MARCH 2009 PART ONE

I WAS DELIGHTED TOTTENHAM LOST in the Carling Cup Final. It was ridiculous that they were even there. I didn’t watch it all but what I saw I thought was pretty dire with neither side playing well. As they crashed out on penalties I felt no sympathy at all when the cameras closed in on their crestfallen and weeping faces.

RUMOURS THAT COYLE WAS BEING COURTED BY BOLTON were put to rest when it emerged that contract extension talks at Burnley are in the offing. He says he has unfinished work here and has no plans to sign players and then up sticks.  So that’s OK then.

ANOTHER NEW BOOK IN AUGUST: My good pal Tim Quelch will see his definitive work on the 1959/60 championship team published in August. 240 pages and profusely illustrated I know in advance how good it will be. Tim years ago compiled the best Burnley book I know Forever and Ever A Rock and Roll Years Diary of BFC. This was a wonderful compilation of all the excellent articles and match reports in the London Clarets magazine Something to Write Home About.
     Anyway I have watched Tim putting together his new book and seen many of the pages already. I promise you it is a book you must buy. It doesn’t just look at Burnley FC in 1959/60; it looks at Burnley the town that season, contemporary current affairs, and how Burnley FC fitted into the general football scheme of things. Above all, it asks the question, just how did a little town like Burnley come to produce such a wonderful team and title triumph? Tim interviewed several of the players during the writing.

PESSIMISM SEEMS TO RULE SUPREME with so many people writing off Burnley’s chances and wondering just how many Arsenal will score on Sunday. But I still think (and Mrs T says I am the original miserable old git and I should have been called Victor Meldrew) that our season is far from over. Now for me to say this is indeed unusual. The half-empty glass was invented specially for me. But I am also endowed with a devilishly astute sense of cold logic and this logic tells me that our season cannot possibly be over when we are still so close to the top six, lots of top teams have all to play each other, and we have to play some of them as well. And surely the ball must begin to run kindly for us soon. I saw the penalty that won the game for Sheff United against Birmingham and I thought it must be the weakest decision I have ever seen. A defender brushed against a forward and down he went. Penalty says the ref. Then I thought again of the penalty we were denied against Wednesday when McDonald was absolutely bulldozed to the ground.
     Logic (again) tells me we can lose at Blackpool but if all others around us are dropping points we will still be thereabouts hovering and waiting for our form to pick up. 

AND SO TO THE SEASIDE where the weather forecast is for a wild, windy and wet day and where the wind blows in off the Irish Sea like a knife. Away fans at Gloomfield Road sit in an open scaffolding-based stand access to which was via a mudbath last year. Nobody wears their best shoes at this place. Blackpool did not win a game in February, losing three and drawing two, meaning that they slide towards the bottom three. The omens you might think are therefore good, but sadly this is another ground where, since Blackpool came up, we have not exactly distinguished ourselves. Last year provided the occasion where the arrogant conceit of the over-rated Lafferty earned him the displeasure of Burnley fans, so that he eventually responded with a volley of abuse. Mind you, most of the Burnley team that day hardly distinguished themselves.  
     Knowing that the referee is the appallingly inept Lee Mason does not inspire confidence either.  Mr Mason adds further evidence to the viewpoint that the standard of refereeing is way below what it used to be.

CONGRATULATIONS TO BRIAN JENSEN voted Carling Player of the Tournament. What a superb and well deserved award this is. Who will ever forget his game at Chelsea and the penalty saves, and then the home game to Arsenal where he saved not one but six one-on-ones?  Goalkeepers might dream of games like this but for Brian Jensen it actually happened and is all recorded for posterity on TV film footage. He received 42% of the votes sent in and won by a huge margin, the next player, Roman Pavlyuchenko coming second with just 22% of the votes. Pavlyuchenko scored in every round up to the Final and was a favourite to win. But Jensen totally eclipsed him. It marks a superb season so far for the giant Dane who in previous seasons has had his ups and downs and no shortage of critics, brilliant one minute but sometimes making basic errors the next and letting in soft goals. Other keepers come to the club ostensibly to replace him, the latest being Penny, but Jensen always comes back to retain his position. At the moment it is reasonable to say that he is one of the best keepers in the division, if not the best.

