August 2017, and it was a one-off, a very expensive luxury trip to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. It took a determined saving-up campaign, a big dip into some ISAs and there wasn’t much change from five grand but without wishing this to be a marketing piece for Viking River Cruises, it was worth every penny. We wanted a river cruise and we wanted warm sun so we chose the River Douro trip in Portugal starting with a couple of nights in Lisbon. We felt like a bit of luxury and self-indulgence, a bit of serious 5-star pampering and we got tons of it.

We dug out the old wedding album and leafed through it before we went. ‘Darling can you remember what time we got married,’ she asked, ‘it was on a Monday.’

The ‘darling’ bit was worrying; it’s usually the preface to being asked for something and we were passing Pandora at the time.

‘Darling,’ I answered affectionately, ‘I can’t even remember what year we got married.’

The day after we flew to Lisbon, Burnley were due to play Hannover in a friendly so that was a game we would miss, and a week later the opening game of the season, the away game at Chelsea.  Missing the Chelsea game we shrugged off anyway; it seemed reasonable to assume they would lose (gallantly no doubt) to the Champions and their stellar cast, although the good news was that Hazard was injured. Michael Keane had been sold for £30million to Everton. Andre Gray had been sold to Watford for £18million; neither had been replaced. The airwaves were abuzz with apprehension and worry that more signings were needed and that the side was still dangerously short of pace. As ever the pundits had Burnley listed as one of the contenders for relegation.

Ten of us were in our ‘wedding’ party on the cruise and were eating our evening meal in the hotel restaurant, the ground floor restaurant of the Tivoli Lisboa Hotel, five stars, resplendent, elegant, and seriously plush at the top end of a graceful, tree-lined avenue. You half expected the Beckhams to come round the corner; it was that kind of place. It had history too. In the Second World War when Portugal was neutral, the hotel was a hotbed of espionage and intrigue, a meeting place of German and English spies.

The ‘best’ restaurant was up on the roof terrace but they couldn’t fit ten in at short notice so we elected for the less pretentious of the two and ate sumptuous steaks cooked to perfection. But then Pete gasped for breathe. I thought he was choking on a piece of meat and was poised ready to administer the Heimlich manoeuvre but no; he had some news via a text.

‘They abandoned the Hannover friendly,’ he announced. We stopped and stared, knives and forks frozen in mid-air. How can you possibly abandon a friendly? By definition a friendly is a friendly, trouble free game.

‘Rioting,’ he went on, ‘the German fans causing trouble so the game was abandoned on police instructions.’

We had no details but it just seemed ridiculous. There were probably around 6,000 there, we guessed and maybe just a few hundred German fans. True, the Hannover Ultras were known to be a dangerous lot but just a few hundred at a friendly game, surely they were controllable. We beat them in two world wars but at a small football match, apparently not. We finished the steaks and went on to the puddings. Burnley seemed a couple of thousand miles away and an abandoned football match seemed trivial in these opulent, lavish surroundings. Besides there was a mission the next day, and that was to find and sample the famed Portuguese egg tarts of which I had seen and read so much in the holiday blurb and guide books.

An optional walking tour of the city was called ‘A taste of Lisbon,’ but regretfully we chose not to do it. We took a broader tour of the city, a city with a stunning setting at the mouth of the River Tagus, a city that spawned countless sixteenth century seafaring explorers, Magellan, Vasco da Gama, Bartholomew Diaz, amongst them and inspired by Prince Henry the Navigator. Christopher Columbus was not Portuguese but had huge connections with Lisbon and had a Portuguese wife. Not for nothing was this called the Age of Discovery. The Portuguese back then plundered Brazil and built an empire; they were the first Europeans to land in Japan. I can remember at school reading and learning about these great names and their great stories. I suspect most kids today wouldn’t have a clue who they were. There were pirates galore of course and there was even a Pirates Code of Conduct invented by Bartholomew Portugues, though t is unlikely they actually had Pirate Training Days.

