APRIL PART THREE

I’M FEELING JUST THAT BIT UNEASY because a four point cushion looks nowhere near as safe as the seven we had. Still feels surreal that we had a point to come home with from Cardiff and within a minute of our equaliser, even as we were grinning from ear to ear, they go up and score again.
     “It’s still a brilliant position we are in,” writes more than one poster on the messageboards, but the trouble is here at little Burnley a lot of us are conditioned to a lack of success and things going pear-shaped.
     Remember Stan’s two seasons in the sun when we came so close. Will history repeat itself and we lose out on the very last day of the season because of goal difference? Remember Coventry and those Hedman saves from Gazza free-kicks? Unfortunately in situations like this I’m a glass half-empty kind of bloke. Sorry.

APPARENTLY THE PLAY-OFF DATES for Burnley should they remain sixth will be on Friday, May 8th at 7.45 and then the second leg will be on Monday three days later. A Friday night! Words like ridiculous and appalling spring straight to mind. Does any football fan reasonably expect to have to fit in with this daft date with any degree of approval or convenience? SKY TV again no doubt calling the shots and the football fan be damned.
     The fifth placed team plays on the Saturday in that silly 5.20 slot. But that is infinitely preferable to a Friday night. 
    Spare a thought for the ticket office… if this goes to the last game on May 3rd there are just 5 days to organise tickets for the 8th.

ONLY 12 FIT PLAYERS on Thursday April 16th. And it is Sheffield United in just 4 days. Only 12 players are available for training. Things are so bad that Owen Coyle turned out for the reserves at Accrington. Is this where it all implodes? Is this where being cash-strapped has its long awaited consequences? SKY cameras recorded his neat goal in the win over Accrington – a neat flick over the head of the defender and then meeting the ball on the other side a deft lob over the keeper. Had such a goal been scored by any premier player in a televised game the pundits would have been drooling over it. As it was there was just a handful of spectators and a grinning Owen Coyle. 

MATCH DAY AND NO GAME. All we could do was sit and watch SKY Sports and the minute by minute scores coming in. Here we are again thinking of the IF word… if Preston and Swansea lose at home and we beat Sheffield on Monday then our play-off place is secure. It was then infuriating to see that the FA Cup semi-final game between Chelsea and Arsenal was on Setanta. I managed to find an internet site where I watched it for free which gave me some satisfaction.
     I had Cardiff down to win at Preston and Bristol to draw at Swansea. As it happened Preston beat Cardiff 6 – 0, yes SIX nil and Swansea beat Bristol 1 – 0.  So much for my football prediction skills and expertise; suddenly it looks horribly close and insecure. At halftime the radio said that Preston were undeservedly ahead with two deflected goals and Cardiff missed a penalty. Clearly at halftime Cardiff thought we might as well go home as Preston then rattled another four goals past them.
     It was a larger than usual Saturday teatime whisky that helped me study the table as we all do after a game. Slightly blurred it looked a bit better. I still keep telling myself that we just have to win one more game and they have to lose just one more game and the next round of away games next weekend will be the crucial one I should imagine. Not one of us has an easy game. Preston are away at Birmingham and Swansea are away at Sheffield United while we are at Southampton. The latter are in the bottom three but still have a chance of staying up so will undoubtedly scrap like hell. What’s the betting that all three games will be drawn so that Burnley MUST win the final game? And then there’s Reading somehow still in the top six – who’s to say they won’t be the ones to slip out over the final three games.
     IF we beat Sheffield (possible rather than definite) we leapfrog Reading into fifth place and maybe it is they who will become the vulnerable ones after hardly winning a game over the last couple of months.

