BURNLEY 1 BRIGHTON 1
Sean Dyche was in the news. Stuart Pearce on Talksport said that he is the manager that new young managers should been looking up to, never mind your Mourhinos. Alex Ferguson, according to Alastair Campbell in a Nick Robinson interview, said along with Alan Pardew, Dyche is currently one of the two best managers around.
And in a double Barry Kilby interview in the Telegraph, BK revealed that he and Dyche often chat about the nature of pessimism and how this is a fixed Burnley trait. BK’s mother when things were going well would often say, ‘It won’t last.’ It is thus ingrained in his psyche and he will own up to this willingly. My grandmother was much the same. Mrs T says the same about me that I am forever gloomy. I don’t know why. All I said was, ‘We’ll not beat Brighton.’
At the interviews when Dyche was appointed he had that persona that impressed people, said Barry K Coyle too had presence. Cotterill had intensity. You can look at records said BK but it comes down in the end to a gut feeling. ‘We just had a feeling he was the right man for the job.’
The weather wintry, cold winds from the north, in fact snow had been forecast, the game on TV and a 1.15 kick off. There had been the 2-week international break and Tom Heaton still hadn’t got a few minutes on the pitch with England; bit mean of Roy we all thought.
The Desso Turf Moor pitch looked splendid and there’s a shedload of equipment and lighting rigs to keep it in tip top shape. I found a piece from the 80s about Roy Oldfield and his work on the pitch and he had that infamous strip down the Bob Lord side that never seemed to drain properly to contend with. He had one moody old mower that was more temperamental than Grace Jones. We had a similar but smaller petrol mower years ago chez moi and life revolved around whether it would start or not at weekends.
‘Clarets fans may criticise the team from time to time, they may criticise the manager and directors but few could complain about the turf at Turf Moor. The pitch which measures almost two acres has been the responsibility of groundsman Roy Oldfield for 17 seasons, save a spell away from the club of about four years.
‘Roy’s job is as unpredictable as the weather and he avidly watches the forecasts on TV to try to be one step ahead of his greatest opponent. ‘The weather is my enemy not the players,’ he said.
‘The Monday morning after a game on a Saturday sees Liverpool-born Roy, 55, on the pitch with his assistants Aden McGough and Lee Hall. Their first job is to try to patch up the turf after it has been cut up by the players on Saturday afternoons and that can take up to six hours if it is in a really bad way. Tuesday’s main job is to roll the pitch and in the summer trim the grass if necessary to ensure that the surface is as flat as possible.
‘The pitch is then spiked to a depth of about six inches to encourage drainage and allow air to get to the roots. On Friday the grass gets a trim although Roy does not believe in giving it a proper scalping.
“I do not cut it very short because it helps keep the grass and you need it in the winter months,” he said.
‘Roy is at Turf Moor at 8-45 a.m. on Saturday to carry out a few pre-match duties such as checking the pitch once more and the nets. The next task for Roy and the rest of the ground staff is to mark out the pitch and this is done as late as possible on match day. He then checks the players’ changing rooms and cleans out the dug-outs, furnishing them with cushions and substitute cards.
‘The referee usually arrives around lunchtime and Roy is there to welcome him with a cup of tea and a warm welcome. Then he is ready for the kick-off.
‘When it’s all over Roy checks the changing rooms to make sure the lights are off and the taps turned off and if there is a forecast of frost he will stay until about 7.30 to roll the pitch. Sunday is usually a day of rest unless there is a mid-week match at Turf Moor and the whole process starts again. It all sounds relatively straightforward until you take the weather into consideration.
‘Roy has nightmares about waking up on a Saturday to find there has been a heavy downpour. A deluge just before a game can be a killer. “You have got a very hard job to get all the water away. You have to fork it and spike it and while the teams are travelling and the supporters are on their way you are doing your best to get the water off the surface,” he said.
‘Snow is the other blight although the groundstaff can roll that out and mark the lines in either blue or red. Basically Roy and his team will do anything to make sure the game goes ahead.
“If it is called off you feel very disappointed. You know it is not your fault and that you have done your best. You prepare for what might happen. If there is a possibility of snow you get the referee in early to make an inspection,” he said.Overall Roy has found that the condition of his pitch has met with approval all round. “I can be a bit difficult at times because of the weather conditions but people don’t complain about it.”
‘He is now working under his twelfth manager at Turf Moor and was first employed when Jimmy Adamson held the post replacing John Jameson who taught him the ins and outs of the job. During his time there he has met some of the greatest names in the game including Denis Law, Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish. But his meeting with one man stands out in his memory.
“The most interesting man I met was Bill Shankly. He talked sense. One of the most pleasing things about this game is the people you meet. I read so much about the bad side of football but there are more good people in the game than bad.”
There were indeed snitterings of snow across East Lancashire the day before the game; in Leeds it was a day for sitting in front of the fire watching Sky Soccer Saturday, results not all that helpful to Burnley with Middlesbrough winning on Friday night with an extra –time penalty. Other results conspired to put Burnley down to fifth.
Two Burnley players were just pleased and relieved to be home. Both had been in France at the time of the terrorist attacks in Paris. George Boyd had been at Euro Disney with his family. Chris Long had actually been in the Stade de France and was in an evacuated hotel. Before the Brighton game there was an immaculate minute’s silence in memory of the slain and to show solidarity with those affected. These are troubled times that we live in. The events at the French national stadium served to show that football is no longer a 90-minute escape from reality and Andrew Neil’s searing TV tirade sums up how probably most of us feel. This is maybe not the place to reproduce it but just google Andrew Neil TV rant.
