MARCH 2009 part 2

DID YOU KNOW THAT the great ITV football commentator, the late Brian Moore, started out as a newspaper reporter and the first ever foreign game he covered was Reims 3 Burnley 2 in the European Cup. Next to him was another reporter called Brian James one of the best of the period. As we all know this was some game and they were all cramped and cooped up with little elbow room in the press box. At the very the end of the game in the excitement and following a gust of wind all James’ hastily scribbled match notes and report vanished all over the place. James was one of the few reporters there to have a phone on his desk. The game ended, it rang, he raised his arm to pick it up, the wind blew, his notes scattered everywhere. Of course his language was ripe and he dashed off to retrieve one of the pages he could see halfway down the stand. Hoping it was page one (the intro to any report is the key one) he snatched it up and to his horror it was one of the end pages. Brian James thus had to pick up the phone again and ad lib his report of Reims 3 Burnley 2, one of the greatest nights in Burnley football history. 

TUESDAY NIGHT MARCH 10th was not a bad one for BFC results wise. In what was a full programme (except for Burnley) only Swansea of our nearest rivals won. The top six teams either drew or lost.  If the fates are not helping us then I’ll go to the foot of our stairs. Very surprisingly Cardiff lost at home to bottom three Norwich in the big upset of the night. The way is open for Burnley to get back into the top six if they beat Crystal Palace.

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA The performance wasn’t quite as bad as any by the Marx Brothers but for 83 minutes I did wonder more than once was this game a comedy or what? Yet another Groucho goal gave Palace a 1 – 0 lead, hesitancy on the part of the Great Dane allowing Shuffle Cookie to score… why is it some players always seem to score against us? And then the second goal came off Carlisle’s shin and cannoned into the net. 0 – 2 down, the crowd resigned to the worst, yet another goofy home performance, groans and moans, this might have been eleven total strangers brought together for one night only.
     Comedy… the referee… you must be joking… I’d have laughed if it wasn’t serious and a top six place at stake. To add to our poor play the referee tonight was about the worst I have seen with baffling decisions, inconsistency, and missed handballs. A clear red card was the obvious punishment when with Thompson clean through he was pushed in the back and down he went sprawling. Yellow card said our man in black. W****r roared 10,000 Burnley fans finishing off with a rousing rendition of that age-old favourite “You’re not fit to referee.”
     I always judge the quality of a game or the awfulness of a referee by the number of times I jump up and down. Tonight I lost half a stone leaping up and down to hurl abuse at this inept custodian of the whistle.
     So for 83 minutes it is not unreasonable to say (in my umble opinion) that this was as poor a performance as I have seen for an age. My prayers were answered with Elliot and Thompson back from the start and Eagles on the bench. But Elliot first-half was given a midfield role. The right wing was empty. There were too many passages of hoof-ball and head-tennis. We had no rhythm, no shape, we staggered and stumbled, second to the ball, listless, out of sorts, leaden… and all on this ghastly pitch that if you took it to the doctors would be given the news that there was no hope and it had just weeks left to live unless the chance of a transplant came up. It really is a disgrace. My lawn is bad enough but is better than this. 
     83 minutes and losing 1 – 2 and this game was heading into the ‘night to forget’ category, the sort of night where we drive back to Leeds in silence and wishing we supported Man Utd… or even Halifax Town. And then in seven minutes the game was turned upside down. A penalty makes it 2 – 2 and even then you could be forgiven for thinking this was as good as it would get.
     But no, ‘ang on, ‘ey up, wait on, sithee, up pops Thompson (who was my man of the match) to score a superb goal, taking the ball with his back to goal about eight yards out, then taking it wide to his left, then swivelling and crashing an unstoppable shot into the net. Eduardo… you can stuff ‘im mate. This was an international class goal.
     Could we hang on? Palace no slouches on the night, pressing again, Warnock on the touchline looking like … well looking like Warnock… they pressed for the equaliser, our hearts in our mouths… but then suddenly on the break we have Rodrigues and Eagles advancing on the goalkeeper without a defender in sight. It’s two on one… they can’t screw this up… we scream at Rodrigues to slip it sideways to Eagles… but no… cool as you like he slips it passed the goalkeeper from the edge of the box and don’t ask me how but we are winning 4 – 2 and well and truly in the top six again.
     And Eagles… let me say right away he was superb for the last 20 minutes when he came on. This is when he is at his best, something to prove, on for the last 20 minutes or so against a tiring team. He ran at Palace and caused mayhem, it was his cross that Thompson latched onto for his superb goal. He was up there breaking with Rodriguez for the final goal ready to receive the pass… except Jay decide to score himself. Perhaps it is time to start with Rodriguez and give Paterson a break again. I am more impressed with him every time I see him. 
     We drove home drained and exultant, from despair to joy in just seven minutes. It looked so good seeing the tables with us firmly in sixth place. It is all very much in our own hands now. We have clawed our way back into contention with the chance to consolidate on Saturday. But only just over 10,000 there to see it… Arsenal away, Forest at home on Saturday… people just ain’t got the money to do every game.
IN THE CHELSEA OFFICIAL HISTORY it says that the first recorded bout of hooliganism at Chelsea was in a game against Burnley… but the lumphead whose memories were the basis of the story couldn’t remember if it was 64 or 63.  Presumably he’s been knocked senseless so many times in his career as a hoolifan he’s lost half his memory. These were still the days when supporters mingled on the terraces.  Anyway he half remembers that Burnley supporters were down one of the terraces, the West Terrace before the West Stand was built, and what started as general abuse and pushing and shoving developed into one of physical stuff with the Chelsea kids coming off worst from the older Burnley blokes (“we got a right hammering”) who by all accounts initially were just minding their own business. “This was the first fight I can remember at Chelsea”.
     Revenge was sought and in the away fixture Chelsea fans went with the express intention of sorting things out. “We went as a Mob” and suitably armed for the occasion he remembers they charged the home supporters.
     “There was a great big long terrace. We paid to get in their end and walked slowly towards them and when we saw them we just charged… just gone through them like a hot knife through butter because they didn’t expect us.”
     There you are then another ‘first’ for Burnley. Does anyone remember this?

