The run of away games had seen just one point so far. The very healthy gap between Burnley and the bottom three had been closed to 7 points with Hull enjoying a definite renaissance. Burnley hadn’t won since the end of January and the 1-0 win over Leicester City. The texts had been arriving from slightly worried chums. The glass half full was ever so slightly tipping to glass half empty.

‘Yes we’ll be alright,’ we assured ourselves, ‘surely we won’t mess this up – will we?’ But this little bit of uncertainty was just starting to niggle.

It is the lot of being a football supporter. There is no cure for anxiety. If you are a player you can be in the training ground all week, working, building up confidence, knowing you have a say and direct input into your own fate, through your own effort and sweat. Uncertainty is a banned word, doubt is forbidden, the sports psychologists tell you to believe. You go out on the field for the next game, shoulders back, chest puffed out, filled with confidence. But: the supporter can only wonder, fret, he has absolutely no input other than trying to be that mythical twelfth man on matchday. He can only keep his fingers crossed, hope for the best or that little bit of luck and good fortune that can decide a result.

Sunderland was next up, a game that could make a massive difference with an elusive first away win.

One of the most memorable Burnley games at Sunderland was in November of ’65. Harry Potts had fashioned another great team with the likes of Willie Morgan, Ralph Coates, Brian O’ Neil, Gordon Harris, and of course up front were Lochhead and Irvine. By the end of September they were top of Division One. Some of the football was outstanding. Their play was fast, frenetic, constantly moving, O’ Neil was like a genie let out of the bottle. They mixed football with power and had players who could mix it as well as play against any team that wanted a bit of the rough stuff. Lochhead and Irvine were like good cop bad cop with the former one of the hardest players ever to tread a football field.

‘Set to go places,’ was Frank Clough’s prediction in the Sun.

In early November they had regained the top position with Irvine and Lochhead having claimed 23 of the 36 goals scored. And then came one of the performances of the season at Sunderland that had every reporter dipping into their stock of superlatives. It was a performance that ranks up there with Burnley’s greatest on a day when they were just untouchable; a game that Ralph Coates never forgot. After the game he was taken to the Sunderland boardroom and the Sunderland chairman demanded to know, ‘Why did we never sign this player. How did we miss him?’

Sports writers predicted that Burnley could well win the title that season as brilliant passing and movement plus individual virtuoso performances had Sunderland bewitched, bothered and bewildered. The greatest compliment was that this was a side equal to, if not better than the McIlroy Adamson side. The side at Sunderland had cost just £110 in signing on fees and was described as a team without weakness. There was constant press coverage as Burnley hit the limelight and Potts was asked over and again, ‘what was the secret.’

‘There isn’t one,’ he answered. ‘We have players of outstanding ability. They have come through together, they know what is wanted of them and they give it.’

The wins piled up but it was not to last. A run of six games early in ’66 was a turning point as other teams caught them. In the final 11 games there were 8 wins but it was too late with too much ground to catch up. One of those defeats was in a turbulent game against Don Revie’s Leeds United in a period when Leeds were establishing their unpalatable reputation. All these years later and they are still called ‘dirty Leeds’ thanks to their antics of the 60s and 70s.

Their strategy was to win at all costs and to adopt any tactic. They took bullying, intimidation and gamesmanship to new depths of cynicism. Pitch that against a team like Burnley with players like Angus, Lochhead, Harris, O’ Neil and Blacklaw, players that could be as physical as the next man when they needed to; and it was a recipe for disaster. At one point all the players were brought to the centre of the field for a dressing-down by the referee. It was a game watched by Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of El Alamein, Bob Lord’s special guest. He must have thought he was back again in the middle of a WW2 battle. The word ‘brutal’ was inadequate and Leeds won with a most bizarre own-goal. Alex Elder cleared and sliced the ball from somewhere near his own corner flag and it somehow sailed over Blacklaw’s head. A chunk of luck like that, but going our way, would be welcome, we thought, up at Sunderland.

Things began well in the following season, ‘66/67 but then this time it was a defeat away at Sunderland 4-3 even though at one stage Burnley had been leading 3-1. Jimmy Adamson had been in charge for this game whilst Harry Potts was in Zurich for the Inter Cities Fairs Cup draw. Exactly when the differences between Potts and Adamson first began has never been clear but following this game in his programme notes Potts did something very rare for him and criticised the display.

‘Instead of building up our lead we proceeded to put the brakes on our commanding enterprise. In the light of what we had done earlier and could so easily have continued, the result from our point of view was ridiculous. It was a punishing reminder of our own folly and must not be ignored in future.’ It was an expression of his simple philosophy. If you score three then keep going and score four and don’t sit back and shut up shop. There were many who took it as a veiled criticism of Adamson as much as the team. Maybe it was in this that the seeds of their eventual estrangement began. Perhaps it was reading that Adamson first decided there isn’t room for both of us here.

The home game against Leeds United was yet another fracas, a brutal encounter reported the next day under the headline ‘Soccer Shame.’ Players’ legs were the targets rather than the ball and by all accounts it was a game even worse than that of the previous season.

‘Why must it always happen when we play Leeds?’ Potts asked and challenged Don Revie to a television debate about the game. ‘They should put their own house in order first,’ Revie retaliated.

‘We can’t be blamed,’ said Potts, ‘We try to play the game constructively. Revie responded by telling Potts he had a team of ‘fairies,’ which seemed an odd thing to say about a team with the likes of Lochhead, O’ Neil and Harris.