WHY IS OUR PITCH SO BAD? It looks dreadful, a cross between a patchwork quilt and a brown cabbage patch.  Apparently there are pot-holes in front of the Longside down which Eagles nearly disappeared one game. It is getting barer by the game, leads to errors, and makes life difficulty for a team like us that relies on passing skills. The run of the ball is erratic, with bobbles and bounces that take any player by surprise. Fine for those teams that by pass midfield and play a long ball game.
     The reason for all this is quite simple. There have been no major renovations to this pitch since the last re-lay in 1998 and it was not done properly.
     In 1998 the drainage was not updated and a sprinkler system was not put in. There are on-going problems with wormy Nematodes which are eating away at the pitch which doesn’t allow the grass roots to grow. The pitch is 90% sand-based so the grass does not hold together like it should, and the surface simply cuts up. Top pitches are held together with nylon fibres and have lighting rigs left on all week so that the grass thinks it is summer and continues to grow. We have neither nylon fibres nor lighting rigs at Burnley.
     The current groundsmen are highly qualified and the head groundsman came from Anfield and knows what he is doing and what he would like to do. They would like the Turf Moor pitch to be completely re-laid to the correct depth (rather than just the top few inches and seeding) with new heating and sprinkler systems. This would cost at least half a million. And we all know there is no chance of that.  
     Arrive at the ground by 2.00 and see the pristine state of the surface. Then see the damage done by 2.45 during the warm-up.
    So here we are with top players on top wages, staff and management increasing in number every season. But a very poor pitch that is sadly under-funded.  

BLACKPOOL GONE WITH THE WIND and
SUPERKALVIGOESBALLISTICBLACKPOOLAREATROCIOUS…

     Blackpool were just blown away last night in the 85th minutes by a neat Kalvanez goal through the goalkeeper’s legs following neat interplay between him and McCann. It settled a game played in the most farcical conditions ever involving a Burnley team. In a game where the wind was so strong it made a mockery of goal kicks when the ball continually blew away from the line, and the ball swirled around in all directions making heading a lottery, or just hung in the air making defenders decisions a nightmare; and two teams played out the game that seemed in the first half could only be abandoned.
     There was a story in fact at that at half time the referee offered both teams the wind; he had already talked to them on the touchline in the first half. But the teams elected to play on – and thank goodness they did because somehow Burnley fashioned a much needed win and now hang on to the top six fringes by their finger nails.
     Owen Coyle had announced that he would tinker and his tinkering certainly paid off. Kalvenes in for Jordan scored the goal. Carlisle in for Duff was back to his best in a MOTM performance. One Kalvenes statistic is interesting. In his 15 appearances we have only lost once.     
     Despite the win, those who went all questioned their sanity, wondering why on earth anyone would want to subject themselves to sitting in the most primitive of seating conditions, in a force ten gale, the rickety stand beneath them in danger of being blown away, and paying £26 for the privilege.  This was a game everyone was glad to have got out of the way, returned to their coaches; then to a hot cuppa tea by the fireside at home (perhaps even something stronger), and then a warm bed to sleep off the whole ghastly experience.
    Save for the 1 – 0 win, this was a night to forget.

AND SO TO LONDON And the adventure began with the emerging rumour that Fraser Eagle, the coach firm responsible for transporting so many Burnley fans and providing the team coaches, was about to go under. On Thursday the 5th, the firm news was indeed announced that they had been placed into administration. I found that dreadfully sad and no doubt the 180 people who work there find it considerably worse than that.    
   

  What’s that smug, incompetent former bank chairman called now on some obscene pension so big that our futile, impotent government (who sanctioned it in the first place apparently), now try to find ways to reduce it. We live in a crazy world at the minute; a rapidly, crumbling financial world that collapses daily round our ears. Meanwhile we cling to things like a 1 – 0 win at Blackpool and the trip to Arsenal, and whether Beast is fit to play, and is Kalvenes better than Jordan, and while we can still do that, we can pretend that the world seems normal.
     But it isn’t is it? The mad world of football and all its riches seems to grind on oblivious and impervious to it all… except apparently Setanta is struggling to meet its financial obligations. I think we could all have predicted that within a week of its first ever appearance.    

I’M LOOKING AT A BACKPAGE PICTURE OF A BLEARY EYED ASHLEY COLE: My God he looks a sorry, pathetic sight. It may be coincidence but the word scumbag comes to mind, not a word that crops up in my head very often or I would wish to bestow on anybody.  Funny though, looking at that picture, and being reminded of his previous intrusions into our mundane lives, the word just seems to pop up. There was his appalling book and snivelling about Arsenal being unable to pay him the extra £5,000 to make his salary £60,000 a week. There have been his tirades at referees (was it Mike Riley against Spurs), and his well publicised problems with his wife Cheryl Cole who for some reason seems to stick by him. This time, while she was gamely trudging up Kilimanjaro for charity, he was out allegedly racking up a £1,000 bar bill in a drinking spot with Chelsea cronies. Mind you, the bill did include food, so I suppose that’s quite good value then.
     The wages paid to Premiership players are obscene. I think we all agree on that. But when some of them who seem to behave on a sort of arrogant moron level, flash their money around and then cause a commotion in the street in the small hours, blaming it on provocative photographers, then up pops that word I hate again. Not all footballers behave like this but those who do are an embarrassment and in my view are simply loathsome.
    Funny how my wife the goodly and saintly Mrs T, later in the day whilst we were consuming a M&S lasagne and a glass of beetroot juice, saw the same newspaper picture and  groaned, instinctively commenting, “Ugh, scumbag.”

