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GALA DINNERS and END OF TERM

BURNLEY 1 WEST HAM 2

‘Don’t remember this fuss when we knocked down the old Brunshaw Road Stand,’ tweeted Phil Bird after watching the scenes at Tottenham when they played their last ever game at White Hart Lane before demolition began in earnest.

Bob Lord just said Burnley’s stand had to come down, reports indicated it was structurally unsafe, and so a new one was ordered. It took a few more years to get it constructed following relegation but there was no big hullabaloo when the old one came down. In those days Lord didn’t sell the seats and fittings to make a few extra bob, folk just wandered into the demo site and filched what they liked. Edward Heath opened the new one, he shook hands with the players, had a sandwich with Bob, and that was pretty much it.

Hull duly lost at Crystal Palace on the Sunday of the penultimate weekend (a weekend when even Patrick Bamford scored). It made Burnley mathematically safe so any moping about the Bournemouth result was quickly forgotten especially by the 750 who went to the Gala Awards Night at the club on the Sunday of that weekend. Cyber terrorists didn’t stop this shindig. You could have been forgiven for thinking you were at Pippa Middleton’s wedding such was the splendour and finery of those queueing up to get in. Once inside, with all the silver furniture you half expected to see the wannabee-princess herself.

The video summary of the season on the big screen was a reminder of just what a remarkable season it was with several great results and some wonderful goals. Tom Heaton was supporters’ player of the year. ‘I’m not going anywhere,’ he said to several autograph hunters. Michael Keane was players’ player of the year. Best goal of the season went to Jeff Hendrick for that amazing control on the knee and sublime volley. Heaton went on to win MOTD save of the season for THAT save at Old Trafford.

For those who paid top whack, the champagne flowed – well – er- some sort of pinky flavoured Cava stuff actually, who were they trying to kid. I might be a tight old git but I know my champers. Those with a nose for these things checked the bubbles, gave it the sniff test, had a quick slurp and announced with convincing aplomb, ‘ah hum, just a hint of strawberry I’d say.’

‘Oh dear, what is this stuff?’ said our friend Muriel, who knows a thing or two about drink. For the cost of a table you could buy a small house in Burnley, for the cost of one ticket an old mini from Paul Weller.

The great and good of Burnley were all dolled up in their finest. Rent-a-suit on Burnley Market did a roaring trade in the week. The guy who dressed up in his army officers mess suit was mistaken for the wine waiter several times. All of this was in a big tent inside the old gym; we could have dressed up like Arabs to make it more fun. You didn’t go in on a red carpet but on a roll of turf, we called it Cyril-lawn in our day. No cheese and bickies this year, there’s Tory austerity for you. Bearing in mind the state our neighbours down the road are in, the chicken dinner was a nice touch. The auditors have moved in down there but the Venkys have promised to bring more silverware to the club next season. They’re getting new cutlery.

The night was notable for a number of things not the least of which was the staggering amount of totty in short skirts and high heels, many of them with pert bottoms; several more with very large bottoms. By gum that’s prime chunk my pal said his teeth rattling, eyes on stalks and nearly passing out. I had to fan my brow several times. Jeff Brown was splendid in his ‘we are little old Burnley routine’ and we have done the impossible and it means so much to the town – which it most definitely does.

The players were as approachable and sociable a bunch as this club has ever had in recent years. Time was when all footballers were like this, when even a star like Jimmy McIlroy lived in just a neat little semi in town and was just a normal neighbour you could chat to over the garden wall. There’s a unity about them. And with Jeff Brown on stage they must have hoped he didn’t pick on them to make fun of.

‘We should use Robbie Brady like they do in American Football. Just bring him on to take free kicks. He’s done f***all else,’ he quipped. Jeff Hendrick’s new hair style came in for some ribbing. And Sean Dyche’s watch:

‘£45,000 quid… yer ‘avin a laugh… Tenerife… av yer never been…that bloke that sells watches, ‘as 30 strapped to ‘is arm.’

But Joey Barton came in for a very special mention. At last year’s ‘do’ Jeff was nervous, he told us. His tax case was by then public knowledge but he was in good company with Ken Dodd and ‘arry Redknapp’s dog. He wondered how the crowd would react when he went on to do his bit. It was Joey Barton who geed him up, talked to him, told him people wanted to hear him. Jeff came out that night and brought the house down.

More or less straight after the final game against West Ham we were heading down to Dorset and Beaminster. It’s world away from football, nearest team Yeovil. Saturday instead of football it had been the Pippa Middleton wedding, the most obscene, grotesque display of wealth since the Pharaohs, the tackiest most vulgar, classless display of ‘I’m-considerably-richer-than thou’ ostentation, pretension and affectation since Balotelli’s marble bathrooms. The Wedding supplements in the Sundays were binned without hesitation.

The sight of all that alongside the news that St Theresa would ditch the pensioner fuel allowance and meals for schoolchildren had me spluttering on my champagne. Lots of the old dears in the queue at M&S were adamant that Chairman May had gone too far this time and were utterly livid. ‘Well that’s my vote she won’t be having,’ was the general consensus, and it was a quite a queue to boot, on a busy Saturday afternoon. There may be hope for Corbyn after all. The gap is narrowing. Huge crowds gather round him like he is the Messiah, like they used to do for Beckham. What about Dyche for PM a few had asked?

Our last trip to Beaminster had been at the time of The Curious Incident of the Grosicki and the Plane in the Night. We’d sat listening to the last few hours of the transfer window engrossed in the intrigue and suspense only to find it all fall flat, Burnley allegedly unwilling to take a player that gambled so heavily. Presumably, one was enough already. He didn’t sign and ended up at Hull City. Their gamble failed; Hull went down.

West Ham at Turf Moor: In previous seasons years ago this would have been a nothing game and we’d have snoozed through it as players went through the motions. But now, in the Premier League, there was more huge money at stake, millions in fact for finishing as high as they could. Sean Dyche was urging the players to make history; the accountants were rubbing their hands and the players were already assured of their £8.5million jackpot according to the papers. Dyche, ever the realist, was already saying that once results began to decline, or people were fed up of ‘sameness’ then he’d be gone, that he was by no means safe. Asked why he hadn’t been headhunted for a ‘bigger’ job, he replied that it was ‘gingerist.’ Gingers, just 5% of ther world’s population, weren’t fashionable, he had never been fashionable, he just did the job.

The Turf was almost filled. No matter what the result, we all wanted to say our thanks. Mercifully it was a dry day in what had so far been a drab May. The sun eventually appeared and the pitch looked back to its best. Out in the open sun it was a shirt sleeves day at last. The vacuum of summer approached and the wait for the new fixture list. We’d scan the papers and the web for intimations of new signings and wages that we could afford. This was a problem that in truth few of us really expected but they’d done us proud, kept the town on the map, defied the critics and won new admirers. But Keane was allegedly set for Man United. Benitez was sniffing around both Gray and Barnes according to the papers. The hawks were circling.

Mee and Keane were missing again, in came Long and Tarkowski. Boyd was out, in came Brady. We sat back knowing that if all results went Burnley’s way they would be another few million to the good. The minute’s applause for the great Peter Noble was loud and heartfelt. He was a lion of a player.

Alas, there was no win; it all ended in a rather tame defeat. Surprisingly tame because the first half had been open, cut and thrust, Burnley taking the lead through Vokes and looking set for the win, well on top and West Ham looking ragged. Andre Gray in fact could have scored in the first minutes but his lob over the stranded keeper missed the gaping goal by a mile when it would have been easier to score. Burnley could have been three goals up in the first 15 minutes thanks to slick play; with Ward on the left looking good. Gray missed another great chance trying a fancy flick rather than just hitting it firmly.

But thoughts of a comfortable win began to disappear as West Ham, a real bogey side, came back into the game, cut Burnley wide open down the middle with almost contemptuous ease and levelled. Half-time then, but there had been no intimation of the capitulation to come in the second half.

Was this the same Burnley? Slowly but surely West Ham began to take control, Bilic on the touchline giving a fair impersonation of a manager heading for an early heart attack with his frantic signals and directions. Burnley became timid, meek and for long spells mere spectators as West Ham passed at speed, with control and accuracy. West Ham belong to that middle group of the Prem, nothing brilliant at all, standard average, but here they gave Burnley a lesson in the second half in the requirements of the Premier League; pace, movement, width, first touch, accuracy, passing skills, interchanging and speed of thought.

Watching the inflatables being tossed around the Jimmy Mac lower stand became more fun to watch, the fun being keeping it from being nabbed by stewards who saw it as their sworn duty to catch and burst them. Quite why stewards should do this on the last day is beyond my understanding. Is a plastic inflatable a health and safety risk? The spoilsport jobsworth duly did his job. But they failed miserably to stop the numpties running on the pitch at the end as we know they always do. Bravely bursting an inflatable globe is so much easier.

Next up was watching the ball roll off the Bob Lord roof and land on the perimeter below with a thud. Will it roll off or not? Will it hit the linesman or not? The simplest things keep us amused when a game is becoming painful to watch.

It was simply a matter of time before they scored, and score they did. Heaton stopped a piledriver, the ball looped up, bounced back into play off the crossbar and landed perfectly for West Ham to score quicker and sharper to the loose ball. And that was it, game over. It was hard to remember one occasion in that second half when the West Ham keeper was tested at all. In truth he could have brought out a deckchair and enjoyed the afternoon sun. Dyche rang the changes and on came Defour to rapturous applause, plus Ashley Barnes and Gudmondsson. Defour had little chance to shine, nor did the others. The game by the end was assuming the appearance of a Premier League side against a Championship side.

Dyche was honest enough to say that West Ham were the better second-half side. But by the same token he knew like all of us that this was a game that could have been over within the first 20 minutes with better finishing and quicker reactions. ‘Oh Burnley we love you,’ we sang at the end. And we do, we really do. This season has been a badge of honour, added Dyche.

Aimee on Facebook wrote… ‘Ending the season with a loss… but who cares… it’s been a f*****g fantastic season.’ Fine words maybe and possibly what many of us think, but just two wins in the last 15 games was a little, tiny, weeny niggle in the back of a few minds.

Would this be a summer of wondering if we could win promotion again? No it would not. We wouldn’t need to. Another season in the Prem, not a bad prospect at all we said, as we drove home across the sun-flecked moors. The views across the hills were stunning… and alive… with the sound of more Premier cash heading Burnley’s way. Once upon a time, said Barry Kilby, the jar on the mantelpiece was empty. Now there’s a whole row of them… and all brim-full.

The old season over; the new one awaits and as soon as we see the new fixture list in June we look and earmark the games to win and the away games to go to. We look to see when we play the glamour sides, City, Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs. It was goodbye to Sunderland, Hull and Middlesbrough but hello to Newcastle, Brighton and best of all, Huddersfield. The latter were one of those clubs that said if Burnley can do it, why can’t we? And they did.

Another season in the Prem; what’s not to like?

JELLY and ICE CREAM

BOURNEMOUTH 2 BURNLEY 1

It was the twilight zone for neighbours Blackburn Rovers after the last day drama in the Championship that saw them relegated despite a 3-1 win at Brentford. Meanwhile for Burnley, the object of their scorn for so many years, it was sunshine and light for another year in the Premier League. It was another year of development, progress and betterment. It was a triumph for the folks that run the club, and the staff that run the team.

Football can be unforgiving, merciless and downright cruel. For humanitarian reasons some folks felt sorry for the Rovers fans, asking did they deserve this fate. Was it not the Venky’s to blame and the chaotic running of the club? The answer to that is most certainly yes, but neither can Burnley fans forget the abuse and derision, the banner that was flown over the stadium ‘staying down forever’ and the mockery directed towards Turf Moor for so many years.

It will be party time many Burnley fans quipped on twitter and Facebook, and how better to do that than with jelly and ice cream. That was the celebration theme and reports say that jelly was sold out in Burnley. We’ve now had four wonderful seasons with Dyche; promotion, then a battling relegation that was still a great season, then promotion as champions and now Premier League 40 points and staying up. At Blackburn it has just been a slow death.

From the moment they sacked Sam Allardyce, the pathway was chosen, the route was remorseless. While we had the word relentless to describe Burnley’s upward progress and playing style, Rovers could only use the word to describe their trajectory downwards. How harsh is football; to win 3-1 away from home and still be relegated because the two other candidates also won. As the news came in that Birmingham had hung on to their 1-0 lead at Bristol, the tears flowed in Rovers land. The final-day permutations and possibilities weren’t that difficult but were too much for Diane Abbott to fathom out.

How many of us felt a perverse and cruel delight in their demotion as they headed towards the small fry. For years they crowed that their local derby was no longer against piddling Burnley, it was against Manchester United. Their local derby games now will be against Bury and Rochdale. They once bought success. Burnley earned success. Whilst the Venky’s remain in control and the club is hamstrung by lack of money, it is hard to see how Blackburn can bounce back straightaway. Maybe it is their turn to spend 7 years in the wilderness.

There was one perfect newspaper headline: ‘They think it’s all over, it is now.’

The drive home after the West Brom game was brilliant. It didn’t matter one jot that Swansea won. We basked in the sure knowledge that Burnley would not be relegated; that we could happily wait for the new fixture list. We called not at the Kettledrum, or the Queen or the Shepherds, but at Abid’s in Leeds for a celebratory meal. For all Burnley fans in Leeds, and there are plenty of us, Abid’s is in Stanningley.

