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CARRY ON UP THE DOURO

August 2017, and it was a one-off, a very expensive luxury trip to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. It took a determined saving-up campaign, a big dip into some ISAs and there wasn’t much change from five grand but without wishing this to be a marketing piece for Viking River Cruises, it was worth every penny. We wanted a river cruise and we wanted warm sun so we chose the River Douro trip in Portugal starting with a couple of nights in Lisbon. We felt like a bit of luxury and self-indulgence, a bit of serious 5-star pampering and we got tons of it.

We dug out the old wedding album and leafed through it before we went. ‘Darling can you remember what time we got married,’ she asked, ‘it was on a Monday.’

The ‘darling’ bit was worrying; it’s usually the preface to being asked for something and we were passing Pandora at the time.

‘Darling,’ I answered affectionately, ‘I can’t even remember what year we got married.’

The day after we flew to Lisbon, Burnley were due to play Hannover in a friendly so that was a game we would miss, and a week later the opening game of the season, the away game at Chelsea.  Missing the Chelsea game we shrugged off anyway; it seemed reasonable to assume they would lose (gallantly no doubt) to the Champions and their stellar cast, although the good news was that Hazard was injured. Michael Keane had been sold for £30million to Everton. Andre Gray had been sold to Watford for £18million; neither had been replaced. The airwaves were abuzz with apprehension and worry that more signings were needed and that the side was still dangerously short of pace. As ever the pundits had Burnley listed as one of the contenders for relegation.

Ten of us were in our ‘wedding’ party on the cruise and were eating our evening meal in the hotel restaurant, the ground floor restaurant of the Tivoli Lisboa Hotel, five stars, resplendent, elegant, and seriously plush at the top end of a graceful, tree-lined avenue. You half expected the Beckhams to come round the corner; it was that kind of place. It had history too. In the Second World War when Portugal was neutral, the hotel was a hotbed of espionage and intrigue, a meeting place of German and English spies.

The ‘best’ restaurant was up on the roof terrace but they couldn’t fit ten in at short notice so we elected for the less pretentious of the two and ate sumptuous steaks cooked to perfection. But then Pete gasped for breathe. I thought he was choking on a piece of meat and was poised ready to administer the Heimlich manoeuvre but no; he had some news via a text.

‘They abandoned the Hannover friendly,’ he announced. We stopped and stared, knives and forks frozen in mid-air. How can you possibly abandon a friendly? By definition a friendly is a friendly, trouble free game.

‘Rioting,’ he went on, ‘the German fans causing trouble so the game was abandoned on police instructions.’

We had no details but it just seemed ridiculous. There were probably around 6,000 there, we guessed and maybe just a few hundred German fans. True, the Hannover Ultras were known to be a dangerous lot but just a few hundred at a friendly game, surely they were controllable. We beat them in two world wars but at a small football match, apparently not. We finished the steaks and went on to the puddings. Burnley seemed a couple of thousand miles away and an abandoned football match seemed trivial in these opulent, lavish surroundings. Besides there was a mission the next day, and that was to find and sample the famed Portuguese egg tarts of which I had seen and read so much in the holiday blurb and guide books.

An optional walking tour of the city was called ‘A taste of Lisbon,’ but regretfully we chose not to do it. We took a broader tour of the city, a city with a stunning setting at the mouth of the River Tagus, a city that spawned countless sixteenth century seafaring explorers, Magellan, Vasco da Gama, Bartholomew Diaz, amongst them and inspired by Prince Henry the Navigator. Christopher Columbus was not Portuguese but had huge connections with Lisbon and had a Portuguese wife. Not for nothing was this called the Age of Discovery. The Portuguese back then plundered Brazil and built an empire; they were the first Europeans to land in Japan. I can remember at school reading and learning about these great names and their great stories. I suspect most kids today wouldn’t have a clue who they were. There were pirates galore of course and there was even a Pirates Code of Conduct invented by Bartholomew Portugues, though t is unlikely they actually had Pirate Training Days.

This is a historical city of monuments, churches, shrines, cathedrals, monasteries, museums, labyrinthine streets, tree-lined avenues, café bars and restaurants, and of course the original bakery where the famed egg tarts (pastel de nata) are made. Street foods like the Prego, a garlic steak sandwich, aren’t bad either.

The egg tart has a long history and was first made by the monks of Jeronimos Monastery in the Belem area of the city, although they cribbed the recipe from France. Egg whites were used for starching clothes and this left the yolks which were then used in baking. When the monastery was closed in 1834 the recipe for the tarts was passed to the owners of the local sugar refinery. In 1837 they opened the Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem, still run by the descendants of the original owners. This café is on the tourist route, these are tarts that are made in many bakeries (in fact you can get them n Sainsbury’s) but the Belem bakery is the place to get them and the queues frequently stretch down the road. As our coach drove slowly by without a stop, yep, there were the queues and I looked longingly at the lines of tarts laid out in the shop window. I would indeed eventually get to taste one in another café. Trust me these are egg tarts to die for. Conveniently packed in boxes of six they were on sale in the airport on the way home, ready for slipping into the carry-on bags. Needless to say one box flew back with us and when the last one was eaten a couple of days later, it brought a symbolic closure to a marvellous holiday.

The second meal in the rooftop restaurant of the Tivoli Lisboa Hotel was an experience with views right across the city and the twinkling lights. This was nouvelle cuisine, where gravy is called jus, the food delicious but you don’t get much, although what you get is beautifully arranged on the plate and the jus isn’t poured it is drizzled. We upset the Maître D’ by asking for four bills which seemed simple enough to us being just the same as eating on four separate tables. With a humph he agreed, but made it plain with another sniff that this was a great inconvenience. He must be French, I decided, better not mention Brexit either.

The food came, we looked at our plates and eight of us thought the same; where is it? Ironically the other two who had ordered a sort of Lobster Stew (Bisque in nouvelle cuisine) in a huge iron pot had enough to feed a small army. This was fortunate; after it took us the necessary three or four minutes to eat our own small meals, we tucked into theirs as well. It was unquestionably superb grub, but here we were, people used to mammoth plate-fulls of cheese and onion pie, mushy peas and chips at the Queen in Cliviger, or monster portions of Rag Pudding at the Shepherd’s Rest above Todmorden. Nouvelle Cuisine might be OK for small jockeys or waif-like models, but we were still hungry. And then came the bill, all four of them. The guy wasn’t a snooty Frenchman after all, he turned out to be South African so as soon as we got talking about cricket and South Africa’s poor showing in the Test Matches, he became a proper human being and the four bills arrived with a smile.