NINE GAMES TO GO NOW and HOPES ARE RAISED; the eternal optimism/pessimism of the football fan kicks in again. It’s a strange mixture of hope and caution all jumbled up together. Everybody says “if we win today” but nobody wants to say “we WILL win today.” But one thing is for sure; it is now in our own hands if we win the necessary number of games, and we are not reliant on other teams beating each other. This is the stage now where we scan the League Table (from the Chairman downwards) for hours weighing up all the possibilities and looking to see who is playing who. It is tempting providence to say that 8 wins out of the remaining 9 games could see an automatic promotion place in this strange season where no team is dominant or running away with things, so I won’t say it… but Stan got us promotion in 2000 with a late surge of wins so it is not without a precedent.

WE DID WIN TODAY… the 50th game of the season with a score of 5 – 0. Life is so symmetrical sometimes, and 5 different scorers and an attendance of 13,055.
     On the bobbly pitch to which we are all so accustomed now (there was a full page explanation in the programme as to why it is so bad) and in a fierce, swirling wind good football was sparse in the first half, there was more in the second, but nevertheless the goals rattled in and 5 better goals you’d be hard pushed to find, each one so entirely different. It was a strange game, you couldn’t describe it as a classic; it was simply a day when our efforts went in.
     The first: a wonderful long-distance, diagonal, curling, sublime Blake free-kick that went beautifully into the far top corner from something like 35 yards way out near the touchline.
       The second; a Jimmy McIlroy moment, as Blake danced and wriggled in the penalty area and then along the goal-line for Elliot to slot home the pass. If ever any of you younger viewers want an image of what the great man was like, then the dribbles along the goal line by Blake show you perfectly what Jimmy Mac did several times in a game.
     The third; great control by Paterson to bring a bouncing ball under control and loft it over his shoulder to the far post where Carlisle was steaming in to send a bullet header into the net.
     The fourth by Rodriguez maybe the best of the lot as he controlled the ball by the touchline, shimmied and side stepped passed defenders with a few stepovers thrown in for good measure into the corner of the box from where he unleashed a rising and curling and dipping shot into the far top corner of the net. Make no mistake this was a goal of skill, class and sheer impudence. This boy is going to be a star. When I think of the fuss made of Lafferty, the hype, the exaggeration and lauding of his minimal skills, and then think of Jay’s goal today, I can only imagine that one day this lad will be in the £10million class. 
     The fifth by Gudjonsson a piledriver from the edge of the box as the ball came out to him. At last a shot from him that did not go high over the bar. And before that from a deadball free kick at least 40 yards out he hit a shot of such stunning ferocity and power that went only just inches wide. What a goal that would have been – goal of the decade, never mind season.
         The downside however; an injury to Thompson currently enjoying probably the best form of his recent career and really on fire, but possibly putting him out for several games. The forecasts are not good.
     Any one of several could have been MOTM – Kalvenes, Carlisle, Blake, Caldwell, or even Rodriguez. Sponsors’ was Kalvenes, mine would have been Carlisle.
     Two wins in 4 days and 9 goals in two games. Top six place well and truly cemented now we are on 61 points. 8 games left. 5 wins would do it for sure. 4 wins should do it, 3 wins and probably not. The countdown begins.

