A Boxing Day washout

Stamford Bridge


It was an email from The Forest of Dean that set me thinking. Martin Green had just been reading about the times we threw away a 2-0 lead in the last Premiership season. For some reason his mind went back to January 1978 and a game at Chelsea. It was an FA Cup game and Burnley had lost 6-2. Brian Hall was also a player at Burnley then and had played 51 games for the club, although he didn’t feature in that particular game. He sadly passed away in December 2016.

The 1970s: Hot Pants and Top of the Pops, Maxi Skirts, The Osmonds, Bay City Rollers, tank tops, flares and kipper ties, The Sex Pistols, Space Hoppers, Chopper Bikes, decimalisation and Margaret Thatcher the first woman PM.

Bovver Boys, bovver boots and platform shoes, Pan’s People, The Bee Gees, Lulu and Maurice Gibb, skinheads, Triumph Stags and Concorde, Band on the Run and playboy Best. Adamson and the Team of the Seventies, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, miners’ strikes and Saltley Colliery, hippies and rock festivals, Ronnie Wood and the Rolling Stones.

Mastermind, Mick Jagger and Bianca, John Conteh and David Bedford, Simon Dee, Bob Stokoe dancing at Wembley, Revie and Leeds, Kevin Keegan and Alf Ramsey, Jackie Stewart and Donny Osmond, Princess Anne and Mark Philips, James Hunt and Elton John, David Cassidy, Ford Capris, Joe Bugner and Muhammad Ali, The FA Cup and Chelsea 6 Burnley 2.

The Goodies and Tiswas, Labour and Harold Wilson, Chris Evert, Nastase, Borg and Jimmy Connors, European Cup and Liverpool, European Cup and Nottingham Forest, Punk and rebellion, striking firemen, test tube babies, The Sweeney, Seve Ballesteros, Morecambe and Wise, Johnny Rotten, The Troubles and N Ireland, murder and Lord Mountbatten, Fawlty Towers, Coronation Street and Hilda Ogden.

And the email from Martin reminiscing about a 70s game:

In the 70s we had an FA Cup-tie at Stamford Bridge in January 1978. I was in London on a 2-day midweek trip to the Hotel Olympia Exhibition with my year group from Blackpool Catering College and just by chance the Saturday postponed cup-tie was hastily re-arranged for the Wednesday. Most of our well-heeled group ventured to the West End for some culture in Theatre land but a group of four ventured to Stamford Bridge for culture of a different kind. There was Jonny Johnstone from Hapton (Claret), Fletch from Rochdale (Evertonian), and Ian the Manc (red land). We duly paid on the gate to stand on what was no better than a building site in foul conditions with a bunch of very hardy souls from NE Lancs.

Cumbrian Herdwicks would have risked sheltering in The Shed but not us, students dressed in jeans, polo shirts and fashionable nylon jackets resembling bin liners. The club had used the programme from the Saturday but by kick-off it was so soggy that it was consigned to the bin.

We did stay to the final whistle in true die-hard style but I do remember it took us two days to dry and thaw out. The only other time I can remember being so cold, wet and miserable with only a smallish posse of Clarets in attendance was a Friday night at Southend in the Bond era, when another programme disintegrated after another thorough soaking.

From the 70s I remember a 1-1 draw versus Hull City at the old Boothferry Park in the promotion season of 72/73 when this was supposed to be the Team of the Seventies. Since then there have been other significant games against Hull; the last day of the old Longside was the day Hull City came along. A dire game against them saw the end for Steve Cotterill when it was clear he had got BFC as far as he could. And since then, Burnley have won nine out of the last ten games against them, a quite phenomenal record. Today the Burnley team has players with names like Dave, Tom, Matt, Sam and Ben; Hull have Akpoh, Diomande, Odubajo, Elmohamedy, Jahraldo and Hernandez.

What a good job we had a cracker of a Christmas Day. And in said crackers were gems such as… what do you call a multi- storey pig pen… a styscraper. Why did the man sleep under the car… so he could wake up oily in the morning? What is the fastest fish – a motor pike? Why did the tomato blush- because it saw the salad dressing? These were in an expensive box of crackers; I’d hate to buy a cheap one.

Over Christmas we watched the final Downton, the Downton Christmas Special now having taken over the old Morecambe and Wise slot that we all sat glued to in years gone by. It was a masterpiece of beautifully crafted glossy TV Soap. Everybody got a happy ending except the old Butler, Carson, who discovered he had a severe case of the shakes. Burnley fans over the years will know the feeling. Carson was unable to pour the wine or the brandy so severe was his condition and the old chap was led out to pasture on a pension in his estate cottage. Barrow, he who was once such an underhand sneak but was now reformed, was instantly appointed Butler in a sugary ending that was just pure schmaltz. The only bit I couldn’t get my head round was snooty Mary happily accepting that her ex-racing car driver and new husband was to be a second hand car dealer in the town.

Boxing Day was an absolute washout with horrendous rain and floods throughout the county, plus a defeat at Hull. 2,400 supporters braved the weather and rising waters to get to there. Their journeys home were marked by diversions and lengthy delays as the Calder Valley slowly disappeared under the rising river and places all around Burnley finished up feet under water.

Having got there, their loyalty was rewarded with a display from the Clarets allegedly as bad as anything seen for an age although at half time one commentator said that this was a game that could have gone either way. The only other praise came from another commentator who described them as nice going sideways and backwards. It was another game where there were just two shots on target. This was now three defeats in five games, seven points from eight games, and was a tough one to take, said Dyche.

Comments were generally blunt… that performance was as about as bad as it gets… quite embarrassing… a horror show… I think this was one of the poorest matches I have seen Burnley play. They could have lost by six… Where the heck is Ulvestad – the wide players are producing nothing… the day from hell, floods, sinkholes, long tailbacks and a fruitless day… predictable inept tactics… second half like watching the Benny Hill Show…changes need to happen or we are looking not at top six but top ten… shocking at the moment, inept and dull to watch… we could have Suarez up front and we’d still hoof the ball… where was the Burnley that took Charlton apart…

One-paced and one-dimensional, the Clarets got what they deserved for a game plan that basically involved sitting deep and smashing it long. There’s nothing wrong with banking up away from home but the fact that Burnley were forced to adopt such rudimentary tactics is a worrying symbol of decline. When the Clarets went up in 2013, the pace of Trippier and Ings allowed them to threaten any side in the division, home or away. These legs have not been adequately replaced and with Andre Gray looking jaded, the dynamism that was once their hallmark is badly lacking. The resulting caution – intentional or not – suggest January reinforcements are essential. The Football League Paper

Monday: Common sense said keep clear of Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, places that were waist high in water over the weekend but were being cleaned up on Sunday; so we came round the Keighley and Colne way from Leeds. We came back late in the evening via Tod and Hebden and Mytholmroyd. It was a salutary experience, particularly Hebden Bridge.

