28 years since Lockerbie… goodbye Zsa Zsa Gabor… and Rick Parfitt…then George Michael… Pardew leaves the Palace… Express forecasts weather mayhem (again)… Allardyce summoned to the Palace… 51 years since the last Christmas Day league game at Blackpool… no Christmas Day bells at York Minster for first time since 1361…

Football was on hold so that Christmas weekend could take over. Poinsettias were arriving, cards distributed up and down the street, the one mince pie a day rule was holding firm and the neighbour opposite had bought yet more strings of lights. His house was now doing a passable imitation of New York at midnight. Mrs T was organising an evening of nachos, nibbles and nuts for the street. And soon to come was the January window. What presents would that bring we wondered. But there was an early one – or so we thought.

Sean D had been coy for weeks regarding Joseph Barton training at Turf Moor. It was something he would do for anyone needing a bit of help and support he said. But: the rapport between the two of them since that first omelette suggested from the outset that there was more to this than met the eye. ‘He accepted me as the finished article as the older, wiser person I have always wanted to be in the dressing room,’ he wrote in his book. ‘I responded to him as one of the few managers I felt was a friend.’

He referred to his prime attributes as being ‘awareness, application and competitiveness. So many players are done when they lose even a fraction of their pace, I’m fortunate because I never had any to lose.’

Probably most of us suspected that if JB was going to sign for anyone it would be Burnley despite him saying he’d had interest from several clubs. His ill-fated stay at Rangers had been short-lived; the homeliness of Burnley was now the preferred option. It was a short deal until the end of the season, money no problem with the sale of The Jut to Birmingham for a million. In one interview Barton had said if he’d known what was in store he’d never have joined Rangers. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but lots of us might have said ‘we told yer to stay at Burnley.’

‘Aged 34 with the slate wiped clean once again,’ wrote Barry Glendenning in the Guardian, ‘he now sits on a stool in the last chance saloon.’ Little did he or we know that a surprise was just around the corner and the stool not quite firmly anchored. Perhaps it was only at Burnley, he thought, that he could rehabilitate his reputation as a footballer. There is no question that in the promotion season he was a stunning success.

But where would this leave Defour we pondered. There had been stories that his partner had been tweeting unhappy tweets. There was another story that he had been back to Belgium and in an interview with a Belgian journalist had expressed his unhappiness at being on the bench and that some of the manager’s decisions were ‘bizarre,’ although the word bizarre however might have been down to the vagaries of translation. True or not, the Defour situation at this point was becoming a bit like the curious case of the Jelle who was eventually shipped out.

And then all of that became academic when Barton was charged with misconduct by the FA with regard to over 1,000 football bets going back 10 years up to 2016. Any moves to re-sign him immediately became open to speculation especially when Sean D said that his signing was only agreed in principle as opposed to earlier club statements that it was done bar international clearance. The newest club statement was brief: that it would be discussed with Barton and his lawyers. The words touch and bargepole sprang to mind immediately with the worry that a lengthy ban was in prospect. A certain signing was now most definitely in real doubt. Were the last chance saloon doors about to wing shut and hit him in the face we wondered?

The Turkey arrived at number 12 the other day. Not as big as usual, not a houseful this Christmas. Roy Oldfield remembered the days at Turf Moor when he was on Turkey duty. He had many jobs to perform as groundsman and fetching the Turkeys from Bob Lord’s factory to the ground was one of them. He laughed when I said that Fletch always maintained that the bigger the Turkey, the more secure was your place at the club. Margaret Potts said that the one of the first ones they got was too big to go in the oven. Everyone got one and the joke was that those who got a small Turkey were the next to be sold.

‘No not a bit of it Dave,’ said Roy. ’They were all the same size and nice ones too. None of them were small and it was my job to ferry them all down to the Cricket Field Stand in the small van we had. It took about 5 journeys there were that many. And then I had to lay them all out in the long corridor that went the length of the Cricket Field Stand. It was always cold in there as well especially in late December so there they lay until they were collected. It was quite a sight as well, 60 or so Turkeys all laid out down the floor from one end to the other.’

Smart businessman was our Bob though, they weren’t exactly free; the club paid him for them.

Roy would get a Christmas bonus too in his pay packet with an accompanying letter beginning Dear Roy:

On behalf of our Directors and myself I send you this short letter to indicate our sincere and grateful thanks for all your work for the club during the past 12 months. At this stage it is our opinion that we possess a work force which is second to none in these very trying and difficult days and quite candidly we are proud of you. We trust in the coming Christmas time you will be able to enjoy yourself and finally please accept as a token of our appreciation the value of one half of one week’s salary.

It was dated 11 December, 1980, and these were indeed the bad times of poor results, falling gates, unpaid bills, clamouring creditors, disgruntled supporters and a critical press. Lord had just a year remaining.

Next up was Middlesbrough and out of nowhere they had emerged as the club to dislike. Their fans had made fun of Dyche when he’d been up there as part of a recent commentary team. Their manager Karanka had said truly daft things about Burnley when the two clubs had met at Turf Moor last in the Championship; that if he’d had the money Burnley had he’d have had Burnley promoted by February or something like that. Once upon a time they were a club that were ‘just there’. Not a club you gave any great thought to, certainly not an interesting club, just a club that was dull and boring up in the cold, drab north-east. Their mid-fielder de Roon was now saying he wanted three points from Burnley as a Christmas present; just the kind of remark that the opposing manager might pin up on the dressing room wall to gee up the troops.

