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