FULHAM 2 BURNLEY 3
HUDDERSFIELD 1 BURNLEY 3
Sunday after the Blackburn game was spent looking at the league table, not quite all day, but more than usual, then watching the game again, and then writing up the latest batch of Roy Oldfield stories. One of them was the day Fred Trueman took him to the boardroom after a game.
Cricketing legend Fred did football reporting after he had finished playing and after one game he was last to finish and Roy went up to ask him had he quite done, and to tidy up. Fred chatted for a few minutes and then insisted that Roy went over to the boardroom with him for a drink. Roy, aghast at the idea, spluttered his excuses for not going over, the primary one being that he couldn’t possibly go in there dressed in his wellies, jeans and donkey jacket, looking bit like Compo from Last of the Summer Wine. Despite Fred speaking in broad Yorkshire and Roy in broad Burnley they did manage to just about understand each other. Fred insisted on him going over, telling him not to worry, Bob Lord wouldn’t dare say anything if he was with Fred. Ay but he might on Monday, thought Roy.
Over they went with Roy in fear and trembling that Bob Lord would give him short shrift for daring to go in there. Fred and Roy had a brandy each with Roy trying to look as inconspicuous as possible in his wellies but he knew Bob Lord had seen him. He made to leave but by this time Lord was standing by the door and there was no way Roy could avoid him. Lord looked at him with a straight face. Oh hell, I’m going to get a bollocking, Roy thought.
‘Everything all right Roy?’ asked Lord with a slight grin. That was all that was ever said.
‘I think he was in total awe of Fiery Fred,’ says Roy years later. ‘I think he knew that if he’d said anything, Fred would have torn a strip off him there and then without batting an eyelid. Nobody mucked about with Fred Trueman.’
It was at our last get-together that Frank Casper came along; they’d worked together for years at the club; at this meet-up Roy discovered who had almost ruined his pitch. Roy had just had a few days off and when he returned he found the pitch so flat and level it looked like green cardboard. Not a blade of grass was upright. You could have played bowls on it. When Roy saw it he was horrified but nobody ever said how it had had got like this. Whatever had been done, had done the pitch no good at all because wonderful though it looked, the compacted, flattened surface now hindered drainage.
Somehow it cropped up in the conversation and all these years later Frank Casper owned up. He grinned. ‘It was me Roy. You were away and I went next door to the cricket club and borrowed their sit-on heavy roller, drove it round here and rolled the pitch up and down for half a day and made it flat as a pancake. I kept quiet when you came back and saw it. It was me Roy.’
Roy’s mouth dropped wide open, ‘And I’ve wondered all these years how it got like that,’ he said. Roy too used to borrow the cricket club roller but the trick was just to roll the pitch once not ride up and down for hours several times.
Did manager Paul Lambert really say, ‘Burnley had a head start on us financially,’ after the defeat at Turf Moor? Does he really have any idea of the financial histories of the two clubs? Did he really say that ‘they have more money than us?’ What an utterly mind boggling thing to say. Does he not know that Blackburn once bought a title? Does he not know that the current owners are Indian millionaires? Does he really not cotton on to the sheer irony of all this? I just burst out laughing and nearly fell off the kitchen stool when I read that.
Sunday’s Football League Paper and Chris Dunlavy had a spot-on summary of the game: ‘That chin is still jutting. Just as at Bolton last week Burnley were pummelled and pressed, dragged to the limits of their endurance. Yet just as last week they walked away with the points. Blackburn dominated possession but couldn’t breach an impeccably drilled back four, just how do you beat this Burnley side? Since Hull’s 3-0 victory on Boxing Day, nobody has the answer.’
Sean Dyche praised Tom Heaton: ‘Big keepers make big saves. He’s had very quiet periods. We’ve had 15 clean sheets which suggest the team have protected him. But what good keepers do is respond when they’re needed. Sometimes that’s not a save, it’s clean hands, good distribution and all manner of things.’
He praised Joey Barton and said what most of us think, that he gets some rough treatment but just calmly walks away: ‘He’s been a credit to himself, first of all, and then to us. He gets questioned, some of it brought on by himself and some not and I’m amazed at how little he’s been protected this season. The number of harsh tackles he’s had on him and he hasn’t responded once is a credit to him. He absolutely loves the environment and the culture we set here and the group. So he’s enjoying his football and said to me probably as much as he’s ever enjoyed it.’
Just two wins from the last 19 visits to Fulham and over the previous 50 years, and this was a game with jinx written all over it. London based it may be but Fulham has always seemed to be one of those little, inoffensive, homely clubs that no-one dislikes, Craven Cottage is such a nice name that makes you think of little old ladies with secateurs tending their olde English garden. It’s a club that seems a million miles away from clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs. The only daft thing they’ve ever done down there is erect a statue of Michael Jackson. Like Burnley they were up with the top goal scorers in the Division and in McCormack had a player who has scored a bundle against the Clarets over the years. The last time Burnley won there was 1980. But on this night Burnley had a stunning win.
The football Gods are with us, wrote one person, what a staggering run we are on. It’s almost unbelievable the run we have gone on, wrote another. Not one of the top ten teams kept pace with us, was yet another comment. At the 25-game stage of the season Burnley were 10 points behind the top team, Middlesbrough and here they were after 36 games four points ahead with Boro still to come to Burnley.