This is a historical city of monuments, churches, shrines, cathedrals, monasteries, museums, labyrinthine streets, tree-lined avenues, café bars and restaurants, and of course the original bakery where the famed egg tarts (pastel de nata) are made. Street foods like the Prego, a garlic steak sandwich, aren’t bad either.

The egg tart has a long history and was first made by the monks of Jeronimos Monastery in the Belem area of the city, although they cribbed the recipe from France. Egg whites were used for starching clothes and this left the yolks which were then used in baking. When the monastery was closed in 1834 the recipe for the tarts was passed to the owners of the local sugar refinery. In 1837 they opened the Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem, still run by the descendants of the original owners. This café is on the tourist route, these are tarts that are made in many bakeries (in fact you can get them n Sainsbury’s) but the Belem bakery is the place to get them and the queues frequently stretch down the road. As our coach drove slowly by without a stop, yep, there were the queues and I looked longingly at the lines of tarts laid out in the shop window. I would indeed eventually get to taste one in another café. Trust me these are egg tarts to die for. Conveniently packed in boxes of six they were on sale in the airport on the way home, ready for slipping into the carry-on bags. Needless to say one box flew back with us and when the last one was eaten a couple of days later, it brought a symbolic closure to a marvellous holiday.

The second meal in the rooftop restaurant of the Tivoli Lisboa Hotel was an experience with views right across the city and the twinkling lights. This was nouvelle cuisine, where gravy is called jus, the food delicious but you don’t get much, although what you get is beautifully arranged on the plate and the jus isn’t poured it is drizzled. We upset the Maître D’ by asking for four bills which seemed simple enough to us being just the same as eating on four separate tables. With a humph he agreed, but made it plain with another sniff that this was a great inconvenience. He must be French, I decided, better not mention Brexit either.

The food came, we looked at our plates and eight of us thought the same; where is it? Ironically the other two who had ordered a sort of Lobster Stew (Bisque in nouvelle cuisine) in a huge iron pot had enough to feed a small army. This was fortunate; after it took us the necessary three or four minutes to eat our own small meals, we tucked into theirs as well. It was unquestionably superb grub, but here we were, people used to mammoth plate-fulls of cheese and onion pie, mushy peas and chips at the Queen in Cliviger, or monster portions of Rag Pudding at the Shepherd’s Rest above Todmorden. Nouvelle Cuisine might be OK for small jockeys or waif-like models, but we were still hungry. And then came the bill, all four of them. The guy wasn’t a snooty Frenchman after all, he turned out to be South African so as soon as we got talking about cricket and South Africa’s poor showing in the Test Matches, he became a proper human being and the four bills arrived with a smile.

I looked at ours which was for four of us and gasped. I looked at Mrs T mouth agape, eyes popping. Slowly the words came out in a kind of croak. ‘Good God its 384 euros; it says 384 euros for four of us. It can’t be.’

She took the bill and studied it, then spoke. ‘You idiot, that’s our room number.’

Next stop was Porto, a day’s leisurely coach drive to the south of Lisbon. Here is where we would pick up the boat, stopping at Coimbra on the way, a university town where the students all wear black clothes and black capes so that no-one knows if you are poor or rich, a town of more narrow streets, alleyways and pavement cafes. In medieval times it was Portugal’s capital. We learned at the lunch stop that a normal Portuguese restaurant meal is plentiful, generous and then come the plates of second helpings. The texts were coming in again. Apparently we were interested in Shane Long now down the pecking list at Southampton. Good signing if it went ahead, we agreed, and that would mean there were would be six Irish internationals in the Burnley team. We wondered too if a Danny Ings loan from Liverpool was a possibility and all of us were keen, despite his injury problems. On form and injury free he had been a little genius in the first Dyche promotion season and his goal at Blackburn was now filed under F for Folklore.