“We continue to help the jobless crisis by making Ulises de la Cruz the 36th player in our squad. After the Council I think we must be Birmingham’s second biggest employer.”
I also liked two scorelines this weekend.
Manchester United 1 Liverpool 4
Arsenal 4 Blackburn Rovers 0
(Memo to Rovers supporters – they only scored 3 against us).

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: after the 4 – 1 demolition of Man United by Liverpool.
     “With Torres in form like this they can beat anyone. Muscular, brave and so quick, he must set speed cameras flashing when he takes the dog for a walk.”

EIGHT GAMES TO GO AND ITS IPSWICH TONIGHT but they too are pushing for a top six place. They want our place up there, how dare they? Meanwhile Mahon has gone to Blackpool on loan. He never did live up to the jewel in the crown billing bestowed upon him by Steve Cotterill did he; in fact the words ‘money waste of’ spring to mind. 39 years since we last won at Ipswich. It’s time to lay that ghost to rest maybe. A stat in the last home programme was interesting. Most shots on target, is Bristol City 269; most shots off target, Burnley 217, and most red cards – Burnley 6.
     If you are losing a game 0 – 1 and equalise and come away with a point you feel good about it. If you are winning a game and give away an equaliser you do not feel the same do you. You have not gained a point you have dropped two.  
     Before the game you would have been pleased to take a point. Ipswich is not a happy hunting ground. They can play a bit. In the true manner of the typical universal football fan this was a game you would expect to lose. But we didn’t and move to 62 points just two ahead of Preston, one place below us. We stay in the top six, but this is now nailbiting stuff. It seems easy to say that 4 more wins should do it. Perhaps now I’d prefer to say we simply need to win more than Preston and Bristol City. God forbid it goes to the last game of the season and the home game against Bristol.
     By the sound of things the Ipswich keeper kept them in the game on several occasions and Wade Elliot scored an absolute pearl of a goal. By the sound of things this was a marvellous end-to-end game with both sides brittle at the back but terrific going forward. On the commentary it sounded like our first half performance was top class, but the second half perhaps less so even though we made excellent chances and came back into it strongly at the end. This was a game that both sides could have won, that Burney probably shaded and will be kicking themselves at conceding the goal and not scoring more. 
     Saturday sees Burnley and PNE away, Burnley at Plymouth and PNE at Charlton. Preston would seem to have the easiest game with Charlton several points adrift at the bottom and more or less playing for pride only as they face the inevitable drop. If things go well we could be in sixth place and 5 points clear, a real cushion and disheartening to teams below. If things go badly we could be out of the top six. 
     Plymouth becomes a massive game then. It’s a weekend Mrs T and I have booked with the Supporters Club trip leaving Burnley at 12 on Friday and returning late Sunday night. Plymouth are a team that figured more than once in key promotion and relegation games back in the 90s. It’s as far away from Burnley as a Championship game can take us.

DRAT LATE FIXTURE CHANGES: Thanks to this Mrs T and me have to completely alter plans Easter holiday plans. Thanks to this the hundreds of Burnley fans who travel considerable distances to attend Saturday games will have little chance of making a Monday game. SKY arranges Championship games on Saturdays at 5.20 and Sundays at 1.00. We get the short straw and a Monday game. The game against Sheffield United scheduled for Saturday April 18th will now be played on Monday 20th thanks. The TV money will probably not recompense the loss of revenue from a possible 17,000 crowd if things remain as they are at the moment and a top six clash and Sheffield possibly filling the away stand. This assumes that in between now and then we continue to collect enough points to stay in the top six. There are four games to play in between.