WHAT HAS 1909 WORLD CUP TO DO WITH DAVE THOMAS? Was there in fact a World Cup tournament in 1909? The answer is yes of a sort. Sir Thomas Lipton, he of grocery shops and tea leaf fame promoted a tournament in Italy featuring the best of European sides.
     By some fluke the English team invited was West Auckland. No one is quite sure if it was because Sir Thomas’s secretary deliberately invited them or mistakenly invited them because they had the same initials as Woolwich Arsenal – W.A.F.C. and there was some sort of muddle about the whole thing.
     Anyway West Auckland received the invitation and Lipton provided a silver trophy. Unfortunately he did not provide the cash to send the English team, simply a bunch of impoverished coal miners who played football for recreation when they came up for air and were languishing third from bottom of the Northern League.
     So what has all this got to do with Dave Thomas? Well; this month sees the 100th anniversary of the amazing feat of West Auckland beating top European sides to win the trophy. The tournament was held in Italy and the impoverished mining lads had to raise the money to make the long, arduous journey. They begged, borrowed, pawned, sold their furniture and scrimped and scraped and raised the money to get there. Their families made do with bread and dripping while they were away, or borrowed food from kindly neighbours who were so proud of their village involvement. A brass band played them away from the village, and days later they arrived exhausted and slightly bewildered at the station in Turin where banners welcomed Woolwich Arsenal. For some of these lads it was the first time out of Durham never mind England.
     OK here’s the Dave Thomas bit. One of the team was Dave Thomas’s grandfather David ‘Ticer’ Thomas and it is from this chap that Dave inherits all his football skills. Ticer who lived with the family took Dave out night after night and practiced with him so that he could use either foot, and land the ball on a sixpence – a lot of money in those days.
     To the astonishment of everyone, including the team, they brought the trophy home. As reigning champions they were invited again in 1911 but this time Ticer did not go… probably still paying back the money he borrowed to go in the first place. Again they won the trophy.
     So, every now and then Dave and his mother and father (Now I imagine in their 90’s) are invited to various functions when there are anniversaries or celebrations. At this year’s Durham Gala the 100th anniversary of this astonishing feat will be remembered and Dave will be a guest of honour having already appeared on BBC Newcastle TV.
     Ticer’s medal is not in Dave’s possession. Another family member has it and Dave can’t remember the last time he ever saw it. The original trophy was stolen from West Auckland Working Mens’ Club in 1994 but the money was raised to have a replica made. This is now on display in a burglar proof cabinet. The original has never been recovered and was valued at over £50,000.
     So, there you are then, you learn something new every day, unless you’ve read about it already in the Mirror.


BURNLEY 1 SHEFFIELD UNITED 0
What a vile, nasty, ugly, horrible side Sheffield United are. If this is the way to the Premiership then God help them. The word dire is not good enough. Three players could have been booked early on; Halford stamped on Blake, something that was missed by an overly tolerant referee, a stamp that merited a red card; Jensen was elbowed on the head by the thug Morgan and Kalvanes is lucky to be walking after a vicious tackle on the sideline. It’s not often you see Blake incensed chasing after an opponent. You knew from that that someone had overstepped the mark. In the interests of fairness our own Elliot could easily have been booked on at least one occasion.
     But Sheffield: I watched them on SKY against Reading and knew what to expect. This was all hoofball, long throws, elbows, muscle, pushes, shouldering, get to the ball at all costs. “The land of the giants,” Carlisle described them. The win for Burnley was a triumph for attempted football and some skill over brawn, power and muscle, plus, according to Carlisle, “some industrial defending,” as he called it.
     And Blackwell – what was he going ballistic for at the end of the game chasing onto the field after the referee? What was all that about after 5 minutes of extra time?
    It could have been far more than 1 – 0. Kenny was in the right position to stop a number of superb attempts. One run along the by line from Blake and a pull back to McCann who met it with a superb strike was in itself worthy of the entrance money. This was a throw back again to the great Jimmy McIlroy who did this half a dozen times in a game and made chances galore for Ray Pointer and Jimmy Robson. Blake is enjoying a superb season.
     At the back Caldwell and Carlisle were utterly immense repelling every long ball that was thrown at them. Not a single player in fact was below par. Eagles, on song, had one of his best games. The cameras were there; his value will have soared now to £15million. McCann drove forward at every opportunity this possibly the best ever game I have seen him play. And Paterson, surprisingly back, scored the single winning goal with a deft header from Williams’ diagonal cross.
     Sheffield fans on their own messsageboard were less than charitable towards their team and style of play. They were in general agreement about the hoofball and that Carlisle was an absolute rock upon which their aerial assault came unstuck.