Monday: and Boxing Day football blues well and truly banished. This was a super display and well rewarded; from the ridiculous of the Hull game to the sublime of well and truly whupping Bristol City. Dyche made changes and boy did they work. Kightly in for Boyd was like a little wasp constantly annoying Bristol with his forward movements and direct style. At last a winger who can run at people. It may not come off every time but when it does he creates havoc. Vokes against a couple of towering defenders won more headers that in the last few games put together. His gently caressed ball over the defender’s head to the lurking Arfield was utterly accurate and textbook. Arfield didn’t let him down and strode on to score. Mee was what we knew he would be in the centre of defence, tough as old boots, fearless and determined, constantly winning headers against blokes so much taller than himself.

Both full backs Lowton and Ward solid and dependable, Keane an absolute giant the whole game, MOTM on any other day. He didn’t put a foot wrong. Barton and Jones patrolled and controlled the midfield, Barton the master of the instant visionary pass; his 30-yarder zinged against the crossbar and had it gone in would have brought the house down. Arfield was his usual industrious self with a goal to reward his performance. Heaton looked impassable even though a little bit of luck did help him along once or twice.

And Gray: the hat-trick man and a new name goes on the hat-trick honours board; a hat-trick that was so well executed from a player enjoying one of those games when all goes well, the chances go in, the ball sticks to his feet, the positioning is just right, the little tricks come off, the acceleration leaves opponents for dead and when such a player is taken off with a few minutes to go the standing applause rings round the ground enough to bring a lump to the throat. The roar that greeted his hat-trick was even better.

His first was all slick trickery just inside the half to leave the opponent floundering, the run was at pace; the cut inside left another defender bemused and the strike into the net from just inside the box was perfection into the corner. The second was a true poacher’s goal latching onto a loose ball when it came to him in the six-yard box. The third was instinctive as the low cross came to him and he knew exactly where to aim into the other corner.

Whether all these changes were enforced because of injury, or because Dyche chose to make them, didn’t really matter. They were what many of us wanted to see and they worked. There was more directness, more pace and more urgency. Sure, Bristol enjoyed spells of play and possession but rarely threatened any real danger. On a day when the rain stopped and Burnley had just lost 0-3, a splendid 17,234 turned out of whom few were from Bristol.

Dyche was understandably cock-a-hoop and purred with satisfaction and pleasure as well he might. We all did. It was a reminder of how powerful Burnley can be, of how well they can play, of what a helluva striker Gray is, of how Keane’s potential to be a top, top, classy centre-half is most definitely emerging, and that on the fringe players like Ulvestad and Hennings are ready to step in and make their mark.

We left the ground on a high and returned to Leeds later in the evening through Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd. All these three places during the rains have seen destruction and distress but it was in Hebden Bridge that the impact hit you most. We drove through a town centre that is usually vibrant and lively with restaurants and bars. This time it was in total darkness without power and lights. No street lamps, no Christmas lights and decorations, no shining café windows, few if any pedestrians, just heaps of sodden damaged possessions, shop fittings and stock, furniture and carpets and electrical goods all piled high on the silt and mud-covered pavements in the blackout. Looters had been arrested earlier in the day. As we drove by the Coop that 24 hours earlier had been inundated with water, we saw a group of people laden with bulging carrier bags, being faced by police officers. Another police car, lights flashing, was heading up towards them. The darkness was eerie; you couldn’t help thinking looters, what else?

Hebden is a place we know well and lived there for a few years in our early married life. We visit it often, drive through on every journey to Burnley and have a huge affection for the place. Todmorden is where I was born and grew up. Mytholmroyd too is a place where we have friends that we visit.

At one point, driving slowly, we passed a row of terraced houses, the pavements outside heaped high with furniture and peoples’ belongings, the houses clearly without electricity. Just a couple of candles lit one darkened room as someone inside just stood and surveyed their ruined home. Driving through these places on the way home was just utterly heart-breaking and at that moment football and the 4-0 win was the last thing we were thinking about.

All smiles on mascot day

Burnley Mascot


Funny things stats, you can use them any way you want. In mid-December Burnley’s were a wonderful example. Before the Middlesbrough game they’d lost just one in 11. They were unbeaten in the last 8 away games.

After the Middlesbrough defeat the stats were 6 games without a win and in these 6 games just three goals and one of those was a gift from a Cardiff defender.

Before the ‘Boro match there was some shock team news. One stunned supporter, a tad unkindly perhaps, wondered if Sean D had had a mid-life crisis. The standard 4-4-2 formation was abandoned for a 4-5-1 with Vokes dropped and Gray alone up front. Into the five-man midfield came Marney. The changes made sense but it was to no avail as Middlesbrough went top with a simple goal they scored far too easily early in the second half.

‘The goal given away would qualify for the softest goal of the season competition,’ said my pal Chris who was there. He added that Middlesbrough is particularly good for bookies, tattoo parlours and fast food joints. Burnley he added were probably the most stylish team in the division – when they are going sideways. It was clear that this was another performance when wing play, crosses, penetration and pace were sadly missing. Chris returns to sunny Tasmania shortly, lucky fella.

Most, if not all managers, ignore messageboards and fans’ forums. After this defeat the comments were harsh in their criticism of a poor display. Even normally reserved and positive people were critical after what they had seen. But the one or two calls that Sean D’s time was up were just ridiculous and unwarranted.

For articulate and positive comments, always supportive and considered, there is no better messageboard poster than JDRobbo but even he was moved to frustration. ‘Absolutely unacceptable display, a frightening and worrying display… set up for a 0-0 and allowed Boro to pass through a box filled with all eleven Burnley shirts to score the winner. Stop parking the bus, roll your sleeves up, make some positive changes and let this talented squad have a bloody good go.’