THIS IS NOT FOOTBALL RELATED I KNOW but while I am in Victor Meldrew mode can I say how delighted I was when I saw the odious, repulsive Peter Mandelson covered in green slime by a protester.  Actually it was green coloured custard. I find the man as repugnant as the ghastly Ashley Cole. I suppose if I said if it was me lobbing something at Mandelson it would be claret and blue coloured custard.
     There – I have now made this a football related topic.   

THE PROVERBIAL DAMP SQUIB but A GOOD DAY OUT: Well dear readers, it just didn’t happen did it? The stats say it all. We had just three shots and just one on target, with Caldwell grazing the crossbar with a header, and McCann being denied a reasonably sure penalty. We passed it around nicely for ten minutes or so but then as soon as they scored (gifted to them again by an error when Eagles lost possession trying some fancy flick, it was game over. You could see it in Caldwell’s response as he lay prostrate, face down on the Turf for several seconds contemplating his finger nails. You could read his mind. “Bugger, we’ve f****d that up then.”
     And so it proved as after that Arsenal took complete control and we really did nothing of note. Sure we passed the ball around, gained a few more admirers, had plenty of second-half possession, broke promisingly once or twice but all of us knew we were just playing out time from the minute that goal went in.
     Truth is this game was lost in the team selection. I groaned when I saw that Eagles was starting and the groans were justified as he did precious little while he was on and demonstrated amply why he couldn’t cut it at Old Trafford and has been passed around on loan since. I don’t care how you juggle the forwards around but you have to play Thompson (excellent in the second half) and even a below par Elliot to give better shape and threat.
     Paterson who ran his socks off again, was in fact ineffective with poor service and lack of the right balls for him to run on to, and watching him trying to deal with the usual barrage of mile high goalkicks was yet again painful to see.
      Eagles was the only one to play badly and should have been replaced long before half-time. You can’t fault the rest and Clarke Carlisle was outstanding. And the three goal margin was a tad harsh. Two might have been a fair reflection. The first a gift; the second either a wonder goal, the sort that Brazilians score on the beach, or a lucky connection that had Eduardo connected any other way might have ended up in the Thames. Wenger, bless him, says it was deliberate. And the third was scored ironically by a player the Arsenal lot consider to be one of the worst to ever play for them. “How bad are Burnley,” wrote one of them, “if even Eboue can score against them?” Rather churlish I thought by this numpty with a pen.
     But none of this is sour grapes on my part. We were outplayed and any other result would have been a travesty and none of it spoiled our great day out and what was almost a pilgrimage to one of the new temples of soccer and football the way it should be played.
     Temple it may be, spectacular from the outside the Emirates might be, one of the seven wonders of London perhaps, definitely on the tourist route, but just one thought. If you pay over £500million to build a state of the art stadium, is it not reasonable to think that you might stay dry. Of course after a sunny morning, the rain hammered down during the game. Of course as the game ended, so did the rain and the sun came out. As far back as row 15 people were drenched. The sight of hordes of Arsenal fans down their Longside scuttling for shelter was truly funny. Not funny though when the huge water blobs dripping from the lip of the roof slammed on the heads of anyone sitting hundreds of feet beneath them. Lovely too when you get to your comfy seat with all its leg room, but who on earth designed these narrow gangways and exits to the concourse so that it took an age to leave.  Fortunately I was not taken short but I heard many grumbles from those who did, at halftime as they struggled to get any where near the gents. £4 for a pie I ask you; £5.70 for a pie and a soft drink?
     Mrs T and me and chum Kev found a lovely little caff just 200 yards away from the ground… La Molina… with a few tables and chairs on the pavement. A huge Full English with mountains of toast, mug of coffee for me and the others had toast and marmalade and pots of tea and the whole lot for £7.50 as we sat and waved to the coaches, read the papers, and chatted to locals. The journey down was faultless, the atmosphere sleepy and quiet. No one expected miracles this time.
      Game and rain apart this was grand day out. Is there any other country in the word, by the way, where you can start a game wearing sunglasses and end it drenched? The atmosphere outside the ground down one street where they had stalls and kiosks was quite carnival-like. We wandered round taking it all in. The museum was £6 but we passed on that (the Yorkshireman in me). It was just as good wandering round the cavernous shop marvelling at the range of goods on offer, and not that pricey either.
     4.00 a.m. when we left Leeds, 10.15 p.m. when we got home. Nobody felt downhearted, but there was disappointment that we tamely surrendered without exerting any real pressure or inducing any sense of excitement.
     This coming week will define the season. Two league home games that are winnable and 6 points that can take us clearly into the top six. Drop more points and the chance to gain momentum is lost and heads will droop.
     The answer lies in team selection. Thompson has to be in, Eagles has to be on the bench. The rest, I leave to Mr Coyle.

Dave Thomas March 9th 2009