BURNLEY 1 MIDDLESBROUGH 0
28 years since Lockerbie… goodbye Zsa Zsa Gabor… and Rick Parfitt…then George Michael… Pardew leaves the Palace… Express forecasts weather mayhem (again)… Allardyce summoned to the Palace… 51 years since the last Christmas Day league game at Blackpool… no Christmas Day bells at York Minster for first time since 1361…
Football was on hold so that Christmas weekend could take over. Poinsettias were arriving, cards distributed up and down the street, the one mince pie a day rule was holding firm and the neighbour opposite had bought yet more strings of lights. His house was now doing a passable imitation of New York at midnight. Mrs T was organising an evening of nachos, nibbles and nuts for the street. And soon to come was the January window. What presents would that bring we wondered. But there was an early one – or so we thought.
Sean D had been coy for weeks regarding Joseph Barton training at Turf Moor. It was something he would do for anyone needing a bit of help and support he said. But: the rapport between the two of them since that first omelette suggested from the outset that there was more to this than met the eye. ‘He accepted me as the finished article as the older, wiser person I have always wanted to be in the dressing room,’ he wrote in his book. ‘I responded to him as one of the few managers I felt was a friend.’
He referred to his prime attributes as being ‘awareness, application and competitiveness. So many players are done when they lose even a fraction of their pace, I’m fortunate because I never had any to lose.’
Probably most of us suspected that if JB was going to sign for anyone it would be Burnley despite him saying he’d had interest from several clubs. His ill-fated stay at Rangers had been short-lived; the homeliness of Burnley was now the preferred option. It was a short deal until the end of the season, money no problem with the sale of The Jut to Birmingham for a million. In one interview Barton had said if he’d known what was in store he’d never have joined Rangers. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but lots of us might have said ‘we told yer to stay at Burnley.’
‘Aged 34 with the slate wiped clean once again,’ wrote Barry Glendenning in the Guardian, ‘he now sits on a stool in the last chance saloon.’ Little did he or we know that a surprise was just around the corner and the stool not quite firmly anchored. Perhaps it was only at Burnley, he thought, that he could rehabilitate his reputation as a footballer. There is no question that in the promotion season he was a stunning success.
But where would this leave Defour we pondered. There had been stories that his partner had been tweeting unhappy tweets. There was another story that he had been back to Belgium and in an interview with a Belgian journalist had expressed his unhappiness at being on the bench and that some of the manager’s decisions were ‘bizarre,’ although the word bizarre however might have been down to the vagaries of translation. True or not, the Defour situation at this point was becoming a bit like the curious case of the Jelle who was eventually shipped out.
And then all of that became academic when Barton was charged with misconduct by the FA with regard to over 1,000 football bets going back 10 years up to 2016. Any moves to re-sign him immediately became open to speculation especially when Sean D said that his signing was only agreed in principle as opposed to earlier club statements that it was done bar international clearance. The newest club statement was brief: that it would be discussed with Barton and his lawyers. The words touch and bargepole sprang to mind immediately with the worry that a lengthy ban was in prospect. A certain signing was now most definitely in real doubt. Were the last chance saloon doors about to wing shut and hit him in the face we wondered?
The Turkey arrived at number 12 the other day. Not as big as usual, not a houseful this Christmas. Roy Oldfield remembered the days at Turf Moor when he was on Turkey duty. He had many jobs to perform as groundsman and fetching the Turkeys from Bob Lord’s factory to the ground was one of them. He laughed when I said that Fletch always maintained that the bigger the Turkey, the more secure was your place at the club. Margaret Potts said that the one of the first ones they got was too big to go in the oven. Everyone got one and the joke was that those who got a small Turkey were the next to be sold.
‘No not a bit of it Dave,’ said Roy. ’They were all the same size and nice ones too. None of them were small and it was my job to ferry them all down to the Cricket Field Stand in the small van we had. It took about 5 journeys there were that many. And then I had to lay them all out in the long corridor that went the length of the Cricket Field Stand. It was always cold in there as well especially in late December so there they lay until they were collected. It was quite a sight as well, 60 or so Turkeys all laid out down the floor from one end to the other.’
Smart businessman was our Bob though, they weren’t exactly free; the club paid him for them.
Roy would get a Christmas bonus too in his pay packet with an accompanying letter beginning Dear Roy:
On behalf of our Directors and myself I send you this short letter to indicate our sincere and grateful thanks for all your work for the club during the past 12 months. At this stage it is our opinion that we possess a work force which is second to none in these very trying and difficult days and quite candidly we are proud of you. We trust in the coming Christmas time you will be able to enjoy yourself and finally please accept as a token of our appreciation the value of one half of one week’s salary.
It was dated 11 December, 1980, and these were indeed the bad times of poor results, falling gates, unpaid bills, clamouring creditors, disgruntled supporters and a critical press. Lord had just a year remaining.
Next up was Middlesbrough and out of nowhere they had emerged as the club to dislike. Their fans had made fun of Dyche when he’d been up there as part of a recent commentary team. Their manager Karanka had said truly daft things about Burnley when the two clubs had met at Turf Moor last in the Championship; that if he’d had the money Burnley had he’d have had Burnley promoted by February or something like that. Once upon a time they were a club that were ‘just there’. Not a club you gave any great thought to, certainly not an interesting club, just a club that was dull and boring up in the cold, drab north-east. Their mid-fielder de Roon was now saying he wanted three points from Burnley as a Christmas present; just the kind of remark that the opposing manager might pin up on the dressing room wall to gee up the troops.