Over 15,000 saw a real mish mash of a game. Something around 350 came up from Brighton and fair play to them; they don’t like coming up to the frozen north where they think streets are still cobbled, we all eat Lancashire Hot Pot every day and have lofts full of pigeons.
And a curious game it was with a blistering opening five minutes that suggested that by the end of it we might be going home having seen a ten-goal classic. Normality then set in and thoughts of a 5-5 draw became fanciful if not downright silly, when it became clear that this was developing into a game where the two teams were about to cancel each other out and flair was very much absent.
Brighton were a goal up within a minute thanks to Zamora and a bit of pinball but Burnley were level just three minutes later when the referee spotted serious shirt pulling and Gray smacked home the penalty. And then, sadly, for the next 40 minutes it became cat and mouse stuff, fine if you like that sort of thing, but dullish if you fancy something more entertaining served up by flying wingers and rumbustious centre-forwards with foreheads like dustbin lids.
Vokes was unavailable, the Jut and Barnes far from fitness and any chance of a return, so all Gray had to accompany him was Hennings or Long. Arfield and Boyd are what they are and good at it, runners and workers, industrious and dedicated to the cause; but consistent pace to the by-line and a constant supply of deadly crosses are just not their forte.
From this whirlwind beginning the game until half-time became what we had always imagined it would be, dogged, pedantic, predictable, and almost tedious for the last half hour of the first half. When Willie Irvine came on at halftime to receive his plaque to commemorate his 29-goal record, those of us with more years than we care to remember behind us, thought of his partnership with Andy Lochhead, both of them feeding off pinpoint crosses from Willie Morgan or Ralph Coates.
Then we gave ourselves a reality check and remembered that this is no longer ‘then’, it is today and now we see players earning money that Irvine and Lochhead would never have thought possible.
Brighton had been well organised, well-drilled, systematic, frequently spoiling and mauling; lucky not to have had more players booked for all the grappling and jostling they got away with, especially when faced with Gray. They moved up the field purposefully and methodically, always had a man wide, but in truth created little in the penalty area or seriously tested Heaton. Yes they looked a very competent side and it was easy to see why they remained unbeaten. But other than the one goal they scored it was hard to think of another good chance they created for all their possession.
It was a pattern that continued in the second half but Burnley must have had an earwigging or a straightener. In the new half they were much more threatening, Boyd having his best game for a while and Gray a constant handful. But sadly there was no big man alongside, no-one to share the load, take some of the bruises, or win the ball in the air. Corners were largely comfortably headed clear or caught by the goalkeeper.
Brighton hardly looked like scoring again but Burnley most certainly did. Already in the first half they’d forced a wonder or a fluke point-blank save from the goalkeeper, it was hard to decide which. In the second Arfield smote a mighty shot from distance to cap a good move; it would have made his Blackburn goal look average, had it gone in. It missed by a fraction. Keane was only a toe-poke away from connecting with a Mee flick-on header, Long just a yard out latched onto a ball that had bounced off another player but put it wide.
But the moment when you knew that this would surely end as a 1-1 draw came when the ball came out to an unmarked Arfield in the corner of the area. Running in he met the ball maybe 12 yards out, the goal gaping, the crowd convinced the winner was coming, all of us ready to stand and bellow and shout, he surely couldn’t miss. This is what they practise all week, he’d scored a belter at Blackburn and this was an even easier chance. But miss he did and powered the ball wide of the post, not even on target.
Other than Long coming on for Hennings other subs remained unused. We wondered if Taylor or Kightly would be brought on to shake things up a bit and replace tiring legs; the answer was no. The game concluded as we ought to have known it would, as an inevitable draw. There was no goal avalanche but enough near misses or attempts by Burnley in the second half to convince us that had Burnley nicked it, it would have been deserved.
‘Not enough pace or width to break down the better teams,’ mailed Berian from Oz who had seen the game on TV.
‘Maybe on another day Arfield’s late shot would have sneaked inside the post,’ Gunnar mailed from Alesund. ‘But you can’t always get what you want, sang Mick Jagger years ago,’ he added.
We began to shuffle out at the end but then something quite unnerving happened. Overhead we heard the drone of a low flying single-engined plane. From the upper James Hargreaves it was out of sight and we craned our necks to look upwards. The sounded faded but then returned as if it was doing a second pass over the ground behind us. Were Mrs T and me the only ones that felt slightly unnerved?
By this time most heads and eyes near us were turned upwards and you could almost sense the same thoughts in people’s minds. ‘What the hell is that and what is it doing over a football ground?’ Eventually it left the area and the sound of the engine faded away completely but it served to show that the events and vivid imagery of the Friday terrorism in Paris have got to most, if not all of us. For a few moments there was a real feeling of suspicion and apprehension in people around us.
Suet Rag Pudding at the Shepherd’s Rest at Lumbutts above Todmorden, followed by Ginger Sponge pudding and custard restored a sense of calm and well-being. A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc most certainly played its part. A French cartoon was defiant. ‘You’ve got the bullets but we’ve got the champagne,’ was the caption. Amen to that.