I looked at ours which was for four of us and gasped. I looked at Mrs T mouth agape, eyes popping. Slowly the words came out in a kind of croak. ‘Good God its 384 euros; it says 384 euros for four of us. It can’t be.’

She took the bill and studied it, then spoke. ‘You idiot, that’s our room number.’

Next stop was Porto, a day’s leisurely coach drive to the south of Lisbon. Here is where we would pick up the boat, stopping at Coimbra on the way, a university town where the students all wear black clothes and black capes so that no-one knows if you are poor or rich, a town of more narrow streets, alleyways and pavement cafes. In medieval times it was Portugal’s capital. We learned at the lunch stop that a normal Portuguese restaurant meal is plentiful, generous and then come the plates of second helpings. The texts were coming in again. Apparently we were interested in Shane Long now down the pecking list at Southampton. Good signing if it went ahead, we agreed, and that would mean there were would be six Irish internationals in the Burnley team. We wondered too if a Danny Ings loan from Liverpool was a possibility and all of us were keen, despite his injury problems. On form and injury free he had been a little genius in the first Dyche promotion season and his goal at Blackburn was now filed under F for Folklore.

And then it was on to baroque Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, a city built on Port with over 50 wine companies along the river bank. Look on supermarket shelves at the Port and it’s a fair bet that most came from the Douro region. All the familiar names were there, Fonseca, Graham’s, Warre, Sandeman’s, Dow’s, Taylor’s. It was the Brits that made port popular back in the late 1600s with Croft one of the first big shippers.

Porto straddles the River Douro, the river that comes out of Spain, and has carved out a deep and steep-sided 200-hundred mile long gouge in the Portuguese landscape. These are the hillsides that are covered in terraces of vines, thousands of acres of them and where the great wine estates are located. Few sounds are more satisfying than that of a cork coming out of the bottle for the first time. It’s odds on that the cork originated in Portugal from the bark of the Cork Oak Tree.

Porto too is built on steep slopes that rise from the river, the river spanned by towering, graceful bridges, a city of tiled churches, pastel-hued houses, a treasure chest of unusual buildings, glorious river views, the quaint old riverside district of Ribeira, cathedrals, markets, pavement cafes, castles, narrow cobbled streets and quaint wooden trams that rattle and clang up and down the streets. Under the medieval arches of the Ribeira district are dozens of cafes, bars and restaurants. Taxi boats ply their way back and forth across the river from one side to the other.

Our boat ‘The Viking Hemmings’ was moored up more or less opposite the Sandeman’s port warehouse, the great barrels and casks filling the huge, cool storerooms. Sandeman is famed for its logo, the ‘Don’, the mysterious figure in black cape and hat, the first Caped Crusader. The Hemmings was our home for the next seven days, the final day being the day of the Chelsea game. The sun, wine, food and slow cruise back down the river on the day would be ample consolation for the inevitable defeat, and in the meantime there was so much to enjoy on this floating food-fest. Make no mistake; a holiday with Viking River Cruises puts you at serious risk of weight increase. You don’t ask where the lifeboat is; you ask for the defibrillator station. The day starts with a huge buffet breakfast with the chef standing at the end of the dining room at the ‘egg station’ ready to cook any egg dish of your choice. Onto to that you can pile anything else that fills the buffet.

‘I will not be eating huge lunches,’ I vowed before we boarded. But when lunch is served it cannot be disregarded; it would be rude and disrespectful and these were three-course affairs that could not be ignored. And then in the evening there was dinner, another lavish three course event and as at lunch, as much wine as you could glug. And all the while through breakfast and lunch the boat sailed serenely along the Douro with views of the terraces, estates and quintas, solitary farmhouses, tiny chapels, isolated cottages, narrow gorges, olive groves, almond trees, an occasional worker, fish jumping out of the water, and above us the soaring eagles and vultures. Storks nest in certain villages, deer, wolves, boar and wildcats cling to a few wild areas. In years past the river was bedevilled by rapids that the little rabelo boats carrying the port barrels down to the warehouses for ageing and storage, had to negotiate at their peril. Today, huge dams with locks for the boats, plus widening of certain stretches, have tamed the river.

Yet more news was filtering through regarding Burnley FC. Internet connections were poor but occasionally there was a window. A £12million bid for Leeds United’s Chris Wood was reported. It made sense; the previous season he had scored something like 30 goals in the Championship and he possessed pace, that magic ingredient. But the offer was immediately rejected, said the reports, with Leeds having already valued him at £15million. Same old Burnley, we moaned, trying to get a player they wanted on the cheap with a first low offer. Next there was a report of a £5million bid for Hull City player Sam Clucas. £5million, no chance, we said, why do they bother? Next, there was an alleged £10million bid for centre-back Ryan Shawcross of Stoke City, but why, we wondered; why not give Tarkowski his chance? And then as the ship entered a deep gorge, the internet connection disappeared.

It was the first day of sailing on the river and we’d stopped at Regua after lunch ready for a tour, nay pilgrimage, to a place that most rose wine drinkers would recognise from the picture on the iconic round bottle. It was a drink that we had back in the 70s in those legendary Berni Inns where we had a prawn cocktail, a steak, and a pudding, and whenever we went, a bottle of Mateus Rose. It took us an age to remember what the puddings were but between us we eventually remembered, Sherry Trifle or Blackforest Gateaux. Back then if you wanted to eat out there wasn’t much to choose from and Berni Inns were in the forefront of Friday or Saturday night treats. We used to look at the picture on the bottle of the Mateus Palace and think what a wonderful place it looked, without even really registering that this gorgeous building was in Portugal. It was therefore with an almost sense of reverence that we headed off on the one hour journey to get there, a wonderful drive through the wine areas and vineyards along highways that hugged the dizzying hillsides, clung to the steep contours, and then traversed the deep valleys and gorges via the most spectacular, awesome, architecturally superb bridges, with the valley floor hundreds of feet below.

