PRESTON NORTH END 0 BURNLEY 1
Mrs T had no voice the morning after the Middlesbrough game. She was the perfect woman while it lasted. Mine was just a sort of rasp and a croak, a bit like a parrot with a sore throat. What a night it was and another five minutes and I swear we’d have nicked the winner.
The video of the players’ celebrations when Keane scored were as memorable as the goal itself. The players leapt and screamed and grabbed each other in a melee by the corner flag with Barton leaping onto the top of the pile like a wild man. That’s how much it meant. The subs had raced down; staff had raced down, stewards danced with joy, one young lad from the crowd was lifted aloft by Lowton and then carried around over his shoulder. The lad will remember the moment for the rest of his life. These are the magic moments of football.
The way things were as the end of season approached with just three games remaining, and just two points separating the top three teams, the body remained willing, but the head was almost unable to take any more as no-one, just no-one, was able to forecast who would go up, as nerves were shredded, as emotions were up and down like a fiddler’s elbow, as we waited for the next game on pins. It’s a mental mangle that we go through; it’s a pain process that has no logic with some fancy name along the lines of benign masochism where we for some reason deliberately endure discomfort or mental torture sure in the knowledge that it’s great when it ends.
I swear I once knew a bloke who used to whack himself on the head with a rolled up newspaper for up to 5 minutes at a time. I asked him why he did it.
“It’s just so lovely when I stop,” he said.
That’s exactly how it was during the Boro game. We squirmed, we endured, we groaned, we clenched sphincters; we grit our teeth and generally went through hell. It was the football equivalent of what that bloke used to do with the newspaper. And then when it was all over, the mental high was extraordinary, the joy was just seismic, the relief was beyond measure. It was football and this is what it does.
‘A helter-skelter match decorated with pulsating play,’ said the Irish Times.
‘A rousing, captivating encounter, toe to toe, blow for blow, 96 minutes of ferocity and courage,’ said the Daily Telegraph.
We searched for comparisons: the promotion win at York in the old Fourth Division maybe in ’92, the promotion win at Scunthorpe in 2000, the League Cup win at Chelsea on penalties, the Wembley play-off win in 2009, the 1-0 defeat of Man United; there might be a few more. But one thing is for sure, they don’t come every day.
It was a trip back to the garden centre at Harden, Bingley, on Wednesday; the drive was in warm sunshine, a chance to get our heads back on again, come back down to earth, the egg and bacon butty delicious (I had that while Mrs T wandered up and down the brassicas). It should have been a kind of warm-down after the night before but I couldn’t get rid of those incredible images.
On my way out of the restaurant I was stopped by a face I didn’t recognise and she asked me, “Is that you; weren’t you the Deputy Head at St Margaret’s Horsforth years ago?”
I nodded and smiled without any idea who she was. She explained she was the mother of three children I had taught years ago; it must have been over 40 years ago as each one turned 11. One was now an architect, one had an electrical business and the girl was a teacher. She laughed and asked, “Do you remember that report you wrote about Andrew when you said if he didn’t buck his ideas up he’d more than likely end up as a road sweeper. We’ve still got it.”
It was fun being a teacher all those years ago when you could write stuff like that on kids’ reports. You’d be had up now by the PC brigade, apparently road sweepers can be very sensitive, and anyway by the time I’d left teaching it was all tick lists and computerised with pre-written comments that you could print out.
We exchanged more pleasantries and went our separate ways, she chuckling at the old report, me with my head still at Turf Moor. I found Mrs T with a trolley filled with brassicas and stuff and I asked could we get some claret and blue garden gnomes. She said no. Her voice back had come back.
In a week that saw the Queen’s ninetieth birthday and then the sad demise of the brilliant ‘Prince’ and the wonderful Victoria Wood, plus all the EU stuff that we are now bombarded with on a daily basis, be they IN or OUT, (apparently if we leave we shall all starve to death from 2030 onwards), it may have gone unnoticed that Middlesbrough were deemed ineligible for promotion. It was revealed in the SOCCER on SUNDAY website, a seemingly obscure site, so well done to them for discovering that:
Middlesbrough Football Club were dealt a cruel blow with the FA declaring the North Yorkshire club ineligible for promotion. A return to the top flight had looked likely for the Championship frontrunners until the ruling. Under the Football Association’s new Three Strikes law, clubs relegated three times in any 20-year period will be banned from promotion for 10 years after their last relegation, in Middlesbrough’s case until 2019.
“Three strikes and you are out,” FA Chairman Greg Dyke told Soccer on Sunday. “Middlesbrough have been up and down like a whore’s knickers. I’ve seen lifts get less vertical action. It has to stop. The age of the yo-yo club is over. The FA will no longer stand by while an institution such as Middlesbrough goes up and down like a deranged chimp on a pogo stick.”
Should they finish in this season’s top two or win the play-off, the FA have confirmed that Boro will be compensated for losing out on promotion. Players capped ten times or more will pocket a brand new Zanussi washing machine, and the club itself will enjoy a lifetime supply of Tesco ham.
“They can stick their ham,” former manager Bryan Robson told Soccer on Sunday. “Don’t get me wrong, Tesco ham is different class. But we’re talking about players missing out on the Premier League. Ham, even Tesco ham can only soften the blow so much.”