For Blackburn it was chicken karma. For us it was chicken korma.

The press was light in its coverage of what after all was a huge achievement; safety against all the odds, against all the predictions, against all the experts, against all the know-it-alls. And how the team grew over the season, how Barnes developed into a massive presence, how Vokes blossomed, how Mee and Keane grew into one of the best pairings the club has had, how Ward became one of the first names on the sheet, how Lowton became Mr Reliable, how Westwood and Hendrick were so impressive as a pairing and how Heaton grew to become an utterly awesome keeper. How good it was to have Long and Tarkowski to step into the breach, as if they had played there for years.

And how the club grew with new infrastructure, new buildings and new training centre; all that is needed now is some kind of corner stand to develop into a state of the art, purpose built facility for the disabled.

Probably all of us gave more than a passing thought to what is now a date spoken of with something approaching reverence, May 9, 1987. It was possibly the worst Burnley team ever, quite simply because the club was in such a penniless mess. And yet the same players are thought of today as heroes and legends because of that one, final, end of season result. We sit in the pub or on a coach and talk about Burnley’s greatest ever goals starting maybe with Bert Freeman’s at Wembley in 1914. But two goals have to go into any top list and those were the goals scored by Neil Grewcock and Ian Britton that won the Orient game and secured the place in the Football League. It is frequently said that had Burnley lost that day, then the club would have folded, but former director, Derek Gill, has always maintained there were people ready to step into the breach and provide the funds to keep it going. How astonishing it was that just a year later Burnley were at Wembley in a Cup Final. They lost, but it did not stop that game being a massive celebration of a club that had come back to life. It still had some difficult roads to take for a few more years but the club soldiered on. We might all pick different dates to say this was when we began the road to the Premier League; the night at York perhaps, or when Stan Ternent took us to the Championship.

The events since, far more successes than failures, have been momentous. 30 years ago this was a club on the brink; now it is a cited as a textbook example of how to run a football club, the one that is used as the model for others to emulate and one group that will be horrified to hear that are those Middlesbrough fans who mocked Burnley last summer; and most certainly those Blackburn fans who mocked Burnley for a decade and more. Fans at Sunderland, Blackpool, Charlton, Leyton Orient and Coventry must look at Burnley with envy; Portsmouth too maybe, although they are on the road to better times. Tony Pulis thinks we are a smashing club. The MOTD and SKY pundits in unison sing Burnley’s praises especially Sean Dyche. Harry Redknapp paid him homage; that if he went to a top six club he would keep them top six. But if a top six manager came to Burnley, they’d struggle.

SD’s 200th game in charge was at Bournemouth. What a four seasons he’s just had. Whilst he was celebrating that, I was celebrating the ancient Peugeot had passed its MOT at the ripe old age of 11, in fact it might even be 12; I’ve lost count. It keeps on going, 115,000 miles, the bulk of the miles being back and forth to Turf Moor from Leeds. A few journeys ago I got a speeding ticket, 36mph in Cliviger, on the way to a game. Just as you do the straight bit from the Queen, nice and slow (I thought), then a couple of bends, and the camera from the van was aimed at the bend, crafty sods. We saw the van, but too late. The offer of an awareness course was swiftly accepted; a £90 fee for the pleasure of a morning in the Masonic Hall Headingley. 25 years ago moi and Mrs T had our 25th wedding anniversary there and I hadn’t set foot in the place since. Life works in funny ways.

There was a balance between the males and females that was nice to see. The real divots and boy racers were in the room next door; my understanding being they were ones involved in prangs and shunts. There was a little old dear in our room who should have been next door. I did wonder if she couldn’t find the right room in the Masonic, how on earth she could find her way round Leeds. 4 hours later, a bit wiser, but also a tad bored by the end, there was one of those funny moments in the car park as two cars exiting were within an inch of driving into each other, as neither saw the other. Just imagine, you do a driver course and then within minutes have a shunt in the car park – priceless.

‘I like your thinking,’ was one instructor’s maddening catchphrase just about every time someone said something. That plus constantly being called, fella, pal and matey, all morning, (and that was just the women) made home time a welcome relief. There wasn’t even a ginger biscuit with our elevenses. I came out wondering if I could send the bill for £90 to Burnley FC. After all, it was pretty much their fault.

There was no jelly and ice cream at the Vitality Stadium and by all accounts Burnley had left their vitality at home and everything went a bit limp. All we had to entertain us was Corbyn’s car running over a reporter’s foot, reports of the Venky’s head offices being raided by the tax people, chickens with flags of India spotted in Bournemouth, a new definition of middle class is people who cut themselves on an avocado, people were admitting to watching the Eurovision Song Contest, and Dianne Abbott passed her O Level maths.

It’s a funny owld game, the side that was so good at Palace and then in the second half against West Brom just didn’t turn up on the south coast. It had to be Junior Stanislas that scored first all too easily against his old club, demonstrating that the immutable law of the ex is alive and well. With only a few minutes to go Vokes equalised from a ball swung over by sub Gudmondsson. At this point I was in the Farsley clubhouse and heads turned when I let out a primeval roar. The same heads turned again just two minutes later when another roar came out, only this time it began with a large loud, very loud F when Bournemouth scored again the result of another bit of poor one-versus-one defending. A lot of people up at Farsley know now I’m a Burnley supporter and thus the claret and blue folktale spreads just a little further into darkest Yorkshire.

We weren’t there in Bournemouth’s glorious sunshine, instead spent 5 hours in the grey, drab cold watching Joe at the Farsley 6 a side tournament at the Farsley stadium involving 18 U10 teams from all over Leeds. He loved it, that’s the main thing and only the delicious super-size hot dogs kept me going and warm inside. The bar was open all afternoon so at least I could slip inside and watch the last half hour of Soccer Saturday even though it made painful viewing hearing how slack Burnley were.

I could only select a few of the many comments on the websites after the game.

Bournemouth: it’s like a football stadium only smaller.

The goal could be priceless, if Hull beat Crystal Palace 10-0 and then Spurs 6-0; that will be the goal that saves the season.

A lovely sunny morning in Bournemouth, a place that now has palm trees along the prom.

Most of the team were on the beach, a very weak and un-Burnley like performance, felt sorry for the fans that went all that way (some had even cycled).

Treated it as a celebration, of Burnley staying up and Blackburn going down

The Swansea players paid for their fans to travel to their away game today at Sunderland… er just a thought Burnley…

If you watch Burnley away for entertainment, you’re in the wrong field.

Again: if you’re not going to play Defour what is the point of having him on the bench?

And one regular was singularly cheesed off: ‘An eight and a half hour round trip by train, to a lovely little stadium (in parkland with a beautiful Edwardian cricket ground just across the road) to watch us get beaten by the better side, one of our underrated former players AND a former Blackburn Rovers striker scored against us; just to rub it in , a horrible return journey where every smelly drunken idiot and or loudmouth chav got on the train somewhere between Oxford and Stafford, where we changed trains in a nasty, freezing concrete hellhole straight out of ‘Clockwork Orange’. To come home to Match of the Day where the lazy buggars who edit the programme couldn’t even find a single word of praise or comfort… I don’t care… this is who we are.’

‘I’m not overthinking it,’ said Dyche who agreed they were flat, ran out of steam, didn’t have any edge, bemoaned the defending, and suggested maybe it was just a game too far with striker Josh King the difference. Perhaps it was just a game to consign to the dustbin maybe; unless you travelled all that way and all the way back again. Maybe it was just a game too many, he added. What a good job then it was that the 40 points safety mark had been reached.

Not everything was a moan or a groan. Burnley fans come on get a grip, said one poster. Stop moaning about our players. We’ve just about achieved our highest finish and arguably biggest achievement in 40 years. As disappointing as today’s result was, can we look at the bigger picture.

True enough: who of us at the beginning of the season would have predicted 40 points and another season in the stratosphere? Could it just be after all the Herculean efforts they were entitled to an off day at the office? And anyway, safe, the hard work had been done already.

OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING

BURNLEY 2 WEST BROM 2

Oh what a beautiful feeling, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.

And who could blame us for feeling so good the day after the Palace game, and in fact for the next week, and then after the West Brom game. That was a win to savour and celebrate. This was no fluke win, this was merited and deserved and the Boyd pass will be talked about with a sense of reverence for quite a while. And then it was a point against West Brom that secured Burnley’s Premier place.

‘Magnificent,’ said Alan Shearer speaking of Burnley’s achievements this season and who could argue with that.

But it was classic Allardyce moaning and groaning about the referee. He could easily face charges for crimes against chewing gum. Zaha was indeed hard done by with the offside decision that was incorrect and went against him but the referee made poor decisions for both sides. Boyd was clearly pushed by Puncheon in the area but nothing was given. Zaha could easily have been yellow carded twice and subsequently red carded, for continual blatant dissent. If the referee decided that the Flanagan challenge in the box that saw Zaha on the floor was not a penalty, it was probably because Zaha had already been on the floor so often falling over and rolling about. Zaha can be a genius when in full flow, in this game against Burnley he was like a giraffe on ice.

After the win, Burnley were 8 points clear plus the superior goal difference. If Swansea were to lose at Old Trafford, that would be it, only a mathematical miracle and cricket scores could then possibly keep Swansea up. But Dyche was right. It was not all over, for United were a shadow of the side that beat Burnley and could only draw at home against Swansea. It meant there were still nine points to play for and Burnley had a seven-point lead over Swansea. The unthinkable could still happen. But win at home to West Brom, not something we do too often, it would be party time at Turf Moor.

Something Sean D said some while ago came back to mind. It was about seeing through the noise and that this was one of the big parts of the job, the ability to switch off from all the blather that surrounded him. The ability to focus when all around were critical, the capacity to be able to shrug things off. The Barton ban must have been a huge distraction. The team had not played well against Man United. There were calls to go 4-5-1; there were calls to bring back Defour. Dyche simply ignored all this noise, stuck to the tried and tested, and reaped the reward. The plaudits were plentiful:

This was a wonderfully resilient display, a performance based on strong-arm defence, a tireless collective work rate, and goalkeeping excellence to suffocate Crystal Palace’s momentum. A fine campaign is tantalisingly close to being rewarded with survival. (Observer)

     It was good old fashioned fare from Dyche’s charges – two big men up front, no-nonsense clearances, full backs bombing on – and Palace couldn’t deal with it, a performance that deserved to win… the brink of safety barring disaster with three games remaining. (Mirror)

     ‘People suggest we are safe,’ said Dyche. ‘But we are not. We might be. I’m not the Special One, I’m only special because I’ve got ginger hair and 95% of the world’s population haven’t got ginger hair. I stay focussed. I’ve seen football matches change so quickly and that’s why I don’t get involved. You don’t see me running up and down the touchline when we score or after a game. I just try to stay factual, focussed, and its’s real, authentic. This is not spin. This is who I am – boring.’

Matchday against West Brom and there were more important things than would Blackburn go down this weekend, general and mayoral elections, and Mrs May having a bag of chips in Cornwall. Win or draw and Burnley would stay up. If Swansea lost Burnley would stay up. We mulled over the possibilities, Diane Abbott couldn’t fathom them out; this could be the day we proved the experts wrong, or it could that things might be dragged on a little longer.

30 years ago more or less to the day Burnley had won 2-1 on the last day of the season to preserve their place in the league. This weekend was therefore a chance to think about how far the club had come in those 30 years and how they had done it inch by inch without help from billionaires. Seven of that side were at the game having attended a dinner the previous evening. Tim Quelch is inching his way towards the conclusion of his newest book that looks at these years. The club held the dinner to celebrate them; it was hard not to call it the Orient Dinner but it was more than just that. The dinner or Bruno Mars at the Leeds Arena – that was the question, sod’s law they were both on the same night. We chose Bruno Mars on the grounds that there was sure to be another dinner in 30 years and we could wait for that. And anyway: I wanted to learn some new moves and shapes.

Nerves weren’t helped by the news that Mee, Keane and Ward could all be missing from the brick wall defence, plus Boyd a doubt as well. And West Brom were a bogey side. At their place there had been two heavy Premier defeats; at Burnley last time out they’d shoved, pushed and muscled their way to a draw after Burnley had been 2-0 up. They were specialists in the wrestling, jostling and holding routine at corners, although Pulis called it ‘blocking’ to give it some respectability. He’d admitted that they coached it and practised in training. Week after week we watch it on TV in most games and wonder just when it will be stopped. The sin bin idea being mooted at the moment for dissent might be the way.

There were a few butterflies but what a splendid afternoon it was. Who would have thought that Burnley and West Brom, not names you would normally associate with the finer culinary aspects of football, would serve a up a tasty treat of a game that started slowly, built up, and ended with a superb climax that saw Burnley retain their Premier League status.

It was Swansea that we worried about catching up but with a neat twist in the tale of the season, it was Hull who came up on the rails to provide the result that saw Burnley secure. Swansea won later in the day, but Hull to our surprise lost at home against Sunderland of all people. It was Hull therefore that had us smiling. Mathematically it wasn’t quite over, but even the most pessimistic, glass half full, Burnley supporter, would have to be super-gloomy to see Hull overturning a 19-goal difference between themselves and Burnley.