The little guide book and itinerary that was issued painted a wonderful picture of the place:

The extraordinary Mateus Palace, the building depicted on the Mateus Rose wine labels and enjoy a wine tasting at a local quinta. Journey with the guide to Vila Real; see the stunning Mateus Palace, the home of the last Count of Vila Real with its pinnacle façade, grand stairway, richly appointed interiors and priceless objects on display. The gardens will amaze you, enchanting formal gardens with cedar-lined walkways, exquisitely sculpted hedges and statuary and the serene ponds.’

Antonio Mourao built the Casa de Mateus in the first half of the eighteenth century. His descendants still live there.

Forty years ago eating the steak and drinking Mateus Rose in those long-gone Berni Inns, we never thought that one day we’d stand in front of the palace depicted on the bottle and marvel at its beauty and elegance. Berni Inns and Mateus Rose were a part of our growing up and early marriage. We were celebrating our 50th year together in front of the real place beneath a perfect blue sky and warm sun. And if you want the football bit, this was the time of Jimmy Adamson and his team of the seventies, Fletcher, Waldron, Casper, James and all the rest, a team that we loved for its silky football, and still do. This was a lump-in-throat moment.

Pinhao, Barca d’Alva, Castelo Rodrigo; what gorgeous places these were. But we still hadn’t signed Chris Wood or anyone else for that matter even though Sean D was saying he was still keen to sign new additions. Leeds were adamant he wasn’t for sale and even a £16million bid had been rejected according to internet (now back on) reports. And the Chelsea game was looming, early relaxed indifference being slowly replaced by slight trepidation. By now, too, the scenes of hooliganism at Turf Moor during the Hannover game were being flashed around the world on BBC World News. It was a surreal moment, on a boat, up the Douro, switch on the TV to see what’s happening and up pops Burnley and the sight of Hannover nutjobs leathering the nearest Burnley fans and any steward unfortunate enough to be in the middle.

The boat was filled with Americans, average age 70 probably, so that anyone in their 20s or 30s stood out like a sore thumb. One such was CC, that’s all I knew him by, on the boat with his fiancé, both in their 30s and he in a Chelsea shirt…a Chelsea shirt. Others came from all over the USA, California, Nevada, Arizona, New York, Atlanta and Philadelphia. An English couple we befriended were from Huddersfield so that he was understandably over the moon with Huddersfield’s success and foray into the Premier League. Like us, he took an away defeat in the first game for granted.

With so many Americans on board and surrounded by so many accents it was hard not to slip into it. ‘Well Hi Dave,’ one woman said every morning well impressed by my gallantry one day when I’d offered my seat in the shade of an olive tree while we sipped port at a quinta, after another huge lunch.

It was always tempting to reply, ‘why howdy ma’am, you look just swell this fahn mornin’.’ But I managed to resist. Nor did I dare to ask any of them had they voted for Trump, who by now was seemingly losing his grip on sanity and like Nero and Caligula centuries earlier, firing anyone who offended him, but in this day and age fortunately unable to have them assassinated.

Next up was a visit to Castelo Rodrigo which meant heading into the breathtaking countryside to reach the medieval hilltop fortress town that looked down on miles and miles of a flat plateau that stood at over 2,000’. The boat would sail on without us and meet us further upriver at Barca d’Alva. My ears had pricked up the evening before during the evening briefing when the tour guides quickly outlined what was on offer the next day.

‘This is almond growing country,’ she explained, ‘and the café in Castelo Rodrigo makes the most wonderful local delicacy, the Almond Pie.’

‘Hmmm,’ I thought, the word pie making an immediate impression, ‘this sounds good; this needs to be investigated and researched.’

By now we were quite near the Spanish border and from Castelo you could peer across into the hills of Spain. The village itself was a maze of cobbled streets, criss-crossing the hilltop. At the very pinnacle was the old ruined castle, below that the obligatory church. Being so close to Spain, Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition centuries ago fled to Castelo and set up their own community. The afternoon was getting hotter and hotter; the cool of the café seemed a good idea, a cold drink, and a slice of Almond Pie. But as we sat there waiting to order, Pete’s phone pinged with a new text message and it brought news that made us gasp.

‘We’ve sold Andre Gray,’ Pete announced looking at us in a state of near-shock. So were we all. ‘He’s having his medical this afternoon,’ added Pete. A sort of stunned silence followed for a minute.

It wasn’t that he was being sold that surprised us, we expected it. A new contract offer was unsigned, it was fairly clear he would be happy to go and clubs like Newcastle and Everton had been tracking him. By all accounts according to the text, most folks back home were OK with the sale for a reported £18million, it was good business; most folks were resigned to it. Many fans were of the opinion that he was now caught up in the celebrity world of show biz and Little Mix. The jury was out on his skill levels, some saying that he couldn’t trap a bag of cement and that his first touch was usually a three yard pass. But no-one could doubt the value of his goals in the second Dyche promotion season and the contribution he had made to the club. In that season he had provided pace and that rare quality of surprise so that most sides never really knew what he would do next. Now the problem was; how to replace him?

But: the shock of the news was in the destination. It wasn’t Newcastle; it wasn’t Everton, not any top side, but Watford. Our thoughts were the same, you’re joking, Watford, bloody Watford. How on earth could a side like this be spending all this money and paying these big wages to players they were signing under new manager Silva? We tut-tutted, humphed and shook our heads…bloody Watford, meh.

It was the prospect of the Almond Pie that cheered us up. Outside the café it was in the high 30s so the café interior was an oasis of cool and comfort. In the display cabinet a few feet away there was no sign of anything resembling the Almond Pie; maybe there wasn’t any and we were about to be disappointed. But no, when we asked, the proprietor disappeared into a second room and brought two plates with large slices of what we expected to be a pie. But it wasn’t and the let-down we felt was as big as the let-down that Gray was going to piddling Watford of all places. Almond Pie in Castelo is actually more like peanut brittle except they ain’t peanuts, they are almonds. It was hard as nails, tough on the teeth, took a lot of chewing and clogged up the gums; and we left half of it.

Back on the boat in Barca d’Alva we headed straight for the toothbrushes and toothpicks and then took in our surroundings. This is a gem of a little riverside village in a sort of upside down T shape with the short main street of houses forming the up of the T and a line of tavernas and bars forming the crosspiece by the river. The tavernas were old, rustic, simple, basic, cheap, very much resembling the dusty old places we used to visit in Greece where the whole family was involved in the running of the place; so cheap that dozens of Spanish folks drive over to eat there. Smells of the kitchens drift into the dusty street and across to the ship. Sleepy dogs lie in the dust occasionally stretching or having a scratch. Old folks sit outside their doorways. The road crosses the river here by way of an impressive single-arch bridge that stretches across for several hundred feet. And on the ship, ole, it was Spanish night.