At QPR Burnley had just two shots on target; a statistic that was repeated at Middlesbrough. That’s just 4 shots on target in 180 minutes football. The word woeful on its own did not do this justice. It is not rocket science, supporters suggested, that if this continued there would be no top six-place let alone promotion. Watching Burnley for the last few weeks has been damned hard work, others added.

‘We lacked guile in the final third,’ said Sean Dyche afterwards but reminded fans of the spell of games when there had been 9 wins out of 12 and even in the promotion season there had been a spell of 12 games with just three wins.

Earlier in the evening at soccer school in Leeds grandson Joe in his Burnley kit had collected his trophy for winning the penalty shoot-out competition. A CLARET WIN IN LEEDS would have made a nice headline in the Yorkshire Evening Post.

How many books about Brian Clough are there? I bought another one and what a gem it is; I Believe in Miracles, the story of Forest’s first title win and then the European Cup win the season after. Told through interviews with just about every member of the team it is a wonderful and entertaining read. Eccentric or genius, he defied all the rules of so-called ‘good’ management to become one of the great managers. Many of those who played for him still can’t work out how he managed to take them to such great heights. His one-liners are legendary: this one on Garry Birtles – ‘Garry the half time Bovril was better than you today.’

He once turned up at Turf Moor in mid-week unannounced. It was a time when security was non –existent and you could just wander in through doors and entrances at will. The place was empty, not a staff member in sight, other than groundsman Roy Oldfield chugging up and down the pitch with his mower. Clough had arrived to talk about a couple of young Burnley players but the only person he could find was Roy on the pitch. He heard the mower and wandered over to see him. ‘Where is everybody? He asked.

‘Come and ‘av a brew,’ Roy invited him and they did exactly that chatting about life and football until Clough wandered off.

Saturday was grandson Joe’s big day, mascot at the Charlton game just a few days after his ninth birthday. It is traditional that grandparents are allowed to indulge their grandchildren. And then when we are fatigued and had enough we can send them home. It’s a perfect arrangement. He was agog when we told him that the training session they get as part of the package would be on the pitch because the gym was unavailable.

‘What was the best bit of the day?’ we asked him on the way home.

‘Training on the pitch,’ he said beaming. Isn’t that every little lad’s wish if he’s a Burnley supporter; to be able to take a ball out onto the pitch in your Burnley kit while all the team are out there as well. And for grandson Joe it really happened.

‘Who did you talk to in the dressing room most?’

‘Tom Heaton… and I gave Matt Taylor a high 5… Andre Gray asked me who was going to win… Burnley I said 3-0.’

‘Did you see Joey Barton?’

‘Yes he was in the laundry.’ And we didn’t really know what to say to that.

With the deal you get 4 comp tickets so Joe’s other grandparents came along as well. They too live in Leeds so it was their first trip to Turf Moor, indeed any football match for years. As the first half wore on, Dyche having replaced Darikwa with Lowton and Jones with Marney, with little of note in the first 40 minutes, I attempted to say it wasn’t always as bad as this. Those around us who had been at Middlesbrough assured us they were carrying on where they had left off.

But how a goal can change things and when Scott Arfield scored just minutes before half-time you could feel a ton weight being lifted from their shoulders. From that point on the crowd too came alive and as rain swirled down and around us, in the second half we sat back and watched Burnley rip Charlton apart with another Arfield goal, an Andre Gray goal and one from Sam Vokes.

The forecast had been for temperatures nudging 60 and Saharan Dust arriving from the south. Instead we got Burnley weather, cold, wet and windy. But the longer the game went on the football produced in these horrible conditions was exemplary. It was a performance that the players needed, that Sean Dyche needed, and for sure the supporters, to send us on our way home for Christmas with renewed optimism and faith and ready to get stuck into roast turkey and Christmas pud.

The midfield display of the season so far came from Dean Marney. Has he really been absent for nine months, we asked, as he covered every inch of the field in a superb performance; his energy, drive, tackling, covering, prompting and probing all there in a MOTM display.

The tackle of the season came from Barton in the first half. Charlton were by no means as bad as some folks made out and until Burnley scored they were for good spells the better side. A moment came in the Burnley box when we thought hell they must score as the ball came nicely to an incoming Charlton player who with on an on-target shot must surely have scored. His foot came back, we were ready to groan, but then out of nowhere in came Barton with a magnificent block tackle the sound of which boomed round the ground. If a tackle can change a game, then this was it. On any other day Barton would have been MOTM but for Marney.

Miss of the season came from Gray in the first half when the ball came to him just a couple of yards out in a plum position by the far post; and we waited for it to rip into the net and burst out the other side. He surely couldn’t miss. It ended up nearly hitting the Cricket Field Stand roof. To spare his blushes he was deemed offside anyway.

Save of the season must surely have been Tom Heaton’s split-second, reflex, instinctive stop in the second half when he got down like a cat to keep out a shot by the left-hand post. He had already made one stunner in the first half from a 100mph, twenty-yarder that he tipped over the bar and then in slow motion slowly keeled over backwards to add a bit more style and colour to the save.

Trickle of the season, if not the decade, was most definitely the Sam Vokes goal. Until this point you’d wondered if he would ever score again as luck seemed to be deserting him and headers had flashed just wide. After a bit of neat interplay involving Lowton the ball came to him somewhere near the penalty spot. It came to him awkwardly but with a piece of deft skill he flicked the ball and slowly it began to roll towards the corner of the goal. It had maybe 12 yards to travel and as we ticked off each yard it slowed down even more. With two or three yards to go it was assuming slow motion speed so that surely the goalkeeper must scoop it up comfortably. But no: the scrambling ‘keeper who must surely have thought it was going wide could only look in horror as it trickled over the line so slowly that we all held our breath and our eyes widened, and then we whooped and hollered as it dribbled over. It was like someone in snooker potting the final black with an inch perfect shot that agonisingly just makes it into the pocket. In the old days the mud would have stopped it in its tracks. The players mobbed him.

Kung Fu kick of the season came from Andre Gray after his goal. Corner flag posts these days come in for serious abuse from players who have scored as they race over to the corner and take a flying leap at the post and give it a good whack with the sole of their boot from three or four feet up in the air. After his first-half miss, Gray took this to a new level, racing over, taking the flying leap and not just whacking the post, but removing it clean out of the ground. He’s had a barren spell. Who could blame him?

