BURNLEY 1 HULL CITY 1
The best transfer saga ever said a poster on Burnley’s premier website referring to the curious incident of the Pole in the night. We were still down south, now in Westport, a fishing village on the Jurassic Coast and the stories were coming fast and furious about how and why the Grosicki deal had fallen through.
West Bay was filled with holidaymakers; families and their children hung over the edge of the harbour with buckets on strings catching crabs. There were long queues at the wooden kiosks on the other side of the road that dispensed fish and chips or ice cream or pasties. The harbour was filled with brightly coloured boats with the towering Jurassic cliffs to the left. There we were sat like OAPs on a bench in the sunshine eating our ice creams but then we remembered; we were OAPs.
We were still amazed at the drama of the night before, jets and airports and delegations dashing to Manchester. A dashing winger was just what we wanted but he had flown back and Kamil had the hump. The last time this sort of thing happened if memory serves was back in the days of John Bond and the trek across the Atlantic that he and John Jackson made to sign Steve Daley. This is the bigtime we thought; this is the glamour side of football. And then we saw him play. Steve Daley had been a million-pound footballer at Man City and now he was flying over to play for us. Sadly, Steve’s touch had deserted him and one director described his first-touch as more like a five-yard pass. Bondy admitted he clearly wasn’t fit and there was huge disappointment; so as soon as they could he was moved on.
The plot thickened; did Rennes hike the price, was an agent trying to extort better terms, did Rennes owe money to Grosicki that they reneged on, did Grosicki think he was signing for Barnsley, or was a new tweet correct that Grosicki and agent wanted Burnley to settle gambling debts and the tweet said that the source of this info was a board member. The Guardian had referred to his gambling in profiles they ran on Polish players prior to the Euros.
By the time we got back to Beaminster an interview had appeared in the Burnley Press in which Grosicki had spilled the beans about the whole thing. My agent made mistakes he said… there were complications… we couldn’t reach an agreement… I am disappointed with some people… it was my club the big problem… promises had been cancelled.
There were more questions; who paid for the plane, did he go back home on the train, how last minute was all this, who were the people he said he couldn’t trust, what were the broken promises, and had Ladbrokes in Nelson already barred him?
Eventually, the chairman, Mike Garlick referred to it with the explanation that he, Sean D and Dave Baldwin CEO, had made the decision not to sign him on the grounds that this was a signing that could damage team spirit. Meanwhile in Beaminster there was shopping to do.
It’s a lovely place, a sort of Dad’s Army Warminster if you take away the traffic. It’s a throwback to a distant age with a slow, easy pace of life. Deer wander round the fields, badgers are likely to come scuffling round the back door looking for handouts at night and as we strolled down Crooked Lane one day a plump Peacock appeared from nowhere sauntering along. There used to be two, but one disappeared, no-one knows who they belong to. There are farms with quaint names like Shatcombe and Pipsford. There are quaint customs such as if the window cleaner does your windows and you’re not in, you leave the money at the cake shop. And everyone says hello.
A stroll around the square (actually a triangle) is like having a lesson in good manners. You could well imagine Captain Mainwaring having his morning coffee in the Art Deco Tearooms. Mr Tett the butcher pops his head out of his shop doorway, “Good morning Mrs Collier.”
“Good morning Mr Tett,” says Mrs Collier. “I’d like to buy a nice piece of beef; well hung please Mr Tett.”
“My dear Mrs Collier,” replies Mr Tett with the faintest of smirks, twirling his moustache, “everything here is well hung.”
Pass the village bakery: Out pops Mr Bunn the baker. “Good morning Mrs Collier,” says Mr Bunn.
“Good morning Mr Bunn,” says Mrs Collier. Mrs Bunn appears, “I have some lovely baps today,” she says.
At last we reach the Post Office and the general store. “Good morning Mrs Collier,” says Mr Stamp the postman. “Good morning Mr Stamp,” Mrs Collier replies. In we go to buy the newspaper that reminds us all too easily of the outside world and Big Sam’s first England squad. Mrs May has had her first cabinet meeting and is about to jet off to China where she will most certainly meet Obama ready to say Britain must go to the back of the trade queue.