Of course there was Paella filled with shell fish, rice, calamari, shrimp, mussels and muchos other wriggly stuff. But for me there was only one choice Cerdo Iberico. This is a mouth-watering dish of pork medallions with mascarpone polenta and roasted piquillo peppers. ‘Medallions’ of course is the culinary way of saying ‘bits of’. But this was no ordinary pork; this is meat that comes from specially bred, very small pigs that are fed on nothing but chestnuts. It then produces a very rich, black pork meat. I ate these while the next text came to Pete that announced that Gray had indeed passed his medical and was now a Watford player. All of us who had been to Watford could only hope that he would learn how to navigate the one way system otherwise he was unlikely to see his Little Mix girlfriend ever again. Getting into Watford we had learned is fine; it is getting out that is the problem. Claret airwaves and websites (we managed to log in) were surprisingly not in a state of suicidal meltdown but were calm and objective.

Time was running out, every moment precious, Friday and the Chelsea game just a day away. Another huge breakfast of Eggs Benedict as the ship pulled away from Barca d’Alva to get us nearer to the village of Favios where we could do two things, sample Muscatel, a rich, sweet dessert wine made from the Muscat grape, in one of the warehouses; and then sample handmade bread prepared the traditional way in old ovens heated with wood and old grapevines in a nearby local bakery. We ate the bread, huge hunks of it that was fresh from the ovens, lathering it with butter and home-made jam. Flour billowed up from the large table where the baker was slapping the dough around on the flour-covered surface. Most of us left the room covered in it with jam and butter all over our faces.

The culinary tour was not yet over. Still filled on bread and jam we stopped at the Quinta Avessada wine estate for lunch, three courses yet again. The owner and host and chief entertainer between each course was an absolute replica of Mr Bean in both looks and mannerisms. It was uncanny. We left wondering if Rowan Atkinson had once seen this guy and based Mr Bean on him. But for once this was a meal that did not get a 5-star rating from me.

‘What do you think,’ said Mrs T. She knew what I would say about the chewy meat, allegedly a local dish.

‘It reminds me of that awful braised steak my mother used to do when I was a kid,’ I said.

Cooking was never her strong point though it must be said she was a reluctant cook, standing over whatever she was making with a cigarette in her mouth so that the ash plopped into whatever delight she was concocting. Sometimes we had no idea what was on the plate.

For dinner in the evening for me it was Arroz de Pato, pulled duck meat in port wine with onions and steamed rice. By now we knew that the draw for the League Cup had been made and had laughed at the idea of being drawn against Blackburn Rovers, little thinking that this was exactly what would happen. How things had changed from just a few years ago with struggling penniless Burnley in the doldrums and Blackburn in the Premier League looking down their noses. Now it was Blackburn humiliated and relegated right down to Division One and financially struggling. Burnley meanwhile were in their third season in the Premier League with more cash than they could ever have imagined. The wheel had turned full circle and now it was our turn to enjoy Blackburn’s downwards journey. This would be Blackburn’s Cup Final no doubt; for Burnley just another game. But then we remembered last year’s results against small fry – Accrington and Lincoln.

The penultimate day, Saturday, the last lazy day of cruising back down the Douro, but there was more to it than just that. This was the first day of the new season and the opening game and when we’d seen the fixtures for the first time, we’d gasped. The first game was at Chelsea, the Champions, and a more daunting game you could not wish for. Chelsea at Turf Moor and anything was possible. But this was a nightmare of a start.

We opted out of the short morning excursion and lunched on the boat. This time I settled on a Francesinha. The menu said sandwich. That’s all I want, I thought after the huge breakfast of bacon and eggs, a sandwich will do me fine. I hadn’t bargained for what a Francesinha actually is. It came in a large, deep bowl, a sandwich the size of a Frisbee and swimming in what appeared to be a dark tomato soup. The waiter looked at my raised eyebrows and laughed.

‘Portuguese special,’ he said. ‘It has taken you by surprise. It surprises most people. ‘

It sure as hell took me aback. This wasn’t a snack; it was a two-course meal on one plate. The two huge slices of bread were packed with melted cheese, sausages, steak, ham and beef. And what appeared to be soup was in fact beer sauce. Ah well, I thought, I don’t need to eat it all, but did, consuming enough calories and cholesterol to stoke up half a dozen heart attacks.

Valter the barman had offered to set up the huge TV in the ship’s lounge so that we could actually watch the Chelsea game. There was no SKY, not that it was on SKY anyway, but there were various overseas channels showing it that with a gizmo he could plug in, he promised he would find the game. We dug out the old joke when we got to know him better.

‘Are you a Pole Valter… no I am Portuguese and did the High Jump at school.’

He had a grand sense of humour and had told all the Americans that he was a Syrian refugee fished out of the water by a Viking cruise ship and chosen to be a barman on the Hemming, while all the others had been left in the water. Most of them fell for it. His plan to set up the TV was thwarted he told us, however. In the afternoon starting at 3 o’clock the chef was giving a demonstration of how to make the famed egg tarts in the lounge and would not take kindly to a sub group watching a football match in the corner while he cracked yolks.

In an odd kind of way we were quite relieved. None of us wanted to actually see the walloping that we expected Chelsea to dish out even though they were without Diego Costa, texted by Manager Conte in the summer and told he was unwanted. Diego was therefore playing hooky in Brazil refusing to return to Chelsea and the insulting manager.

By now the ship was in the broader stretches of the lower Douro so that Mrs T’s IPhone was receiving loud and clear. Pete was wearing his Burnley shirt for the occasion. Suddenly, to our utter astonishment, Mrs T shouted, ‘We’ve scored.’

The surprise in her voice was evident. Our reactions were no different. Chelsea defender Cahill had already been sent off for a wild tackle. But old habits die hard so that it was immediately assumed that Chelsea would equalise and go on to win the game. Meanwhile, the sun was beating down as we sat around on the top deck, on either side the river banks swishing by and every now and then people swimming from sandy stretches.