Those who headed to the north-east left a town behind that had suffered yet more heavy rain with some areas flooded, as if they hadn’t had enough. Sunderland fans were of the unanimous view that this was a must win game to stand any chance of survival. Burnley fans were thinking surely this must be the best chance of the first away win. A draw was of little use to Sunderland. To Burnley it would be another priceless point and keep their heads well above water. Surely Hull would lose at Everton. Surely Middlesbrough would lose at home to Man United. Alas football often doesn’t quite work that way. Boro had just dispensed with Karanka; there might well be a positive reaction.

Stop Defoe and you stop Sunderland was one topic. If he doesn’t score then who does up there. The worry was that he would be on fire, raring to go, now that he had just been chosen for the England squad at the ripe old age of 34. There’s an argument that there is no such thing as a must-win game, until that is you get to the last game of the season. For this fixture we might have begged to differ or at least have said we must not lose. An unwelcome stat had begun to surface; that Burnley hadn’t won a game since the end of January.

Sunderland where folks drink a beer called Wey Aye: Rupert Booth and assorted London Clarets were drinking ale at the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle. Hugh Burkinshaw messaged he’d just had the best pie ever. Joey Barton had previously won there with QPR, Newcastle and Man City. For the press there were 151 steps to climb to their perch. Mark Lawrenson was predicting a Burnley win. Most pundits were taking Burnley to win. We, meanwhile, were silently wishing they’d keep their predictions to themselves with one stat that was telling. Burnley had a horrible league record on Wearside and hadn’t won since 1972/73.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. What do you get when you have a side that is bottom and can’t score or win, versus a side that doesn’t score many and can’t win away from home? You get 0-0 at full-time and this I suppose was so obvious (after the event of course) that you wonder why you didn’t hot foot it to the nearest bookies and put a couple of grand on the 0-0 result. Maybe a few people did have a smaller wager on that score.

Well: a clean sheet and another golden point it was. Another small step on the painful journey to the end of the season that left Burnley 8 points clear of the bottom three but leaving another necessary result – Middlesbrough to lose, which the following day they duly did. Hull were given a clattering at Everton.

But good point though it was, and there were certainly many folks that were well pleased with that; there were muttered mumblings about the second-half performance.

We won’t have many better chances to win away from home, pretty underwhelming…This wasn’t Liverpool this was Sunderland, disappointing…That second half was pitiful barring minutes 85-90…Shocking away from home… Worst team in the league there for the taking and we nearly lost it…We won’t win away all season but hopefully we won’t need to…Approach play so one-dimensional…We bottled it today no closer to winning away than we were in August…Lack of creativity and it showed…We have one quality playmaker Defour, and he’s sitting on the bench…Saved only by Sunderland’s poor finishing and terrific goalkeeping from Heaton… Are we incapable of a simple through ball to Gray… That was awful against a dire side… feel like I’ve found a quid but lost a fiver…

But there were other positive views: That’s a good point today…We only need not to lose…Clean sheet away from home will do…Point gained…Not unhappy with that… A point on the road is alright…before the game you’d have been happy with a point… A point closer to safety…56% possession and 17 shots… 8 points clear of the bottom three, I’ll take a point there… All I want is to get there, I don’t care if we only finish 17th… We played so well how did we not win that…Only 4 points from 9 games needed and we are twelfth in the Prem… not a great spectacle but I’ll take the point… people are whinging but I’m good with a point…The London Clarets were slowly drinking their way back home…And Hugh Burkinshaw was still drooling over his Chicken Balti with suet pastry pie…

But most people were agreed on one thing, and also puzzled by it; and that was the non-use of Defour who was on the bench but unused. If he was in fact fit to play, surely he was the man to bring on in the second half to capitalise on his touch, skill and his ability to see a pass? If he was unused because he was deemed not fully fit, what was the point of having Defour there?

17 shots but only 3 on target was a telling stat. Total dominance of the first 30 minutes but nothing to show for it was another. By the sounds of things Burnley could easily have scored three but for woeful finishing. Boyd fluffed a golden chance. Barnes inexplicably poked wide from 6 yards. Vokes forced a save from Pickford. Barnes missed the chance to lob Pickford successfully. Hendrick missed a chance that had Phil Thompson on SKY wailing in bewilderment. But the two missed chances that summed up the game were the ones by Jones for Sunderland who with the goal at his mercy headed yards wide; then before that was the Barnes miss early on.

And then the second half was so different. Now it was Burnley off the boil, Sunderland missing chances as torrential rain cascaded down and sea mist crept in. Januzaj was causing problems and only Heaton saved the day in the final minute with another rescue save. It was Moyes’ last chance. The faces of the two managers told their own stories at the final whistle, Dyche smiling, Moyes sombre-faced. For Moyes, anti-climax and disappointment at two points lost and the doors about to swing shut in the Last Chance Saloon; for Dyche the satisfaction of a point gained, the daunting run of away games completed relatively undamaged, and still convinced that ‘the scratch of luck is coming.’ Of the 9 games remaining, 5 would be at home. Surely just one more win would do the job.

Ex-Sunderland manager Peter Reid was there watching. The Sunderland owner Ellis Short was there over from the USA. Hmmm said Sunderland fans and the media, sniffing a conspiracy, coincidence or what? Ellis Short was there with his wife. The wife was seen to be nodding off in the directors’ box. Who could blame her? ‘We’re not the real deal,’ said Dyche. What else could he say? The game was the last to be shown on MOTD. Nobody was surprised.