And then it was on to baroque Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, a city built on Port with over 50 wine companies along the river bank. Look on supermarket shelves at the Port and it’s a fair bet that most came from the Douro region. All the familiar names were there, Fonseca, Graham’s, Warre, Sandeman’s, Dow’s, Taylor’s. It was the Brits that made port popular back in the late 1600s with Croft one of the first big shippers.

Porto straddles the River Douro, the river that comes out of Spain, and has carved out a deep and steep-sided 200-hundred mile long gouge in the Portuguese landscape. These are the hillsides that are covered in terraces of vines, thousands of acres of them and where the great wine estates are located. Few sounds are more satisfying than that of a cork coming out of the bottle for the first time. It’s odds on that the cork originated in Portugal from the bark of the Cork Oak Tree.

Porto too is built on steep slopes that rise from the river, the river spanned by towering, graceful bridges, a city of tiled churches, pastel-hued houses, a treasure chest of unusual buildings, glorious river views, the quaint old riverside district of Ribeira, cathedrals, markets, pavement cafes, castles, narrow cobbled streets and quaint wooden trams that rattle and clang up and down the streets. Under the medieval arches of the Ribeira district are dozens of cafes, bars and restaurants. Taxi boats ply their way back and forth across the river from one side to the other.

Our boat ‘The Viking Hemmings’ was moored up more or less opposite the Sandeman’s port warehouse, the great barrels and casks filling the huge, cool storerooms. Sandeman is famed for its logo, the ‘Don’, the mysterious figure in black cape and hat, the first Caped Crusader. The Hemmings was our home for the next seven days, the final day being the day of the Chelsea game. The sun, wine, food and slow cruise back down the river on the day would be ample consolation for the inevitable defeat, and in the meantime there was so much to enjoy on this floating food-fest. Make no mistake; a holiday with Viking River Cruises puts you at serious risk of weight increase. You don’t ask where the lifeboat is; you ask for the defibrillator station. The day starts with a huge buffet breakfast with the chef standing at the end of the dining room at the ‘egg station’ ready to cook any egg dish of your choice. Onto to that you can pile anything else that fills the buffet.

‘I will not be eating huge lunches,’ I vowed before we boarded. But when lunch is served it cannot be disregarded; it would be rude and disrespectful and these were three-course affairs that could not be ignored. And then in the evening there was dinner, another lavish three course event and as at lunch, as much wine as you could glug. And all the while through breakfast and lunch the boat sailed serenely along the Douro with views of the terraces, estates and quintas, solitary farmhouses, tiny chapels, isolated cottages, narrow gorges, olive groves, almond trees, an occasional worker, fish jumping out of the water, and above us the soaring eagles and vultures. Storks nest in certain villages, deer, wolves, boar and wildcats cling to a few wild areas. In years past the river was bedevilled by rapids that the little rabelo boats carrying the port barrels down to the warehouses for ageing and storage, had to negotiate at their peril. Today, huge dams with locks for the boats, plus widening of certain stretches, have tamed the river.

Yet more news was filtering through regarding Burnley FC. Internet connections were poor but occasionally there was a window. A £12million bid for Leeds United’s Chris Wood was reported. It made sense; the previous season he had scored something like 30 goals in the Championship and he possessed pace, that magic ingredient. But the offer was immediately rejected, said the reports, with Leeds having already valued him at £15million. Same old Burnley, we moaned, trying to get a player they wanted on the cheap with a first low offer. Next there was a report of a £5million bid for Hull City player Sam Clucas. £5million, no chance, we said, why do they bother? Next, there was an alleged £10million bid for centre-back Ryan Shawcross of Stoke City, but why, we wondered; why not give Tarkowski his chance? And then as the ship entered a deep gorge, the internet connection disappeared.