And so: Burnley, in a game that ended with a surge of thrills and spills, clinched their place at the top table, competing once again with the likes of Spurs, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, City and United. Those exiting the ground who knew that Hull had lost would have known already. Most of us didn’t; so at the final whistle, with thoughts of Swansea uppermost, there was just the faintest tinge of disappointment to mix with the relief, that there had not been a win, just the 2-2 draw. In fact it could have been worse for with just 5 minutes remaining West Brom were winning 2-1; but then up soared Sam Vokes to head home a Brady free kick, that arced over the flailing keeper’s head.

If the first half was a slow burner, drab said some of the pundits, nevertheless it saw Burnley on the front foot, playing some delightful football, replacement centre-backs Long and Tarkowski superb, Hendrick and Westwood in control and Barnes and Vokes winning the battle against the West Brom back four. Any one of several of them could have been MOTM. Maybe we’d have settled for 0-0 at the final whistle having seen that West Brom posed threats at corners but into the second half and Burnley took the lead and brought the house down.

Barnes was through in the box and was clearly manhandled and brought down. We screamed for the penalty but none was given. While that was going on, Barnes simply picked himself up, regained and crossed the ball and there was Vokes to sweep it home. In fact, the linesman had been flagging all the while for the penalty. Estimates suggest that 15,000+ people missed the actual goal because we were all berating the referee. Until this point West Brom had never threatened to win the game, so could this be the goal that kept Burnley up?

West Brom hadn’t won in four and hadn’t scored in over 8 hours of football. They duly scored twice to take the smiles off our faces and re-set the whole scenario. The second had inevitably come from a corner that left Dawson to power through and score against Burnley yet again. Lose and Burnley would be left on the edge for yet another week. We churned and gurned, and grimaced and groaned as the minutes wound down. This was a buttock clenching finale. We were going to lose. It was sod’s law. At last Dyche made changes; on came Gudmondsson, Gray with fresh pace and energy, and Brady with his free kick expertise. And it was the latter that floated a peach of a free kick from the right so that Vokes rose; a defender and the keeper defended feebly, and Vokes’s header floated gently in, with just minutes remaining.

Delirium, done it we thought; surely that was it, a draw, a point, a precious point that at the beginning of the game, much as we desperately wanted to win, we’d have settled for. Pandemonium, uproar, bedlam, jubilation, we felt the whole gamut of elation. Sure Swansea might win, but every point took us an inch closer. And at that point it hadn’t dawned that Sunderland were doing us one almighty favour.

£105million seems to be the figure that is the TV reward for staying up. Then there are the bonus millions for the finishing position. Charlie Proctor and his family need just a fraction of that to get the treatment that the four-year old needs to get essential cancer treatment. There were more than a few with moist eyes and lumps in throats as the tiny lad lead out the teams clutching Tom Heaton’s hand. Some families are brave, above and beyond the ordinary. This family is one of them.

When Peter Noble played in the 70s at Burnley figures such as £105million coming the club’s way would have made him laugh. He was part of the Casper, Dobson, Fletcher, James, Waldron cohort in that great ‘Team of the Seventies’ that never saw its true potential as one by one the stars were sold. We purred at the pure passing football they played and even today think back to what might have been if Burnley hadn’t been a selling club. Noble wasn’t a big man; stand him next to Ashley Barnes and he’d look tiny but what a header of a ball he was. He was the ultimate play anywhere man, attack, midfield or defence. For a couple of seasons in the late 70s he was the driving force of the team as it slowly declined. If there had been others to match him in that side, the story of the club might well have taken a different course. Adamson brought him to the club in the early 70s in one of the shrewdest purchases of all time and he was an integral part of a side that the likes of Bobby Moore hated to play against ‘because we could never get the ball off Burnley,’ he once said.

Peter had just passed away and I thought of him and where he might have fitted in to the current side – in a word, anywhere. He was a box-to-box player, had energy to spare, led by example, could score goals, take penalties, make goals and was one of those who more than earned the accolade ‘one of my favourite players’ granted him by so many people who saw him play.

After football he ran a market stall selling sports goods and Jim Thomson tells the story of the footballs they took to Glasgow Celtic to kick into the crowd as a goodwill gesture after the riot at Turf Moor in the Anglo-Scottish Cup game. Harry Potts asked Peter to supply them and he duly did so. But when they got to Glasgow and saw the colour, they were horrified. When they opened the three large bags of balls, Billy Rodaway poked Thommo with horror in his eyes.

‘Jim for God’s sake, have you seen the colour of them balls?’

Thommo grimaced. They were blue and white, Rangers’ colours. He asked Peter why on earth he had brought them.

‘Couldn’t get rid of them in the shop,’ he replied, ‘Couldn’t sell ‘em.’

     In the tunnel as they went out with the Celtic players Bobby Lennox just laughed and told the Burnley players, if they kicked them into the crowd, they’d just go mad.      

‘By this time we were all nervous and beginning to wonder just what would happen. We were to find out quickly. Within minutes they had all been kicked back at us all burst. Billy Rodaway had actually handed his to a small kid on the front row but as soon as he turned round and walked away he felt a thud on the back of his head.’

‘Little bastard has just thrown it straight back at me,’ says Billy rubbing his head. Needless to say as 48 blue and white ruined foot balls littered the pitch, the Celtic players and Peter were killing themselves laughing.’

Rest in peace, Peter Noble

THE CIRCUS COMES TO TURF MOOR

BURNLEY 0 MANCHESTER UNITED 2

Manchester United hadn’t lost for months in a run of more than 20 unbeaten games. Mourhino’s tactics had stifled Chelsea and seen them off 2-0 so that Chelsea were no longer runaway leaders. The biggest club in the world were in Burnley; their home at Old Trafford a mecca for foreign fans on package tours; all the skips, staff and equipment they brought, enough to fill two dressing rooms. Yep, the circus and Mourhino was back in town.

Meanwhile: Mother Theresa had called a snap general election. It was the welfare cruelty and heartlessness of the Tories versus the economic and internal chaos of Labour. It was Theresa May (a sort of genteel Erdogan) and Boris, versus Jeremy Corbyn (a sort of quiet version of Jerry Lewis) and Diane Abbott. Corbyn and Abbott had a nice ring to it, like Morecambe and Wise, Cannon and Ball or Flanagan and Allen. We’d chuckled at the choice the Americans faced with Trump versus Clinton. But now it was our turn to choose between the lesser of two evils, May versus Corbyn. And that was even before you factored Brexit into the equation. Plenty of folk were wondering if the world would actually get to June 8. And: if Burnley had survived for another season in the Prem it would be just their luck if Trump did indeed press the destruct button.

In two previous Premier visits Man U hadn’t managed to score at Turf Moor, the first occasion in 2009 being a night to remember that none of us there will ever forget thanks to Robbie Blake’s thunderbolt volley. The second game was a bit of a let-down, a not particularly thrilling 0-0 draw, with the one memorable incident when Angel di Maria was given a touchline clattering that lifted him three feet in the air and turned the clock back to the 50s, when wingers were kicked out of the game as a matter of course by the likes of Harold Matther and Arthur Woodruff.

The game at Old Trafford this season was another 0-0 thanks to a superhuman display by Tom Heaton where he pulled off what must surely have been the save of the season. It was disappointing to see that he was not a nomination for the players’ player of the season having made more saves than any other keeper, well into three figures. Of Burnley’s 36 points at the start of the Sunday game, you could argue that a significant percentage of those points were solely down to him. His value was therefore undisputed but goalkeepers rarely become galacticos.

There used to be a story about an overseas goalkeeper called Fokine. By all accounts he was not very good at all and after one game there was the inevitable headline: ‘More Fokine rubbish.’

One of the greatest goalkeepers of all time was Bert Trautmann who signed for Manchester City in 1949. Formerly a German prisoner of war, a paratrooper in the Luftwaffe, served in Russia, and then staying in England on his release as a prisoner, played for St Helens Town. Burnley had expected to sign him but City got there first when they went to his lodgings one evening, stealing a march on Burnley who had arranged to see him in Burnley on the following Saturday. Trautmann’s ‘adviser’ and friend Jack Friar was not there. In the heaps of old 1950s football books down in the cellar I found a tiny, battered paperback that had the story.

Burnley had even arranged for Ministry of Labour representatives to be present at the interview that was planned as Trautmann as an ‘alien’ would need a job as well. Burnley did everything possible for him and fully expected to sign him. Burnley’s vice chairman, George Tate wrote to him afterwards, hugely disappointed, but these were courteous times and the letter sent to him was restrained and polite, a far cry from what might have been said angrily via the press in today’s climate.

I feel you would have been highly satisfied with all we had done and the good prospects for yourself. I had also arranged for the financial aspect for the St Helens club, yourself and all concerned, in the best possible terms. In addition, if so desired, I had arranged to provide a goalkeeper for St Helens. Whatever City have done for you, we could have done better if you had given us a chance, and I honestly feel that had you come on Saturday you would have been very pleased and satisfied. And there would not have been any unpleasant publicity. I was relying on the assurance that you would not do anything except through Mr Friar, or believe me I should have come over again last night.

   However, we’ve ‘had it’ as they say but the invitation to come over here on Saturday, or at any future date, is still extended to you. With best wishes for the future etc etc…

     The reference to ‘unpleasant publicity’ was based on possible reactions to the club signing an ex-Nazi paratrooper. This was still only 1949 and the evidence of war was still visible and tangible. Bitterness and hatred of Germany was still intense. As politely as possible, Tate suggested that it was not too late for Trautmann to change his mind, Tate probably mindful that subterfuge had already taken place. Trautmann’s guide, Jack Friar, had been decoyed to a meeting at the Kingsway Hotel in Manchester to meet City officials but no-one turned up. Friar sat there waiting until nearly 9 o’ clock but meanwhile the City manager and a director arrived at Trautmann’s home and literally wore him down so that he eventually signed for them a little before midnight. Skulduggery in football is nothing new.

Man U along with Everton and Chelsea had all been linked with Michael Keane with Everton currently making the loudest noises. Sean Dyche seemed none too pleased with all the public statements being made about Burnley players and after the Everton game it was apparent that the Keane/Mee partnership and its dependability and strength had been well noticed. Keane might have been the focus of attention, but it was Mee that took the honours, colossus one description of him.

But Dyche, clearly referring to Koemans and Everton, made his feelings clear that when other managers complimented his players or made it clear they were looking at them, it was almost recruitment by stealth, and this was yet more pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable. Yes, it was a compliment but it was the bigger, more financially powerful clubs that were the ones that were involved.

Manchester United had played just days before, a Europa League game against Anderlecht. The ideal scenario for Burnley was the game going into extra time and a few injuries that knocked their players out of the Burnley game. The game indeed went into extra time producing a United win and Ibrahimovic and Roja went off injured. Mourhino had been long faced before the game moaning that it was not possible to play his best players in all the games coming up but that as long as they were in the Europa competition and fighting for a top four place he could not play weakened teams. One could almost have felt sorry for him but then you remembered this was the sourest man in football speaking. Within days they had a Thursday game against City in the Manchester derby.

Meanwhile if it was good news for Burnley that Ibrahimovic was out, it was not particularly good to hear that Marcus Rashford was back in top form having scored in three of his last four games after a barren spell that began in September. Mourhino had been recently critical of him (most Man U players had been singled out by him at one stage or another). Much as we wished for a few Man U injuries none of us, however, wanted the bad news that Ibrahimovic suffered cruciate ligament damage and would be out for months. There were stories that he might even decide to retire.

Meanwhile, the day before the game there were only four Premier games but they involved Hull, Swansea, Middlesbrough and Bournemouth. If we thought and hoped that Burnley’s favourable position might be cemented, how wrong could we be? Middlesbrough were clattered 4-0 but they were so far behind anyway it was an almost inconsequential result; but Hull and Swansea both won to take 10-man Hull within three points of Burnley and Swansea within five. However, no need yet to panic Captain Mainwaring. The Swansea result could so easily have been 1-1 but Stoke missed a penalty. This was not Burnley’s day.

Mourhino was still whining about losing players and other players being tired, but Dyche, unfooled, quickly put it in perspective; they have so many good ones anyway and several who can step in and play in various parts of the field. The night before the game the team checked in at the Lowry Hotel in Salford with increased security, extra police and sniffer dogs checking for explosives. The blurb says it’s where things happen for the ‘modern, indulgence generation’ and this is where luxury meets style and vibrancy along with seductive northern fun. The latter in Burnley is a pie and a pint in the Miners. The whole image of the Lowry is elegance and class. Pogba sauntered in, in a hoodie, although no doubt it was top of the range, definitely not from George at Asda. For the Burnley game he elected to go with a sort of mute gingerbread hair tint.

April 23: St George’s Day and thought to be the birthday of William Shakespeare. The heart said a George Boyd winner on his name day, the head said more likely to be a Man U win. Unfortunately it was a game where George had left his sword at home. It was re-union time with United for Keane, Heaton and Robbie Brady. Ben Mee’s family was littered with City fans desperate for Burnley to win, but some of his cousins would be in the United end. Sadly for Ben (and for us) it was a comfortable United win and he was withdrawn at half-time injured.

They could have been two up in the first ten minutes following a weak Rooney shot that possibly Mee got in the way of and a Fellaini rocket header from a corner. They settled for being two up at half-time, both giveaway goals that could have been prevented, the first when Martial burst through from his own half, shrugged off a despairing Barton; should have brought him down and taken the yellow said one of the Nevilles in the pundit role, a view spoken simultaneously by the normally virtuous Mrs T who in her other life as a football expert knows exactly what should be done in situations like this when a player is breaking away. If you were a betting man you’d have backed Martial. Time and age was visibly catching up with Joey as Martial duly won the sprint.

