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?