‘We’ve scored again,’ she hollered minutes later. ‘We’ve scored again. It’s 2-0, 2-0.’ This time it was Ward adding to Vokes’s first goal and the brief details said that the Ward goal was a screamer.

Pete was by now pacing up and down the deck. At home during an away game, unable to listen to any radio or TV commentary, his habit is to retire to the garage and potter about, busying himself with ‘things to do.’ On the boat there was no escape; pacing seemed the only alternative. It was when the third goal went in that we just burst out laughing and looked at each other incredulously. Surely they were on their way to an astonishing win, 3-0 up and not even half-time; Chelsea booed off the pitch and down to ten men. What could possibly go wrong?

‘Chelsea have scored,’ announced Mrs T in the second half. Pete groaned and paced faster. Reports and snippets suggested that Chelsea were well back in the game and the Burnley first-half super-show was burned out. But nerves were settled again when Fabregas was sent off and Chelsea were down to nine men. That plus a tray of egg tarts freshly made downstairs being brought round for us to sample restored the exhilaration. Confidence reigned supreme. But:

‘Oh no, Chelsea have scored again,’ announced Mrs T horrified.

‘How on earth can they score with just nine men?’ groaned Pete, now quite beside himself. Only a few minutes remained and Chelsea were throwing everything at Burnley. Brady then hit the Chelsea post with a free kick from 20 yards. 4-2 would have finished the game and sent us into dreamland.

‘This shouldn’t be happening,’ said Pete. ‘We should be coasting.’

Four minutes of nerve-wracking extra time; but at last the whistle went, game over, result 3-2 for Burnley, a most improbable, unexpected, astonishing, unbelievable win as we munched the last egg tart. Before the game we were all agreed; there was no chance of a Burnley win. We whooped and hollered; people looked and stared at us so we explained the significance of the score to the Americans up on deck. We were ecstatic; Pete had his picture taken in his shirt with Captain Tiago. ‘This must be like Braga beating Benfica at Benfica,’ said the captain, with a big smile. ‘The little club beats the giant.’

It was the Captain’s Farewell Dinner in the evening. The wine flowed, and a starter of Roasted Forest Mushroom Veloute, a soup thickened with egg yolks; next a main course of Molho de Cataplana com Tamboril – Monkfish medallions with peppers, onions, broad beans, black olives and tomatoes. And all finished off with a huge cheese plate. Empty wine bottles littered the table. Just about the whole crew knew by now that Burnley had won at Chelsea. Maybe it had been on US International News channels; Americans kept coming up grinning and exclaiming, ‘Go Burnley, go Burnley.’

The splendid dinner preceded a sail round Porto harbour as dusk fell, so that the river and harbourside was lit with a thousand and more sparkling lights and the bridge nearest the sea was silhouetted against a reddening sky. We sipped Port, the great warehouses to our right, as we moored. There is always a reluctance to accept that a holiday has ended and this one was no different as we packed two bulging suitcases. We had fallen in love with Portugal and the Douro Valley, along with Lisbon and Porto.

For our anniversary dinner the chef had made a specially decorated and splendid enormous celebration cake. The Burnley win at Chelsea was the icing on the cake.

2004: Buckets, verbals and Mo

2004: buckets, verbals and Mo

I was rummaging again in the old mags and trying to erase the images of losing to Leeds on penalties. Had this been a league game and ended at 2-2 we’d have gone home thinking, hell, that was some game, what a climax, what a finish. As it was, we drove home thinking well that was near on three hours of my life I won’t get back. But having looked through number 157 of the old London Clarets mag, February 2004, the front splattered with coffee mug stains, I realised yet again what a long way we had come since those dark days.

It’s a bit bewildering. A few weeks ago we were shrouded in gloom. The prospects of avoiding administration seemed grim. Rumours abounded once again that Little and Blake were about to depart. The message board ‘insiders’ warned that administration could finish us. Barry Kilby made a public appeal for local businesses and ‘plutocrats’ to put more money into the club. A Supporters Trust was mooted, heroic sponsorships were hastily organised and bucket collections seemed imminent. Then, last week, Chief Exec David Edmundson announced that he was confident that we would avoid administration. Meanwhile, we proceeded to sign four players albeit one on a month deal and three on loan. Obviously, the club is in a very bad way financially and is doing everything it can to ride out the storm. Retaining First Division status must be a key part of the survival strategy, ergo the need for squad strengthening. However: some supporters seemed concerned about the messages conveyed here. Was the crisis over? Was it over-stated? Tim Quelch mag 157

     Clearly the club was in a desperate state but messageboards and fans always ask why and express bafflement as to why things are so bad. It was certainly the case in 2003/04. They had seen the club slash the wage bill and accrue something like £1million in transfer fees (said the editorial in mag 157). But folks were still puzzled. The collapse of the ITV Digital deal was the root cause but questions were asked along the lines of had the club in its projections over-estimated the level of support and ergo the cash coming through the turnstiles? Why were Burnley suffering more (apparently) than clubs like Rotherham, Gillingham and Walsall? Survival in the championship was essential but it was also a big ask, the way things were.

One game in December of 2003 stands out in the memory bank. Lunchtime in Preston, a pulsating game that Burnley lost 5-3, Stan livid afterwards, maybe we all were, the score at 3-3 and nip and tuck and then two goals conceded and we went home well choked. At one end Preston’s Ricardo Fuller was in blistering form, a dislikeable player but gifted, the sort you hate but would love to have in your team. We were all confused with SKY reporting that Stan had departed. I remember hearing the story that at the game’s end he had angrily phoned the chairman, Barry Kilby. He denied it emphatically afterwards, but the way the game was lost who could have blamed him.

His after-match post mortem was lividly critical. They had scored three but should have scored ten. He blamed goalkeeper Jensen for four of the preventable goals, the same Jensen who had had a miracle, wonderful game at Sunderland earlier. Consistency was never Brian’s strong point.

The December AGM was depressing. The previous year’s loss was £2.6million. The Chief Exec said it was more or less Barry Kilby keeping the club afloat. The club was living hand to mouth and dealing with each crisis as it came along. The Chairman said it would get worse before it got better. There was enough money to last until February but if there wasn’t a good cup run the bills and the staff would have to be re-structured again. The previous year’s wage bill was £7.4million. This current year it was £3.6million and this still needed to come down to £3million. As if that wasn’t depressing enough, the next game at Crewe saw another defeat. It was Crewe’s first win in six games with one goal made by Kenny Lunt, not a name to repeat after a few drinks. Burnley were at this point careering towards the third relegation place compounded by a depressing defeat at home to Stoke.