It was the first day of sailing on the river and we’d stopped at Regua after lunch ready for a tour, nay pilgrimage, to a place that most rose wine drinkers would recognise from the picture on the iconic round bottle. It was a drink that we had back in the 70s in those legendary Berni Inns where we had a prawn cocktail, a steak, and a pudding, and whenever we went, a bottle of Mateus Rose. It took us an age to remember what the puddings were but between us we eventually remembered, Sherry Trifle or Blackforest Gateaux. Back then if you wanted to eat out there wasn’t much to choose from and Berni Inns were in the forefront of Friday or Saturday night treats. We used to look at the picture on the bottle of the Mateus Palace and think what a wonderful place it looked, without even really registering that this gorgeous building was in Portugal. It was therefore with an almost sense of reverence that we headed off on the one hour journey to get there, a wonderful drive through the wine areas and vineyards along highways that hugged the dizzying hillsides, clung to the steep contours, and then traversed the deep valleys and gorges via the most spectacular, awesome, architecturally superb bridges, with the valley floor hundreds of feet below.

The little guide book and itinerary that was issued painted a wonderful picture of the place:

The extraordinary Mateus Palace, the building depicted on the Mateus Rose wine labels and enjoy a wine tasting at a local quinta. Journey with the guide to Vila Real; see the stunning Mateus Palace, the home of the last Count of Vila Real with its pinnacle façade, grand stairway, richly appointed interiors and priceless objects on display. The gardens will amaze you, enchanting formal gardens with cedar-lined walkways, exquisitely sculpted hedges and statuary and the serene ponds.’

Antonio Mourao built the Casa de Mateus in the first half of the eighteenth century. His descendants still live there.

Forty years ago eating the steak and drinking Mateus Rose in those long-gone Berni Inns, we never thought that one day we’d stand in front of the palace depicted on the bottle and marvel at its beauty and elegance. Berni Inns and Mateus Rose were a part of our growing up and early marriage. We were celebrating our 50th year together in front of the real place beneath a perfect blue sky and warm sun. And if you want the football bit, this was the time of Jimmy Adamson and his team of the seventies, Fletcher, Waldron, Casper, James and all the rest, a team that we loved for its silky football, and still do. This was a lump-in-throat moment.

Pinhao, Barca d’Alva, Castelo Rodrigo; what gorgeous places these were. But we still hadn’t signed Chris Wood or anyone else for that matter even though Sean D was saying he was still keen to sign new additions. Leeds were adamant he wasn’t for sale and even a £16million bid had been rejected according to internet (now back on) reports. And the Chelsea game was looming, early relaxed indifference being slowly replaced by slight trepidation. By now, too, the scenes of hooliganism at Turf Moor during the Hannover game were being flashed around the world on BBC World News. It was a surreal moment, on a boat, up the Douro, switch on the TV to see what’s happening and up pops Burnley and the sight of Hannover nutjobs leathering the nearest Burnley fans and any steward unfortunate enough to be in the middle.

The boat was filled with Americans, average age 70 probably, so that anyone in their 20s or 30s stood out like a sore thumb. One such was CC, that’s all I knew him by, on the boat with his fiancé, both in their 30s and he in a Chelsea shirt…a Chelsea shirt. Others came from all over the USA, California, Nevada, Arizona, New York, Atlanta and Philadelphia. An English couple we befriended were from Huddersfield so that he was understandably over the moon with Huddersfield’s success and foray into the Premier League. Like us, he took an away defeat in the first game for granted.

With so many Americans on board and surrounded by so many accents it was hard not to slip into it. ‘Well Hi Dave,’ one woman said every morning well impressed by my gallantry one day when I’d offered my seat in the shade of an olive tree while we sipped port at a quinta, after another huge lunch.

It was always tempting to reply, ‘why howdy ma’am, you look just swell this fahn mornin’.’ But I managed to resist. Nor did I dare to ask any of them had they voted for Trump, who by now was seemingly losing his grip on sanity and like Nero and Caligula centuries earlier, firing anyone who offended him, but in this day and age fortunately unable to have them assassinated.

