in continual action. We did not play well, but to lose was undeserved. The day was summed up I suppose when Eagles ended the game with the worst free kick I have ever seen, sending it almost over the stand roof. It was a long drive home back to Leeds. I spent it wondering why Blake had been taken off and not the seemingly disinterested Elliot.  But, the bloke sat next to us had come up all the way from Norwich. He’d also bought a ticket for Doncaster. A bumper 16,500+ went home with probably the 5,000 Boxing Day floaters (just where do they all come from) sadly deciding they won’t come on again in a hurry.  Our Boxing Day record over the last few seasons is abysmal.
     As soon as I saw the line-up at Doncaster I knew there was nothing for us. Playing both Eagles and Elliot does not work and it is time to have one of them on the bench and go back to the drawing board. Again we gave two soft goals away. The ball ballooned off Carlisle’s head as he misheaded it, bounced up ten feet in the air and landed with a nice plop at the feet of a totally unmarked Doncaster player inviting it to be smacked home. Indeed it was. And their other goal was a penalty. Enough said.
     It was so disappointing. Where is the team that did so well until Boxing Day that featured Thompson and Gudjonnson regularly? With this current lightweight team selection you can see it all slipping away from us. At the season’s halfway mark it is clear that Duff must play in the middle of the defence. We have more muscle up front if we play Thompson. The best midfield pair is McCann and McDonald but the latter is irritatingly injury prone. Gudjonnsen limited though he is can be the cover behind those two, freeing Alexander to go to right back. Carlisle needs a rest. Jensen once again was the saviour. Without some stunning saves Doncaster could have had five. And dare I say it… there were worrying traces of Cotterball at Doncaster with far too many hopeful punts, long balls, and hoofs from the back... and these go to three forwards whose average height is 5’ 6” and a fourth forward who might be nearly 6’ but wears a headband and can’t head a ball to save his life. It was a really poor display and with more of the same, January could be a dismal month.
     There’s nothing as depressing as two consecutive defeats, and these two put the manager’s team selections firmly in the spotlight. But, looking on the bright side of life, somehow we are still fifth and in the Carling semi finals with Tottenham, certainly no great side. Oh, and there’s the FA Cup as well. Maybe this has been nothing more than a mid-season slump. And maybe I’m the Archbishop of Canterbury.

DEFINING MOMENT OF THE SEASON might well be the Eagles miss against Barnsley on Boxing Day. It was a nailed-on, certain, impossible to miss chance, except he did miss and instead of the score becoming 2 – 1 to Burnley it ended as a 1 – 2 defeat. No One can say that had he scored we wouldn’t have lost, but it certainly meant we didn’t win and take all three points. We may well come to rue that astonishing moment.

HOW TERRIBLY SAD TO HEAR THE NEWS ABOUT RAY DEAKIN: He passed away over the Christmas period aged just 49 and had been ill for some time.  Who will forget his inspirational performance in the Orient Game in 1987? As skipper he led the ‘revival’ of Claret fortunes in season ‘87/88 when Burnley reached a Cup Final at Wembley against Wolves. Up until 1991 he played 247 games for the Clarets. He leaves a wife Penny and a son Adam. RIP Ray; you join a long line of players who will not be forgotten. There are mixed opinions about the minutes silence or the minutes applause and it’s a personal thing. For a footballer or entertainer of any kind, someone who has brought something to peoples’ lives, I like the applause… it brought a smile to my face seeing the pictures of him on the big screen. I have a hunch that’s how he would like to have been remembered, with smiles not melancholy.

Dave Thomas December 2008