   The second week in January 2004 was probably the gloomiest since the week leading up to the Orient game. SKY and Radio Lancashire both announced that the club faced the prospect of administration when the cash reserves ran out. Chief exec Dave Edmundson spoke openly about the crisis to supporter groups. Message boards had been awash all week with fans’ wailings and gnashing of teeth. Speculation was rife that we were about to offload Robbie Blake to ease the shortfall. Rumours abounded that David May was about to leave for Hearts. Christiansen’s trial ended during the week, too, with the Danish goalkeeper announcing tersely, “The club has no money, that is all there is to say.” Tim Quelch mag 157

Hopes of a cash windfall from the FA Cup were dashed when the draw pitched Burnley against Gillingham at Turf Moor. An away game at Old Trafford would most certainly have cheered up the accountants but no, it was lowly Gillingham. The boardroom groans could be heard in Barrowford. The five-point cushion above the relegation zone was some comfort. The debt was an alleged £5million with £3million of that owed to just three creditors. Fund-raising became a key issue, Barry Kilby was trying to raise half a million from local investors; a £1,000 special shirt was planned. The players were none too keen on wage deferment. There was to be a 500-mile bike ride and a Lancaster to Burnley walk. George Boocock would paint the Bob Lord Stand for free. The subject of bucket collections was raised. Alastair Campbell and Alex Ferguson would head a fund-raising dinner.

Bucket collections are a regular feature at the Turf these days. There was one that prompted a fine piece of ‘terrace wit.’

“Collecting for Africa,” one collector shouted out over and again one Saturday.

“Never mind Africa,” another voice rang out, “What about f*cking Padiham?”

Burnley duly beat Gillingham with one goal coming from a perfect Mo Camara cross. A perfect Mo Camara cross was unusual; most of them either hit the far corner flag or sailed over the stand roof and into the nearest river. He was an exciting full-back, had pace to spare and was no mean player but his crosses made even Dracula giggle. The crowd was just under 10,000; lucrative this was not. Prayers were said for a decent draw in the next round but God was an unwilling listener. The Lord sent us to Millwall setting up a game that was destined to be controversial as well as the end of the FA Cup road for the season. There was to be no huge pay-out that would pay the wages for the rest of the season.

This was an evil game, sullied with bitter acrimony on and off the field, wrote Tim Quelch. It was frantic and ugly, a game of niggles, theatricals, notable for the abuse aimed at Mo Camara, the sending off of Paul Weller with a gentle shove that wouldn’t have knocked a three year old over, but the loveable Dennis Wise fell back several feet as if shot by double barrel elephant gun. And then there was a miss by Alan Moore that would have levelled the scores, possibly the most inept attempt at a header many of us have ever seen. With the goal gaping and everything at perfect height the poor lad just froze. A replay and a win would have seen Burnley play a beatable Tranmere Rovers and then the semi-finals and the big money.

But resilience is a Burnley trait and dates back to days long before Sean Dyche made it a big word or bouncebackability was invented by Iain Dowie. Fund-raising was going well. Dave Edmundson revealed that the club had avoided administration. Bucket collections would indeed go ahead after much soul searching since they were redolent of humiliation, real poverty and scraping the barrel. But with a loss of something like £10,000 at every home game there was no room for snootiness.

Alas, Burnley were at Millwall again a couple of weeks later for the league game, with their ‘arrogant chairman, repulsive fans and obnoxious manager,’ wrote Patrick O’Neil. It was another defeat, this time by 2-0, with Brian Jensen making enough saves to stop a worse score. It was the first league defeat of the year but the abuse aimed at Mo Camara was again unacceptable. Patrick O’Neil was livid:

After the final whistle we couldn’t wait to get out. Naturally the police had other ideas. We were told that we’d be kept in for a few minutes but it turned out to be considerably longer. Oh well, we’re only football fans not human beings. Actually on second thoughts, some football fans are actually sub-human and that includes the scum who were abusing Camara, both in this game and the earlier FA Cup-tie. What will it take to get the relevant authorities to do something?’

A nasty dose of Paphitis hits the clarets, wrote Phil Whalley. Stan Ternent was angry:

     The abuse of Camara was scandalous. The people who did it should be locked up. Of course it’s racist. There were monkey chants when we came here in the FA Cup and it’s the same again this time. It’s a BNP stronghold here. We know all about that because we’ve got them in Burnley.

Paphitis replied:

‘It’s beneath contempt for Burnley supporters to accuse us of racism just because they lost. Stan must have extremely good ears because I didn’t hear any racist chanting and I was sitting only a few yards away from him. Camara committed a bad foul in the FA Cup game here a few weeks ago. He’d have been booed if he’d been black, white or green…

     ‘…I’ve spoken to Stan and told him it’s not on. He says this is a BNP stronghold but what does he know? I doubt if Stan knows what BNP stands for. He probably read it on the back of a cornflake packet.’

This was strong stuff, cornflake packets indeed. Alastair Campbell waded in, in a lengthy piece in the Times. It was in fact a restrained piece, nothing contentious, no insults, no abuse, nothing personal, but most certainly referred to the unpleasant atmosphere at the Den and the constant abuse of Mo Camara. After the first game Campbell was by no means convinced that the abuse had been racist; after the second game, he was. He was balanced enough to point out that a minority of Burnley fans, too, responded in kind against certain Millwall players. He was as much sickened by that as the Millwall chanting. This was a far from polemic piece, in fact Campbell went out of his way to be as unbiased as possible being reasoned, calm and analytical. The Paphitis response in the Evening Standard was personal:

Campbell has been in our boardroom eating prawn sandwiches on many occasions to watch his beloved Burnley. After a couple of times in the stands he was one of the few people who heard the boos as racist. It is disgusting. I think there is a village somewhere missing a fool, and I know where he is. It is a dodgy dossier in the Times and this time he cannot deny writing it (ouch). What has he ever done? In my opinion he has done more to damage the UK than anyone I can think of. He is a dangerous man…’

‘Dodgy dossier indeed – there was more from Paphitis including an accusation that Campbell once tried to blag a lift in the Paphitis helicopter. Campbell was quick to rebuff this in a Guardian interview explaining that it was Sonya Kilby who shouted across to Paphitis that AC might have a transport problem if Burnley got to the FA Cup semis, getting from the marathon he was in, and then up to Birmingham or Manchester straight after. “No problem,” answered Paphitis.