Nice moment of the season was provided by Joey Barton whilst he waited to take a free kick as a Charlton defender lay in the penalty area receiving treatment. Joey whiled the time away passing the ball back and forth to the folks in the front row of the lower James Hargreaves with a huge smile on his face. If there is one moment in his Burnley career that will cement his cult-hero status, then this was it.

And mascot of the season must surely be grandson Joe Riddell. Of course we all dote on our grandkids. Of course we all think ours are the best. Of course they can do no wrong in our eyes. Sure it costs a pretty penny, but in this case I’m putting all that aside and looking at this objectively, scientifically and statistically. Joe has been mascot three times now over the last three seasons and Burnley have won every game that he has done this. That must surely be an unbeatable stat.

Just fewer than 16,000 people braved the weather, with just a handful from Charlton. Not bad for Panic Saturday, the last Saturday before Christmas when husbands are dragged away to the shops for last minute bargains.

The street festival kicked things off in fine style. But the one salutary experience: as we waited with the mascots in the corner of the Jimmy Mac and the James Hargreaves, was getting a taster of what the disabled must endure in bad weather in that exposed corner without shelter. Every so often it’s a topic on the Claret websites and by coincidence it was mentioned in the evening on the Claretsmad Messageboard. It is without doubt a thoroughly unpleasant experience and totally lacking in anything resembling real shelter and protection. Those people must have been drenched by the end of the game.

‘Who was Jimmy Hill?’ asked Joe when the headline came on the TV News and up came a grainy black and white picture of a bearded bloke with the distinctive chin.

‘Someone who changed football in so many ways,’ I told him. ‘He was a player, a manager, a chairman, an ideas man and a TV man. People like me grew up with him and MOTD on our TV screens years ago when football was in black and white.’

He was even a fully qualified referee. Three points for a win was his idea and every footballer in the land, especially those with bank balances to make an ordinary man’s eyes water, owes his wealth to him and his campaign to have the footballer’s maximum wage abolished over 50 years ago. The years slide by don’t they, and when it came up that he was 87. I had to blink and muttered, surely not.

But time drifts by without us really noticing so that here we are and another Christmas comes round once again with a thumping win and a feast of second-half football. Here’s wishing a Merry Christmas to one and all.

Game schedule frameworks rule OK

Brunton Park


The sight of Carlisle United’s ground slowly disappearing into the flood waters after Storm Desmond, made me wonder which poor folks had the job of cleaning up afterwards. In the old days it would have been the apprentices but they don’t seem to be apprentices anymore; they are scholars and instead of cleaning out the latrines like they used to do after training, they now do college courses. Willie Irvine remembered in his day cleaning out the latrines and recalled that some of the lads were physically ill both during the job and afterwards.

It was probably going to see ex-groundsman Roy Oldfield again that set me off on this train of thought because he’d been telling me how the apprentices back in his day would report to him at 2 in the afternoon and be given their jobs. From Gawthorpe they’d come back to Turf Moor for their lunch, but this would be sandwiches they brought themselves, or a trip to the chippie, or a mad dash to get to a coffee bar in town and back again.

There were basically three sorts of jobs; sweeping the terraces, cleaning out the toilets, or working on the pitch. Some of the cocky ones would tell him it wasn’t their job to be doing these things; they were there to play football. ‘Well go and see the manager then,’ Roy would reply.

By and large they were happy enough sweeping the terraces because of the dropped coins they could find. None of them minded working on the pitch although they were rarely allowed to use the machinery in case of injury. The one time Roy did allow one of the more sensible lads to use the Flymo, the lad managed to slice his footwear. Luckily his feet were undamaged. It was the last time Roy ever let anyone use a machine.

Some of them liked nothing more than playing pranks; balancing buckets of water on a half open door was a regular event. On the day that manager Jimmy Adamson was spotted about to enter a booby trapped door, he was diverted away just in time. Painting was a regular chore and on the occasion that a couple of lads were given tins of black paint to go over anything that was black in the offices one day, they did just that and painted the phone, the door knobs and the seat covers, and then sat back and watched .

A favourite trick was to half complete a job and then hide from Roy. It was Phil Cavener and Kevin Young one day who abandoned sweeping the terraces and climbed up the nearest floodlight pylon to hide and watch Roy looking for them. Roy found their brush and shovel and a half filled sack of rubbish abandoned by one of the barriers. He laughs about to this day and says he never thought of looking upwards.

The FA Youth Cup defeat at home to the London Met Police Academy youth team resulted in more than a few open mouths and raised eyebrows. Allegedly the Met boys train for an hour or two a week. Paul Weller was adamant that what is needed is ‘a new leader, a scouting system and some money throwing at it.’ Andy Farrell said that the Clarets must learn lessons from the defeat but did he mean the young lads or the club itself? Someone who visits Gawthorpe regularly and watches the youths wrote that it has gone downhill since Martin Dobson and Vince Overson left. Another wrote that so many recruitment systems had been dismantled with no logic behind them. The leadership of this part of the club must surely come under scrutiny and questions asked about its effectiveness.

BY all accounts the Met goalkeeper had a superb game but this was a top Championship side with currently plenty of money, versus a Police Academy side. Those who know a thing or two about the youth set-up were certainly suggesting it’s time to smell the coffee. That this should happen whilst I was actually writing about the apprentices of yesteryear sweeping terraces and cleaning out toilets was in itself ironic.

In a programme piece some time ago there was an article on the youth page that talked of: game schedule frameworks… adapted/conditional games… overloads and underloads… enhanced coping strategies… in and out of possession elements and constraint based environments. Then there were coach mentors… elite coach apprenticeship schemes and professional skills mentors. You wondered what Cloughie and Shanks would have made of all this? It’s just jargon I thought as I read it, the sort of piffle that I had to put up with when I was a Head, spouted to us by airy-fairy advisers who made such a mess of things in Leeds 25 years ago they were as good as drummed out of the city when a commissioned report exposed the emptiness of their gobbledygook. It was guff and I couldn’t help thinking that things like ‘in and out of possession elements’ is much the same.

The youths currently sit second bottom of the Youth Alliance League against such illustrious sides as Walsall, Fleetwood, Accrington, Rochdale, Shrewsbury and Morecambe. They have lost 8 out of 12 games. Focus after the PNE defeat was on the first team. Perhaps some serious questions should now be asked about the youth set-up, concerned supporters were suggesting, especially with £4.5million about to be ploughed into Gawthorpe. One simple question: under the current system and re-organised set-up, how many youths have made it into the first team or come anywhere near it?