Next up was a visit to Castelo Rodrigo which meant heading into the breathtaking countryside to reach the medieval hilltop fortress town that looked down on miles and miles of a flat plateau that stood at over 2,000’. The boat would sail on without us and meet us further upriver at Barca d’Alva. My ears had pricked up the evening before during the evening briefing when the tour guides quickly outlined what was on offer the next day.

‘This is almond growing country,’ she explained, ‘and the café in Castelo Rodrigo makes the most wonderful local delicacy, the Almond Pie.’

‘Hmmm,’ I thought, the word pie making an immediate impression, ‘this sounds good; this needs to be investigated and researched.’

By now we were quite near the Spanish border and from Castelo you could peer across into the hills of Spain. The village itself was a maze of cobbled streets, criss-crossing the hilltop. At the very pinnacle was the old ruined castle, below that the obligatory church. Being so close to Spain, Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition centuries ago fled to Castelo and set up their own community. The afternoon was getting hotter and hotter; the cool of the café seemed a good idea, a cold drink, and a slice of Almond Pie. But as we sat there waiting to order, Pete’s phone pinged with a new text message and it brought news that made us gasp.

‘We’ve sold Andre Gray,’ Pete announced looking at us in a state of near-shock. So were we all. ‘He’s having his medical this afternoon,’ added Pete. A sort of stunned silence followed for a minute.

It wasn’t that he was being sold that surprised us, we expected it. A new contract offer was unsigned, it was fairly clear he would be happy to go and clubs like Newcastle and Everton had been tracking him. By all accounts according to the text, most folks back home were OK with the sale for a reported £18million, it was good business; most folks were resigned to it. Many fans were of the opinion that he was now caught up in the celebrity world of show biz and Little Mix. The jury was out on his skill levels, some saying that he couldn’t trap a bag of cement and that his first touch was usually a three yard pass. But no-one could doubt the value of his goals in the second Dyche promotion season and the contribution he had made to the club. In that season he had provided pace and that rare quality of surprise so that most sides never really knew what he would do next. Now the problem was; how to replace him?

But: the shock of the news was in the destination. It wasn’t Newcastle; it wasn’t Everton, not any top side, but Watford. Our thoughts were the same, you’re joking, Watford, bloody Watford. How on earth could a side like this be spending all this money and paying these big wages to players they were signing under new manager Silva? We tut-tutted, humphed and shook our heads…bloody Watford, meh.

It was the prospect of the Almond Pie that cheered us up. Outside the café it was in the high 30s so the café interior was an oasis of cool and comfort. In the display cabinet a few feet away there was no sign of anything resembling the Almond Pie; maybe there wasn’t any and we were about to be disappointed. But no, when we asked, the proprietor disappeared into a second room and brought two plates with large slices of what we expected to be a pie. But it wasn’t and the let-down we felt was as big as the let-down that Gray was going to piddling Watford of all places. Almond Pie in Castelo is actually more like peanut brittle except they ain’t peanuts, they are almonds. It was hard as nails, tough on the teeth, took a lot of chewing and clogged up the gums; and we left half of it.

Back on the boat in Barca d’Alva we headed straight for the toothbrushes and toothpicks and then took in our surroundings. This is a gem of a little riverside village in a sort of upside down T shape with the short main street of houses forming the up of the T and a line of tavernas and bars forming the crosspiece by the river. The tavernas were old, rustic, simple, basic, cheap, very much resembling the dusty old places we used to visit in Greece where the whole family was involved in the running of the place; so cheap that dozens of Spanish folks drive over to eat there. Smells of the kitchens drift into the dusty street and across to the ship. Sleepy dogs lie in the dust occasionally stretching or having a scratch. Old folks sit outside their doorways. The road crosses the river here by way of an impressive single-arch bridge that stretches across for several hundred feet. And on the ship, ole, it was Spanish night.