‘We have to make a foul on that one,’ said Dyche. In other words bring the buggar down.

The second was sort of scored by Rooney, sort of because it seemed to be a shot that bobbled between Keane’s legs after involving a half-save from Martial somewhere along the route. We sighed, shrugged, moaned and groaned. It was as good as game over. From that point United kindly allowed Burnley to come into the game in the second half as they strolled around at an almost leisurely pace, whereupon Burnley huffed and puffed but were unable to blow the Man U house down, such was the ease with which they were swatted away. Too often the ball was hoofed up front from the back four, particularly Keane, or whacked up by Heaton, Barnes grappled manfully but little came from this tactic. Only when the ball was played to Gray’s feet or in a way that he could latch onto it, was there any real threat. Meanwhile, United passed and stroked the ball around neatly with technical skill, great first touch and tactical superiority.

‘Huff and puff,’ were in fact Dyche’s description of Burnley’s attempts to compete against this.

And yet, there, sat on the Burnley bench was the most technically gifted player the club has, scorer of two of the best goals seen at Turf Moor, possessing the vision to see an instant pass, create an opening, ping a ball long or short, but not seemingly in the Dyche mould. It cried out for him to be brought on at half-time to provide that bit of class, to provide that bit of the unexpected and flash of creativity. Where we sat, the talk was of what was there to lose, and if you’re not going to use him, why have him on the bench in the first place?

In truth, Burnley were outplayed, out passed, outskilled, outclassed in fact by a side that never really had to get into second gear with Fellaini dominant and Bailly outstanding. It was a game where Burnley failed to get one single shot on target. Many folks were hugely critical coming down the stairs afterwards or on the websites.

But should they be?

‘You can’t always get above where you are,’ Dyche explained as if anticipating criticism. In other words we are what we are, have got as far as we can, and have reached a level, the irony of course being that Burnley were now sliding down from where they were.

‘The current crisis club, slowly sliding down the division’, one website described Burnley with just one win in 11 now and teams below slowly getting them within range. Four games remained after this one. Swansea only needed to win two of them to put Burnley in the bottom three if this poor run were to continue. On the other hand just one win or a couple more draws would see Burnley home. A point or more from the Man U game would have been a bonus. Probably nobody really expected a win.

36 points at one stage was seen as a probable survival total; maybe now it was 38. But survival was still in Burnley’s own hands with winnable points in the final four.

 

YOU’LL NEVER TAKE THE SUNBEDS

 

BURNLEY 1 STOKE CITY 0

MIDDLESBROUGH 0 BURNLEY 0

EVERTON 3 BURNLEY 1

     We were in Tenerife. Trump was squaring up to Assad. Trump was squaring up to Putin. Trump was squaring up to North Korea. He was just one side short of a full square. But worse still, in Golf del Sur, the Russians were after our sunbeds.

Must admit that when we booked this holiday we never thought we’d be heading for safety in the Premier League. It seemed a fair bet that we’d be marooned in the bottom three by Easter. All the pundits thought the same back then and who were we to argue with Merson and Le Tiss and the expertise of Garth Crooks. It didn’t seem to matter, back in September, that we’d miss three games. But astonishingly by the time those games had been played we were on 36 points, well clear of danger, and barring Trump’s gung ho politics and fleet of ships just off North Korea, we’d be effectively 9 points clear with just five games to play and safe for another season.

When we touched down at an arctic Leeds Bradford Airport, Burnley had four points from the three games they’d played. We were in fleeces but others were in just shorts and T-shirts. It never ceases to amaze me that the British holidaymaker comes back in mid-April and thinks it will be warm.

At the time of the Stoke game we were in Zachary’s Restaurant, having arrived that day in the afternoon and already had a couple of hours in the sun and pool. It was Flamenco Night on the small outdoor stage, so between mouthfuls of dinner, stomping feet and clacking castanets, we followed the game on’t internet. With the Flamenco background and stirring music it actually became quite bizarre. As the game wound down, tension increased, the music intensified, the volume was pumped up, the castanets became deafening, and the dancing feet were just a blur.

The heart wanted the win, the head said a dull draw 0-0 maybe, but then George Boyd scored. Allegedly he drinks two cans of Red Bull a day and eats ‘loads of pasta.’ We stared at Mrs T’s phone with a definite degree of incredulity. There was good reason for jangling nerves; the poor spell had dragged on for 7 games. Paul Merson and Jamie Carragher, newly converted Clarets, and Sean Dyche disciples, were worried that Burnley were on the slippery slope down the glass mountain towards the bottom three. But what was truly surreal was that just as the last dramatic guitar chord was struck, the last castanet clacked, the last foot stamp nearly split the stage, the dancers struck their final pose, and the small audience roared and whistled, with perfect timing up flashed the final score on the big TV screen, Burnley 1 Stoke 0. Dancing and football finales perfectly choreographed.

The little shop in the village has all the papers by 8 o’ clock. The routine is the same each day. Pull back the sliding veranda door and smile at the clear blue sky and rising sun. 8. 30 and go down to the shop; get the paper, warm crusty baguettes, and a sausage roll for Master Joe. But the key part is, on the way to the shop, dump towels and gear on the sunbeds by the pool for the day. I am not proud of this. It shouldn’t be this way. The signs say do not reserve sunbeds but these are ignored. By 8. 30 towels are festooned on most of the beds by the water and the bar. And Germans have been replaced by Russians.

There is no shortage of sunbeds but a plumb position is where you can literally roll off the sunbed and into the water, or halloo a passing waiter. Some of them are beneath a bit of shade (even better). Staking out such a bed is therefore a ritual and the Brits are always in there first, masters of the pin a towel to the sunbed technique.     There was never any intention to appropriate sunbeds at 8. 30 but it was when I saw one guy laying towels on 8 beds that I thought right, two can play at that game.

In the days of old we used to stand and chant ‘You’ll never take the Longside,’ at raiding away supporters. At Sunningdale it’s ‘You’ll never take the sunbeds’ to the Russkies. They are reasonably easy to spot. The men are mainly muscled; shaven headed, square faced and firm jawed. They don’t smile much. The women are not particularly attractive, tending to be thin and pale. It is rare to see more than one offspring. The men tend to have a larger than average bulge in their swimmers. I always assume this is either a small Beretta or padding.

So on the Sunday after the draw at Middlesbrough, we lay on our sunbeds and Joe spent a happy 2 hours careering down the inflatable water slide, Sunderland lost and then Leicester. It was a Carlsberg Sunday. We’d been through all the permutations on the Saturday about what might be the best results. A Burnley win at Boro would be perfect and then they’d be within a spit of the winning post. The pundits were assuring us by now that Burnley were well safe but as my pal Joe Mac always says, ‘But we know different.’ Then we worried that Burnley might lose, a natural thought after years of practice. But Hull would lose, we decided, Crystal Palace would lose, Bournemouth ought to lose. And thus on that basis, what did it matter if Burnley lost?

A Saturday morning coffee in a comfy chair by the bar confirmed all our decisions. A win would be too much, we’d settle for a draw but then a most curious thing happened. A Eurowings plane flew over, one of the dozens of different airlines that land just a mile away, and it was the first time we’d seen one, and the tailplane logo was a distinct claret and blue. Does this mean a 1-0 win? Is this an omen? And then blimey another one flew over and the reaction was to think that the signs were pointing to a 2-0 win for Burnley.

A group of West Ham fans had commandeered the telly in the bar. They loved everything about their new stadium until they sat down and saw a game 200 yards away. A Man U fan was in there, a diehard, but confessed he loved the Man City stadium more than Old Trafford, and everything they had done in the surrounding area. ‘I’d never say that back home in Manchester,’ he said. ‘I’d be locked up.’

The Eurowings omen didn’t quite work out but the 0-0 draw was good enough. Reports indicated that not winning was not for the want of trying with Vokes, Brady, Boyd and Mee all going close. Ward was rampant down the left. Lowton made key clearances. It took them to the 36 points that many of us had thought for a while would ensure another Prem season.

John was a US army colonel we met, attached to NATO and based in Brussels. He had his three young kids with him. We exchanged opinions on Trump, Brussels, Brexit, the Italians and the French. Brussels he described as a giant clique of privileged diplomats riding the gravy train and living in splendid luxury; the Italian army the best in the world at running backwards, and the French – ‘I guess we know why they wear brown trousers.’ And the Brits: ‘how on earth did you guys win two world wars?’ All of this was of course said with disarming good humour.

Every so often he said they had Brit nights in which they pretended to be British using the lingo… I say old chap… toodle pip…Bob’s your uncle, and all that stuff. I offered to do a training day if I got some expenses and they flew me over, and teach them some proper stuff – by thi eck… ee by gum… ah’ll sithee … well we mun do summat abart that… what’s up withee thart just a barmpot… where’s mi kecks, and up the Clarets. If someone comes in and says dear God, Trump has just nuked Korea you could look wide eyed and reply, ‘well ah’ll go ter foot of our stairs.’

We were sitting in the deckchairs conveniently placed for parents and grandparents while the kids disappeared in to the wonders of the Lost City in Siam Park, one of the top water and splash theme parks of Europe with 101 ways of getting drenched and paying for the privilege. The Lost City was a huge fun filled place of climbing, sliding and getting soaked. It was a kid’s only zone and a chance for some serious recuperation for exhausted grown-ups after we’d trudged round various other activities with cheerful names such as the Tower of Power or the Mekong Rapids. And it was heaving: just a shuffling mass of crowds meandering from one activity to the next. You might have expected to see at least one Burnley shirt amongst the crowds, but not one did we spot.

‘I’ll sure look out for Burnley results then,’ he said as we parted an hour later, lunch beckoning.

A win at Goodison against Everton was probably too much of a wishful think. Everton had won all their last home games for weeks. Lukaku had scored in every home game for weeks. While they kicked off we were just boarding the flight home so we had no news until landing at 7.15.

‘3 – 1,’ said Mrs T glumly as she looked it up. But: by the time we’d seen a few snatches of the game on TV, read the reports and scanned the Everton websites it all seemed that yet again we’d gone away, played well but failed to get anything out of the game. Everton goal number one was one of those wibbly wobbly things in a crowded 6-yard box that pings around and just about gets over the line despite frantic efforts to clear. The Everton second had Dyche scratching his head at the sheer bad luck involved, that Heaton would undoubtedly have saved but for the shot from Barkley skimming Keane, then glancing Mee and even then going in off the post. In between those two goals Burnley had equalised with a Vokes penalty and on the evidence of the first half the 1-1 scoreline at that point was well merited.

An Everton pen pal, Becky Tallentire, who has written some excellent Everton books, said that in the first half it looked like Burnley had 4 extra players as they simply strangled Everton. Two Burnley headers were cleared off the line by Barkley who chose this game to show his talent and Vokes had other good chances but lack of pace let him down. It was Vokes and Barnes preferred as the two strikers in this game. One could only wonder what Gray and his extra pace might have done with those same chances.

An Everton site (Obstructed View) said nice things about Burnley admitting at the same time that only Vokes’ lack of pace had saved them as he tried to move through the gears away from the last man with the 0 to 60 acceleration of a Toyota Prius that you could outrun in your slippers after a night on the ale. Presumably this was a sample of Scouse wit. And then Obstructed View became really complimentary:

The first half by common consent was pretty dire – by Everton. Their excellent travelling support that yesterday won the ‘Best Away Fans’ award this season were treated to a display that that only served to mystify why they are winless on the road and have only scored 10 goals in the process. This can’t be down to just Vokes and his startling lack of pace. Yesterday, from the first whistle, they harried, closed down our full-backs, especially Baines and gave Schneiderlin no time at all on the ball. Some might say that Barton’s harrying was a little close to the mark but he wasn’t booked. And Clattenburg continued to prove that however much we erm, ‘love him’, that he’s the best ref in the PL by a country mile.

     You have to give credit to Burnley for their performance yesterday and frankly we could have been 2-0 down by half-time easily, had they had a little more quality up front. Why they didn’t start with the pace of Gray I’m not sure. And Barkley extended his floor show to clearing off the line, a feat he managed in the second half as well. I was impressed by Keane but just as impressed by Mee and I’d happily see their double act take a turn down the East Lancs to Goodison next season.

If there was a grumble it was only at the coverage of the game by TV and press. The latter was all about Barkley and not much else after his torrid week following the city centre incident he was involved in and then the Sun article about him. The 30 minutes SKY highlights showed largely Everton and little of Burnley’s chances or their contribution. But the much criticised Barkley was fired up which turned out to be rather unfortunate for an unlucky Burnley. Dyche rarely moans about the lack of luck but he did after this game and who could blame him.

And meanwhile: it turns out there is a pie shop in Seattle, well if not actually in Seattle, in nearby Belle View where the British Pantry does a great pork pie amongst others. This info came from Andrew Wood, an UptheClarets follower from the US. Belle View is about 10 miles from Seattle which may well be a fair trek to get a pie for those living in Seattle. Andrew gets over here every now and then, (two daughters living near London) and lives a complicated life clocking up air miles between the Seattle area and Philadelphia where he works, plus hopping over here to get a game.