It was the weekend of the QPR game and the annual trip to London with the Supporters Club and the ground with the worst away facilities and seats that I know of. Mind you I never went anywhere during the Fourth Division years. Something that I ate there years ago was called a pie. I have long since wondered what it actually was. From where the coach drops you, you then have to walk round three sides of the ground to get to the away turnstiles. By the time you get to your seat you’re too tired to be a troublemaker. Last time we were there the front two rows of the upper deck were out of bounds because the safety rail was so low that fans had actually fallen over the edge.

Base camp was the Crowne Plaza Hotel near Heathrow. Half an hour into the Westfield Shopping centre for the pre-match morning and then amble up to the ground. There were no team changes. The first half was tedious save for a lone Parakeet that flew over the ground. The second highlight of the first half was the announcement that there would be just one minute of added time. Between the Parakeet and that there was little of note but we whiled away the time reading the texts that came from our Burnley chums who had decided to test the lunchtime menu at the Hare and Hounds in Todmorden.

Pictures arrived of the burger and fries, they looked exemplary. Pictures arrived of the pie and chips, they looked exemplary. And then the fun started. Apparently there had been rain of biblical proportions that had lasted all morning and at the Hare and Hounds the water began to rise. Texts came fast furious – the water was rising, the fire engines had arrived, the pumps were out, their feet were wet, the car park was submerged, Cliviger was flooded so they couldn’t get home, detours via Cornholme and the steep Shaw road. Before we knew it the first half was over and it was hard to remember any attacking move that involved the word pace, thrust or panache. Burnley had been what they always are, industrious, mechanical, resolute and dogged.

‘Let’s just stop the other buggers scoring and fire balls for Gray to chase,’ seemed to be the basic ploy.

What a contrast the second half was. Arfield and Boyd, so ineffective in the first half upped their game, although runs to the by-line and crosses with pace into the box were still few and far between. Barton prompted, Mee got forward, Gray hustled and bustled, Keane mopped up the sporadic QPR forays, and Heaton was never seriously troubled.

But therein lay the other feature of the half – neither was Green in the QPR goal. Just two Burnley shots on target told its own story. Green was largely a spectator. Burnley came on strong in the half but created little where it mattered. Vokes had a couple of half decent headed chances and knew he should have done better.

We waited for the cavalry to arrive in the shape of a couple of subs. Lowton for Darikwa maybe, Kightly for a leggy Boyd, or Marney for Jones; but things stayed the same. Dyche explained later that they were all playing so well, it would have been tough on them to take anyone off even though there were players on the bench itching to get on. The longer the half went on the more Burnley were on top and QPR were continually on the back foot. It was a time to throw on the reinforcements. But as we all know, this is not the Dyche style. Vokes was clearly tiring; Hennings would have provided fresh legs.

But football never lets you down; it was Burnley in the dying minutes that could so easily have lost when two last-minute QPR corners caused havoc in the Burnley box and it was the Burnley fans chewing fingernails.

We trooped out and the concourse the away supporters must exit must surely be one of the narrowest and worst in the league. Good away point said some. That’s cost me the best part of £100 said others and I’ve had enough. The little band of Supporters Club folks shuffled back to the coach to head back to the Crowne Plaza and pay London prices that made your hair curl for drinks at the bar.

Complementary bottles of wine on the tables on the Friday night had impressed us. We could have done with them on the Saturday night after the game. Good point it might have been but there’s always the feeling after a 0-0 draw that you could have spent the afternoon doing something much more worthwhile with your time. Some 0-0 draws can still be filled with excitement, incident, goal-mouth drama, tension and thrills, thunderbolt shots and fingertip saves. QPR versus Burnley was sadly not one of them.

In our little private function room at the hotel we dined splendidly with the room buzzing with chat and bonhomie on the Friday night. After the game on Saturday it was quiet, restrained, almost subdued. It was as if the life had been drained out of us by another game without goals.

Because it was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s debut game as manager it was a featured game in the Sunday Times. Their reporter had it pretty much spot on. It was battling Burnley the party poopers; they looked a well-drilled and organised side, he wrote. This is a Burnley side that is fifth, and looks a decent bet for the play-offs in May. But:

‘It’s difficult to know quite what to make of Burnley’s form,’ he continued. ‘They have not won in their last five games, but on the flip side they have lost just once in 11 games and as you would expect from a Sean Dyche side they were a tough nut to crack. Perhaps Dyche had decided to take them back to basics after the surprise 2-0 defeat to Preston North End, just their third loss of the season. For the most part a clean sheet appeared to be their number one priority.’

On paper many of the stats are admirable and you could argue the result against Preston was a freak with the goals donated to them at one end and chances spurned at the other. But this is a Burnley side that over the season has created so few chances and when they do come along not too many are taken with the draw at Cardiff the result of a comedy own goal. Watching Burnley all too often this season has seemed like hard work.

It’s certainly true that this was a good, battling point at a resurgent QPR; but suggestions that the best is yet to come, that there is another gear they can get into, at the moment seem to be optimistic rather than realistic.

We departed the bustling hotel Sunday morning weaving our way through the packed lobby, heaving with ‘plane crews, freshly coiffured stewardesses, people jetting off to here there and everywhere, and people looking red-eyed and shattered who had just landed and were seeking sanctuary for the night. A family we bumped into in the lift were heading off to Colombia for Christmas. The place positively teemed with tourists from Japan. We gave each other Brownie points for identifying different airline uniforms.

The Crowne Plaza: highly recommended with breakfast spreads that were truly mouth-watering. At Aylesbury we ticked yet another M&S off our list. At Stratford it was the first Christmas Dinner of the season to be merry at the regular eating-stop, The Pen and Parchment. It might have been only a 0-0 draw but when the food is good you don’t feel too bad.

My granny called it faffing


Into December and the season to be merry, Christmas coming and the geese getting fat; but over at the club that was ten years ahead of Burnley these were Scrooge like times with only a very small fire burning in the grate and down to their last candle .

We don’t forget do we? We haven’t forgotten the Coyle departure and the defection to Bolton. Forget it say some, it’s time to move on. It was six years ago. But over and again the subject raises its head and with Bolton Wanderers now in serious, serious trouble financially, it all kicked off again and up popped Coyle’s name along with Gartside.