In places like this it’s the little news that’s the big news: Winston the retriever was rescued by the coastguards after falling 80’ down the cliffs. In Bridport a pavement had been closed for 53 weeks causing great upset. The village of Bettiscombe was without phone lines for 11 days. Bridport lost 1-0 in the Tool Station Western League. Beaminster had been bowled all out for 93 against Sturminster. Wimborne were top of the Funeral Plan League. Top sport down here is Nine Pin Pub Skittles and the Dorset Flop technique in the Bridport League is apparently quite unique. Competitions and leagues are fierce and 90-year old Dorset Floppers are not uncommon. For the bigger football teams you have to get to Yeovil or Weymouth or Bournemouth miles along the coast. You don’t see too many football shirts in deepest Dorset.
Southampton is a different story of course with nearby Netley Abbey on our visiting list. As its name suggests there are the remains of an old abbey but apart from that the only other things on offer that might be of interest to visiting Burnley fans willing to make the detour before the game down there, are the Prince Consort pub, and the Jolly Friar Chippy. The latter is quite superb with an extensive menu from which I selected an absolutely scrumptious Cornish pasty, chips and gravy with Pineapple Fritters for afters. Mrs T says I don’t eat enough fruit, so let’s go for the pineapple, I thought.
The drive to Southampton was dire; this is not the quietest of roads and you crawl along nose to tail with interminable hold-ups and roundabouts. But take any side road off this trunk route and within 100 yards you can be in another world of fields and woodlands and picturesque little villages like Piddle Hampton, Blandford Scrotum and Nether Fartinge. At one such village we pulled in and headed for the restaurant of the local garden centre. You’d think it would be hard to ruin a prawn baguette but they surely did. As it was brought to the table and I surveyed the soggy mess the woman at the next table slowly keeled over into her soup. We never did find out if she had merely overheated or had fainted at the sight of the prawn baguette and the gloop that encased and drowned the tiny prawns.
The Netley expedition turned out to be quite an adventure. In the Coop next to the Jolly Friar I watched one of the staff tearing round the aisles in hot pursuit of one of the local winos he’d seen hiding a bottle of vodka in his long coat inside pocket.
“Oi bin watchin’ im since ‘e came in,” said the shopkeeper with a pronounced local twang. “Not many folk come in ‘ere wearin’ a long overcoat when it’s nigh on 70 degrees outside. You can tell ‘em a moil away. ”
Back home in Leeds there was a mini Indian summer to enjoy and a game at last with the visit of Hull City. Things seemed to have gone quiet over there, at least on the surface, between the Egyptian owners and the supporters, adamant that Hull City was Hull City and not the Tigers. More than once Assem Allam threatened to take his bat home and not until the very last minute had Hull added to their depleted squad of just 13 first-team players. In protest at the goings-on (or lack of them) Steve Bruce was now gone and Burnley old boy Michael Phelan was in charge. Against all the odds and all expectations Hull had been winning with Phelan so far working minor miracles. But, he and the owners still couldn’t agree on a deal to make him manager and a takeover deal involving a Chinese group fell through leaving the Egyptians, keen to sell, still the owners.
Egyptians at Hull, Indians at Blackburn, and the Chinese keen to hoover any club they can lay their hands on. At Burnley the cobbles, clogs, mill chimneys, flat caps and whippets may have gone, but this club remains a bastion, a last outpost of local ownership and flat northern vowels with accents exceedingly rare. Let’s be honest though: in the great scheme of things we are the small fry, not part of the establishment; who cares about Burnley?