TENSION DESCENDED AGAIN when we could only draw at Southampton, and Preston to our astonishment and dismay, won at Birmingham. You begin to wonder if Preston are destined for that last slot as yet again the gods were on their side as two wonder strikes put them 2 – 1 up and just 2 points behind us.
     So it does indeed go right to the last game of the season. My thoughts all along have been that this would happen, but that it would be a deciding game between us and Bristol City for the last place in the play-offs. City are well out of it though, but nevertheless nothing but a win will do. One cannot quite see that PNE will slip up the way things are going for them. The six goals they put past Cardiff could well be the key to what happens. Their goal difference is now better then Burnley’s and so a draw is no good to us. How one now rues that last minute equaliser at Derby that lost us two points. How one thinks back to the two ridiculous penalties Preston were awarded in the Burnley game that gave them the points.
      And down at Southampton how we may come to rue the wasted chance of a win when Rodriguez, clean through, elected to shoot when a simple pass to Paterson on his left would have resulted in a goal.
     At Southampton we were terrible in the first half and but for Jensen could have been well out of it. Eagles and Williams were simply awful. The half time change of Eagles for Rodriguez transformed things. From an ineffective 4 – 5 – 1 (or is it 4 – 3 – 3 I’m never quite sure) to a more potent 4 – 4 – 2 worked wonders and the equaliser smashed home by Carlisle was well deserved. From that point on there was a 20 minute spell when chances were made and the football was a delight with Elliot back on the right wreaking havoc.
     This was for sure a game of two halves with Southampton all over Burnley in the first and with all their desperate financial troubles, and possible disappearance, there was a feeling of the Orient game during the first 45 minutes as adrenalin, energy and emotion powered them forward and saw them into a 2 – 1 lead.
     The second half was Burnley though and although Owen Coyle felt that a Burnley win would have been unjust, I disagree. The chances were there to put this game to bed well before the end.
     The final whistle brought astonishing scenes as hordes of Southampton numpties poured onto the pitch and sought confrontation with the Burnley support. It happened so fast, it was so unexpected and it was quite frightening. Missiles, smoke bombs bottles and assorted debris were flung at the Burnley end who of course responded as best they could. It’s a long time since there have been such scenes at any football ground in the UK.
     Until this point I felt quite sad that Southampton were experiencing all their troubles. We have family there who are keen supporters and we always get to this game. Sadly this is now the last one. But having seen the disgraceful mayhem at the end of the game – and this wasn’t just a handful of idiots – this was hordes of them, we were thankful to get away.
     We drove away in high spirits though, well pleased with the point. Optimism vanished later as the final Preston score came in. If we fail on Sunday, it won’t however be our own shortcomings I’ll think of, or chances frittered away and last minute equalisers; it will be those two outrageous penalties at Deepdale. And – the last time we won on the final day of the season was in 2002.