He didn’t say if he ever used UNITED airlines, by all accounts the Friendly Airline that if overbooked will just drag you off by the arms and legs if you are the unlucky random chosen one. Mercifully we chose Jet2. This is an airline that has no qualms about throwing groups of 20 off…but only when they’re drunk and disorderly.

NO PIE SHOPS IN SEATTLE

BURNLEY 0 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2

It was an astonishing seven weeks since the last home league game. There was a decided absence of Burnley April Fool’s day jokes. Perhaps it was because the day was too serious with the visit of Spurs and Premier League safety so tantalisingly close.

The run of four away games over and two points gleaned. It could so easily have been four. The winner for Swansea in the final moments should have been chalked off by the referee for the blatant push on Mee. How Burnley lost at Liverpool remains one of those just how-did-we-lose-that games?

And as for Sunderland, the point was welcome, but if you ever wanted a fixture to make you squirm then you’d choose Sunderland versus Burnley at the Stadium of Light. It is for good reason that this place has been re-named by observant fans the Stadium of Sh**e. MOTD cameras clearly showed owner’s wife Mrs Ellis Short gently nodding off, eyes closed during the game. Was she embarrassed? Probably not, just miffed she’d actually woken up, I’d imagine.

Jamie Smith in his column was scathing overall: ending with ‘people have spent a fortune travelling to watch the Clarets, they deserve better.’

But Matt Griffin tweeted: ‘Scary to think how much I’ve spent watching Burnley away – but absolutely no regrets.’

Immediately after a game and in the next few hours emotions rule and the mood on the Supporters Club coach was mixed. Some were disappointed saying if we can’t beat a club as poor as Sunderland we won’t win away all season. Others were happy with the point. Underlying it all was frustration that with Sunderland under the cosh in the first half Burnley couldn’t capitalise. One or two were incandescent. Most were just numb and quiet.

Overall: travelling to away games is fine, but the moral is ‘just avoid Sunderland.’

In the cold light of day, anyone with a degree of realism was thankful if not pleased though. At the break there was an 8-point gap. Before the away run it had been 10 but to retain such a healthy distance was a relief. If criticisms after the game had been plentiful then it was still sensible to remember that it was a sort of minor miracle that Burnley weren’t in fact actually rooted in the bottom three. But here they were defying the odds, pundits eating their gloomy, pre-season words, and if we’re honest, surprising us as well. If the game at Sunderland was a stinker (Shearer’s words) then every now and again it’s just a reminder that this is not a team of geniuses. If they were they wouldn’t be at Burnley. Players at Burnley are a mix of the good, the bit better than good, plus Michael Keane and Tom Heaton. To be mid-table, albeit not quite comfortable, at this stage was some achievement.

This is a collection of parts that Dyche has gelled, got them working, gets the maximum out of them, makes them work for each other and gets them grinding out results. Every now and then they put on an away show that has been better than average, one example being at Liverpool, so that then we are disappointed if in the next game they have not got the win. But we shouldn’t be; because the reality is they are not world beaters and never will be. Staying in the Premier League if they pull it off will have been a triumph of over-achievement and just as surprising as Leicester winning the title. It will have defied all the laws of finance and resources.

The measure for me and Mrs T was did we sit down, tuck in, celebrate the point, and enjoy the M&S Chinese banquet dinner we had. And yes we did. We munched and chomped away contentedly, but the abiding image remained, Mrs Short slowly nodding off in front of 40,000 spectators at Sunderland.

Scott Arfield had a particularly good game there and an in-depth, full-page article about him in the Times by Henry Winter was revealing. Burnley fans knew some while ago about the death of his close friend Craig Gowans in the youth team at Falkirk, the result of a training ground tragic accident. He still can’t get the images out of his mind and as a tribute wears the 37 shirt. But less well known, wrote Winter, is the suicide of his best friend Chris Mitchell, the result of depression just two hours before the triumphant 3-0 win at Charlton that sealed the title. Arfield’s wife knew but kept it from him until the day after so that he would play the Charlton game unaffected. Somehow he then forced himself to do the open top bus parade and awards night but he was in bits, he says. It took him a long time to get his head into some semblance of normality.

We, the fans, watch the players on a Saturday and never know why they might be having a bad game. They’re just like us. If we’ve had bad news, been up all night with the bairn, had a raging toothache, got worries; we can all have a bad day at the office. Footballers are no different.

There couldn’t have been a Burnley supporter anywhere who wasn’t delighted to see Michael Keane get his first England cap against Germany. He looked as though he’d been a regular for years rather than a rookie making his debut. Critics were agreed this was an assured and polished performance with some of the pundits making him England’s best player on the night. With Chelsea, Everton and then Liverpool linked with a summer offer of £20million, his time at Burnley looked even more limited after the England game.

But £20million: derisive we said, especially bearing in mind that John Stones went for £50million from Everton to Man City. Added to that is the mystery of is there a sell-on clause or not, payable to Man United in the event of a sale? One day it’s yes and the next day it’s no. Somebody somewhere knows, the ones who made the deal in the first place, but nobody is saying owt.

The Stones price was ridiculous and the result of a cash-happy City going mad with such an inflated price. But if that was the yardstick then all of us hoped that the negotiators at Burnley would demand something similar, not because any player is worth that artificial amount, but because rightly or wrongly this was the ‘value’.

‘Best ever Burnley centre-half’ was one proclamation on a website. That’s arguable and his partnership with Ben Mee is one reason why Keane has looked so good at Burnley. They complement each other and fit like two gloves, or like a pair of comfy slippers in the way they just match and dovetail. Ben Mee is the unlucky one of the partnership, gets less of the plaudits, less of the publicity and fanfare. Keane came from Man United which gives him an immediate leg up in the commodity market. There have been constant reminders that this is where he came from and Rio Ferdinand has been his mentor. It gives him the aura of a bit of glamour.

Tottenham next, second in the table, silky smooth football, Dele Alli, only three defeats; we looked for omens and portents to help decide would this be a good day or bad. One Spurs game was the last game in Burnley’s first Prem season when Spurs took a 2-0 lead, and then Burnley won 4-2 after a second-half performance that made us ask why the hell they hadn’t played like that in other home games they’d lost after Coyle left. It left feelings of ‘what might have been’ if they’d just won one more of those games when they just didn’t turn up.

Long before that in the days of Stan Ternent, a pal and me had sponsored the matchball in the game against Gillingham and the dog, Scamper the Scottie, we thought had ruined the day. There we were, all dressed up to the nines, about to set off, when what did the dog do but hoik a large dead, smelly fish out of the pond and carry it triumphantly to the back lawn. On the lawn he patted it around, played football with it, lobbed and tossed it in the air, juggled with it, jumped on it and then rolled all over it wallowing in the pong. For good measure he then ate most of it. The entrails when we examined them would have given any witch doctor hallucinations for a fortnight, as well as what we thought was a Burnley defeat prediction. In fact they won, so that since then I’ve always looked for remains of dead chewed up animals on the lawn on a matchday morning hoping for a repeat omen, but since the demise of the Scottie that fish was the last one. We’ve had foxes chewing up pigeons and cats disembowelling mice, but none on a matchday.

Without entrails them, on the Tottenham day, there was therefore only guesswork to go by. It seemed best to predict a draw with the realisation that it was perfectly feasible for Burnley to survive in the Premier League without actually winning another game. All they possibly needed was just five more draws, maybe six, from the remaining nine games. This would lead to a regular quiz question: which was the team that never won a game after the end of January, and still weren’t relegated.

40 or so Dutch clarets picked the wrong game to come and see Burnley. John Gibault over from Seattle picked the wrong game to see Burnley. One could only hope he’d see a better result when Stoke turned up for the next game.

At half-time a draw in front of a packed house seemed a reasonable prediction. Tottenham had been neat, tidy, smooth and classy but other than Alli missing an absolute sitter had created little. Heaton had been a spectator whilst Lloris at the other end saw a fair bit of action although to be fair nothing too threatening. With Spurs playing well within themselves and Burnley players lacking real threat, nobody could have called it a humdinger of a half, but nevertheless it was absorbing and well balanced.

Sean D played safe and chose the reliable but pedestrian Arfield and Boyd, willing workers we know, happy to run and track back, but as well we know creating goal chances with wing play, getting to the by-line and pinging crosses over, and flair is not in their locker. Meanwhile the skilled and creative pair of Brady and Defour were sat on the bench. With the score still 0-0 after 45 minutes it all seemed justified, sensible and safe. Just keep it up lads, we thought, a point will do against a side like this and second in the table.

And then it all went wrong. Barnes had been well held, he had posed little threat, and Tottenham feathers remained unruffled. But it was Andre Gray that was hooked. Frankly, many of us were puzzled. Rough and raw that he might be, nevertheless he had stretched the Spurs back four; he had visibly worried them and kept them playing deep. We shook our heads when he went off and allegedly neither was he best pleased according to Bob Lorders.

Maybe this means we’ll go 4 – 5 – 1 we wondered and Defour will come on, with Barton and Hendrick. This was a game that seemed made for him and his clever passes and subtle intelligence. But no: on came Vokes, something more robust to affect the game, said Dyche afterwards, To make a twin battering ram double spearhead seemed logical. But spearhead implies something sharp. Sadly he and Barnes were mostly blunt.

With neither Arfield nor Boyd able to get crosses over that might have been nodded home by the twin centre-forwards, the word lumbering sprang to mind. And then, with little to occupy them at the back, Spurs pushed up more and more, applied more pressure, and took a 1-0 lead. From that point on, the game was over; in truth it was a poor first goal to concede with Hendrick getting into a bit of a mickle and muckling the clearance in schoolboy fashion. Thank you very much, said Eric Dier and slammed it home.

It changed the whole feel of the game, said Dyche. In fact the airwaves and websites in the evening crackled and hummed with the general view that the game was changed the minute Gray was hooked. SD was articulate as ever after the game with his interpretation of events but the bottom line was simple enough; that Spurs were at a different level and so were their silky-smooth players. What the Sunday Telegraph called ‘brave resistance’ was simply not enough.

Far too late, on came Brady and Defour. To yet more puzzlement, Brady was on the right and Defour was on the left. China must look more and more tempting to the Belgian. And by now, Spurs were simply making merry in the wide open spaces, old-boy Trippier more and more influential, with Barton and Hendrick were almost invisible. When Spurs went 2-0, Barton losing the ball in midfield, it was as if Burnley had given up as Spurs began to provide a football lesson, could have scored at least two more, and the away end sang louder and louder. The Turf Moor fortress myth was well and truly shattered.

What had once been a ten point gap; then had been whittled to eight, was down to five. The last win was the end of January. The media was almost joyful in its ‘I told you so’ voice that Burnley were now back in the relegation scrap.

John Gibault joined us for Steak Baguettes (recommended) at the Kettledrum and described how over there they don’t do Christmas Pud or pie shops. It put things in perspective. I couldn’t decide what was worse – the Burnley defeat or a land without pie shops.

 

AWAY THE LADS AGAIN

SUNDERLAND 0 BURNLEY 0

The run of away games had seen just one point so far. The very healthy gap between Burnley and the bottom three had been closed to 7 points with Hull enjoying a definite renaissance. Burnley hadn’t won since the end of January and the 1-0 win over Leicester City. The texts had been arriving from slightly worried chums. The glass half full was ever so slightly tipping to glass half empty.

‘Yes we’ll be alright,’ we assured ourselves, ‘surely we won’t mess this up – will we?’ But this little bit of uncertainty was just starting to niggle.

It is the lot of being a football supporter. There is no cure for anxiety. If you are a player you can be in the training ground all week, working, building up confidence, knowing you have a say and direct input into your own fate, through your own effort and sweat. Uncertainty is a banned word, doubt is forbidden, the sports psychologists tell you to believe. You go out on the field for the next game, shoulders back, chest puffed out, filled with confidence. But: the supporter can only wonder, fret, he has absolutely no input other than trying to be that mythical twelfth man on matchday. He can only keep his fingers crossed, hope for the best or that little bit of luck and good fortune that can decide a result.

Sunderland was next up, a game that could make a massive difference with an elusive first away win.

One of the most memorable Burnley games at Sunderland was in November of ’65. Harry Potts had fashioned another great team with the likes of Willie Morgan, Ralph Coates, Brian O’ Neil, Gordon Harris, and of course up front were Lochhead and Irvine. By the end of September they were top of Division One. Some of the football was outstanding. Their play was fast, frenetic, constantly moving, O’ Neil was like a genie let out of the bottle. They mixed football with power and had players who could mix it as well as play against any team that wanted a bit of the rough stuff. Lochhead and Irvine were like good cop bad cop with the former one of the hardest players ever to tread a football field.

‘Set to go places,’ was Frank Clough’s prediction in the Sun.

In early November they had regained the top position with Irvine and Lochhead having claimed 23 of the 36 goals scored. And then came one of the performances of the season at Sunderland that had every reporter dipping into their stock of superlatives. It was a performance that ranks up there with Burnley’s greatest on a day when they were just untouchable; a game that Ralph Coates never forgot. After the game he was taken to the Sunderland boardroom and the Sunderland chairman demanded to know, ‘Why did we never sign this player. How did we miss him?’

Sports writers predicted that Burnley could well win the title that season as brilliant passing and movement plus individual virtuoso performances had Sunderland bewitched, bothered and bewildered. The greatest compliment was that this was a side equal to, if not better than the McIlroy Adamson side. The side at Sunderland had cost just £110 in signing on fees and was described as a team without weakness. There was constant press coverage as Burnley hit the limelight and Potts was asked over and again, ‘what was the secret.’