It was D-day for Joey, up before the FA to respond to the betting charges. We feared the worst, at best a 10-game ban maybe, at worst a ban long enough to end his career. To appreciate just how good a footballer he has been you have to see through the noise. Apparently, in the scientific sense, you can actually see through noise, but in Joey’s case it is simply the baggage that surrounds and accompanies him, the incidents, confrontations, controversies and complications. Strip that away and there is the damned fine footballer that we at Burnley saw the best of in the Champions season when he was truly exemplary. And since getting back in the team in January what an impact he had, once again. We won’t forget that free-kick goal he scored in his first game back.

Come Wednesday and the day of the hearing, the news was brief. Joey’s case was adjourned, thus leaving him free to play for Burnley until further notice. It is pure speculation but did his legal team already have the FA in knots; was the ‘crime’ so huge they were scratching their heads as to exactly what to do with him? There was no precedent so that they were in uncharted waters. Or was it just something routine, or members of the panel down with bad colds? Whatever the reason, one report said the chief investigator was ill, it was good news for Burnley leaving him free to play, assuming his hamstring tweak had mended.

I’d been plodding through old pieces I’d written looking for something and came across one about the Scottie dog we had – the Terrier. And I thought, yeh, that’s what Joey is, a Terrier, like Brian O’ Neil all those years ago, especially a Scottie, although in Brian’s case it was a Bedlington. They have minds of their own, not quite untrainable but almost; wilful, little buggars in fact. They are not dogs that sit on laps, fetch sticks, chase tennis balls and in the house they pretty much do as they please. The approach of any other dog set ours off into paroxysms of snarling fury, and show it a squirrel and that was the only time it shot off like lightning, always halfway up the tree before gravity brought it back with a thud. Mud it loved and was never happier than when rolling in goose droppings by the canal or fox poo in the garden. Fearless too, never afraid of anything twice the size: ‘Big dogs in a little body,’ one dog book described them. He was alpha-male and then some. Much the same could be said of our Joey.

The incredible Barcelona fightback in the Champions League when they came back to overturn a 4-0 defeat against PSG and won 6-1 in Barcelona, had us all thinking about great Burnley comebacks. Not too many people mentioned one that went back to Steve Cotterill’s time and involved Noel Gifton Williams. It was Burnley versus Barnsley, September 12, 2006, a game back home on a late summer Burnley evening; but we were in Greece, eating, or about to eat, in the Lighthouse Taverna down a humid, stuffy little alleyway in the heart of Lefkas Town. We never did find out why it was called The Lighthouse. There wasn’t a lighthouse anywhere near.

Steve, at least that’s what we called him, a burly, thick set man with a huge moustache and a booming voice, was owner, maître d’, sommelier (which simply meant he brewed his own stuff), manic waiter and money collector, in the sheltered and pretty courtyard with its three surrounding walls and flagstone floor, a space no bigger than an average living room. His wife did all the cooking, slaving over the stove in the adjoining room and in a heat that would have had an Arab passing out. The cosy, homely enclosed space beneath the vine leaves where we ate was always at oven temperature; Lighthouse Steve was also always at oven temperature, quick to shout from the doorway, ‘has anyone ordered chicken souvlaki,’ or, ‘who ordered pork steak,’ whilst he would stand non-plussed, a result of him getting orders mixed up and having no idea which table he was now serving.

We loved to go there; he provided better entertainment than Tommy Cooper and was about the same size but minus the Fez. His antics and gruffness drove some customers mad and they vowed never to return but those who liked him simply saw him as being eccentric, quirky, or even ‘delightful.’ We, meanwhile never tired of eating there, always recommended it and appreciated his Basil Fawlty approach to good customer service. But he didn’t care what people thought. He knew his food was good and so did we. He knew his restaurant would be full the next night.

Without knowing he was Greek you might have thought he was the quintessential grumpy Yorkshireman. But if he took to you, you had a friend for life. In fact we knew people that took a small tray of his moussaka and would smuggle it back to the UK in their suitcases. That’s how good it was. The fried zucchini was to die for.

It was just one of those nights and service was even worse than usual with a yacht flotilla in as well to further fill the place. Plates of food were going all over the place to the wrong people. Sometimes you just accepted what he brought regardless of what you ordered. Our meals showed no sign of arriving but the wine was good and anyway, what was the hurry. Nobody hurries in Greece. Steve was at the next table about to explode, hovering over someone menacingly, that had dared to ask what time his food would arrive and should he come back the next day. It was then that the first text arrived from Turf Moor and our chum John who was there. Burnley were hardly riveting back in the Cotterill days but we still wanted to know the scores.

The news was bad. Burnley were losing, first 1-0 and then 2-0 said the second text. At least by now we’d had the starters. Bloody Barnsley winning 2-0 but then we pulled one back and Gifton then took over. Noel Gifton Williams was a 6’3” man mountain who along with the equally muscular Ade Akinbiyi had once been to Turf Moor and terrorised Burnley with Stoke City, who if memory serves, won that day. When Steve Cotterill bought them and paired them at Turf Moor we thought (or at least I did) wow this pair will take us to the top. Alas, they didn’t.