The word was that a lot of wound-up Boro fans were desperate to beat Burnley but it was hard to see quite where this rivalry was coming from other than Karanka’s provocation and the Teesside Gazette website. Allegedly according to this there had been simmering sound-bites, dug-out animosity and cyber-sabre rattling from fans fizzing back and forth according to one writer Anthony Vickers. A routine Premier game was as a result being seen as a grudge match and memories were dredged up of a previous encounter in April 2014 when Boro came as party pooper, won 1-0 and celebrated like they’d won the World Cup. If memory serves it was a niggly, grumpy and bad tempered game with diving, shirt pulling and arguing. Ayala was sent off followed by more petulant theatrics, continental histrionics versus good old Lancashire grit.

A Gazette sub-plot pointed to Sean Dyche’s Chesterfield being beaten by Middlesbrough in an FA Cup semi-final. And in addition to that were Karanka’s objections to Dyche talking of Burnley’s lesser spending power and how Derby and Boro were upping the spending cycle, when in fact Karanka retaliated by pointing to Burnley’s parachute payments and the millions they generated. When Burnley drew 1-1 in the recent promotion season with a very late equaliser, and stopped Boro going 4 points clear, it was Karanka who accused Burnley of celebrating like they had won the World Cup.

Derogatory comments about Boro that did do the rounds were undoubtedly not helped by the League decision to have the trophy up at Middlesbrough on the final day when Burnley were down at Charlton. Joey B certainly made a few remarks about it at the final gala dinner at the club; within minutes his comments were on social media. Allegedly a video of the Burnley team on the club coach chanting something highly derogatory about Karanka was also leaked. The esteemed Northern Echo was referring to the ‘festering animosity’ and the game was a sell-out. Boro, a point ahead, were looking to pull away even further. Burnley were simply looking for three points, another case of seeing through the noise, ignoring the hype. Win the points and the rest takes care of itself, the Dyche mantra.

Boxing Day: and now the media up int northeast was saying the phoney war was over with Karanka and Dyche saying nice things about each other. Phoney war over or just Christmas phoney niceness we wondered. It was a splendid Christmas Day at Thomas Towers with pride of place on the mantelpiece going to my claret and blue gnome that talks. It says things like ‘on me ‘ead son’ and ‘get to Specsavers’ when you walk past it, as class a piece of tat as you could wish for. You can get them at British Gnome Stores. The day topped off with as good a Mrs Brown Christmas Special as we’ve seen; not to everyone’s taste of course but we feckin’ luv it in our house.

The day raw: the wind biting, the brass band playing carols and Christmas songs by the chip van; their noses and fingers slowly turning the same colour as their bright blue jackets in the freezing air. Brave blokes drinking pints, sensible blokes having a hot coffee from the nearby vendor, for me a gingerbread and cinnamon Christmas Special with mince pies from the box we just happened to have with us. Inside the stadium, just a sprinkling of empty seats, a swirling wind and ‘horrible conditions’ said Andre Gray afterwards.

Championes, championes we are the champions, the crowd sang and roared as the game reached its conclusion with Burnley leading 1-0. It was clearly directed at the Boro fans and their manager Karanka. Some might say it was a scrappy, messy 1-0 win; others might say it was merited and deserved in a gripping game that was filled with incident and tension. A game that you didn’t want to take your eyes off for a second in case you missed something. At stake was a huge opportunity for Burnley to climb away from the bottom three, assuming those already in the bottom three did their bit and lost – which they obligingly did.

After a first half where Burnley had the edge (despite what Karanka claimed) it had become clear that just one goal might be enough to settle this game and with Boro having fashioned just the one clear chance early in the first half, you hoped that one moment of skill, luck (not exactly abundant this season) or magic might win the game for Burnley. Boro were back in the game for the first 20 minutes of the second half; a period that convinced Karanka they were the better side. But once Burnley took the lead in the 80th minute the fight in them just evaporated.

It was exactly skill and luck that created the goal with as perfect an example of classic route one football as you could wish for. Heaton took a free kick from in his own half; Vokes headed the ball on and down, whereupon Gray latched onto it in a flash and volleyed the ball home with supreme skill, from just inside the box whilst shrugging off the defender. 5 seconds maybe from Heaton’s toe-end to Valdes watching it cross the line. Valdes parried the shot but his bad luck and Burnley’s good luck saw the ball spin in slow motion over the line as he scrambled after it and all of us willing it over the line.

Jubilation then, with the Burnley win, but bewilderment at Craig Pawson’s hapless refereeing display, the only consolation being he was equally bad for both sides. Somehow he managed to book 11 players, six of them from Burnley in a game that yes was fiercely contested, was just occasionally confrontational, but was never dirty. Karanka seems to think his side are a pure footballing side and that Burnley are just a long ball team. The stats from the game would tell him otherwise; that Boro played 100 long balls to Burnley’s 82. Pawson, meanwhile, issues cards presumably on the basis that if you issue enough you will eventually get one right.

30 Middlesbrough coaches made the journey down to Burnley. Burnley’s a ‘sh*thole’ their fans sang during the game. 30 Middlesbrough coaches made the journey back home and no doubt this journey seemed twice as long. In the great scheme of things some wins are more satisfying than others. This was one of them.