‘There isn’t one,’ he answered. ‘We have players of outstanding ability. They have come through together, they know what is wanted of them and they give it.’

The wins piled up but it was not to last. A run of six games early in ’66 was a turning point as other teams caught them. In the final 11 games there were 8 wins but it was too late with too much ground to catch up. One of those defeats was in a turbulent game against Don Revie’s Leeds United in a period when Leeds were establishing their unpalatable reputation. All these years later and they are still called ‘dirty Leeds’ thanks to their antics of the 60s and 70s.

Their strategy was to win at all costs and to adopt any tactic. They took bullying, intimidation and gamesmanship to new depths of cynicism. Pitch that against a team like Burnley with players like Angus, Lochhead, Harris, O’ Neil and Blacklaw, players that could be as physical as the next man when they needed to; and it was a recipe for disaster. At one point all the players were brought to the centre of the field for a dressing-down by the referee. It was a game watched by Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of El Alamein, Bob Lord’s special guest. He must have thought he was back again in the middle of a WW2 battle. The word ‘brutal’ was inadequate and Leeds won with a most bizarre own-goal. Alex Elder cleared and sliced the ball from somewhere near his own corner flag and it somehow sailed over Blacklaw’s head. A chunk of luck like that, but going our way, would be welcome, we thought, up at Sunderland.

Things began well in the following season, ‘66/67 but then this time it was a defeat away at Sunderland 4-3 even though at one stage Burnley had been leading 3-1. Jimmy Adamson had been in charge for this game whilst Harry Potts was in Zurich for the Inter Cities Fairs Cup draw. Exactly when the differences between Potts and Adamson first began has never been clear but following this game in his programme notes Potts did something very rare for him and criticised the display.

‘Instead of building up our lead we proceeded to put the brakes on our commanding enterprise. In the light of what we had done earlier and could so easily have continued, the result from our point of view was ridiculous. It was a punishing reminder of our own folly and must not be ignored in future.’ It was an expression of his simple philosophy. If you score three then keep going and score four and don’t sit back and shut up shop. There were many who took it as a veiled criticism of Adamson as much as the team. Maybe it was in this that the seeds of their eventual estrangement began. Perhaps it was reading that Adamson first decided there isn’t room for both of us here.

The home game against Leeds United was yet another fracas, a brutal encounter reported the next day under the headline ‘Soccer Shame.’ Players’ legs were the targets rather than the ball and by all accounts it was a game even worse than that of the previous season.

‘Why must it always happen when we play Leeds?’ Potts asked and challenged Don Revie to a television debate about the game. ‘They should put their own house in order first,’ Revie retaliated.

‘We can’t be blamed,’ said Potts, ‘We try to play the game constructively. Revie responded by telling Potts he had a team of ‘fairies,’ which seemed an odd thing to say about a team with the likes of Lochhead, O’ Neil and Harris.

Those who headed to the north-east left a town behind that had suffered yet more heavy rain with some areas flooded, as if they hadn’t had enough. Sunderland fans were of the unanimous view that this was a must win game to stand any chance of survival. Burnley fans were thinking surely this must be the best chance of the first away win. A draw was of little use to Sunderland. To Burnley it would be another priceless point and keep their heads well above water. Surely Hull would lose at Everton. Surely Middlesbrough would lose at home to Man United. Alas football often doesn’t quite work that way. Boro had just dispensed with Karanka; there might well be a positive reaction.

Stop Defoe and you stop Sunderland was one topic. If he doesn’t score then who does up there. The worry was that he would be on fire, raring to go, now that he had just been chosen for the England squad at the ripe old age of 34. There’s an argument that there is no such thing as a must-win game, until that is you get to the last game of the season. For this fixture we might have begged to differ or at least have said we must not lose. An unwelcome stat had begun to surface; that Burnley hadn’t won a game since the end of January.

Sunderland where folks drink a beer called Wey Aye: Rupert Booth and assorted London Clarets were drinking ale at the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle. Hugh Burkinshaw messaged he’d just had the best pie ever. Joey Barton had previously won there with QPR, Newcastle and Man City. For the press there were 151 steps to climb to their perch. Mark Lawrenson was predicting a Burnley win. Most pundits were taking Burnley to win. We, meanwhile, were silently wishing they’d keep their predictions to themselves with one stat that was telling. Burnley had a horrible league record on Wearside and hadn’t won since 1972/73.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. What do you get when you have a side that is bottom and can’t score or win, versus a side that doesn’t score many and can’t win away from home? You get 0-0 at full-time and this I suppose was so obvious (after the event of course) that you wonder why you didn’t hot foot it to the nearest bookies and put a couple of grand on the 0-0 result. Maybe a few people did have a smaller wager on that score.

Well: a clean sheet and another golden point it was. Another small step on the painful journey to the end of the season that left Burnley 8 points clear of the bottom three but leaving another necessary result – Middlesbrough to lose, which the following day they duly did. Hull were given a clattering at Everton.

But good point though it was, and there were certainly many folks that were well pleased with that; there were muttered mumblings about the second-half performance.

We won’t have many better chances to win away from home, pretty underwhelming…This wasn’t Liverpool this was Sunderland, disappointing…That second half was pitiful barring minutes 85-90…Shocking away from home… Worst team in the league there for the taking and we nearly lost it…We won’t win away all season but hopefully we won’t need to…Approach play so one-dimensional…We bottled it today no closer to winning away than we were in August…Lack of creativity and it showed…We have one quality playmaker Defour, and he’s sitting on the bench…Saved only by Sunderland’s poor finishing and terrific goalkeeping from Heaton… Are we incapable of a simple through ball to Gray… That was awful against a dire side… feel like I’ve found a quid but lost a fiver…

But there were other positive views: That’s a good point today…We only need not to lose…Clean sheet away from home will do…Point gained…Not unhappy with that… A point on the road is alright…before the game you’d have been happy with a point… A point closer to safety…56% possession and 17 shots… 8 points clear of the bottom three, I’ll take a point there… All I want is to get there, I don’t care if we only finish 17th… We played so well how did we not win that…Only 4 points from 9 games needed and we are twelfth in the Prem… not a great spectacle but I’ll take the point… people are whinging but I’m good with a point…The London Clarets were slowly drinking their way back home…And Hugh Burkinshaw was still drooling over his Chicken Balti with suet pastry pie…

But most people were agreed on one thing, and also puzzled by it; and that was the non-use of Defour who was on the bench but unused. If he was in fact fit to play, surely he was the man to bring on in the second half to capitalise on his touch, skill and his ability to see a pass? If he was unused because he was deemed not fully fit, what was the point of having Defour there?

17 shots but only 3 on target was a telling stat. Total dominance of the first 30 minutes but nothing to show for it was another. By the sounds of things Burnley could easily have scored three but for woeful finishing. Boyd fluffed a golden chance. Barnes inexplicably poked wide from 6 yards. Vokes forced a save from Pickford. Barnes missed the chance to lob Pickford successfully. Hendrick missed a chance that had Phil Thompson on SKY wailing in bewilderment. But the two missed chances that summed up the game were the ones by Jones for Sunderland who with the goal at his mercy headed yards wide; then before that was the Barnes miss early on.

And then the second half was so different. Now it was Burnley off the boil, Sunderland missing chances as torrential rain cascaded down and sea mist crept in. Januzaj was causing problems and only Heaton saved the day in the final minute with another rescue save. It was Moyes’ last chance. The faces of the two managers told their own stories at the final whistle, Dyche smiling, Moyes sombre-faced. For Moyes, anti-climax and disappointment at two points lost and the doors about to swing shut in the Last Chance Saloon; for Dyche the satisfaction of a point gained, the daunting run of away games completed relatively undamaged, and still convinced that ‘the scratch of luck is coming.’ Of the 9 games remaining, 5 would be at home. Surely just one more win would do the job.

Ex-Sunderland manager Peter Reid was there watching. The Sunderland owner Ellis Short was there over from the USA. Hmmm said Sunderland fans and the media, sniffing a conspiracy, coincidence or what? Ellis Short was there with his wife. The wife was seen to be nodding off in the directors’ box. Who could blame her? ‘We’re not the real deal,’ said Dyche. What else could he say? The game was the last to be shown on MOTD. Nobody was surprised.

MUGGED in LIVERPOOL

LIVERPOOL 2 BURNLEY 1

It was D-day for Joey, up before the FA to respond to the betting charges. We feared the worst, at best a 10-game ban maybe, at worst a ban long enough to end his career. To appreciate just how good a footballer he has been you have to see through the noise. Apparently, in the scientific sense, you can actually see through noise, but in Joey’s case it is simply the baggage that surrounds and accompanies him, the incidents, confrontations, controversies and complications. Strip that away and there is the damned fine footballer that we at Burnley saw the best of in the Champions season when he was truly exemplary. And since getting back in the team in January what an impact he had, once again. We won’t forget that free-kick goal he scored in his first game back.

Come Wednesday and the day of the hearing, the news was brief. Joey’s case was adjourned, thus leaving him free to play for Burnley until further notice. It is pure speculation but did his legal team already have the FA in knots; was the ‘crime’ so huge they were scratching their heads as to exactly what to do with him? There was no precedent so that they were in uncharted waters. Or was it just something routine, or members of the panel down with bad colds? Whatever the reason, one report said the chief investigator was ill, it was good news for Burnley leaving him free to play, assuming his hamstring tweak had mended.

I’d been plodding through old pieces I’d written looking for something and came across one about the Scottie dog we had – the Terrier. And I thought, yeh, that’s what Joey is, a Terrier, like Brian O’ Neil all those years ago, especially a Scottie, although in Brian’s case it was a Bedlington. They have minds of their own, not quite untrainable but almost; wilful, little buggars in fact. They are not dogs that sit on laps, fetch sticks, chase tennis balls and in the house they pretty much do as they please. The approach of any other dog set ours off into paroxysms of snarling fury, and show it a squirrel and that was the only time it shot off like lightning, always halfway up the tree before gravity brought it back with a thud. Mud it loved and was never happier than when rolling in goose droppings by the canal or fox poo in the garden. Fearless too, never afraid of anything twice the size: ‘Big dogs in a little body,’ one dog book described them. He was alpha-male and then some. Much the same could be said of our Joey.

The incredible Barcelona fightback in the Champions League when they came back to overturn a 4-0 defeat against PSG and won 6-1 in Barcelona, had us all thinking about great Burnley comebacks. Not too many people mentioned one that went back to Steve Cotterill’s time and involved Noel Gifton Williams. It was Burnley versus Barnsley, September 12, 2006, a game back home on a late summer Burnley evening; but we were in Greece, eating, or about to eat, in the Lighthouse Taverna down a humid, stuffy little alleyway in the heart of Lefkas Town. We never did find out why it was called The Lighthouse. There wasn’t a lighthouse anywhere near.

Steve, at least that’s what we called him, a burly, thick set man with a huge moustache and a booming voice, was owner, maître d’, sommelier (which simply meant he brewed his own stuff), manic waiter and money collector, in the sheltered and pretty courtyard with its three surrounding walls and flagstone floor, a space no bigger than an average living room. His wife did all the cooking, slaving over the stove in the adjoining room and in a heat that would have had an Arab passing out. The cosy, homely enclosed space beneath the vine leaves where we ate was always at oven temperature; Lighthouse Steve was also always at oven temperature, quick to shout from the doorway, ‘has anyone ordered chicken souvlaki,’ or, ‘who ordered pork steak,’ whilst he would stand non-plussed, a result of him getting orders mixed up and having no idea which table he was now serving.

We loved to go there; he provided better entertainment than Tommy Cooper and was about the same size but minus the Fez. His antics and gruffness drove some customers mad and they vowed never to return but those who liked him simply saw him as being eccentric, quirky, or even ‘delightful.’ We, meanwhile never tired of eating there, always recommended it and appreciated his Basil Fawlty approach to good customer service. But he didn’t care what people thought. He knew his food was good and so did we. He knew his restaurant would be full the next night.

Without knowing he was Greek you might have thought he was the quintessential grumpy Yorkshireman. But if he took to you, you had a friend for life. In fact we knew people that took a small tray of his moussaka and would smuggle it back to the UK in their suitcases. That’s how good it was. The fried zucchini was to die for.

It was just one of those nights and service was even worse than usual with a yacht flotilla in as well to further fill the place. Plates of food were going all over the place to the wrong people. Sometimes you just accepted what he brought regardless of what you ordered. Our meals showed no sign of arriving but the wine was good and anyway, what was the hurry. Nobody hurries in Greece. Steve was at the next table about to explode, hovering over someone menacingly, that had dared to ask what time his food would arrive and should he come back the next day. It was then that the first text arrived from Turf Moor and our chum John who was there. Burnley were hardly riveting back in the Cotterill days but we still wanted to know the scores.

The news was bad. Burnley were losing, first 1-0 and then 2-0 said the second text. At least by now we’d had the starters. Bloody Barnsley winning 2-0 but then we pulled one back and Gifton then took over. Noel Gifton Williams was a 6’3” man mountain who along with the equally muscular Ade Akinbiyi had once been to Turf Moor and terrorised Burnley with Stoke City, who if memory serves, won that day. When Steve Cotterill bought them and paired them at Turf Moor we thought (or at least I did) wow this pair will take us to the top. Alas, they didn’t.