Now it’s Burnley that sits ten years ahead of Bolton as they slide nearer to administration and a lower division with a sort of relentless inevitability. Something around £180million in debt, their benefactor Eddie Davies no longer bank-rolling them and players were unpaid for November; it was hard not to gloat – not so much at the club itself but at the two characters that caused Burnley supporters such angst at the turn of the year in 2009. Their only hope it seems is that at a reputed price of £30million and Davies not calling in the debt, a buyer will be found.

Their own supporters were reportedly planning protests seriously worried at the bleak future and many of those who refused ever to attend a game at the Horwich site, now vociferously voicing their views. Would Burnley fans happily continue to attend games if Burnley moved out to Whalley, for example, even if it was a state of the art stadium complete with shopping malls and a Frankie and Benny’s? Yes no doubt if they were in the Premiership as Bolton once used to be; but other than the diehards not if the club was in the bottom three of a lower division.

A pal got in touch to say he’d seen the piece about George Best and having chatted to Les Latcham several times, in fact has known him for years, he could shed some light as to why Best always found him so difficult to play against. Latcham never tried to kick lumps out of Best because he had figured a way to anticipate exactly what he would do when it was one against one.

Watching Best he had noticed how he always dropped his right shoulder if he went left, and always dropped his left shoulder if he went right. With that in mind Les said he always tried to keep Best close to the touchline and he rarely looked at the ball at his feet, but watched his shoulders. In that way he knew which way he was going to go. Best would congratulate him after the game for the way he played and the fact that he never resorted to fouling him. Best even asked him one day how he managed to know which way he was going to go and managed to play so well against him. Les replied if I told you you’d run me ragged in the next game.

My chum was also at the game when Burnley were at Old Trafford for an FA Cup-tie when Best did something memorable. George McCabe was referee. Burnley were winning but then one of Best’s boots came off and as he was about to put it back on the ball came to him so he kept the boot in his hand, took the ball some considerable distance and played a pass that led to Man U scoring. Man U scored both their goals late on to deny Burnley the win. The goal that Best had fashioned was allowed with some people questioning whether the goal should have stood, on account of McCabe should perhaps have stopped the game and made Best put his boot back on.

40 years later my chum was at Barnsley for a Burnley game and was in the guest lounge when who should he see but an elderly guy in a FIFA official blazer. He recognised him as George McCabe and walked over to him. In truth I have no idea what the rules are on a player playing with just one boot on but if I had to guess I’d wonder if it was a perfectly legitimate goal as long as Best wasn’t whacking anybody with the boot as he skipped past them.

Anyway: over went my pal and challenged McCabe. He told him he’d been at the game 40 years earlier and McCabe replied that yes he too remembered it. He was then taken aback when he was loudly reprimanded for giving the goal and preventing Burnley from progressing in to the next round by allowing Best to dribble 60 or 70 yards and create a goal even though he was only wearing one boot and was carrying the other in his hand.

Anyway: there was quite a scene in the Barnsley Guest Lounge and it ended with Mr McCabe being told in no uncertain terms he was in no way fit to be wearing a FIFA badge.

“It’s not often you can tell a referee 40 years later what you thought of his performance, but I did,” said my chum. “I got a huge weight off my shoulders and have felt better ever since.”

Terribly sad though, to read of the predicament that former Burnley winger Dave Thomas finds himself in with worsening Glaucoma and deteriorating eyesight; deteriorating to such an extent that he has applied for a Guide Dog and is now raising money for Guide Dogs. Google David Thomas Fundraising for Guide Dogs, and it should come up. His initial target was £5,000 and when last I looked it was well over £8,000.

Those of us who saw him play all know what a wonderful talent he had, the best of which was at QPR and Everton. When he lived near Chichester Mrs T and me used to meet up with him and his own Mrs T whenever we went down to stay at Midhurst.

Dave had worked in the same Chichester school as sister in law, a lab technician, and Dave, a PE teacher then, occasionally had to fill in doing the odd science lesson as cover for anyone who was away. Sister-in-law never cottoned on as to who he was.

Then, on the occasion that I first went to see Dave at his home over 10 years ago, my own Mrs T dropped me off and then went down to the beach to walk the dog. An hour or so later back she came and knocked at the door which Dave then went to answer.

‘Good Lord,’ he said, ‘you look just like someone I work with.’

It was the beginning of our regular, if now infrequent meetings, since he returned to the north-east. A number of operations have not cured his sight problems. The world can be a cruel place with afflictions like this. Anyone who read the double page spread in the Daily Mail about Dave cannot fail to have been moved.

December 5: and home to Preston North End. It seemed an age since we last played them, 2011 in the League.The Keane brothers were in opposition and the last time brothers were in opposition was 50 years ago when the Irvine brothers played for Burnley and Stoke City.

Who will ever forget the dipping, swerving 30-yard shot from Joey Gudjonsson that seemed like it was heading for Row Z in the Cricket Field Stand and then began to arc downwards and in it went? Who will ever forget the 4-3 win when all seemed lost at one stage? Who will ever forget the video of the Preston woman crying her eyes out at the end of the game they’d just lost? One shouldn’t mock but it really is funny. And going back donkeys’ years, who will forget the win at Deepdale that took Burnley to the Sherpa Van Trophy Final just a year after they had nearly exited the Football League?

Little Joe unable to come with us; he was poorly. Thank goodness it was PNE and not the Charlton game when he is due to be mascot for his birthday. Into December and the Christmas Spirit growing; one could almost burst into a song and dance in M&S with the tannoy system blaring above your head with festive music; mulled wine at a sample stall, housewives muttering I need stuffing and husbands nodding, and on farms throughout the UK, turkeys looking at each other nervously.

This time it was Hurricane Desmond that was due; although it was hard to take a hurricane called Desmond seriously. That was until we saw the news later in the evening and saw the havoc it had wreaked in the north. We got away lightly at the Turf, wet and wild though it was.

It was a defeat and for sure demonstrates the age-old adage that if you don’t take chances you won’t win games. Add to that a MOTM match performance from the Preston keeper, plus a bit of dodgy refereeing, and some individual errors, then you have all the ingredients for a defeat.

The conditions were atrocious, not quite the worst we have ever seen, the Man City game during the first Premier season springs to mind, but nevertheless the driving rain, the strong, swirling wind and the slippery conditions made this a difficult afternoon so that both sides deserve credit for providing a game that was filled with incident. Even sitting up in the JH it was like sitting under a garden sprinkler. Style and class were largely absent but this was no game where you nodded off with boredom.