England thumped again in India… a 5-day Post Office workers strike… rail chaos in the south… the world pie-eating championships return to Wigan… Len leaves Strictly… Christmas jumpers spreading uncontrollably…

It was way back in October when the Guardian first mentioned that homely a place as Burnley might be; nobody saw it as their favourite destination on a matchday if you were the away team. Surrounded by terraced streets and chip shops, ugly and intimidating, with a boisterous crowd that unsettles visitors and an uncompromising Burnley side, “It’s a difficult place to come to,” said Dyche, “there are no secrets what you are going to get at Turf Moor.”

It’s an old-school ground said someone who came up from Bournemouth with a great atmosphere. Like grounds used to be before they became identikit, sterile and sanitised, a ground that shook to the foundations when that first goal of Hendrick’s went in, a ground that doesn’t charge an extra pound for extra onions on your hot dog, a ground where fans prefer their football with pie and peas not a prawn sandwich. And how many other grounds serve bene?

When Burnley won that first promotion in 2009 Fletch said straight away that visiting teams would hate the tiny dressing rooms where all they would get was a peg, a towel and a bar of soap. The away dressing room is still not much bigger than a broom cupboard although a narrow extension has added a few benches. Teams that bring three huge skips of kit and equipment struggle to get them down the corridor never mind into the dressing room.

There are tales of dodgy heating in the away room and the lights actually went out at half-time when Chelsea arrived one year. Sabotage was the cry but in fact it was a simple electrical fault – too many hair dryers maybe?

Teams hate coming here now said both Boyd and Hendrick; the crowd are right on them up close and personal. But the pitch was brilliant added Hendrick and that’s where we play, not the dressing room.

‘The away teams come into our changing rooms and they’re like nothing they’ve ever seen,’ said George Boyd.

‘They’ve only had a lick of paint and a new lightbulb in 40 years,’ said another paper; a slight exaggeration there maybe; the old, shared, communal baths have been replaced, the ones where Jimmy Holland only added extra bath salts if he was in a good mood, where groundsman Roy Oldfield was thrown in one day, and where you feared to think what might be floating in the water.

Roy, incidentally, got his own back at Gawthorpe when the players were out training; he mixed up all the clothes on all the pegs and then sat back as they came in and swore and cursed as they tried to find their own clothes. Not even Roy ever found out who it was that nailed Keith Newton’s shoes to the floor one day.

‘A lot of people say it’s a fortress,’ said Hendrick. ‘Away teams look at the fixtures and see us away, and probably don’t want to come. But the pitch is brilliant.’ Take a bow Head Groundsman Paul Bradshaw.

The talk next was of how good was THAT goal, a goal that flew past Artur Boruc as a blur. Was it up there with the all-time greats that we’ve seen over the years at Turf Moor? How did it compare with that volley of Blake’s in 2008 against Man United, the goal that set the bar for great goals, or Elliott’s at Wembley? Sean D was adamant; that the Hendrick goal had it been scored at Chelsea by Costa or at Old Trafford by Ibrahimovic it would have been replayed 20 times over the weekend.

The media had re-named Turf Moor; it was now Tough Moor. The Times had done a new table of just home games. Chelsea were top with 21 points. Burnley were fifth with 16 points after 5 wins, 1 draw and 3 defeats. That was some record.

West Ham were now in their new home, The London Stadium aka the Taxpayers Stadium; by all accounts a stadium acquired on the cheap but with a whole host of teething problems not the least of which was just two wins there since moving in and a dearth of pie and mash shops. A team that struggled to win at home, versus a team that found it impossible to win away; it was reasonable to assume that one of them would improve their record. The odds were with West Ham with Burnley having scored just one solitary goal away from home and never having won a previous Premier League game in London.

‘The furthest away I’ve ever sat from the pitch,’ said Burnley commentator Phil Bird.

‘Bloody freezing,’ said Sarah Renton in fancy Christmas dress for the game.

‘We’ve got to give a performance,’ said Sean Dyche.

‘We need to beat Burnley and we need the points,’ said Slaven Bilic.

‘Possibly the worst stadium ever,’ said Jeremy Dyer, ‘so far back it’s unreal, almost in Stratford.’

‘West Ham are hammering away relentlessly,’ says Jeff Stelling on SKY.

And with half-time within touching distance West Ham scored from a penalty, yet another in added time. ‘What is it about added time?’ says John Gibault from far away Seattle. In hindsight it was the only way this game was ever going to be settled. Heaton in fact saved the pen but Noble was first to the rebound and scored. Dyche was adamant that the whole thing was a poor refereeing decision with Heaton initially impeded before Mee committed the foul. It was a poor way to lose.

By all accounts this was not the best first-half showing from Burnley, unable to string three passes together, the guile of Defour sitting on the bench, running power preferred to craft, the 4-4-2 with Gray and Vokes up front ineffective, all the usual away gripes and weaknesses, ‘almost every player below par ,’ ‘just looking to feed off scraps,’ ‘just not good enough away from home,’ ‘total lack of confidence away from home,’ ‘we could have played until next Wednesday and not scored.’ Burnley could have been 2-0 down before the penalty without any complaints, but for the woodwork.