NOONE CAN GRUMBLE AT WHAT WE HAVE SEEN THIS SEASON, even supposing Preston take the last place. Of course we will be gutted and tears will be shed but could any one of us have forecast way back in August that such a season would unfold and we would be involved in such a huge game on the final Sunday? After those two disastrous first games of the season we could be forgiven for thinking that a poor season was in store. But here we are having experienced one of the best seasons for years. We have played football that has been a delight to watch; we have taken part in stunning games; we have impressed fans from no end of other clubs; we have experienced real glory and glory nights that have rivalled for emotion and atmosphere those of the great 60s nights when we beat Reims and Hamburg. On a personal level Mrs T and I have been on memorable away days and weekends and in fact on our travels never saw us lose except at Arsenal. Shame we didn’t go to Barnsley – maybe we could have influenced that shameful result. Chelsea and Ade’s goal will live forever in our hearts and minds. So too will the ridiculous extra-time goals rule that saw us lose a Wembley Carling Cup Final place. We have experienced every single emotion possible this season, from joy to despair, from ecstasy to dejection.
     And yet one thing niggles away in the back of my head. It is this. We are not a ‘lucky’ club are we? I know there’s this saying that you make your own luck, and that good sides are luckier than bad sides. Indeed, there’s this theory that luck is supposed to even itself out over a whole season. But in our case has it? Paterson’s disallowed goal at Charlton, the ridiculous goals away at Barnsley that were allowed, the two ridiculous penalties at Deepdale. It always seems to me that what we earn we always have to do the hard way. Nothing comes easy at Burnley. Can you think of any one outrageous referee decision that has gifted us a game? Have we benefited to any huge degree from deflections, in-offs, own goals, miraculous 35 yard screamers (other than Gudjonnsen’s), the sort that go in once in a flood. At the season’s end, against Cardiff and Birmingham, Preston seemed to do nothing else but score with these.

THE DAY BEFORE SUNDAY and what are we all thinking? I’m thinking ain’t life funny. I have a good email pen pal called Becky Tallentyre. She writes Everton books and is currently doing prison literacy work. She got in touch last week to tell me that No Nay Never Volume One is currently top of the reading lists in Walton Gaol. She has a copy I sent her years ago and lent it to one of the prisoners/inmates/clients/customers; what do you call guests of her majesty in these politically correct days? This lad is from Burnley and has devoured the book from cover to cover and says it is the first and only book he has ever read.
    Ain’t Life Funny; no it bloody ain’t. If… if we take sixth place then I cannot get to the first Friday night play off game. I won’t go into details of why not - just suffice to say there is a weekend away me and Mrs T have arranged that is unbreakable. Fifth place and then the game will be on Saturday and we are OK, we can get back for that. Our hearts sank when we saw that Friday was the likely date.
     There’s a thread on one website that is mainly from Clarets overseas all of them expressing support. People from all over… USA (just about every major city), Australia, New Zealand, Far East, Canada, France, Mexico, Thailand, Dubai and Italy have joined the list. It’s quite incredible, plus of course the inimitable Dave from Mauritius who saw Jimmy Mac and Burnley play out there in the 50s.  

AND SUNDAY CAME AND who would have thought we’d skate home with a comfortable 4 – 0 win, playing with flair, style, panache and restricting Bristol to just a couple of meaningful goal attempts.
      Sure, Bristol had a spell in each half where they were loosely in control but two timely penalties ended each of those, calmly smashed home by Europe’s top penalty taker. Eagles hit the bar with a screamer of a shot that nearly broke it. Elliot’s goal would have graced the previous night’s Barcelona game. And for the last 15 minutes well in control it was carnival time with some samba football and a fourth goal was the icing on the cake. Bristol, big, strong, muscular were no slouches and Adebola was a handful. But this was Burnley’s afternoon and the three packed sides of the ground roared and cheered as each goal went home. Every player was up for it, every player put in a first rate performance. But from Caldwell, Carlisle, Kalvanes, Eagles and Alexander the performances were huge. If you have five or six players at the top of their game in any match than the odds are you will win.
     Who would have thought a day ago, a week or a month ago that it would be Cardiff who would miss out? Who would have thought it would be us AND Preston and with the added intriguing possibility of a Wembley Final between the two clubs?
     All the doubts and apprehensions of the last week just blown away when from the first minute we tore into Bristol and you knew they were on top form; nice to see Thompson back again as well.
     Remember how as recent weeks have gone by we have looked at the tables, scanned the fixture lists, worked out how many points will do it, how many points might do it, what’s the minimum points needed? And here we are with 76 points. Preston have done it with 74. Stan in 2002 missed out with 75. Football can be cruel.


     What a season this has been, and it ain’t over yet.
    
Dave Thomas May 3rd 2009