Of course there was Paella filled with shell fish, rice, calamari, shrimp, mussels and muchos other wriggly stuff. But for me there was only one choice Cerdo Iberico. This is a mouth-watering dish of pork medallions with mascarpone polenta and roasted piquillo peppers. ‘Medallions’ of course is the culinary way of saying ‘bits of’. But this was no ordinary pork; this is meat that comes from specially bred, very small pigs that are fed on nothing but chestnuts. It then produces a very rich, black pork meat. I ate these while the next text came to Pete that announced that Gray had indeed passed his medical and was now a Watford player. All of us who had been to Watford could only hope that he would learn how to navigate the one way system otherwise he was unlikely to see his Little Mix girlfriend ever again. Getting into Watford we had learned is fine; it is getting out that is the problem. Claret airwaves and websites (we managed to log in) were surprisingly not in a state of suicidal meltdown but were calm and objective.

Time was running out, every moment precious, Friday and the Chelsea game just a day away. Another huge breakfast of Eggs Benedict as the ship pulled away from Barca d’Alva to get us nearer to the village of Favios where we could do two things, sample Muscatel, a rich, sweet dessert wine made from the Muscat grape, in one of the warehouses; and then sample handmade bread prepared the traditional way in old ovens heated with wood and old grapevines in a nearby local bakery. We ate the bread, huge hunks of it that was fresh from the ovens, lathering it with butter and home-made jam. Flour billowed up from the large table where the baker was slapping the dough around on the flour-covered surface. Most of us left the room covered in it with jam and butter all over our faces.

The culinary tour was not yet over. Still filled on bread and jam we stopped at the Quinta Avessada wine estate for lunch, three courses yet again. The owner and host and chief entertainer between each course was an absolute replica of Mr Bean in both looks and mannerisms. It was uncanny. We left wondering if Rowan Atkinson had once seen this guy and based Mr Bean on him. But for once this was a meal that did not get a 5-star rating from me.

‘What do you think,’ said Mrs T. She knew what I would say about the chewy meat, allegedly a local dish.

‘It reminds me of that awful braised steak my mother used to do when I was a kid,’ I said.

Cooking was never her strong point though it must be said she was a reluctant cook, standing over whatever she was making with a cigarette in her mouth so that the ash plopped into whatever delight she was concocting. Sometimes we had no idea what was on the plate.

For dinner in the evening for me it was Arroz de Pato, pulled duck meat in port wine with onions and steamed rice. By now we knew that the draw for the League Cup had been made and had laughed at the idea of being drawn against Blackburn Rovers, little thinking that this was exactly what would happen. How things had changed from just a few years ago with struggling penniless Burnley in the doldrums and Blackburn in the Premier League looking down their noses. Now it was Blackburn humiliated and relegated right down to Division One and financially struggling. Burnley meanwhile were in their third season in the Premier League with more cash than they could ever have imagined. The wheel had turned full circle and now it was our turn to enjoy Blackburn’s downwards journey. This would be Blackburn’s Cup Final no doubt; for Burnley just another game. But then we remembered last year’s results against small fry – Accrington and Lincoln.

The penultimate day, Saturday, the last lazy day of cruising back down the Douro, but there was more to it than just that. This was the first day of the new season and the opening game and when we’d seen the fixtures for the first time, we’d gasped. The first game was at Chelsea, the Champions, and a more daunting game you could not wish for. Chelsea at Turf Moor and anything was possible. But this was a nightmare of a start.

We opted out of the short morning excursion and lunched on the boat. This time I settled on a Francesinha. The menu said sandwich. That’s all I want, I thought after the huge breakfast of bacon and eggs, a sandwich will do me fine. I hadn’t bargained for what a Francesinha actually is. It came in a large, deep bowl, a sandwich the size of a Frisbee and swimming in what appeared to be a dark tomato soup. The waiter looked at my raised eyebrows and laughed.