Michael Keane revealed that Sean D had some harsh words for them all at half-time so that the second half wasn’t quite the same level of averageness as the first with Burney remembering that they actually had a front foot; so that by the end of the game West Ham and certainly Bilic were relieved to have seen the game out with Burnley described as dominant. But after this game questions were being asked about Defour. Just why was he bought? Could he not play more than half a game? Does he have inherent, permanent fitness problems? Is he totally unsuited to the Premier League or is it that he just doesn’t fit into the ‘Dyche framework?’

The only consolations were the score kept down to just 1-0 and below us, Swansea, Sunderland, Hull, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace all lost although the manner of the defeat to an average nervous West Ham made it all the more galling.

How close they were though to getting a point in that better second half, Vokes missed a sitter of a header from just yards out with the net gaping. In his defence one might argue that a defender’s boot just inches from his face might just have distracted him a tad. Anywhere else on the field and a competent referee might well have blown for dangerous play. Arfield drew a wonder save from the goalkeeper with his 25-yard free kick. There were other chances from balls that were headed or flashed across the box. Jonathan Liew, however, in the Telegraph put his finger on it succinctly:

‘Their fightback in the second half merely underlined the paucity of their ambition in the first. This side can really play; if only they tried it once in a while. Too often they are being forced to chase games that with a little enterprise would require no chasing.’

     Mike Walters in the Mirror came up with a couple of nice little one-liners that ‘in the land of Payet and mash West Ham were so nervy you would not let them plug the fairy lights on your Christmas tree into a socket,’ and Burnley’s Boyd ‘covers an awful lot of ground but so does my Vauxhall Astra.’

Funny how people see games in different ways, Paul MacInnes at the Guardian made it sound like a humdinger of a game with Burnley bullish. But however you viewed it; this was a hugely disappointing defeat.

I used to love a comedian called Freddie ‘Parrot Face’ Davies, astonishingly still performing at the age of 79. At his peak he belonged to an era of comedians like Charlie Williams, Bernard Manning (not everyone’s cup of tea), Ken Goodwin, Frank Carson and Duggie Brown. The Comedians was a half hour TV show of rapid quick fire gags as a gaggle of comics came on and off and did their stuff. For a while it was compulsory viewing. Charlie Williams was the first black stand-up comic, ex-miner and ex-Doncaster Rovers footballer. He could crack jokes like “ey me owld flower don’t upset me or I’ll come and live next door.” Ken Goodwin used to play the village simpleton. Irishman Frank Carson’s catchphrase was “it’s the way I tell ‘em’. Freddy Parrot Face Davies wearing a silly hat was forever saying what we might well be thinking today after yet another away defeat, “I’m jutht about thik up to here.”

After another Blackburn Rovers 3-2 defeat and back into the bottom three you could well imagine Owen Coyle muttering it: ‘I’m jutht about thick up to here.’

Bury supporters after a twelfth consecutive defeat, were all ‘jutht about thick up to here.’

And we, on Sunday afternoon, either at White Hart Lane, or on our sofas, were none too confident of anything other than a bit of a tubbing. The messageboards were gloomy to say the least with a huge majority predicting a 4-0 defeat or a rather more respectable 3-0 defeat. Others called for a re-run of the spirit (and a bit of the good fortune) that saw Burnley win 4-1 years ago in a Milk Cup game in the 80s when Billy Hamilton scored two. Burnley were now hovering over the bottom three following Sunderland’s win the previous day, no away win, just one away goal.     Defour was yet again on the bench. How do you say in Belgian ‘jutht about thick up to here?’ Macbeth’s three witches might have struggled to put on a gloomier act.

It was yet another away defeat but this one was only by 2-1 and again there were contentious decisions. Dyche was adamant that Sissoko should have had a straight red for a high, studs-up tackle on Ward, instead of merely a yellow. Pochinetto disagreed – funny that. Sissoko then went on to set up the winner when Rose lashed the ball home. It’s a shame that SD sounded like an old broken record with his criticisms of referee decisions but what else could Dyche do.

He could put on a funny hat and smile and say he’s ‘jutht about thick up to here,’ but that would detract from the situation where yet again a contentious decision has affected a result. Maybe if my player had gone down and rolled over a dozen times he might have got the red, said Dyche, but I don’t like that.

‘If he does 14 rolls on the floor the ref is under pressure, I don’t want my players to do that, but equally I don’t know how we are going to get those decisions.’   Ward accordingly just got up and got on with the game. It’s clear that honesty can backfire. It might win you admirers, but it doesn’t win points.

Burnley had taken the lead through Barnes and even before that Gray should have put them ahead but for an instinctive save with his foot by Lloris. Ali made the scores level within 5 minutes and from a distance of 230 miles we willed them to hang on to the point. It was not to be. It was hard to find any report that didn’t say Sissoko was lucky to stay on.

Words like plucky and spirited were sprinkled on the news pages; there was an away goal to celebrate and even a lead in an away game, short-lived though it was.     Being plucky is all very well, but we’d settle for luck over pluck any day. There was general agreement; this was a proper performance, another referee might well have given the decision against Dier when Gray was bursting past him; you wondered if this had been Mee bringing down Kane at the other end what he would have done then. When Sissoko passed to Rose to set up the goal he had Wink on his right as well. Sissoko was probably winking for the rest of the day after he escaped the red.