By this time arthritis in both of Gifton’s knees was taking its toll. Prior to that at an early age he had been a potentially huge talent, but he became an example of just how cruel football can be following injuries when movement is hindered. But: on this particular night he bestrode the Turf like a colossus whilst we, far away, enjoyed the fun and games in Stevie’s Lighthouse restaurant. A third text arrived. Jon Harley had pulled one back. We accordingly ordered more wine. The house white that always came in a carafe because we suspected it was kept in buckets round the back.

And then at intervals three more arrived, texts not carafes. . One by one Gifton slotted home his three hat-trick goals, the last in the 90th minute, by which time we felt even better as by then we had finally eaten. It was a night to remember for Gifton. And for us it became a taverna night we never forgot.

Other than saying ‘one day we’ll win away,’ only the most optimistic gave more than two seconds to thoughts of a Burnley win in the Liverpool game, the game that was re-arranged from early season when Liverpool’s giant new stand was not ready. It was game three in the on-the-road series that at one stage we thought would have a huge impact on the season. Only 7 points clear at kick-off, Hull had won the day before; but in truth this game was almost a ‘free-hit’. Did anyone really expect to win? Anything from this game would therefore be a bonus. Klopp was still scratching his head as to how Liverpool had lost early in the season but was complimentary saying that of all the other bottom half teams Burnley were the team with the clearest plan.

The clear plan could so easily have worked but alas didn’t. This was another defeat on the road but a defeat that left us all frustrated by how well Burnley had played for large parts of the game, particularly the first half, and how poor Liverpool had been for most of the game. It was hard to accept that Liverpool had actually won and Burnley lost yet another game by the odd goal.

Barnes had given Burnley a stunning lead very early on (sublime said Dyche) and for the rest of the first half Liverpool were lacklustre, impotent and not far short of clueless. Lowton made the goal with what might well be the pass of the season, an inch perfect diagonal through ball on the ground that dissected the defenders that Barnes then rocketed home. The longer the half went on the more you thought that this was a game that Burnley were improbably going to win. And then, yet again, there was another injury time lapse and a goal was conceded in what was Liverpool’s first real opportunity when the ball broke in the box, bounced off Mee, Mee slipped, and Heaton went the wrong way. The whistle went just seconds afterwards.

Those of us at home sat on the edge of the sofa watching the game on the box just looked amazed that Liverpool had actually managed to concoct something, and then open-mouthed and aghast in horror muttering as yet another undeserved goal was given away in injury time. The list of games where this has happened, either in the first or second half, must now be a page long. The whole complexion of the game was changed in that luckless moment when the ball broke so kindly for Liverpool.

A draw then, we’d have settled for that as we’d continued to play so well. But even that was not to be. In yet another lapse, Can found himself in yards of space and unchallenged was able to strike a bobbling pea-roller home from 25 yards and then watch the ball slip inside the post with Heaton unable to reach it. Ironic too that it was Emre Can, so often referred to in Scouseland as Emre Can’t. We knew how it would work from that point. Burnley might huff and puff, they might indeed continue to play well, they might make Liverpool look decidedly average (and even average was a flattering description) but fail to score and lose the game.

The pundits praise was plentiful, Barnes and Gray described as sensational on MOTD in the first half. Burnley did very little wrong, was another summary. But what good is praise when the luck just doesn’t go your way and you just can’t stick a second goal away. Whereas Liverpool had grabbed their fluky extra time chance and scored, Burnley muffed theirs when Lowton was unable to capitalise on the moment the ball came to him in the corner of the 6-yard box and blazing over missed a golden opportunity to make the score 2-2. On such moment s are games decided.

11 shots by Burnley and just one on target told yet another story that at this level if you miss such a percentage you simply will not win no matter how well you play. ‘A bitter pill to swallow,’ said Dyche and when you come away from a place such as Anfield disappointed that you have not won at least one point, then that is a certain measure of how well you played. It was hard to fault one single Burnley player.

‘Burnley are so much better than their away record suggests, it is staggering they are winless,’ headlined the Mirror. ‘Nowhere in football can there be such a misleading record as Sean Dyche’s team and their failure to win on their travels this season; powerful but painfully unfortunate. The last seven defeats away have all been by the odd goal. It was a defeat as cruel as the one at the Emirates in January.’

Liverpool relief was all too clear. Klopp bordered on the ecstatic that they had ground out a result against a side as awkward as Burnley. Liverpool don’t usually win ‘ugly’ he went on and on in an interminable MOTD on-pitch interview with a trio of fawning interviewers.

The Burnley support was yet again fantastic in its noise and constancy, frequently drowning out (at least on TV) the sound of the Kop. But the the modern-day Kop is nothing like as powerful and awesome as it was in previous decades. ‘You’re not Danny Ings,’ the Burnley crowd sang whenever a Liverpool player scuffed a shot or fluffed an opening. The famed Kop might have retaliated at the end with the same chant when Lowton fluffed his chance. But the Kop and scouse wit missed the chance, the modern version nowhere near as sharp as it used to be.

It’s not often you can say that Liverpool were there for the taking. But this game was one of them. Alas by now a few people were commenting that for all their ‘hard luck,’ admirable performances and ‘deserved to get something,’ Burnley hadn’t won a game since the end of January, a statistic that had crept up almost unnoticed.

But: Sunderland next and the run of away days comes to an end; win that and all might be well, we assured ourselves.

TOUR de BRITAIN

SWANSEA 3 BURNLEY 2

Coast to coast and back again, criss crossing the UK, the first of the four away games successfully out of the way, Burnley having gained another inch on the way to safety; East to Hull, back West to Swansea, up the coast to Liverpool and then east again to Sunderland. None of them strictly speaking bucket and spade seaside places; all of them remnants of Britain’s industrial might and sea-going prosperity but now re-invented, and little Burnley (though some would say not little any more) knocking on their doors.

Swansea: where both Leighton James and Brian Flynn once plied their trade, two of Burnley’s greatest players. I can remember seeing Brian Flynn for the first time, hazy about when and who it was against, but the images of what he did in that game are imprinted vividly. It was a stunning performance from a pint-sized kid who sprayed passes around, long and short, ran the midfield, scurried here and there, and slotted into the team as if he’d been there years. A few of us were there together; Mrs T of course, Joe McNamara was another, Terry Kershaw and Brian Hughes. We kept looking at each open mouthed as this precociously talented, pint-sized kid showed no nerves, hesitancy or shyness. He served Burnley well: former director Derek Gill in his diaries describes him as a joy to deal with when it came to contract time when he returned to Burnley, and groundsman Roy Oldfield had a nice little tale.

In his early days when Brian had no money and players weren’t showered with free boots by the bucket load by the manufacturers as they are now, Brian was keen to get a pair of Adidas boots, the ones with the three stripes. Roy took it upon himself to solve this situation and took a pair of small, old black boots and painted three stripes down the side of each boot and then presented the boots to Brian. Roy still chuckles about it and when working on Roy’s book of the old groundsman days, Brian came down and met up with him again. And yes they laughed about the home-made Adidas boots as we photographed them both on the old brown bench that Paul Bradshaw found, the one that we feel sure is the very same one that Roy sat on all those years ago, just to the side of the player’s tunnel.

Paul Fletcher tells the tale of a sea cruise aboard the QE2. Bob Lord had needed an operation on his ears and was told he must not fly again. On the boat, Brian was a big part in a typical Fletcher prank. Brian was shoved into a big laundry basket, one of those that were wheeled from room to room to collect the bedding, and Brian was festooned in a white sheet. In went Brian and he was told that they’d leave the basket outside Jim Thomson’s room. They’d knock on the door, Jim would open it; Brian would leap out in the white sheet making a hullabaloo and scare the living daylights out of Thommo.

Except, deliberately, without telling Brian, they didn’t leave it outside Jim Thomson’s room, they chose a room at random without telling Brian, knocked on the door, and hid where they could see the result. The door opened, Brian leapt out with a huge BOOOO as loud as he could, worthy of an Oscar, but was then horrified to learn that it was an elderly couple that came to the door to see who it was. Fletch insists that the woman shrieked, her teeth fell out and the husband’s toupee lifted up 6 inches above his head.

‘They were both white as Brian’s sheet,’ said Fletcher. ‘And we thought they were both about to have a heart attack. It was not a stunt we ever repeated.’

If we thought Liverpool would win at Leicester and leave them in the bottom three we were sadly frustrated. Leicester put on a performance to rival anything they had produced under Ranieri. Probably all of football was disappointed after the weekend events and the sacking of Ranieri. The conspiracy tales were rampant that the players were the instigators of the sacking having had talks with the owners and their representatives. The leading and most trusted reporters were adamant that this was in fact what had happened with certainly four Leicester players involved immediately after the game in Spain. True or not, their performances for him in the weeks preceding had been abysmal. Of course they distanced themselves from the accusations and then went on to produce a master-show against Liverpool using the predictable footballism, ‘we needed to produce a performance.’

The word ‘stink’ was used by some of the media, Carragher, Lineker were scathing. Be that as it may, the upshot was Leicester caught up three points on Burnley and we were now beginning to get out our calculators and slide rules to try and figure out all the possible combinations and results that would ensure Burnley’s safety.

But: ‘Who needs Ranieri’ was one headline, illustrating with crass insensitivity the heartlessness and immediacy of football; one result and Ranners was yesterday’s man. The King is dead; long live the king, and all that stuff; the acting manager a guy called Shakespeare. The irony of that you couldn’t make up. Nobody wrote finer stuff about plots, murder and intrigue.

Back on Planet Burnley, two wins or three we wondered, or maybe just six draws. Would 36 points be enough or perhaps a couple more? 40 would be the definite magic safety line. Nine points from 12 games; that seemed achievable. Plus: we could rightly assume that all the bottom eight teams would take points off each other and after the Swansea game Burnley still had four games to play against teams below them. Déjà vu: we’d done this a year earlier when the last ten games of the season approached, except then it was to work out how many points were needed for promotion. Back then, counsellors and Samaritans were working overtime. Sales of tranquillisers had doubled. Sleep wasn’t easy. Visits to the doctor for prescriptions had increased.

We could only assume that the Swansea game would be Joey Barton’s final game in a Burnley shirt this season. With 12 games remaining, even a ten game ban would leave him only two games, but the enormity of his betting activities made even a life ban possible. Hull was his 50th appearance in all competitions including sub appearances. Astonishingly he had only been on the losing side just four times. Since his book was published you could add a huge new chapter on his time at Rangers and the return to Burnley. I still wonder if he realised very early that he had made a mistake going up there. In the pre-season friendly against Burnley at Ibrox, he seemed quite disinterested and lethargic in that game. Anything less than a ten-game ban would probably astonish us all.

Immediately after the Leicester win, the Swansea press were lauding the game against Burnley and labelling it a ‘must win’ game. Leicester had leapfrogged Swansea in the table. A Swansea home defeat to Burnley would land them right back in it. The Swansea manager was urging the crowd to be the twelfth man. The South Wales media were relishing pointing out that recent stats made this a home banker. Leighton James who played for both sides, expressed surprise that it was Burnley with so many points above Swansea, and not the other way round.

Most Burnley fans would simply settle for a point and see it as another vital step towards the end of May. For Burnley, Hendrick was available again following his three-game absence. Barnes was of course suspended but coming up on the rails was 19-year old Daniel Agyei currently impressing everyone at the club with his pace and power. It was at this age that Jay Rodriguez was already seeing first-team action.

‘Hammering down with rain and high winds,’ was the gist of messages that were appearing on twitter and Facebook as people drove down to Swansea. ‘Skies are grey, it smells of sheep and even the trees are depressed. ‘

And so were most Burnley fans on the way home, especially those whose coach broke down before they even set off home. This by all accounts was a poor performance all-round, the only positives being Keane and Mee, plus Andre Gray’s two goals. Heaton was missing with an illness so that Robinson deputised.

‘Managed to make Swansea look like Bayern Munich,’ was one comment. ‘Being Welsh, their fans moan at everything but sing beautifully.’ ‘About as pleasant to watch as chewing nettles,’ was another.

In short, Burnley were outplayed and outpaced with cross after cross coming over and little done to stop them. Yet somehow Burnley had managed to take a 2-1 lead thanks to a fine Andre Gray bit of skill just inside the box and for a while there was the improbable hope that this might be the first elusive away win. But it was not to be, Swansea were just too good leaving us all wondering just how did they manage to spend so long in the bottom three, the previous duff manager being the only possible answer. The new one, Clements had re-vitalised them.

The two main talking points centred round two of the goals. Burnley had equalised via a bizarre referee’s decision when he awarded a penalty thinking that it was a Swansea player that had handled when in fact it was Vokes. With the benefit of replays it was clear as day but if the referee was unsighted then it was the only explanation. There was some thought at first that it was the player behind Vokes mauling him as they both went up, but the eventual consensus was it was awarded for the handball.

‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth,’ the old saying goes. Apparently it harks back to the olde days when the gift of a horse was a fine token of friendship. It was therefore thoroughly rude and ill-mannered to look in its mouth to examine its teeth, not just to see if it needed the dentist, but to gauge the horses age. In Greece it was the humble donkey not the horse. Gray duly accepted the gift, smacked the penalty home resisting the temptation to check the goalkeeper’s teeth. 1-1 then, Swansea glum and Burnley well thrilled; even more so when in they took the lead, the first time this season that this had happened, taking the lead in an away game.