By this time arthritis in both of Gifton’s knees was taking its toll. Prior to that at an early age he had been a potentially huge talent, but he became an example of just how cruel football can be following injuries when movement is hindered. But: on this particular night he bestrode the Turf like a colossus whilst we, far away, enjoyed the fun and games in Stevie’s Lighthouse restaurant. A third text arrived. Jon Harley had pulled one back. We accordingly ordered more wine. The house white that always came in a carafe because we suspected it was kept in buckets round the back.

And then at intervals three more arrived, texts not carafes. . One by one Gifton slotted home his three hat-trick goals, the last in the 90th minute, by which time we felt even better as by then we had finally eaten. It was a night to remember for Gifton. And for us it became a taverna night we never forgot.

Other than saying ‘one day we’ll win away,’ only the most optimistic gave more than two seconds to thoughts of a Burnley win in the Liverpool game, the game that was re-arranged from early season when Liverpool’s giant new stand was not ready. It was game three in the on-the-road series that at one stage we thought would have a huge impact on the season. Only 7 points clear at kick-off, Hull had won the day before; but in truth this game was almost a ‘free-hit’. Did anyone really expect to win? Anything from this game would therefore be a bonus. Klopp was still scratching his head as to how Liverpool had lost early in the season but was complimentary saying that of all the other bottom half teams Burnley were the team with the clearest plan.

The clear plan could so easily have worked but alas didn’t. This was another defeat on the road but a defeat that left us all frustrated by how well Burnley had played for large parts of the game, particularly the first half, and how poor Liverpool had been for most of the game. It was hard to accept that Liverpool had actually won and Burnley lost yet another game by the odd goal.

Barnes had given Burnley a stunning lead very early on (sublime said Dyche) and for the rest of the first half Liverpool were lacklustre, impotent and not far short of clueless. Lowton made the goal with what might well be the pass of the season, an inch perfect diagonal through ball on the ground that dissected the defenders that Barnes then rocketed home. The longer the half went on the more you thought that this was a game that Burnley were improbably going to win. And then, yet again, there was another injury time lapse and a goal was conceded in what was Liverpool’s first real opportunity when the ball broke in the box, bounced off Mee, Mee slipped, and Heaton went the wrong way. The whistle went just seconds afterwards.

Those of us at home sat on the edge of the sofa watching the game on the box just looked amazed that Liverpool had actually managed to concoct something, and then open-mouthed and aghast in horror muttering as yet another undeserved goal was given away in injury time. The list of games where this has happened, either in the first or second half, must now be a page long. The whole complexion of the game was changed in that luckless moment when the ball broke so kindly for Liverpool.

A draw then, we’d have settled for that as we’d continued to play so well. But even that was not to be. In yet another lapse, Can found himself in yards of space and unchallenged was able to strike a bobbling pea-roller home from 25 yards and then watch the ball slip inside the post with Heaton unable to reach it. Ironic too that it was Emre Can, so often referred to in Scouseland as Emre Can’t. We knew how it would work from that point. Burnley might huff and puff, they might indeed continue to play well, they might make Liverpool look decidedly average (and even average was a flattering description) but fail to score and lose the game.

The pundits praise was plentiful, Barnes and Gray described as sensational on MOTD in the first half. Burnley did very little wrong, was another summary. But what good is praise when the luck just doesn’t go your way and you just can’t stick a second goal away. Whereas Liverpool had grabbed their fluky extra time chance and scored, Burnley muffed theirs when Lowton was unable to capitalise on the moment the ball came to him in the corner of the 6-yard box and blazing over missed a golden opportunity to make the score 2-2. On such moment s are games decided.

11 shots by Burnley and just one on target told yet another story that at this level if you miss such a percentage you simply will not win no matter how well you play. ‘A bitter pill to swallow,’ said Dyche and when you come away from a place such as Anfield disappointed that you have not won at least one point, then that is a certain measure of how well you played. It was hard to fault one single Burnley player.

‘Burnley are so much better than their away record suggests, it is staggering they are winless,’ headlined the Mirror. ‘Nowhere in football can there be such a misleading record as Sean Dyche’s team and their failure to win on their travels this season; powerful but painfully unfortunate. The last seven defeats away have all been by the odd goal. It was a defeat as cruel as the one at the Emirates in January.’

Liverpool relief was all too clear. Klopp bordered on the ecstatic that they had ground out a result against a side as awkward as Burnley. Liverpool don’t usually win ‘ugly’ he went on and on in an interminable MOTD on-pitch interview with a trio of fawning interviewers.

The Burnley support was yet again fantastic in its noise and constancy, frequently drowning out (at least on TV) the sound of the Kop. But the the modern-day Kop is nothing like as powerful and awesome as it was in previous decades. ‘You’re not Danny Ings,’ the Burnley crowd sang whenever a Liverpool player scuffed a shot or fluffed an opening. The famed Kop might have retaliated at the end with the same chant when Lowton fluffed his chance. But the Kop and scouse wit missed the chance, the modern version nowhere near as sharp as it used to be.

It’s not often you can say that Liverpool were there for the taking. But this game was one of them. Alas by now a few people were commenting that for all their ‘hard luck,’ admirable performances and ‘deserved to get something,’ Burnley hadn’t won a game since the end of January, a statistic that had crept up almost unnoticed.

But: Sunderland next and the run of away days comes to an end; win that and all might be well, we assured ourselves.