‘Burnley did what Burnley do,’ said the Telegraph,’ fought hard and defended deep. There was no disgrace for them here.’

‘Burnley fought admirably,’ said the Mirror,’ digging in despite a furious onslaught.’

‘Déjà vu for Sean Dyche,’ said the Times.

In the aftermath of the game Dyche pointed to six game-changing decisions so far. Here was another one and this ref, our Kev, was no Friend of Burnley.




Mourhino sent to the stands again… Primark is coming to Burnley… Ed Balls booted off Strictly and Honey G from X Factor… banana prices to go up, Brexit blamed… Kirk Douglas turns 100… we mourn for Chapacoense…

The evidence was emphatic; a more cast-iron penalty you will never see just about every paper said after the Manchester City game with Referee Marriner getting it hopelessly wrong. And if as one or two suggested the sun was in the lineman’s eyes the irony was that here was the Premier League awash with more money than it knows what to do with, but couldn’t afford to supply linesmen with a cap.

‘Game but limited,’ wrote Jim White in the Telegraph about the general performance, but then what else when two key players went off injured within minutes of each other.

And the goals: ‘A comedy of errors for the first, and their second appeared to have been choreographed by the Keystone Cops.’

Beneath them the other teams clawed a little closer to Burnley’s 14 points so that Hull in the bottom three were just three points behind.

What a bizarre feeling it was back at the little school where I worked 20 years ago, except it wasn’t little any more with extensions and new classrooms and a re-modelled sports field and acres of new housing around it. The only thing left of me was the sign on one of the old walls: DOGS ARE NOT ALLOWED IN THE PLAYGROUND. Gone were the old lead factory and the relics of the pit heads. But, the terraced rows just across the road were still there including the one on the end where we had fun watching the firemen put out a fire one morning.

Builders had been in to the school and had left all their timber neatly stacked in the playground overnight. It was round about the time that Jimmy Mullen was buying striker after striker in order to find one that could score goals to keep them up. Anyway: this dad who lived in the end terrace was a bit of a rogue (in fact most of the village were) and helped himself to the timber that he then cut up and stacked in his back yard for his fire. I knew he’d nicked it, he knew I knew he’d nicked it, I knew he knew I knew…

The smoke and flames that billowed from his chimney were spectacular of course and ironically it was me that phoned for the fire brigade whilst laughing down the phone. Fireman Sam on the other end was a bit taken aback that I found it funny. Up roared two fire engines and we took two classes out to watch from the safety of the playground as his house narrowly escaped being burned to the ground.

“Everything alright,” I shouted down to him. “New wood was it?” To this day I’m pretty sure his reply was something unprintable.

We’d booked coach seats and tickets for Stoke, a mixed ground for Burnley in recent years. Memories were of bitterly cold, strong winds blowing straight into the away end and up yer trouser leg that brought tears to your eyes; a parking ticket one year and then another year when in drenching rain the away supporters were prevented from leaving by closed gates and goons and stewards in their yellow jackets until the home supporters had gone. This is what it must be like to be a sheep, we muttered. In fact we all stood there making sheep noises… baaa… baaa…

Stoke City has never seemed a welcoming place. Jimmy Mac was there for a spell after Bob Lord gave him the elbow and Jimmy tells the story that he never liked the red striped kit. He once went into the Border Bookshop in Todmorden on Halifax Road some years ago and up on a shelf was a copy of the Football Monthly picture of him in the Stoke shirt.

“It just doesn’t look like me in that shirt,” he told Victor the bookshop proprietor. Victor passed away some time ago but the shop is still there run by his wife Carole and there is as fine a selection of football books in that shop as you will find anywhere.

Jimmy Mac was at Stoke City for just three years helping them to promotion from the Second Division to the First. He was never truly happy there but one consolation was playing alongside Stanley Matthews. The story goes that very young and green Ron Chopper Harris was giving Sir Stan a bit of a kicking in one game at Chelsea and Stoke wing half and very hard man Eddie Clamp, Stan’s unofficial minder, warned him to stop. Young Ron ignored him but learned to his cost what it felt like to receive retribution from a real master when Clamp went into him with such force the poor lad left the field on a stretcher and spoke in a very high voice for several days afterwards from his hospital bed.

Promotion meant that Mac actually played against Burnley losing the first game at Turf Moor 1-0 with a performance that was far removed from the dazzling Mac of old. Local reporter Keith McNee wrote that ‘his languid performance finally killed the lingering McIlroy legend’. He would play several more games for Stoke until January ’66 but that April game at Turf Moor was the beginning of the end. Training was becoming more and more difficult and for a period he trained alone in and around the Burnley area only travelling to Stoke just once a week. His last game for Stoke City ironically was against Burnley on December 27th, 1965 when Stoke won 3-1

After an indifferent start Hughes had got Stoke winning again. Such was Burnley’s dire away form that Sean D was hinting at changes. Tarkowski had laid a strong claim to inclusion in the next starting line-up.

“It’s another chance, another game, different build-up, mentality; we’ve got to re-think our mentality away from home and what we’re about, a re-think how we take on different shapes, different formats, and different personnel. I’m not pontificating but we have to change the whole feel of how we play sometimes. The definition of madness is always doing what you’ve always done and expecting a different outcome.”