Burnley started off like a house on fire, beginning with the best opening 15 minutes of dominant football we have seen for an age. Preston came more into it but nevertheless Burnley created chances, enough to have rattled up a clear lead well before the end of the half. You can talk about turning points and maybe the Barton miss was one of them. Barton knew it and beat the ground in rage and frustration after he had side-footed wide a pinpoint cross from Gray. Vokes had a brilliant snapshot saved by the keeper. Two superb balls across the box from Mee should have been slammed home but the forwards were lurking on the edge of the area, rather than on the edge of the 6-yard box. There was no-one to come rushing in and take the chances; and how Burnley paid the price.

Second half and midway through: Vokes caught out in the centre circle, faffing as my granny used to say. I’d just muttered for God’s sake stop faffing, stop faffing, but faff he did and faffed some more and lost the ball. Before you knew it Keane (theirs) had the ball just inside the half and set off on a run, brushing leaden footed defenders aside as if they weren’t there. Finally, skating past Duff with ease he fired from distance and the ball went under Heaton who will surely say he should have saved it. Maybe the ball was swirling in the wind, maybe it was wet and greasy, but out of nothing Preston were a goal up.

They gathered by the touchline in their Birds Eye Custard Yellow kit and celebrated like there was no tomorrow. All we could do was fume at the daftness of the scoreline. At this point you rued the fact that Preston should have been down to ten men when their full back, already yellow carded, up-ended Mee in full flight with a blatant body check but the offence was only punished with a free kick and a talking-to. It was simply ludicrous that Kevin Friend had not brought out the second yellow. It would have reduced PNE to ten men when the score was still 0-0. It was this that was the turning point of the game and an unfathomable decision.

Later in the game Barton too should have had a second yellow but Friend let him off, maybe because he knew he had goofed already with the Preston player, so did he decide he could hardly send Barton off?

A by now one-dimensional Burnley huffed and puffed for the rest of the game slowly deteriorating more and more. Preston headed away Burnley corners with ease. Gray fired well wide from the one variation. To baffle many of us, Hennings and Marney who had made such an impact at Cardiff were left on the bench this time and on came Taylor, Kightly and Lowton, the latter a puzzling change, unless Darikwa had been crocked. With Vokes now struggling to have any impact he tamely shot straight at the keeper when clean through. Meanwhile Gray fought and battled but too often he looked alone up front in desperate need of some pacey support.

The Preston second goal with 5 minutes remaining came with Duff being beaten far too easily again in a sort of right back position, the ball being cut back and there was the long-haired one with a dreadlock pigtail halfway down his back that must have weighed a ton in the rain, calmly stroking the ball home. It is a long time since Turf Moor has emptied so quickly before the final whistle.

Some folks on the webs were critical; others were saying get a grip it was just a bad day at the office. Yours truly and family headed to the Stubbing Wharf in Hebden Bridge where a roaring fire, packed tables, pub grub and a convivial atmosphere dried us out whilst the roaring Desmond made sure that the north just got wetter and wetter and wetter and as is traditional, in weather like this, Carlisle United’s ground slowly disappeared into the deepening floods.

Georgie Georgie

Michael Keane


Brighton manager Chris Hughton astonishingly was quite miffed at the penalty awarded to Burnley for shirt pulling. He was thoroughly indignant that what he said was something that happens all the time and referees are rarely bothered to punish, had been penalised at Burnley.

To a degree he has a point but there is shirt pulling and then there is undressing, and Michael Keane had his shirt pulled so vigorously and for such a length of time, it was a wonder it didn’t rip in half as he was almost undressed on the pitch.

It goes on in game after game, at every corner, along with the wrestling, pushing and shoving and you wonder how it has come to this, that it is tolerated so much. I read somewhere and don’t know that it is actually correct, that until the corner is taken, the ball is not actually in play, so that all the shenanigans that go on can be left unpunished. Well it’s time they were and the Brighton lad got his deserved comeuppance.

Time flies and I dug out of my dusty filing cabinet a tribute to George Best that was written 10 years ago to mark his passing. The newspapers were filled with tributes and banners filled the Old Trafford Ground. What a player he was:

I wish I could honestly say that I can clearly remember some of the games George Best played against Burnley but in all honesty I can’t. Mrs T tells me that yes we saw him play so maybe the fact that I don’t recall any games or bits of magic means that as a general rule he didn’t play particularly well at Turf Moor. Burnley full-back Les Latcham was seen as one reason. Not many players got the better of Best but Latcham was one of them although he always jokes that his success was based on getting a tackle in that he’d meant to make five minutes earlier.

At Old Trafford it was a different story though when he played in the second of those memorable Christmas games all those years ago. We hammered Man U 6-1 at Turf Moor and then went over there and lost 5-1. 1963/64 it would have been and Andy Lochhead scored four of the goals at the Turf.

Georgie had been sent back home to Ireland for Christmas because Busby hadn’t intended to play him but in desperation called him back, threw him into the team and then it’s very much true to say that the Best story began that day. On he came and tore Burnley to shreds including the unwilling victim John Angus one of the best full-backs in the business. Bobby Charlton recalled that Angus was so bewildered he didn’t know what day it was. Sadly, in his final years it was George that barely knew what day it was as his demons took him over.

There are those who never saw him that might ask what all the fuss was about? Was he not a wastrel and a man who squandered his talent and sublime skills? The answer is maybe yes, but sadly he belonged to that small group of vulnerable and flawed people, artists, poets, painters and writers, actors, who over the years are blessed with a talent so prodigious that they leave an indelible mark on us all and in the history of their art. Those who see them perform are almost as blessed. They also have that undefinable quality that goes under the name of glamour so that they are icons of whatever era they grace.

And then, tragically, just a small number of this group follow a path that ends in self destruction but because we love them so much, because we see they are so vulnerable and because there is no inherent badness in them, it is then their talent that we remember and not their faults and weaknesses. We watch their slow descent into heartbreak and we are as helpless to help them, as they are to help themselves.