The pundits in the TV studies were stunned, so were we, could this be happening, was this the game to break the mould? Alas no, the inevitable equaliser came. But 2-2 and the game neared its conclusion. At home, hiding behind the settee counting the minutes, it looked as though another point was heading Burnley’s way but Llorente – and the referee – had other ideas. How close it was to 3-1 for Burnley however, when Gray put a great low ball across the box and Vokes was just a big toe away from poking it home. A fraction quicker and it would have been slotted home. Alas, for all his attributes, pace is not one of them.

Into injury time, yet another deep cross, up went Mee and Llorente, Mee went flying, both Llorente’s hands and arms in his back. Such was the force of the shove that Mee almost came out the TV screen and landed on my lap. No shove will ever be so clear but Llorente buried the ball in the back of the net with just two minutes remaining. Cruel does not do it justice.

‘Two wrongs make a right,’ or ‘two wrongs do not make a right.’ Philosophers have pondered for centuries over which is right. All it left us wondering was did the referee grab the opportunity to make right his wrong decision to award the penalty. No-one could argue that overall Swansea deserved the win, and that had Burnley taken a point home the word ‘nicked’ would have been well accurate. Nicked or not, it would have been gratefully accepted. As it turned out, referee Anthony Taylor, made sure that two wrongs did indeed make a right. But, was he still a bit fuzzy-headed, following his three-day stag bash in Marbella?

Now it was no wins in five since January and the defeat of Leicester. Burnley still nine points clear and Middlesbrough in the bottom three along with Sunderland, and two away games to come against the both of them. But: there was good news. Someone had done the maths and calculated that the current bottom three, if they accumulated points at their current rate, would not reach 31 points. Ipso facto, according to the boffins, Burnley were already safe. It was a comforting thought.

Still no away win and Liverpool next, we grimaced, rampant when they feel like it, but shreddable on bad days as they were at Leicester. Would the first away win come at Anfield then? Why not; if Lincoln could win at Turf Moor, then anything might happen in this sometimes weird and whacky game. Who would ever have thought that you could be awarded a penalty for handling the ball yourself; or score a goal by pushing an opponent half way to outer space?

Jimmy Greaves was right. It is indeed a funny old game.

NEVER TRUST AN ICE CREAM VAN

HULL CITY 1 BURNLEY 1

We had this scientifically fool proof way of forecasting the score on the day of the Lincoln Cup game as we drove over. The route takes us through Halifax and Mytholmroyd and as all ice cream devotees will know, Mytholmroyd is the home of Royd’s Ice Cream. The website says they have the largest fleet of Ice Cream Vans in the UK. Just like counting Eddie Stobart trucks on motorway journeys; we count Royd’s Ice Cream vans in between Leeds and Mytholmroyd. Even on the coldest, iciest day in the depths of winter there is always one. When a hot toddy and a hot water bottle would be more sensible, there is always one person who can guzzle a 99.

On an August trip we once counted 20 heading east and on the Cup day we decided after we’d seen the first one, that whatever number we saw, that would be the score against Lincoln. Being only February and sales being slow, there were just five. It seemed reasonable therefore to think the score would be 5-0.

As well we know; it wasn’t. Trust me: this will be the last time we use the Royd’s Ice Cream van method of predicting any score.

The effects for those of us who were there will not go away for a while. Us oldies still remember Wimbledon. A trip to the dentists would have been preferable. Criticisms of the result may well seem like sour grapes; the Lincoln thousands went home fully convinced of the magic and romance of the Cup. The media promoted it at full blast. MOTD fawned over the two Lincoln managers there in person. The Press splashed it all over their pages. The main news channels just had to feature it. Burnley fans on the day, high on emotion, with immediate mixed feelings of both anger and dismay, went along with this and wished Lincoln well. But then some of us began to think and replay a few incidents. In the cold light of the following day we were a tad more analytical.

Burnley were poor, it has to be said. Dyche held up his hands and said as much. But citing the state of the pitch and how they failed to cope with being favourites was unconvincing. Sean D could have done a Cloughie, packed his bags and gone away to Magaduff for the week, left them to get on with it, sent them a postcard, wish you were here, see you on Monday lads, enjoy the game, and they should still have had the nous to win this game. They had the chances and shots to have won but failed to capitalise with what one can only describe as clumsy feet syndrome once they got in the box. This was not the romance or the magic of the Cup. This was just really good chances squandered; and that was the bottom line.

Not much romance either in the forearm smash on Joey Barton committed by Matt Rhead that went unmentioned and was a clear red card long before all the later shenanigans and confrontations in the Burnley box. And the huge stroke of luck that lead to the Lincoln goal when the ball clearly went out off a Lincoln player, not a Burnley player’s head. On such moments are games decided and the winners and media say it’s ‘romance.’ The day after was a rare Sunday when the Sunday papers lay unopened for much of the day.

We still remember Wimbledon in 1975 like it was yesterday but that result was a truly magical FA Cup day; Burnley played well but just could not beat a wonderfully inspired Dickie Guy in the Wimbledon goal making save after save. This truly was the romance of the Cup. It left no ill feeling, no grimaces of anger at the team, no sour grapes; no complaints. But the Lincoln game left a number of grumbles. It was a red letter day for the fans; but it could so easily have been a red card day for one of their players instead of all the focus being on a huffy Barton later in the game. It was hard to find any newspaper that didn’t have pictures of Barton and THAT scuffle whilst Rhead was portrayed as a folk-hero.

In general the papers made for sorry reading, as much for their glorifying of Lincoln and the dissection of J Barton, as the result itself. The Sunday Telegraph was perhaps the nearest to any kind of balance, written by Jonathan Liew, the challenger to Henry Winter’s reporting crown.

You could call it cup magic. But magic is rarely as brutal as this. Quite aside from the result, it was an utterly enthralling cup-tie, rugged and passionate, concussive and ill-tempered, off-kilter and off-colour, intensely physical and unashamedly English. Lincoln successfully drew their Premier League opposition, a side that manager Danny Cowley describes as ‘a really good version of us,’ into a scrap.

     This was no wild fluke, but the result of as meticulous plan ruthlessly executed. Lincoln hassled and hounded, put their necks on the line, a foot in the tackle, a sneaky elbow in the ribs if needed. They defended outstandingly and when their chance came late on, they took it. In essence Burnley were Burnleyed. Lincoln did to them what they have done to so many Premier League sides this season: sat deep, dug their heels in and turned it into a scrap. Startled by Lincoln’s lack of decorum, bewildered by the novelty of enjoying 60% possession, Burnley simply rolled their sleeves up, turned down the quality dial and fought dire with dire.

     Not much romance of the cup here. Romance is always a funny way of describing it. This was not so much a candlelit dinner as a sloppy breakfast, not so much a tender smooch as a large hairy man shouting: ‘Have it.’

   A confrontation between Joey Barton and Lincoln striker Matt Rhead had been brewing for much of the game. Rhead is one of those players that only non-league football could produce: a loveable, terrifying, nuclear chimney of a man with a giant bald patch and an indomitable physical presence.

It was hard to decide what was more depressing: the single line news ticker in Times Square New York that read, Lincoln shock EPL Burnley (a chum sent me a picture), the meltdown of the NHS, fat cat Lords on Euro pensions, Paul Nuttall, Trump, Blair, Daily Express weather forecasts (what happened to the Tropical plume), more pictures of Lincoln on the front pages, or blaming the pitch.

So the pitch was a bit bobbly and bare in places, so what? It never stopped the McIlroy Adamson side playing their passing game from ’59 to 62’ when they were at their peak. It never stopped Adamson’s side playing their passing game from ’72 to ’75. It never stopped Miller’s side in ‘81/82, Mullen’s side in ‘91/92; all these triumphs when pitches were often atrocious, or Stan’s side in 2000. The Desso pitch was installed in 2010 and prior to that Coyle’s side played yet more great football that resulted in promotion. Twice Head Groundsman Paul Bradshaw has been nominated for Groundsman of the Year. But ageing Desso pitches are not indestructible; blaming it for the Lincoln performance was just lame.

And so to the KCOM stadium: Hull the 2017 City of Culture, an oxymoron if ever I heard one; you can buy mugs that say ‘you’re only here for the culture.’ The City has come a long way since medieval days when felons and villains said a prayer: from Hell Hull and Halifax good Lord deliver us.’ Hull was famed for its stinking, cesspit of a gaol and Halifax was one of the few place in England with a gibbet for beheading the ne’er do wells. There are fears that the Tories, strong on crime and anxious to reduce the welfare bill, would like to re-introduce them.

It was a game that was the beginning of a critical period when the next four games were all away games, including Sunderland and Swansea. Then there was the small matter of the away game at Liverpool. We knew at the beginning of this that if there were four defeats then the bottom three could well close the gap. The general feeling was that at least a couple of draws from these four games was a must. And surely we argued; the day must come when there would be the first away win.

But now Gudmondsson was out, along with the unavailable Marney, Defour and Hendrick. There was no certainty that Barton would not be given his inevitable betting suspension. Maybe too there might be a hangover from the Lincoln result. Things were not exactly hunky dory. Silva had done a good job at Hull and made astute signings in the January window. As early as Monday the local Hull press were building this game up. ‘The countdown starts now,’ they said. Lose to Burnley and they were truly in the mire; win and their season was kick-started.

Storm Doris had been and gone. The poor cat was blown back in through the cat flap. Folks from the south huddled indoors. Folks from the north went out as normal in a big coat. Andre Gray had been at the Brit Awards big bash on Wednesday. Burnley had won 5 of the last six games at Hull. Only 5 of the remaining 13 games were at Turf Moor. ‘If City can score twice, they can beat this lot, they don’t like travelling’ said ex-bruiser and Burnley player Peter Swan, now the leading pro-Hull City pundit for the local press, adding one or two complimentary things as well.

Hull were looking for a fifth successive home win after a few days in sunny Portugal. Flying Polish winger Grosicki was looking for a chance to show Burnley what they missed when his proposed move to Turf Moor fell through. If Hull won they could be out of the bottom three with Leicester not playing; the football world from Barnet to Bangkok stunned by the sacking of Ranieri, allegedly the result of backstabbing whinging prima donna players blabbing to the owners; this they would later deny.

According to other sources Sean Dyche was actually chuckling about his adopted son Joey Barton as he pondered on the incidents in the Lincoln game. ‘I think it’s pantomime stuff myself. I’ve got to be honest. I’ve seen a lot more controversy around Joey than that. If that’s as far as it goes I’ll be a happy man. That’s just part of being Joey I suppose. It could be a TV series actually – Being Joey – it’d be interesting; never a dull moment, unless he’s in here training with me.’

SD had a point and added what we all think at Burnley, that Barton has been fantastic in every game he has played. But: whilst the forearm smash on Barton by man mountain Rhead early in the game was a sickener and went unpunished, not raising even a tiny paragraph in any report on the game; the Alli leg-breaker tackle in the Europa League at Tottenham against Gent was a real shocker, eclipsing any tackle Joey has ever made. That one was soon forgotten. Barton’s are entered into a sort of permanent Hall-of-Infamy record book to be wheeled out as soon as he even sneezes.

Whilst not in the category of winner takes all, nevertheless the stakes in this game, the first in the month-long road trip during which Burnley would criss cross the UK from coast to coast, were unquestionably high. A Burnley win would be a huge step to safety. It was the side with a currently good home record against the side that just could not win away from home. It was impossible not to think of a Hull win. But this True Grit, dogged, cussed Burnley side had other ideas and the Lincoln result had clearly left no lingering hangover.

No we won’t be changing our routines, said Dyche; we won’t be having fish and chips on Friday night. We’ll stick to our tried and tested plans and tactics. And the result was a terrific point despite falling behind to a contentious penalty decision. A corner was swung across, the melee of manic, packed, jostling bodies looked like Poundland on half price day. The referee had no hesitation in giving the penalty but later pictures clearly showed a hand and arm from Maguire on Keane’s offending arm affecting its movement as he rose for the ball. You could argue it was harsh. Barnes rushed in. Barnes argued. Barnes was booked. Barnes thought no more about it.

‘That’ll larn ‘im,’ my grandmother used to say if I did owt daft that got me in bother. ‘He’ll only do it once.’

Maybe if my grandmother was around to give Barnsey her homespun advice, he’d get fewer cards. He has many qualities, a sort of superior, upgraded, Premier League, Matt Rhead, but then he went and got yellow carded again, this time for a flailing elbow. Perhaps though, Rhead might be able to teach him how to use the elbow or the forearm and get away with it, for that is an expertise that Rhead most certainly possesses.

We’d hardly finished groaning but within minutes Keane had levelled, from villain to hero almost instantly, when he swooped on a corner that came to him unmarked at the edge of the Hull 6-yard box. With the aplomb of a seasoned striker, and putting another £5million on his price, he chested the ball down and slammed it home; the sort of goal that we say is a gem when we score them, but the sort that we say is bad defending if scored against us. We said the same when Lincoln scored their winner when a player in the build-up was totally unmarked. Silva looked crestfallen; Dyche simply looked business-like and took his customary swig of water.

It was a great point; but with good news came bad. Barton’s hearing is in early March. It was not rocket science to presume it might be the end of his season and in all probability, Swansea his swan song.