And so to Stoke on the 3rd day of December; the tree was up, the lights were on, the baubles dangling, the first mince pie had gone down nicely with a morsel of cheese, and the first Christmas Dinner with chums in Birkenshaw. Down to Rodley we went for the switch on of the Christmas Lights and pie and peas. Black Friday had been and gone.

Two seasons ago Burnley won a pulsating game at Stoke taking a two-goal lead and then withstood everything bar the kitchen sink being thrown at them in order to hang on to the win as Stoke tossed, crossed, lobbed, threw ball after ball into the box for their six-footers to aim at. This time it was Stoke that triumphed.

Before the game, the coach arriving early, we’d wandered round the ground and found the Stanley Matthews statue. Actually there are three figures on the huge stone plinth all in a different pose. The old Wolves warhorse Eddie Clamp, a name that perfectly suited his unpitying style, ended up being a teammate of Matthews at Stoke. Clamp (allegedly a real comedian in-between mercilessly thundering into opposition ball-players) apparently described the statue when he saw it.

“Excellent,” he said, “Too high for dogs to piss on it, and too low for the seagulls to crap on it.”

The club shop had all the usual stuff, but not a book to be seen. “You’ve no books,” I said to somebody. “Ah we don’t read books in Stoke,” he said.

Once again Burnley made the opposition in an away game look like Barcelona, their early decent 10-minute spell soon quelled. The second half was better, more spirited, more determined, more dominant. But sadly there was never any time when you thought hey Burnley can pull this back. In the opposition box they were either luckless or toothless or Grant made fine saves.

Sean D had made changes as he hinted he would. Defour was dropped to the bench, a surprise to us all. Flanagan was in for Lowton. It was back to the old 4-4-2 with Gray but not Vokes up front, Vokes replaced by the more muscular and rustic Barnes. Marney was fit to play, Heaton was not. Gudmondsson, we were informed, would be out a while longer. Robinson in goal brings confidence, a fine keeper, and reflexes as sharp as ever. He had no chance with either of the two Stoke goals.

The first you could view in either of two ways. A cross came over after some slick and silky Stoke play (not words you would normally see in connection with Stoke), Mee diving headed the ball outwards but only glanced it. It went to Walters (who hadn’t scored since August according to one newspaper), who stuck a foot out instinctively and it flukily looped over Robinson. As jammy a goal you will not see. Version 2: slick play from Stoke, Mee miscues a brave header, Walters in an instant deftly and deliberately guides the ball over Robinson, a quite brilliant goal such was the speed of Walter’s reaction and instinct.

The second goal was the one that had our heads in our hands. Flanagan was by-passed by Arnautovic as if he wasn’t there, a spectator as the ball was whipped round him and crossed to the foot of the unmarked player who smacked it home first time with a great strike. Game over

We wondered if another real hiding was on the cards. Stoke were driving forwards, Burnley no match for their power and passing, flair and individual skills. Hughes was purring at this first 45 minutes afterwards. He saw them as a top ten side and they looked the part. What they had were players who could strut and turn on some style. Arnautovic, infuriating, preening, gesturing, posturing, was a class act. What they also had was a maddening urge to fall and clutch their knees or shins, rolling and writhing on the floor as if every bone was broken, at every opportunity.

There was a moment when Dyche was adamant a Stoke defender should have been red-carded. The second half and Gray had burst through but was clearly being held back. Even so he staggered onwards staying on his feet getting well into the penalty area until it was clear he would lose the ball. Clattenburg brought the play back and awarded the free kick from where the holding had begun. This was a red card offence said Dyche. A defender sent off at that point might well have changed the game in Burnley’s favour; another instance then of Burnley being on the wrong end of a referee decision to add to all the others. Needless to say the free kick came to nothing. There were claims for a possible penalty as early as the first minute when a defender reportedly threw an arm out to deflect a free kick. “An unnatural position,” said Dyche of the arm.

On came the muscular Tarkowski and impressed. At last there was a match for some of the Stoke big guys. Boyd, ineffective throughout, was taken off and Burnley ended with three strikers as Vokes came on to join Barnes and Gray. Kightly arrived presumably to provide the crosses. There weren’t many. Stoke’s shot total was 10, believe it or not Burnley’s was 14. Stoke 4 corners but Burnley 9; this was no one-sided match. Burnley did enough to make us believe that Bournemouth, next up, could be beaten.

Bournemouth 3-1 down to Liverpool came back to win 4-3. A little bit of that belief kind of evaporated.

The Stoke game had begun with a minute’s silence in memory of those who perished on a hillside in Colombia. The air crash involving the Brazilian team Chapacoense from the small city of Chapeco with its 200,000 people touched us all; a small club in a Brazilian league that had risen to the top, in some ways in recent years, just like Burnley, beating sides from bigger cities with far bigger budgets. ‘A fairytale rise,’ those that knew them called it and here they were filled with pride and joy on their way to a prestigious Final. Even the stadium was of a similar size to Turf Moor holding just over 22,000. Fans were filling it up to shed tears and say prayers within minutes.

In this crash, unlike the Munich tragedy that hit Manchester United so hard, a complete team was destroyed. The world is filled with tragedies. This was one of them and something like this puts many things into perspective. Some tragedies take place on an almost daily basis and fill our TV screens with such regularity that we grow almost immune to the impact, not because we are hard-hearted but because we are just too familiar with the repetition. But just sometimes something happens that makes us really share and feel the grief. The Chapacoense plane crash was just such a one.

