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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.