The word was that a lot of wound-up Boro fans were desperate to beat Burnley but it was hard to see quite where this rivalry was coming from other than Karanka’s provocation and the Teesside Gazette website. Allegedly according to this there had been simmering sound-bites, dug-out animosity and cyber-sabre rattling from fans fizzing back and forth according to one writer Anthony Vickers. A routine Premier game was as a result being seen as a grudge match and memories were dredged up of a previous encounter in April 2014 when Boro came as party pooper, won 1-0 and celebrated like they’d won the World Cup. If memory serves it was a niggly, grumpy and bad tempered game with diving, shirt pulling and arguing. Ayala was sent off followed by more petulant theatrics, continental histrionics versus good old Lancashire grit.
A Gazette sub-plot pointed to Sean Dyche’s Chesterfield being beaten by Middlesbrough in an FA Cup semi-final. And in addition to that were Karanka’s objections to Dyche talking of Burnley’s lesser spending power and how Derby and Boro were upping the spending cycle, when in fact Karanka retaliated by pointing to Burnley’s parachute payments and the millions they generated. When Burnley drew 1-1 in the recent promotion season with a very late equaliser, and stopped Boro going 4 points clear, it was Karanka who accused Burnley of celebrating like they had won the World Cup.
Derogatory comments about Boro that did do the rounds were undoubtedly not helped by the League decision to have the trophy up at Middlesbrough on the final day when Burnley were down at Charlton. Joey B certainly made a few remarks about it at the final gala dinner at the club; within minutes his comments were on social media. Allegedly a video of the Burnley team on the club coach chanting something highly derogatory about Karanka was also leaked. The esteemed Northern Echo was referring to the ‘festering animosity’ and the game was a sell-out. Boro, a point ahead, were looking to pull away even further. Burnley were simply looking for three points, another case of seeing through the noise, ignoring the hype. Win the points and the rest takes care of itself, the Dyche mantra.
Boxing Day: and now the media up int northeast was saying the phoney war was over with Karanka and Dyche saying nice things about each other. Phoney war over or just Christmas phoney niceness we wondered. It was a splendid Christmas Day at Thomas Towers with pride of place on the mantelpiece going to my claret and blue gnome that talks. It says things like ‘on me ‘ead son’ and ‘get to Specsavers’ when you walk past it, as class a piece of tat as you could wish for. You can get them at British Gnome Stores. The day topped off with as good a Mrs Brown Christmas Special as we’ve seen; not to everyone’s taste of course but we feckin’ luv it in our house.
The day raw: the wind biting, the brass band playing carols and Christmas songs by the chip van; their noses and fingers slowly turning the same colour as their bright blue jackets in the freezing air. Brave blokes drinking pints, sensible blokes having a hot coffee from the nearby vendor, for me a gingerbread and cinnamon Christmas Special with mince pies from the box we just happened to have with us. Inside the stadium, just a sprinkling of empty seats, a swirling wind and ‘horrible conditions’ said Andre Gray afterwards.
Championes, championes we are the champions, the crowd sang and roared as the game reached its conclusion with Burnley leading 1-0. It was clearly directed at the Boro fans and their manager Karanka. Some might say it was a scrappy, messy 1-0 win; others might say it was merited and deserved in a gripping game that was filled with incident and tension. A game that you didn’t want to take your eyes off for a second in case you missed something. At stake was a huge opportunity for Burnley to climb away from the bottom three, assuming those already in the bottom three did their bit and lost – which they obligingly did.
After a first half where Burnley had the edge (despite what Karanka claimed) it had become clear that just one goal might be enough to settle this game and with Boro having fashioned just the one clear chance early in the first half, you hoped that one moment of skill, luck (not exactly abundant this season) or magic might win the game for Burnley. Boro were back in the game for the first 20 minutes of the second half; a period that convinced Karanka they were the better side. But once Burnley took the lead in the 80th minute the fight in them just evaporated.
It was exactly skill and luck that created the goal with as perfect an example of classic route one football as you could wish for. Heaton took a free kick from in his own half; Vokes headed the ball on and down, whereupon Gray latched onto it in a flash and volleyed the ball home with supreme skill, from just inside the box whilst shrugging off the defender. 5 seconds maybe from Heaton’s toe-end to Valdes watching it cross the line. Valdes parried the shot but his bad luck and Burnley’s good luck saw the ball spin in slow motion over the line as he scrambled after it and all of us willing it over the line.
Jubilation then, with the Burnley win, but bewilderment at Craig Pawson’s hapless refereeing display, the only consolation being he was equally bad for both sides. Somehow he managed to book 11 players, six of them from Burnley in a game that yes was fiercely contested, was just occasionally confrontational, but was never dirty. Karanka seems to think his side are a pure footballing side and that Burnley are just a long ball team. The stats from the game would tell him otherwise; that Boro played 100 long balls to Burnley’s 82. Pawson, meanwhile, issues cards presumably on the basis that if you issue enough you will eventually get one right.
30 Middlesbrough coaches made the journey down to Burnley. Burnley’s a ‘sh*thole’ their fans sang during the game. 30 Middlesbrough coaches made the journey back home and no doubt this journey seemed twice as long. In the great scheme of things some wins are more satisfying than others. This was one of them.