For 24 hours after his death ten years ago the TV channels played clip after clip of his mesmerising skills, his gravity defying balance, the feints, the instant acceleration, the swerves, sudden stops and starts, the taunting of other players. The one I liked best was an old, faded, grainy black and white sequence showing one of his earliest games against West Brom. He nutmegs their hard man Graham Williams and then sets off at blistering pace all over the field evading lunges, swipes, knee high tackles and brutal body checks that today would have had any guilty player yellow carded if not sent off. And then there was that glorious colour clip of him scoring against Chelsea when Ron Chopper Harris comes across and attempts to scythe him in half just outside the box. Best rides the tackle; his body momentarily at a crazy angle of 45 degrees, regains the upright position and scores with ease. If I could take one video clip with me when I meet St Peter at the pearly gates … that will be the one.

I’m trying to think who else in the world of football will leave such a lasting effect, such an impact, leave so many memories of brilliance, skill and finesse and I can’t think of many. There have been many, many more unique great players that have passed away, but how many of them have names that will ring around a stadium ten years later. Great players pass away and will do so in years to come and we will mourn them, but how many will be remembered at every ground in the land when they pass away, with a minute’s silence or applause.

At Turf Moor it was applause and many of us had a smile on our faces as we joined in. It was a smile of pleasure and gratitude and affection for someone who had come along into our world and brightened our lives. It was for the good things that he did and the unmatched entertainment that he provided, that I smiled.

Comedian Mike Farrell told me a typical ‘Bestie’ story. They had both appeared at a function and had got on really well so that afterwards in the hotel they sat up into the small hours having one drink, telling stories, then another drink… and another drink until eventually all track of time was lost. George, bleary-eyed decided to head for some shut-eye and at last went over to reception and asked the night porter to give him a 6 a.m. call as he had an early flight from Liverpool to catch. The porter looked at him with a puzzled expression.

‘But Mr Best,’ he said, ‘it’s already 6 o clock.’

We all know he appeared much the worse for wear on the Wogan show. But what idiot organisation would have plied him with drink before the show? We all know he was given a life-saving liver transplant and then abused it. We all know what weaknesses he had, the periods when his life seemed a shambles, the spell in prison he had. But these are not what will dominate our memories of him, because what we also hear are the countless testimonies to his good nature, his humility, wit and humour, modesty, generosity and intelligence.

As a footballer he was one of the finest the world has seen, if not THE finest. He could do things with a ball that others could only dream of. He was the absolute, complete footballer and yet in a frame that was so slight that you might have thought a strong wind would have blown him over. He played in an age when defenders thought it their God-given right to cripple any gifted forward in an age when there was little or no protection from referees. The creed was simple; what the referee doesn’t see isn’t a foul.

He played in an age when pitches could vary from mudbaths through the winter to bone-hard, concrete, grassless surfaces, by the end of the season. Nor did he have a ball that dipped and swerved and bent and dipped so that even an average player today can kick a football that will change direction several times and beat a goalkeeper from 30 yards out.

We all know he walked out on football far too soon. But I’m just grateful that we saw the good years and they are what I will appreciate him for. His self-deprecating sense of humour was delightful. What other man might have said:

‘I tried so hard to give up drink and women… but it was the worst 20 minutes of my life.’

‘I think I’ve found you a genius,’ the Irish scout reported to Matt Busby in hushed tones one day all those years ago, as if he was frightened silly someone would overhear what he was saying about the incredible 15-year old he had just spotted and would steal him away. How right he was. Genius is the best word to describe him and is not a word we bestow lightly. How does that song go?

‘And it seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind… and your candle’s burning out long before your legend ever will.’

Burnley away to Cardiff City, for me and Mrs T it was another weekend over in Hornsea and a wonderful food festival in Beverley Minster.  What JC would have thought of the trading going on and the beer stalls and gin stall I wouldn’t like to think? Traditionally he throws traders out of the temple. But what a feast of pastry and country grub this was. How sad though when we went past the stall selling duck and pigeon and stuff. The duck was labelled Mallard. Now that kind of brought a little lump to my throat as I see them every time I walk along the canal near home, and then I thought what a good job it wasn’t labelled Gertrude or Jemima, I’d have been in tears. I succumbed to temptation and bought a Rabbit Pie and a Christmas Pie, plus a claret cheese for afters.

All this was while Burnley were apparently struggling at Cardiff with a performance that once again left those that were there thinking that there is more to come from this team. In the blue corner were those suggesting that we’ve been saying this all season and they still blow hot and cold and this is as good as it’s going to get. More than just a few folk though were adamant that a stonewall penalty was denied them when the ball was handled on the line. Had Burnley gone 1-0 up and the culprit sent off who knows what might have happened?

What did happen, as I was perusing a stall of wonderful looking mince pies, was that Cardiff scored their first and then the second as I was looking at the most mouth-watering array of Christmas cakes I have ever seen. It was a slow job trying to make your way through the throngs of people looking hungrily at table after table of the finest baking and cuisine.

The second Cardiff goal was headed in so easily from a corner and you thought back to that spell last season when you covered your eyes with your hands when the opposition took corners; we conceded so many. I once used the F word rather loudly by the bananas in Marks and Spencer’s when Mrs T told me we’d let a goal in. This time I remembered where I was and said it to myself.

Into the last minutes and as we wandered by the stalls near the door; a local choir now filled the Minster with the most gorgeous A Capella singing. Next up was a ladies banjo group of all things. Clearly the Lord in Beverley likes his ale and plinkety plink music. As the ladies plinked, I blinked, when Mrs T informed me that Burnley had pulled a goal back with just minutes to go.

Just a consolation we assumed and proceeded to sample a slice of locally-sourced turkey a bloke was handing out from a large dish. But heck no, before I’d had time to circle back and get another slice thinking if I can a get a slice of bread from another stall I can make a sandwich, Burnley had astonishingly equalised. Folk looked at us strangely as we whooped and hollered by now walking by a table of pickles and chutneys. 2-2 and praise the Lord I said, for he is truly bountiful.

The film we saw later showed what a comedy goal the equaliser was. We’ve given away enough of them ourselves at the Turf in past seasons so no-one was going to feel sorry for the Cardiff lad who in running mode simply ran into the path of Keane’s header that was going 10 yards wide, and bundled it over his own line. Ta very much we all said and by this time plenty of Burnley folk had left the ground or were halfway out, many of them drenched by the merciless wind and rain that gave people a soaking even as far back as row Z.

‘I’m just so pleased with the mentality of the players,’ said Sean D at the end. Mentality, resilience, bouncebackability, Marney is back and a Christmas Pie for tea… if Carlsberg did happy endings…