You could sense people’s amazement at the night’s result, Fulham 2 Burnley 3 at a place that has been a graveyard for so long and where in this game they were under the cosh for long spells. It was the night that Burnley went four points clear of the top and six points clear of the third placed team and were made 5/4 favourites with William Hill for the title. And though we might have hoped for this, few people probably expected it or took it for granted. At 2-2 we probably might have settled for that but then up came another shade of Gray to settle the game. This was a brilliant night of Craven cottaging. It was Richard Osman who was pointless, not Burnley (a stolen joke I have to admit).
What a magnificent result too, for Rotherham beating Middlesbrough with a goal just two minutes from the end; Brighton could only draw, Hull of course were involved in an FA Cup replay. It was a night when everything went right, even coming back from a 2-1 deficit to go on and take the points. Vokes scored twice and Gray once; Gray’s goal another 20 yarder smashed home that followed turning his marker who looked like he was glued to him. Vokes’ first was a classic header powered in from a corner; his second from the penalty spot after Barton was clearly brought down. A trip on Boyd in the area went unpunished. It was a game of the good, the bad and the ugly, said Dyche with the fans seeing a bit of each. The bad was in the first half but the back-of-stage gossip says the lads got a bit of a Dyche straightener at half-time to get them back on track.
The next-day papers were unanimous, this was a pulsating, end to end game of chances and attacking football in which Burnley refused to lie down, and Fulham belied their lowly position. It was another night when little Joe was sleeping over and at quarter to ten I had to tiptoe into his room and prop a card on the bedside desk that said won 3-2 for when he woke up.
Huddersfield next and it was his first away game, almost a rite of passage. I guess we all remember our very first away game, how old we were and who we went with. Mine was away to Leeds for the first game of the ‘59/60 season with a few pals on the train from Todmorden on a scorching hot day and we won 3-2. Not a bad season to travel for your first away game.
Huddersfield just down the road from us: spring in the air, sunshine over the Pennines. Yesterday was the first brown bin collection day of the year so it must be spring, winter must be over. The potatoes are chitting, the onions sit ready for thumbing in, greenhouse ready for tomato growbags, Joe wrecking what bit of grass we have kicking a ball into the mini net in his new football boots, Daffodils and Snowdrops all o’er the place int garden. Goldfinches, bullfinches, chaffinches, tits of all shapes and sizes, robins, thrushes, blackbirds, devouring everything we put out for them; and their early morning, dawn-chorus, cacophonous songs and twitterings enough to give you a migraine by the time you get up. What’s a peaceful lie-in anymore?
Who will crack first: In this staggering run that Burnley had been on since mid-season, they had gained 12 points on Middlesbrough and Brighton, 13 on Hull and TWENTY on a faltering Derby, the latter from being nine behind to 11 ahead. But Derby of course came out with some nonsense that promotion was never their target this season. Up at Middlesbrough there were strange stories emerging that manager Karanka had walked out telling the players he was fed up after the defeat at lowly Rotherham. Whilst Burnley were beating Huddersfield, Derby and Hull could only draw.
At Huddersfield, Joe learned a whole lot of new words and that at away games you need to be able to stand up for 90 minutes. It might only have been a 50 minute trip but his picnic box was obligatory to eat sausage rolls and chocolate buns on the way. Sometimes I wish I could be 9 again as well. We found what we call the secret car park very close to the ground well before 2 and happily paid up the car park fee. It isn’t a secret at all but for some reason we have never yet found it full and from there to the ground is not much more than a stroll of 100 yards with the river on the right pleasantly filled with old bikes, shopping trolleys and assorted tyres. Kingfishers in these parts need tin hats.
With The John Smith not the happiest of hunting grounds for Burnley there were no assumptions that this would be an easily winnable game. How wrong could you be? At halftime, club guest Steve Kindon doing the draw summed things up beautifully with the score already at 3-1 to Burnley.
“They’re clinical up front and defend well at the back.”
What more can you say. He can never resist a laugh though can he and told us that the little girl he had with him was the granddaughter of a friend and she had already been crying three times, each time after a Burnley goal.
3-1 at half-time, Burnley so comfortable, Huddersfield so poor, that the figure 6 did actually cross our minds. All we did though in the second half was comfortably see out the game, with Heaton barely having a shot to save despite a fair bit of Huddersfield possession and several neat moves.
Ward, Vokes and Mee scored the goals and the Mee goal, headed in from a corner, must have felt like a kick in the stomach to the Huddersfield players who had just a minute or two earlier pulled a goal back to make the score 2-1 when Lolley popped one in after a brilliant solo run.
Their goal, however, was a mere hiccup in a thoroughly efficient performance in which Vokes, Mee, Keane, Ward and Boyd were outstanding, Barton showed again he is the best scrapper in the Championship, and Gray ran himself into the ground.
“Hope you go up,” a Huddersfield fan said to us on the way to the car. Another couple walked in front of and we could hear them talking. “They score plenty at one end and barely give you a chance at the other. No wonder they’re top.” “Focused, concentrated and aggressive,” said the Huddersfield manager.
After finishing off the Hula Hoops, Joe fell asleep in the car on the way home. Surrounded by 3,000 supporters filling the away end and producing a non-stop volume of noise and songs that was deafening at times, close up to his favourite players and all three goals; first away games can be such a draining experience. Back at home he was asleep the minute his head hit the pillow, one hand clutching the programme.