It was Lancashire versus Yorkshire, Dyche versus Phelan but as far as the press were concerned all that mattered was the Battle of Manchester, Guardiola versus Mourhino. It was as if nothing else mattered. Page after page of it, day after day, feature upon feature; but as far as Burnley fans were concerned Mourhino disgraced himself with the palaver he made after the Stamford bridge game against Burnley in the last Prem season. Age or his enforced temporary absence from the game hasn’t mellowed him; he appears to be as surly and dismissive as ever. But even so, just every now and then he comes out with a pearler. In Spain when he was at Real Madrid and Guardiola was at Barca, the games between them were frequently marred by unpleasantness and red cards for Real players, prompting him to say: “Every time I play Pep I end up with 10 men. It must be some sort of Uefa rule.” Once again he was trumped by Pep, poor chap losing 1-2.
It was 1-1 at Turf Moor. On the messageboards the grumbling was rampant, though I couldn’t quite understand why. We are what we are, egg and chips not haute cuisine. Dyche said he was pleased with the efforts and the increased belief, especially after the mauling at Chelsea. Every player gave his all: they always do. Sure the same problems remained – the lack of pace and width and flair out wide. Gray and Vokes were well held up front.
All three of the new players were involved, Bamford, Defour and Hendrick although only Defour of the three started the game, and what an impact he had. He was by far Burnley’s outstanding player scoring a goal that will be talked about for years.
Yes a pedestrian Burnley with little to offer in the first half were outplayed for long spells and Hull shaved the post with a cross shot; but in the second half there was a spark and zest that eventually produced a 1-0 lead. Defour took the ball in his own half with his back to the Hull half. With as deft a piece of skill as you will ever see he controlled the ball on his laces and as he spun round the ball came round with him as if glued to his foot and he left the marking player for dead. Suddenly he had made yards of space and took off at speed for the Hull goal. Then, from 35 yards he let fly with a strike of such power that it was in the net before you could blink. A tour de force is defined as a piece of true ingenuity or virtuosity. This goal was a tour Defource of sublime skill and artistry.
Hull fans would argue that this was so against the run of play that it was ridiculous. They missed an open goal from just yards with the culprit placing the ball accurately just past the post. They hit the crossbar with a header. But Burnley held on, and on, and on, as the game went into injury time. The second half performance might have merited the win but overall the draw was fair enough. As we willed the referee to blow the whistle Mee went into a blocking tackle and appeared to slip; in so doing he brought down the opponent. Reckless challenge or genuine mishap, some referees might have given Mee the benefit of the doubt, this one didn’t. Snodgrass curled the ball up and over the wall bending it into the corner of the goal with Heaton diving despairingly.
Two of Burnley’s four games so far have been decided by referees, the first against Swansea missing the blatant shirt pull and penalty for Burnley. This one decided that Mee’s unfortunate slip was a deliberate foul.
“Decisions like these cause big problems and lose you games,” said the guy behind us as we exited the concourse down the stairs.
“Yeh, they’ve cost us 5 points so far this season,” his mate replied.
“Hmmm,” I’m thinking, “Sod the referees, if you’ve got a defender at each post for a free kick like this, they head the ball away and the points are safe; so why nobody on the posts?”
Shortly after I wrote that, my pen pal Gunnar emailed from Aalesund. ‘We all knew this was going to be the last kick of the game, so why didn’t the entire team line up on the goal line, they wouldn’t have had a chance of scoring then unless the ball sneaked under the bar. The shot that did go in would have been saved by the player nearest the post.’
Few people were suggesting that Burnley merited all three points, but this was a cruel way to lose two of them when all three were just 30 seconds away.
Hunters Chicken with mash at the Shepherd’s Rest above Todmorden eased the sense of deflation, hunks of chicken in a barbecue sauce with a layer of bacon and cheese. To hell with the calories, there was need of a morale booster and a glass of Blanc. That plus a bit of reflection and a bit of homespun analysis – they didn’t lose, they got a point, we saw one fabulous goal, the sun was shining, we were not in the bottom three, joint tenth in fact, below us were Leicester City; in the morning Master Joe would be making his debut for Farsley Celtic U10s, and in a few days off to Tenerife for a couple of weeks. What Was there to complain about?