‘Portuguese special,’ he said. ‘It has taken you by surprise. It surprises most people. ‘

It sure as hell took me aback. This wasn’t a snack; it was a two-course meal on one plate. The two huge slices of bread were packed with melted cheese, sausages, steak, ham and beef. And what appeared to be soup was in fact beer sauce. Ah well, I thought, I don’t need to eat it all, but did, consuming enough calories and cholesterol to stoke up half a dozen heart attacks.

Valter the barman had offered to set up the huge TV in the ship’s lounge so that we could actually watch the Chelsea game. There was no SKY, not that it was on SKY anyway, but there were various overseas channels showing it that with a gizmo he could plug in, he promised he would find the game. We dug out the old joke when we got to know him better.

‘Are you a Pole Valter… no I am Portuguese and did the High Jump at school.’

He had a grand sense of humour and had told all the Americans that he was a Syrian refugee fished out of the water by a Viking cruise ship and chosen to be a barman on the Hemming, while all the others had been left in the water. Most of them fell for it. His plan to set up the TV was thwarted he told us, however. In the afternoon starting at 3 o’clock the chef was giving a demonstration of how to make the famed egg tarts in the lounge and would not take kindly to a sub group watching a football match in the corner while he cracked yolks.

In an odd kind of way we were quite relieved. None of us wanted to actually see the walloping that we expected Chelsea to dish out even though they were without Diego Costa, texted by Manager Conte in the summer and told he was unwanted. Diego was therefore playing hooky in Brazil refusing to return to Chelsea and the insulting manager.

By now the ship was in the broader stretches of the lower Douro so that Mrs T’s IPhone was receiving loud and clear. Pete was wearing his Burnley shirt for the occasion. Suddenly, to our utter astonishment, Mrs T shouted, ‘We’ve scored.’

The surprise in her voice was evident. Our reactions were no different. Chelsea defender Cahill had already been sent off for a wild tackle. But old habits die hard so that it was immediately assumed that Chelsea would equalise and go on to win the game. Meanwhile, the sun was beating down as we sat around on the top deck, on either side the river banks swishing by and every now and then people swimming from sandy stretches.

‘We’ve scored again,’ she hollered minutes later. ‘We’ve scored again. It’s 2-0, 2-0.’ This time it was Ward adding to Vokes’s first goal and the brief details said that the Ward goal was a screamer.

Pete was by now pacing up and down the deck. At home during an away game, unable to listen to any radio or TV commentary, his habit is to retire to the garage and potter about, busying himself with ‘things to do.’ On the boat there was no escape; pacing seemed the only alternative. It was when the third goal went in that we just burst out laughing and looked at each other incredulously. Surely they were on their way to an astonishing win, 3-0 up and not even half-time; Chelsea booed off the pitch and down to ten men. What could possibly go wrong?

‘Chelsea have scored,’ announced Mrs T in the second half. Pete groaned and paced faster. Reports and snippets suggested that Chelsea were well back in the game and the Burnley first-half super-show was burned out. But nerves were settled again when Fabregas was sent off and Chelsea were down to nine men. That plus a tray of egg tarts freshly made downstairs being brought round for us to sample restored the exhilaration. Confidence reigned supreme. But:

‘Oh no, Chelsea have scored again,’ announced Mrs T horrified.

‘How on earth can they score with just nine men?’ groaned Pete, now quite beside himself. Only a few minutes remained and Chelsea were throwing everything at Burnley. Brady then hit the Chelsea post with a free kick from 20 yards. 4-2 would have finished the game and sent us into dreamland.

‘This shouldn’t be happening,’ said Pete. ‘We should be coasting.’

Four minutes of nerve-wracking extra time; but at last the whistle went, game over, result 3-2 for Burnley, a most improbable, unexpected, astonishing, unbelievable win as we munched the last egg tart. Before the game we were all agreed; there was no chance of a Burnley win. We whooped and hollered; people looked and stared at us so we explained the significance of the score to the Americans up on deck. We were ecstatic; Pete had his picture taken in his shirt with Captain Tiago. ‘This must be like Braga beating Benfica at Benfica,’ said the captain, with a big smile. ‘The little club beats the giant.’