I really do not know what to head this report with.

     A green but hard pitch and a light ball made this game a lottery and I despair when I see this kind of football. It was not a game for the purist but then it never could be as the ball bounced 20 feet in the air every time it came down, making control and first touch passing a joke.  Add to that the mile high goal kicks from both keepers and it is no wonder that half the players probably went in at full time suffering from concussion.
     But we won… and at this stage of the season with the play-offs on the horizon, not quite within touching distance just yet, with six games to go, then a win makes up for any dire game.
     Did we deserve it? Probably just about, but maybe a draw would have been the neutral’s view. That said, once Rodriguez came on for the ineffective Eagles, we could have rattled in another three goals in the last 15 minutes.
     Eagles is a bench player. Williams at the moment is nothing like the player he was in the first couple of games. Thompson was badly missed. Patterson worked his socks off but no chances are made for him to latch on to. Carlisle was immense. Caldwell’s goal was a bullet header. Blake made the first and scored the second. This was not a pretty game “pleasing on the eye.” The touches of class all came from Blake except for the last 5 minutes when Elliot gave a masterclass in the art of time wasting by the corner flag – the best since the great man Jimmy Mac. We came a long way for this, but it was well worth it as we sat bathed in the beautiful sunshine munching Cornish pasties. MY chum had three. Today he doesn’t feel very well.
     This was Forces weekend in Plymouth with events and ceremonies before the game and on the Sunday morning in the main city square. You couldn’t help be moved by marching bands and the prayers. The minute’s silence became the more moving minute’s sustained applause. The old guys behind another military band marching on Sunday morning with their flags and standards brought a lump to my throat. At the match the display of unarmed combat would have been livened up with a few live Taliban on the end of the arm locks, head locks, knees in the groin, throat holds, and various other kicking techniques.
      This was a terrific weekend. Supporters Club coach from Burnley on Friday and a pleasant stop by the Severn for refreshment and a leg-stretch. Check in to hotel around 8 and who should be there but THE TEAM. Great excitement all round. How do you recognise a professional footballer – they all wander round with mobile phones stuck to their ears. I have a theory that they don’t actually talk to anybody. They just wander round with them miming. It was supper in the bar for some of us hungry travellers with manager and his staff playing cards on the next tables. Mrs T has a theory that if OC plays cards in the bar then the players won’t be tempted to come down for a drink. I grabbed a quick conversation with Sandy Stewart in between each hand. Sorry no gossip to tell you. Well there’s loads actually but I can’t tell you – no – only kidding.
     The morning in the foyer was photograph time with amenable players. I thanked Ade on your behalf for his goal at Chelsea and his hat trick at Luton. He beamed. I told Robbie his penalty area trickery and by-line runs were the nearest thing to Jimmy Mac possible. He beamed. I took Mrs T’s picture with Ade. Mrs T beamed.
     You remember the Ade masks. A Burnley fan goes home after the game and puts the mask on and knocks at the door. The door opens and his wife stares in amazement. “OOOH come in quick Ade,” she says. “My husband’s out.” 
     We sat in the warm sun outside the hotel with them chatting away as they waited for the coach to take them to the ground. Mrs T went up and down in the lift with Paterson. “Ooooh you look bigger than you do on the pitch,” she said. Years ago she met Jill Dando in the Ladies, and said, “Ooooh you look bigger than you do on the telly.” This is Mrs T’s standard chat line when she meets celebrities.
     Some of them were smiley, chatty and relaxed. Others you could see from their determined, focussed expressions, staring straight ahead, that all they had in mind was the game.

     The long Sunday drive home after a morning wandering round Plymouth, the Hoe and the Barbican was quiet and uneventful. More warm sun and the views stunning. At breakfast we had the Sunday papers spread out at the results pages working out all the permutations. Three wins should now do it. There is a four point cushion. March has been a good month and now there’s two weeks rest. We won’t know what to do with ourselves.