The bond between a team and its people and town is unique; and the grief we saw in and around the stadium as supporters filed in so emotionally, was the visible evidence of the connection that all football fans have with their chosen team and with each other right around the globe. So often we say oh it’s only a game when we lose, but this time it was a lot more than that. Over time, Turin and Manchester United rose again. All of us hoped that Chapocoense would do the same.




Italy said NO to something… The Christmas Radio Times arrived… the £100 OAP fuel bonus arrived… The HP gave Brexit got the nod… Bob Lord died 35 years ago… the spread of Christmas decorations and illuminated Santas has at last reached the north…

There was a bit of a kafuffle in midweek when there was a suggestion in the Lanc Telegraph that away game tactics needed to change and that one way would be to play a flat back 5. The line-up would go 5-4-1. The tactic would be to park the back 5 near the half way line rather than deep. This is known as parking the bus in technical handbooks. It might not be pretty, we might not get a shot on goal, it might be boring but we might get a point, was the argument.

Some weeks earlier there had been a suggestion to go 5-3-2 or it might have been 5-4-1, I can’t remember which but the key point was that two of the back 5 would be the flying wing-backs necessary to make this work. The essence of it to be successful would be pace. This is known as a Flat Back Three with a Frilly Bit on each side in the technical handbooks.

I think many of us do it; we get our new Christmas Radio Times and in the half-hope and half expectation that there will be a few decent programmes, we get our pens, and circle all the things we want to watch. In our house it’s part of the ritual, along with putting up the tree, clambering up into the loft and dragging out all the decorations, festooning the house, writing the cards (what a chore), hoping nobody sends one of those infernal round robin letters that tell us all the bad news that someone has experienced in the year. Who wants to read about gallstones, shingles, broken legs at Christmas? It’s always struck me as one of the great mysteries that come Christmas someone will sit down and write down every mishap that has happened during the year, when it’s supposed to be a time of good cheer and merriment, and send their misery list to all and sundry. We’ve had them in previous years from people we hardly know. We’ve had them from people we haven’t seen for at least ten years.

December is mince pies, seeing what new lights the neighbours have got, sloe gin and the order to Abel and Cole, not reading about some distant relative’s emphysema. It’s piling up all the presents you’re sending to people, lots of them from the club shop for Joe, realising you don’t have enough wrapping paper, the roll of sellotape is about to expire, suddenly remembering you haven’t sent a card to dear Aunt Gladys, indeed wondering if old Aunty Gladys has lasted the full year and would a card to her be wasted. In fact, did she actually send us one last year?

On a glum note, (sorry) it’s about (in our house) the central heating packing in, having engineers come to investigate the subsiding conservatory and dig yer patio up, the day before Christmas Eve; the central heating packing in, about catching mice in the kitchen while the damn cat sleeps and yawns all day. I can hear these mice chatting under the dishwasher:

     “Nowt to worry about chaps the cat in this house, Mabel, is no problem, if she sees you just act confident, wink, and say you live here, she’ll go straight back to sleep.”

Anyway: there’s something quite therapeutic about going through the new Radio Times. The cover is cheerful and bright, a picture of Santa never fails to gee me up. It’s one of the great comforts that all’s well with the world and another year has gone by without the world blowing up totally, although come next year with Trump in charge of the world it might be a different story. I looked for all the old chestnuts, Morecambe and Wise… Wallace and Gromit… Dr Zhivago… Casablanca and High Noon, yep there they were. But I did manage to circle Last Tango in Halifax… Mrs Brown’s Boys… The Lady in the Van… Grantchester… Maigret… Jungle Book the new one… Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes… Ethel and Ernest… Jonathan Creek … and Captain America.

     On SKY there would be Ten in Ten: that’s 10 games in 10 days, and not one was Burnley, but the bonus being no monkeying around with kick-off times.

Christmas and December back in 2002: it was the daft season with all those cricket scores. We’d lost 6-2 at home to Rotherham when Rotherham looked and played like Inter Milan in their blue and black striped kit, all 6 feet tall, made of solid brawn and Yorkshire pudding, muscle-bound hybrids from the cloning labs of Rotherham. Next up was Gillingham 4 Burnley 2 so that was ten goals conceded in just two games.

Fog and mist had swirled off the Medway producing Dickensian conditions making a backdrop that would have suited any film or TV production of a horror story. Or they could have just filmed the game. Stan T was sorry that people had paid good money to travel so far and see such a performance. The treatment room was full of the injured, suspensions were looming, too many players were off form and we dreaded the next game, Wolves on Boxing Day.

But this was Burnley, as unpredictable a side back then as you could wish for. Being a Burnley supporter we said this was punishment for something done in a previous life. In the first half Burnley played them off the park and went into a two-goal lead. And then in the second half it was back to the old Burnley as Wolves piled forward and Burnley vanished. Wolves scored but somehow Burnley held on as nails were chewed to the bone and nerves were shredded. We had eleven heroes was the general verdict. Gareth Taylor scored the first and Dean West the second and we all sat back at half-time filled with the spirit of Christmas and pies but we all knew that it would have been better if we’d scored three. It was a landmark day though, Boxing Day wins were as rare as hens’ teeth and Burnley hadn’t beaten Wolves for something like 40 years. It was a time when we were just pleased to be able to hang on to the Championship place. We’ve come a long way since then.