Coast to coast and back again, criss crossing the UK, the first of the four away games successfully out of the way, Burnley having gained another inch on the way to safety; East to Hull, back West to Swansea, up the coast to Liverpool and then east again to Sunderland. None of them strictly speaking bucket and spade seaside places; all of them remnants of Britain’s industrial might and sea-going prosperity but now re-invented, and little Burnley (though some would say not little any more) knocking on their doors.

Swansea: where both Leighton James and Brian Flynn once plied their trade, two of Burnley’s greatest players. I can remember seeing Brian Flynn for the first time, hazy about when and who it was against, but the images of what he did in that game are imprinted vividly. It was a stunning performance from a pint-sized kid who sprayed passes around, long and short, ran the midfield, scurried here and there, and slotted into the team as if he’d been there years. A few of us were there together; Mrs T of course, Joe McNamara was another, Terry Kershaw and Brian Hughes. We kept looking at each open mouthed as this precociously talented, pint-sized kid showed no nerves, hesitancy or shyness. He served Burnley well: former director Derek Gill in his diaries describes him as a joy to deal with when it came to contract time when he returned to Burnley, and groundsman Roy Oldfield had a nice little tale.

In his early days when Brian had no money and players weren’t showered with free boots by the bucket load by the manufacturers as they are now, Brian was keen to get a pair of Adidas boots, the ones with the three stripes. Roy took it upon himself to solve this situation and took a pair of small, old black boots and painted three stripes down the side of each boot and then presented the boots to Brian. Roy still chuckles about it and when working on Roy’s book of the old groundsman days, Brian came down and met up with him again. And yes they laughed about the home-made Adidas boots as we photographed them both on the old brown bench that Paul Bradshaw found, the one that we feel sure is the very same one that Roy sat on all those years ago, just to the side of the player’s tunnel.

Paul Fletcher tells the tale of a sea cruise aboard the QE2. Bob Lord had needed an operation on his ears and was told he must not fly again. On the boat, Brian was a big part in a typical Fletcher prank. Brian was shoved into a big laundry basket, one of those that were wheeled from room to room to collect the bedding, and Brian was festooned in a white sheet. In went Brian and he was told that they’d leave the basket outside Jim Thomson’s room. They’d knock on the door, Jim would open it; Brian would leap out in the white sheet making a hullabaloo and scare the living daylights out of Thommo.

Except, deliberately, without telling Brian, they didn’t leave it outside Jim Thomson’s room, they chose a room at random without telling Brian, knocked on the door, and hid where they could see the result. The door opened, Brian leapt out with a huge BOOOO as loud as he could, worthy of an Oscar, but was then horrified to learn that it was an elderly couple that came to the door to see who it was. Fletch insists that the woman shrieked, her teeth fell out and the husband’s toupee lifted up 6 inches above his head.

‘They were both white as Brian’s sheet,’ said Fletcher. ‘And we thought they were both about to have a heart attack. It was not a stunt we ever repeated.’

If we thought Liverpool would win at Leicester and leave them in the bottom three we were sadly frustrated. Leicester put on a performance to rival anything they had produced under Ranieri. Probably all of football was disappointed after the weekend events and the sacking of Ranieri. The conspiracy tales were rampant that the players were the instigators of the sacking having had talks with the owners and their representatives. The leading and most trusted reporters were adamant that this was in fact what had happened with certainly four Leicester players involved immediately after the game in Spain. True or not, their performances for him in the weeks preceding had been abysmal. Of course they distanced themselves from the accusations and then went on to produce a master-show against Liverpool using the predictable footballism, ‘we needed to produce a performance.’

The word ‘stink’ was used by some of the media, Carragher, Lineker were scathing. Be that as it may, the upshot was Leicester caught up three points on Burnley and we were now beginning to get out our calculators and slide rules to try and figure out all the possible combinations and results that would ensure Burnley’s safety.

But: ‘Who needs Ranieri’ was one headline, illustrating with crass insensitivity the heartlessness and immediacy of football; one result and Ranners was yesterday’s man. The King is dead; long live the king, and all that stuff; the acting manager a guy called Shakespeare. The irony of that you couldn’t make up. Nobody wrote finer stuff about plots, murder and intrigue.

Back on Planet Burnley, two wins or three we wondered, or maybe just six draws. Would 36 points be enough or perhaps a couple more? 40 would be the definite magic safety line. Nine points from 12 games; that seemed achievable. Plus: we could rightly assume that all the bottom eight teams would take points off each other and after the Swansea game Burnley still had four games to play against teams below them. Déjà vu: we’d done this a year earlier when the last ten games of the season approached, except then it was to work out how many points were needed for promotion. Back then, counsellors and Samaritans were working overtime. Sales of tranquillisers had doubled. Sleep wasn’t easy. Visits to the doctor for prescriptions had increased.

We could only assume that the Swansea game would be Joey Barton’s final game in a Burnley shirt this season. With 12 games remaining, even a ten game ban would leave him only two games, but the enormity of his betting activities made even a life ban possible. Hull was his 50th appearance in all competitions including sub appearances. Astonishingly he had only been on the losing side just four times. Since his book was published you could add a huge new chapter on his time at Rangers and the return to Burnley. I still wonder if he realised very early that he had made a mistake going up there. In the pre-season friendly against Burnley at Ibrox, he seemed quite disinterested and lethargic in that game. Anything less than a ten-game ban would probably astonish us all.