‘There is some irony here,’ wrote Phil Whalley in magazine 158; ‘the king of the spinners himself trapped by a masterful Paphitis googly.’

It was Barry Kilby who defused the whole thing with a letter to Paphitis that was conciliatory without being apologetic. And meanwhile the season teetered along with survival at the end of it and all of us saying goodbye to Stan Ternent whose contract was not renewed, even though some time earlier Barry K had said that he wanted Stan to stay. But, it struck me at the time that Stan’s fate was sealed after an awful game and result away at Rotherham.

Burnley’s safety was confirmed by Palace beating Walsall. It certainly wasn’t the result of the game at Rotherham which was so inept it defied description. Errors and gaffes littered the performance and to compound all of that there were unseemly squabbles and arguments amongst Burnley players whilst on the pitch, castigating each other for the goals or misplaced passes. Stan T was furious and publicly rebuked the players afterwards, apologising for the display, adding there was not a lot he could with these players. I will be doing something about it, he added, showing that in his mind at least, he was staying on as manager. Alas for him, it was possibly this display and his tirade afterwards that convinced Barry Kilby that it was time for a fresh start with a new manager.

There was a fair bit of grumbling after the dreary draw with Huddersfield. Folks began to trickle down the stairs with 10 minutes of the game still to go. With just five minutes remaining it was a steady stream. Sure, it wasn’t the most riveting of games but there was a clean sheet, a point and star Defour performance. We were ninth in the table and in the top 30 of Europe’s richest clubs. Cast your mind back to 2004; that was real suffering. And say a silent prayer. Spare a thought for Stan Ternent that season. He concluded a press briefing by saying that keeping Burnley up that season was one of his best achievements.

The memories of that Rotherham game and the grim reading in magazines 157 to 159 put the Huddersfield game into a better perspective. So too did the Ham, chicken and mushroom pie, with chunky chips, mushy peas and lashings of gravy, at the Hare and Hounds in Todmorden.

 

2002 IN PRAISE OF OLD MAGAZINES

2002, In Praise of old Magazines

Thank goodness for old Claret magazines you can leaf through and see how things were way back in the yesteryear. Someone posted somewhere that anyone under 17 will have no idea of the struggles this club once went through; it’s been Championship or Premier League all the way for them. Not that the Championship was always a bed of roses. Far from it, administration beckoned on occasions, the ITV Digital fiasco nearly did for us, the buckets were out, and the word relegation cropped up more than once.

So: it was fascinating as ever sitting through the final day of the transfer window and seeing on UTC the number of comments that we still needed this and still needed that that, and we still needed a centre back and we still needed a winger. And then I was digging through some old London Clarets mags and spotted that 12 years ago our big signing was Duane Courtney for £25,000. Then, when we signed Ian Moore for £1million in the days of Stan, we were all amazed and went dizzy and had nosebleeds. Burnley spending a million, it was unheard of. But here we are today and we spend £15million on Chris Wood, and then in addition, there’s Cork, Walters, Taylor, Wells et al.

So, anyway: at the end of last season it was getting harder and harder doing a weekly piece that was more than just a match report; so I thought I’d just send a piece every now and again when something turned up. So, with a bit of time to spare and when not falling asleep watching England in Malta, I dug out all the old London Claret mags I have, all 250 of them that go back to the days of Queen Victoria, and see what was in some of them.

Number 145, January 2002, was a classic. It celebrated what looked like might be a good season with success at the end of it, either automatic promotion or at least a top six place. December of 2001 was a great time as Burnley beat Crystal Palace 2-1, Preston North End 3-2, Stockport County 3-2, and drew against Millwall. Near the end of November in a TV game on a Friday night they had consolidated their lead at the top of the division with a 1-0 win against Grimsby Town in front of 18,000+ fans. If memory serves, did we not go 5 points clear that night, but then as the dusk of age descends, my memory ain’t what it used to be. Then of course came those wins in December and we were all thinking what can stop us now.

The answer of course was Manchester City who smacked the Clarets 5-1 at Maine Road. ‘Cometh the fixture cometh the thrashing,’ wrote Tim Quelch who went on to write:

‘Anyway, here we are at the turn of the year with Burnley still top. It is a magnificent achievement by all concerned. Let us celebrate that. God knows, there’s been little cause for rejoicing this year with Ground Zero, the Burnley riots, Foot and Mouth, Railtrack and Celebrity Big Brother. 2002 may prove to be harder going for BFC. Let’s hope that our fickle fans recognise that we have one of the very best management teams in the club’s history and continue to credit them even if the results start to go against us. Stan et al have not reached the dizzy heights scaled by harry Potts, John Haworth etc but what they have achieved with limited means and within such a short timescale is simply amazing. If Steve Davis, Ian Cox and Kevin Ball are prepared to place Stan among the very best in the business then so should we. There is no doubt that this is a golden age; long may it continue.’

Of course as we all know, it did not continue and the top six was missed by a whisker. It was pointed out in Mag issue 145 that what was to come in the second half of the season would be the real test. There would be few if any cannon fodder teams to play and nearly every home game would be against a potential top-six side. As things stood there would be no more games against anybody below mid-table. The forecast that was made, that the second half of the season would be far more difficult, was sadly correct. Mother Shipton would have struggled to do better.

But all that was to come and the mag also contained an apology for being top of the division. Who were these impoverished upstarts, how dare they upset the established order of things:

‘We are sorry for being top of the Nationwide League. We do realise that this is not supposed to have happened. We would particularly like to apologise to clubs like Kevin Keegan’s Manchester City and Gianluca Vialli’s Watford for being in a higher position than them. We also feel we should apologise to the media for getting in the way of the anticipated battles between the household names, particularly as no-one knows who Stan Ternent is.’