The 10th day of Christmas and Joe was mascot again, the annual birthday treat. You take out a mortgage to pay for it these days. The omens were good; he had been mascot on three previous occasions and we’d won them all. Mascots for this game had a special treat; normally they do a training session in the gym with the coaches but in December it is out of action because of the all the Christmas revelries. They train on the pitch then and who’s grumbling? It must be a dream for these young lads to be out there in front of the stands at the same time as the team. All he wanted for Christmas was kit, track suit, the annual book, goalkeeper gloves, a goalkeeper top and a Premier football. The till played Jingle Bells when I paid the bill.

Gray was not back in the starting line-up again and had been talking about the tweets that got him in such bother. They were really wrong he admitted and when they were made the audience was small; fame and being a role model was a long way away. At the end of the day back then he was a ‘nobody,’ he said and now he regrets writing them and is frustrated by the quickness to see the bad side of him, especially being photographed with a drug dealer who has since been jailed for 7 years. People, alas, have no idea what his life has been like and what he has had to deal with whilst growing up. Where he comes from has made him what he is; friends and his father spent time in jail. It’s nothing new to him. What frustrates him is people seeing the bad side and not the good and he does not want to be tarnished as homophobic.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, not 10 Lords a leaping, but Bournemouth and Eddie Howe. Sean Dyche had been lamenting that Burnley did not have the same spending power as Bournemouth, now wanting to build a new stadium. Burnley weren’t a club that could spend £15million on one player. At the beginning of the season this was a game that you saw on the fixture list and had down as a home win. But Bournemouth had proved they were no slouches with some fine players and results.

The incredible run continued: four times mascot and four wins. It started with a cautious 4-5-1; I suspect most of us expected to see Gray up front in a 4-4-2. Nevertheless with goals from Hendrick and ward Burnley were two up within 15 minutes. The Hendrick goal was sublime and must surely be a contender for goal of the season, controlling a ball beautifully 30 yards out, a few strides forward setting up the shot and then a wonderful volley from well outside the box that upped and then dipped into the top right corner. It brought the house down, settled nerves, inspired confidence and before we knew it Ward pounced on a loose ball in the six-yard area and it was 2-0.

Not until then did Bournemouth begin to play and dominate with some lovely football, but didn’t look like scoring until in the second minute of the one-minute added time at the end of the half and then scored after a spell of passing. Dyche was livid, no doubt counting up the number of times that late goals have been conceded with a referee’s help.

By this time Vokes and Defour had faded and just minutes into the second half were replaced by Gray and Barnes. The warning signs had been there that Bournemouth were taking over the game and 2-2 looked imminent. At last came a really pro-active pair of substitutions early in a half; rare for Dyche and by the end of the day he was to put it mildly, dead chuffed. The game was transformed, Gray was up for it, Barnes as ever was beefy and bouncy and could have scored with a magnificent volley with his first touch from 20 yards but it was just over. And Gray: back to his marauding best and deserved a goal for one run from deep inside his own half, speeding away right into the Bournemouth box, shooting, forcing the save from a difficult angle, which even then might have spun into the net but for a second save. The Bournemouth back-line was now nervy and unsettled.

If we thought the game was safe when Boyd scored a third after Gray had flicked him through, we were wrong. This is Burnley and they leave us nervy and tense whenever we have even a two-goal lead. And so it proved again as Bournemouth came back into it, far from defeated and with just minutes to go scored their second. But Burnley held on without further ado, the points safe, euphoria supreme and birthday boy happy as Larry. We’d been right back up on Row Z at the back of the James Hargreaves (I won’t bore you with why) the first time I’ve ever sat higher up than a pigeon).

What a perfect view though of the Boyd goal down below us, the crisp shot from just inside the corner of the area, megging one defender and evading the keeper at the far post. Initial reaction was to leave us wondering just how the hell he scored that. TV replays showed this was no fluke; heaven then for all of us in claret spectacles, more so for those sat up right at the back only a few more steps away from cloud nine.

The day not finished; ten of us to The Queen at Cliviger for the first time in months to continue the birthday celebrations. Steak and Kidney Suet pudding for me, Mount Everest on a plate, I’ve seen some Suet Puds in my time but this was a beaut, hand crafted with perfect symmetry. Those who had the Cheese and Onion Pie pronounced it as good as ever and the Cliviger Gorgeous sausages quite resplendent on a bed of mash and veg with extra gravy. Harry Hill’s golden sausage paled into insignificance.

Sean D was clearly delighted afterwards: “I was super pleased with our substitutions. I don’t often try to take credit but Ashley and Andre has a massive effect when they came on. Often it’s a case of waiting for something to happen to make a substitution but today I was pro-active in making something happen. It clearly had an effect on the game and we created three or four really good chances after that.”

“What good value our season tickets are,” someone pointed out. “We may look as though we don’t know what we’re doing away from home, but the home games have been fantastic, even the one’s we lost against City and Arsenal.”

Before the game a mini band of a trio of Santas wandered round playing, singing and spreading good cheer. This was an all-round day of excellence, including watching Blackburn lose while we stuffed our faces in The Queen and then the bonus of watching Burnley all over again on SKY and MOTD.

The tenth day of Christmas was rather special and young Master Joe not little any more, slept like a log from the minute his head hit the pillow.