Immediately after the Leicester win, the Swansea press were lauding the game against Burnley and labelling it a ‘must win’ game. Leicester had leapfrogged Swansea in the table. A Swansea home defeat to Burnley would land them right back in it. The Swansea manager was urging the crowd to be the twelfth man. The South Wales media were relishing pointing out that recent stats made this a home banker. Leighton James who played for both sides, expressed surprise that it was Burnley with so many points above Swansea, and not the other way round.

Most Burnley fans would simply settle for a point and see it as another vital step towards the end of May. For Burnley, Hendrick was available again following his three-game absence. Barnes was of course suspended but coming up on the rails was 19-year old Daniel Agyei currently impressing everyone at the club with his pace and power. It was at this age that Jay Rodriguez was already seeing first-team action.

‘Hammering down with rain and high winds,’ was the gist of messages that were appearing on twitter and Facebook as people drove down to Swansea. ‘Skies are grey, it smells of sheep and even the trees are depressed. ‘

And so were most Burnley fans on the way home, especially those whose coach broke down before they even set off home. This by all accounts was a poor performance all-round, the only positives being Keane and Mee, plus Andre Gray’s two goals. Heaton was missing with an illness so that Robinson deputised.

‘Managed to make Swansea look like Bayern Munich,’ was one comment. ‘Being Welsh, their fans moan at everything but sing beautifully.’ ‘About as pleasant to watch as chewing nettles,’ was another.

In short, Burnley were outplayed and outpaced with cross after cross coming over and little done to stop them. Yet somehow Burnley had managed to take a 2-1 lead thanks to a fine Andre Gray bit of skill just inside the box and for a while there was the improbable hope that this might be the first elusive away win. But it was not to be, Swansea were just too good leaving us all wondering just how did they manage to spend so long in the bottom three, the previous duff manager being the only possible answer. The new one, Clements had re-vitalised them.

The two main talking points centred round two of the goals. Burnley had equalised via a bizarre referee’s decision when he awarded a penalty thinking that it was a Swansea player that had handled when in fact it was Vokes. With the benefit of replays it was clear as day but if the referee was unsighted then it was the only explanation. There was some thought at first that it was the player behind Vokes mauling him as they both went up, but the eventual consensus was it was awarded for the handball.

‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth,’ the old saying goes. Apparently it harks back to the olde days when the gift of a horse was a fine token of friendship. It was therefore thoroughly rude and ill-mannered to look in its mouth to examine its teeth, not just to see if it needed the dentist, but to gauge the horses age. In Greece it was the humble donkey not the horse. Gray duly accepted the gift, smacked the penalty home resisting the temptation to check the goalkeeper’s teeth. 1-1 then, Swansea glum and Burnley well thrilled; even more so when in they took the lead, the first time this season that this had happened, taking the lead in an away game.

The pundits in the TV studies were stunned, so were we, could this be happening, was this the game to break the mould? Alas no, the inevitable equaliser came. But 2-2 and the game neared its conclusion. At home, hiding behind the settee counting the minutes, it looked as though another point was heading Burnley’s way but Llorente – and the referee – had other ideas. How close it was to 3-1 for Burnley however, when Gray put a great low ball across the box and Vokes was just a big toe away from poking it home. A fraction quicker and it would have been slotted home. Alas, for all his attributes, pace is not one of them.

Into injury time, yet another deep cross, up went Mee and Llorente, Mee went flying, both Llorente’s hands and arms in his back. Such was the force of the shove that Mee almost came out the TV screen and landed on my lap. No shove will ever be so clear but Llorente buried the ball in the back of the net with just two minutes remaining. Cruel does not do it justice.

‘Two wrongs make a right,’ or ‘two wrongs do not make a right.’ Philosophers have pondered for centuries over which is right. All it left us wondering was did the referee grab the opportunity to make right his wrong decision to award the penalty. No-one could argue that overall Swansea deserved the win, and that had Burnley taken a point home the word ‘nicked’ would have been well accurate. Nicked or not, it would have been gratefully accepted. As it turned out, referee Anthony Taylor, made sure that two wrongs did indeed make a right. But, was he still a bit fuzzy-headed, following his three-day stag bash in Marbella?

Now it was no wins in five since January and the defeat of Leicester. Burnley still nine points clear and Middlesbrough in the bottom three along with Sunderland, and two away games to come against the both of them. But: there was good news. Someone had done the maths and calculated that the current bottom three, if they accumulated points at their current rate, would not reach 31 points. Ipso facto, according to the boffins, Burnley were already safe. It was a comforting thought.

Still no away win and Liverpool next, we grimaced, rampant when they feel like it, but shreddable on bad days as they were at Leicester. Would the first away win come at Anfield then? Why not; if Lincoln could win at Turf Moor, then anything might happen in this sometimes weird and whacky game. Who would ever have thought that you could be awarded a penalty for handling the ball yourself; or score a goal by pushing an opponent half way to outer space?

Jimmy Greaves was right. It is indeed a funny old game.



We had this scientifically fool proof way of forecasting the score on the day of the Lincoln Cup game as we drove over. The route takes us through Halifax and Mytholmroyd and as all ice cream devotees will know, Mytholmroyd is the home of Royd’s Ice Cream. The website says they have the largest fleet of Ice Cream Vans in the UK. Just like counting Eddie Stobart trucks on motorway journeys; we count Royd’s Ice Cream vans in between Leeds and Mytholmroyd. Even on the coldest, iciest day in the depths of winter there is always one. When a hot toddy and a hot water bottle would be more sensible, there is always one person who can guzzle a 99.