One of the wins in November was indeed against Watford, and Watford in the London Clarets mag always came in for some merciless, but good natured ribbing. Igor Wowk, ribber-in-chief, wrote:

     ‘It’s easy to see why Watford supporters loathe Burnley. With their fantastic one-way system, big shops like B&Q and the redundant power station close to Vicarage Road, it’s hard for a down to earth place like Burnley to match the architectural majesty of the jewel of the M25. Watfordians used to spending their evenings lingering over cappuccinos in the fashionable High Street, as carefree citizens wander around soaking up the last rays of the autumnal sun, probably find the gritty and unpretentious surroundings of Burnley less than pleasing on the eye. What better things in life can there be than soaking up the pre-match atmosphere in the Parisian style sophistication of Downtown Watford which is only a stone’s throw away from Vicarage Road, especially when Luton are the visitors.

     Once you are in the stadium, it must be great to mingle with the crowds brought up on a diet of flair and sophistication, as epitomised by icons like Luther Blisset, Kenny Jackett, Ross Jenkins and the other big ugly bastards they had in their side at the time that made them the envy of Europe. Those sublime moments of skill will linger long after they have occurred, which must make watching the current Watford side somewhat painful.

     Next time I go to Vicarage Road, as I negotiate the outstanding curves of the Inner Ring Road and the circular nature of the one-way system, even as I seek to nizzle my battered old car amongst the Ferraris and BMWs of the local population, my mind will be turned towards those poor unfortunate Watford supporters. As I wander the twists and turns of the narrow streets I might be distracted enough to wonder why they built their houses so close together. I suppose it’s because they are such a friendly lot, unlike us. Yes, the place that gave the world the immense cultural talents of Elton John and Geri Halliwell must be a really great place to come from and must give everyone a sense of pride.

     ‘Je suis de Watford,’ you would be able to say on the beaches of St Tropez.

     ‘Io sono di Watford,’ you could say in the San Marco Plaza di Venezia.

     ‘Si, si, lo so, Luther Blisset, che un grande stronzo,’ they might reply in Milan.

     Being such a low and humble form of life form, I ought to be really grateful for the opportunity to visit such a magnificent centre of cultural and architectural and 21st century style that following Burnley presents us, in the shape of a trip to Watford. Flanked by the M1, the London Orbital Road, the A41, and those other mystical highways that lead to other similarly evocative places nearby such as Rickmansworth, Potters Bar and Barnet, it’s always the first fixture I look for. Monday night in Watford, I can hardly wait. I am off to choose my outfit, visit my stylist and colour co-ordinator.

     Buonos Nottes, as Del Boy might say, and Hasta la Pasta, Sharon.’

Poor Stan: he came so close to the play-offs not once but twice and it’s reasonable to say that the dream, the second time round, began its end on that December day at Man City when Burnley were already 3-0 down after just 37 minutes. Hego, another celebrated London Clarets writer described the day, much abridged:

‘I suppose it was inevitable that the run was going to come to an end at some stage, but yet again we failed on the big stage. I had looked forward to this game for some time as I genuinely believed we could get something here as did most neutral observers. In the pub before the game manager Keegan was getting some serious stick from City fans one of whom commented, ‘As the psychiatrist once said of Basil in an episode of Fawlty Towers, there is more than enough material there for a dissertation.’

The manner of the defeat however was surprising after a reasonable start to the match. In particular the pressing game, the mainstay of our most impressive results against good teams completely deserted us. Anyway, a nice sunny day at Moss Side’s finest stadium. A mid-day kick-off but a generous helping of ale to ward off the vision of the City orcs a mere three feet of netting away. There was a fairly liberal interpretation of spring time around these parts or maybe they hadn’t actually closed from Friday evening. The stands here are of course hideous, designed by the same firm that did Stonehenge and will hopefully disappear soon. A couple of thousand clarets were in evidence to boost giving ‘the arrogant prats’ some serious oral abuse before the start of our cup final.

Half-time and game over, so then, a huge disappointment again after a Man City game with a certain amount of gallows humour in the local hostelry, decreed that a slight variation of the normal method of choosing man of the match was required. This was primarily to cheer us all up and of course to pad out this short and hugely unsatisfying match report. So here it is; the Worst Man of the Match voting.

First worst: Glen Little, more holes in his game today that a statement from the Transport Secretary.                                                                                                                                                                                  Second worst: Gareth Taylor did the work of two men today, Laurel and Hardy.                                                                  Third worst: Alan Moore, a good player but with more Achilles heels today than the average biped. Fourth worst: Kevin Ball, raced hard for the ball but time’s iron grip had a firm hand on his shirt.                                       Fifth worst Tony Grant: there are amoebas on Saturn which display better ball control than he did today.                                                                                                                                                                                      Sixth worst: Dean West, everything went over his head today so should look for future employment as a limbo dancer.

          Thus ended Stan’s dream to take the club he loved to the Premier League. The season before, the club had finished two points below the top six. Now it was just one goal difference. It was cruel. The fingers point to the defeat at Manchester City as being the catalyst for the run of games that saw Burnley fail in the dream again. Yet they were by no means down and out, still clinging to the hopes of the top-six place. The drama, however, was reserved for the very last game of the season against Coventry City at Turf Moor. A horrible 3-1 defeat at horrible Grimsby in the penultimate game was a sickener. Everything depended on the last game at home. Win it by two goals or more and the top six final position beckoned.

By now Stan had signed Paul Gascoigne in a move designed to repeat the inspiration provided by the signing of Ian Wright a couple of seasons earlier. Sadly it was wasted money. With a 1-0 lead in that final game against Coventry it still needed one more goal and the game was into the final five minutes. Those of us there will never forget the feelings of desolation and emptiness when goalkeeper Hedman made two wonder-saves from Gascoigne’s free kicks. The latter had been brought on the final stages; it was if the stage was set for the goal that was so necessary, when the two opportunities arose. With minutes to go Norwich were leading 2-0 against Crewe and Burnley just had to score one more.

David Johnson was brought down on the edge of the box. Gascoigne took the kick, a near perfect strike arrowing into the bottom corner but Hedman read it right, flung himself and saved. We groaned. But even then the game was still alive as another free kick was given with seconds remaining. This time it was Glen Little brought down. The free kick looked perfect again, but again Hedman saved. The whistle went, we were desolate beyond measure.

Over the years probably most of us have managed to forget the heartbreak of that day. From then on it was pretty much all a downhill struggle for several years to come. I’d managed to expunge the memory of that heartrending final five minutes of that game. Issue 145 of the London Clarets magazine unfortunately brought it all back.

Nostalgia is great sometimes, but at other times you could do without it.

 

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.