Boro manager Aitor Karanka was even more diplomatic. “Of course we will challenge this ruling,” the Spaniard told Soccer on Sunday. “But if we lose, then we will accept the ham and move on as professionals. But to be fair Tesco ham is different class.”
We couldn’t get to Preston. Months ago we’d arranged for good friends to stay for the weekend. It’s a good job they’re tolerant and know what Burnley means to us so that there were no complaints when the TV went on for the game on SKY. Watching on TV is far worse than watching a game live. When it’s live you shout and holler, get worked up, you’re part of what goes on and see the whole picture not what a director wants you to see. It’s a tribal thing and you are part of the tribe. On TV it’s just a segment of the field, there’s a sort of odd detachment; it’s funny really, at a match I’ll leap up and rant at a referee for any bad decision. Sometimes a naughty word or two will just pop out and Mrs T tells me to sit down and shut up. On TV I just sit there, inwardly churned up of course, but outwardly impassive with the appearance of calm. It’s not the same telling a TV to f*ck off.
Over the years many players have appeared for both Preston and Burnley but the two that caught my eye were Jack Mustard in the 1930’s and Archibald Pinnell in the 1890’s. Earlier in the season Preston had won 2-0 at Burnley. Currently they hadn’t won in four. Tom Heaton said that the mentality at the club was stronger than ever. David Jones commented that on all three occasions that he had experienced promotion to the Premier League the common factor had been a good dressing room spirit. Now he looked to add a fourth promotion. Joey Barton on twitter said he was honoured to have been named in the PFA Championship team of the season but would not be attending the ceremony – there was still work to be done. Apparently the names had been leaked and along with Barton there was Tom Heaton, Michael Keane and Andre Gray.
Sean Dyche said he wasn’t losing any sleep, he could only control the controllables, he couldn’t rely on the twists and turns or lady luck, you concentrate on what you do, not what others do. You can only cut your own grass, he concluded. Whatever will be will be. After a game like the one against Boro, by the time he’d driven home he’d got it out of his system. Now it was time for ‘shoulders back.’
Not far short of 6,000 Burnley fans filled the away end at Deepdale waiting for the game to start; the messageboards and social media were awash with requests for spare tickets. At Moorland View we tucked into Salmon Mousse, then Chicken Moutard avec Crème Fraiche followed by home-grown rhubarb tart. We’re just ordinary, poor folk, but we struggle on. Austerity means champers is just a memory, it’s tap water not Pellegrino, the fast lane we used to enjoy is now more of a slow journey in an old Morris Minor. And, anyway, if we are all gonna starve by 2030, we decided we’d better get stuck in now and get ready.
As we tucked into the pre-game cheese and bickies and Colombian mints, the permutations wouldn’t go away. A Burnley win and we could begin to think about an automatic place. It would then put pressure on Boro and Brighton in their Saturday games. A draw would not be a disaster but would probably mean having to win the final two games. A defeat (an agonising thought) and who knows what might happen because that would mean the other two needing to lose a game each before the season ended to see us still in contention. If we were in this state, heaven only knows how Karanka’s bowels must have been faring, rational thinking not being his strong point recently.
To our delight and relief they DID win. It was 1-0 but could so easily have been three or more at half-time they were so good and racked up the shots and headers with Preston on the back foot for all the 45 minutes. This was as good a 45 minute performance as we had at Brentford, except this time the extra goals they so richly deserved did not go in. It was hard not to think this was just too easy as Burnley carved them open time and again with slick play.
Preston were simply blown away but somehow went back to the dressing room only one goal behind and so for all Burnley’s superiority all of us knew this was going to be a nervy second half. Grayson is no mug and made tactical changes so that Preston got into the game more and more. Even so Gray hit the post with a stunning shot on the turn and then Boyd hit the crossbar with a mighty 30-yarder. You willed another goal to go in because you knew that 1-0 could so easily be turned into a 1-1 or even 1-2.
Alas after Boyd’s shot hit the bar there was little else up front from Burnley as they had to dig in at the back and Preston showed why they are in the top half of the table forcing Burnley into five bookings. But throughout the game this was the Barton and Boyd show. Everyone played well but these two were outstanding. It was hard to think of any single player who had been brought into the club who has such a major impact in such a short time as Barton. “He’s a leader,” said Boyd in the post-match interviews and how it showed in this game.
Preston too had their second-half chances and the returning Beckford could so easily have scored. But this would have been rough justice on a Burnley side that deserved so much more than just the one single goal that came from a deflected long-range Barton free kick as early as the sixth minute. The rest of that half was a delight to watch, but at the end we sat on the sofa squirming and wriggling and willing the final minutes away. We roared at the six extra minutes at the end of the Boro game; now we groaned in anguish when there were five in this game. Benign masochism, déjà vu, you might say.
So: in this epic, enthralling finale to the season Burnley went top again by just one point, but three ahead of Brighton. The commentators made it sound so easy. “Win their next two games and Burnley will go up.” Would that it was so simple we all said at Number 12. There was still a scenario that would put Burnley back to third if Boro won and Brighton stuck six past Charlton, the latter a real and nagging possibility. We could think about the Premier League, we told ourselves, but that’s all.
It remained neck and neck with the finishing line ever closer but still with nothing certain. Now it wasn’t Gaviscon we needed, it was sedatives, with a long ten-day wait to the penultimate game.