On an August trip we once counted 20 heading east and on the Cup day we decided after we’d seen the first one, that whatever number we saw, that would be the score against Lincoln. Being only February and sales being slow, there were just five. It seemed reasonable therefore to think the score would be 5-0.

As well we know; it wasn’t. Trust me: this will be the last time we use the Royd’s Ice Cream van method of predicting any score.

The effects for those of us who were there will not go away for a while. Us oldies still remember Wimbledon. A trip to the dentists would have been preferable. Criticisms of the result may well seem like sour grapes; the Lincoln thousands went home fully convinced of the magic and romance of the Cup. The media promoted it at full blast. MOTD fawned over the two Lincoln managers there in person. The Press splashed it all over their pages. The main news channels just had to feature it. Burnley fans on the day, high on emotion, with immediate mixed feelings of both anger and dismay, went along with this and wished Lincoln well. But then some of us began to think and replay a few incidents. In the cold light of the following day we were a tad more analytical.

Burnley were poor, it has to be said. Dyche held up his hands and said as much. But citing the state of the pitch and how they failed to cope with being favourites was unconvincing. Sean D could have done a Cloughie, packed his bags and gone away to Magaduff for the week, left them to get on with it, sent them a postcard, wish you were here, see you on Monday lads, enjoy the game, and they should still have had the nous to win this game. They had the chances and shots to have won but failed to capitalise with what one can only describe as clumsy feet syndrome once they got in the box. This was not the romance or the magic of the Cup. This was just really good chances squandered; and that was the bottom line.

Not much romance either in the forearm smash on Joey Barton committed by Matt Rhead that went unmentioned and was a clear red card long before all the later shenanigans and confrontations in the Burnley box. And the huge stroke of luck that lead to the Lincoln goal when the ball clearly went out off a Lincoln player, not a Burnley player’s head. On such moments are games decided and the winners and media say it’s ‘romance.’ The day after was a rare Sunday when the Sunday papers lay unopened for much of the day.

We still remember Wimbledon in 1975 like it was yesterday but that result was a truly magical FA Cup day; Burnley played well but just could not beat a wonderfully inspired Dickie Guy in the Wimbledon goal making save after save. This truly was the romance of the Cup. It left no ill feeling, no grimaces of anger at the team, no sour grapes; no complaints. But the Lincoln game left a number of grumbles. It was a red letter day for the fans; but it could so easily have been a red card day for one of their players instead of all the focus being on a huffy Barton later in the game. It was hard to find any newspaper that didn’t have pictures of Barton and THAT scuffle whilst Rhead was portrayed as a folk-hero.

In general the papers made for sorry reading, as much for their glorifying of Lincoln and the dissection of J Barton, as the result itself. The Sunday Telegraph was perhaps the nearest to any kind of balance, written by Jonathan Liew, the challenger to Henry Winter’s reporting crown.

You could call it cup magic. But magic is rarely as brutal as this. Quite aside from the result, it was an utterly enthralling cup-tie, rugged and passionate, concussive and ill-tempered, off-kilter and off-colour, intensely physical and unashamedly English. Lincoln successfully drew their Premier League opposition, a side that manager Danny Cowley describes as ‘a really good version of us,’ into a scrap.

     This was no wild fluke, but the result of as meticulous plan ruthlessly executed. Lincoln hassled and hounded, put their necks on the line, a foot in the tackle, a sneaky elbow in the ribs if needed. They defended outstandingly and when their chance came late on, they took it. In essence Burnley were Burnleyed. Lincoln did to them what they have done to so many Premier League sides this season: sat deep, dug their heels in and turned it into a scrap. Startled by Lincoln’s lack of decorum, bewildered by the novelty of enjoying 60% possession, Burnley simply rolled their sleeves up, turned down the quality dial and fought dire with dire.

     Not much romance of the cup here. Romance is always a funny way of describing it. This was not so much a candlelit dinner as a sloppy breakfast, not so much a tender smooch as a large hairy man shouting: ‘Have it.’

   A confrontation between Joey Barton and Lincoln striker Matt Rhead had been brewing for much of the game. Rhead is one of those players that only non-league football could produce: a loveable, terrifying, nuclear chimney of a man with a giant bald patch and an indomitable physical presence.

It was hard to decide what was more depressing: the single line news ticker in Times Square New York that read, Lincoln shock EPL Burnley (a chum sent me a picture), the meltdown of the NHS, fat cat Lords on Euro pensions, Paul Nuttall, Trump, Blair, Daily Express weather forecasts (what happened to the Tropical plume), more pictures of Lincoln on the front pages, or blaming the pitch.

So the pitch was a bit bobbly and bare in places, so what? It never stopped the McIlroy Adamson side playing their passing game from ’59 to 62’ when they were at their peak. It never stopped Adamson’s side playing their passing game from ’72 to ’75. It never stopped Miller’s side in ‘81/82, Mullen’s side in ‘91/92; all these triumphs when pitches were often atrocious, or Stan’s side in 2000. The Desso pitch was installed in 2010 and prior to that Coyle’s side played yet more great football that resulted in promotion. Twice Head Groundsman Paul Bradshaw has been nominated for Groundsman of the Year. But ageing Desso pitches are not indestructible; blaming it for the Lincoln performance was just lame.

And so to the KCOM stadium: Hull the 2017 City of Culture, an oxymoron if ever I heard one; you can buy mugs that say ‘you’re only here for the culture.’ The City has come a long way since medieval days when felons and villains said a prayer: from Hell Hull and Halifax good Lord deliver us.’ Hull was famed for its stinking, cesspit of a gaol and Halifax was one of the few place in England with a gibbet for beheading the ne’er do wells. There are fears that the Tories, strong on crime and anxious to reduce the welfare bill, would like to re-introduce them.

It was a game that was the beginning of a critical period when the next four games were all away games, including Sunderland and Swansea. Then there was the small matter of the away game at Liverpool. We knew at the beginning of this that if there were four defeats then the bottom three could well close the gap. The general feeling was that at least a couple of draws from these four games was a must. And surely we argued; the day must come when there would be the first away win.

But now Gudmondsson was out, along with the unavailable Marney, Defour and Hendrick. There was no certainty that Barton would not be given his inevitable betting suspension. Maybe too there might be a hangover from the Lincoln result. Things were not exactly hunky dory. Silva had done a good job at Hull and made astute signings in the January window. As early as Monday the local Hull press were building this game up. ‘The countdown starts now,’ they said. Lose to Burnley and they were truly in the mire; win and their season was kick-started.

Storm Doris had been and gone. The poor cat was blown back in through the cat flap. Folks from the south huddled indoors. Folks from the north went out as normal in a big coat. Andre Gray had been at the Brit Awards big bash on Wednesday. Burnley had won 5 of the last six games at Hull. Only 5 of the remaining 13 games were at Turf Moor. ‘If City can score twice, they can beat this lot, they don’t like travelling’ said ex-bruiser and Burnley player Peter Swan, now the leading pro-Hull City pundit for the local press, adding one or two complimentary things as well.

Hull were looking for a fifth successive home win after a few days in sunny Portugal. Flying Polish winger Grosicki was looking for a chance to show Burnley what they missed when his proposed move to Turf Moor fell through. If Hull won they could be out of the bottom three with Leicester not playing; the football world from Barnet to Bangkok stunned by the sacking of Ranieri, allegedly the result of backstabbing whinging prima donna players blabbing to the owners; this they would later deny.

According to other sources Sean Dyche was actually chuckling about his adopted son Joey Barton as he pondered on the incidents in the Lincoln game. ‘I think it’s pantomime stuff myself. I’ve got to be honest. I’ve seen a lot more controversy around Joey than that. If that’s as far as it goes I’ll be a happy man. That’s just part of being Joey I suppose. It could be a TV series actually – Being Joey – it’d be interesting; never a dull moment, unless he’s in here training with me.’

SD had a point and added what we all think at Burnley, that Barton has been fantastic in every game he has played. But: whilst the forearm smash on Barton by man mountain Rhead early in the game was a sickener and went unpunished, not raising even a tiny paragraph in any report on the game; the Alli leg-breaker tackle in the Europa League at Tottenham against Gent was a real shocker, eclipsing any tackle Joey has ever made. That one was soon forgotten. Barton’s are entered into a sort of permanent Hall-of-Infamy record book to be wheeled out as soon as he even sneezes.

Whilst not in the category of winner takes all, nevertheless the stakes in this game, the first in the month-long road trip during which Burnley would criss cross the UK from coast to coast, were unquestionably high. A Burnley win would be a huge step to safety. It was the side with a currently good home record against the side that just could not win away from home. It was impossible not to think of a Hull win. But this True Grit, dogged, cussed Burnley side had other ideas and the Lincoln result had clearly left no lingering hangover.

No we won’t be changing our routines, said Dyche; we won’t be having fish and chips on Friday night. We’ll stick to our tried and tested plans and tactics. And the result was a terrific point despite falling behind to a contentious penalty decision. A corner was swung across, the melee of manic, packed, jostling bodies looked like Poundland on half price day. The referee had no hesitation in giving the penalty but later pictures clearly showed a hand and arm from Maguire on Keane’s offending arm affecting its movement as he rose for the ball. You could argue it was harsh. Barnes rushed in. Barnes argued. Barnes was booked. Barnes thought no more about it.

‘That’ll larn ‘im,’ my grandmother used to say if I did owt daft that got me in bother. ‘He’ll only do it once.’

Maybe if my grandmother was around to give Barnsey her homespun advice, he’d get fewer cards. He has many qualities, a sort of superior, upgraded, Premier League, Matt Rhead, but then he went and got yellow carded again, this time for a flailing elbow. Perhaps though, Rhead might be able to teach him how to use the elbow or the forearm and get away with it, for that is an expertise that Rhead most certainly possesses.

We’d hardly finished groaning but within minutes Keane had levelled, from villain to hero almost instantly, when he swooped on a corner that came to him unmarked at the edge of the Hull 6-yard box. With the aplomb of a seasoned striker, and putting another £5million on his price, he chested the ball down and slammed it home; the sort of goal that we say is a gem when we score them, but the sort that we say is bad defending if scored against us. We said the same when Lincoln scored their winner when a player in the build-up was totally unmarked. Silva looked crestfallen; Dyche simply looked business-like and took his customary swig of water.

It was a great point; but with good news came bad. Barton’s hearing is in early March. It was not rocket science to presume it might be the end of his season and in all probability, Swansea his swan song.