It was the Captain’s Farewell Dinner in the evening. The wine flowed, and a starter of Roasted Forest Mushroom Veloute, a soup thickened with egg yolks; next a main course of Molho de Cataplana com Tamboril – Monkfish medallions with peppers, onions, broad beans, black olives and tomatoes. And all finished off with a huge cheese plate. Empty wine bottles littered the table. Just about the whole crew knew by now that Burnley had won at Chelsea. Maybe it had been on US International News channels; Americans kept coming up grinning and exclaiming, ‘Go Burnley, go Burnley.’

The splendid dinner preceded a sail round Porto harbour as dusk fell, so that the river and harbourside was lit with a thousand and more sparkling lights and the bridge nearest the sea was silhouetted against a reddening sky. We sipped Port, the great warehouses to our right, as we moored. There is always a reluctance to accept that a holiday has ended and this one was no different as we packed two bulging suitcases. We had fallen in love with Portugal and the Douro Valley, along with Lisbon and Porto.

For our anniversary dinner the chef had made a specially decorated and splendid enormous celebration cake. The Burnley win at Chelsea was the icing on the cake.

2004: Buckets, verbals and Mo

2004: buckets, verbals and Mo

I was rummaging again in the old mags and trying to erase the images of losing to Leeds on penalties. Had this been a league game and ended at 2-2 we’d have gone home thinking, hell, that was some game, what a climax, what a finish. As it was, we drove home thinking well that was near on three hours of my life I won’t get back. But having looked through number 157 of the old London Clarets mag, February 2004, the front splattered with coffee mug stains, I realised yet again what a long way we had come since those dark days.

It’s a bit bewildering. A few weeks ago we were shrouded in gloom. The prospects of avoiding administration seemed grim. Rumours abounded once again that Little and Blake were about to depart. The message board ‘insiders’ warned that administration could finish us. Barry Kilby made a public appeal for local businesses and ‘plutocrats’ to put more money into the club. A Supporters Trust was mooted, heroic sponsorships were hastily organised and bucket collections seemed imminent. Then, last week, Chief Exec David Edmundson announced that he was confident that we would avoid administration. Meanwhile, we proceeded to sign four players albeit one on a month deal and three on loan. Obviously, the club is in a very bad way financially and is doing everything it can to ride out the storm. Retaining First Division status must be a key part of the survival strategy, ergo the need for squad strengthening. However: some supporters seemed concerned about the messages conveyed here. Was the crisis over? Was it over-stated? Tim Quelch mag 157

     Clearly the club was in a desperate state but messageboards and fans always ask why and express bafflement as to why things are so bad. It was certainly the case in 2003/04. They had seen the club slash the wage bill and accrue something like £1million in transfer fees (said the editorial in mag 157). But folks were still puzzled. The collapse of the ITV Digital deal was the root cause but questions were asked along the lines of had the club in its projections over-estimated the level of support and ergo the cash coming through the turnstiles? Why were Burnley suffering more (apparently) than clubs like Rotherham, Gillingham and Walsall? Survival in the championship was essential but it was also a big ask, the way things were.

One game in December of 2003 stands out in the memory bank. Lunchtime in Preston, a pulsating game that Burnley lost 5-3, Stan livid afterwards, maybe we all were, the score at 3-3 and nip and tuck and then two goals conceded and we went home well choked. At one end Preston’s Ricardo Fuller was in blistering form, a dislikeable player but gifted, the sort you hate but would love to have in your team. We were all confused with SKY reporting that Stan had departed. I remember hearing the story that at the game’s end he had angrily phoned the chairman, Barry Kilby. He denied it emphatically afterwards, but the way the game was lost who could have blamed him.

His after-match post mortem was lividly critical. They had scored three but should have scored ten. He blamed goalkeeper Jensen for four of the preventable goals, the same Jensen who had had a miracle, wonderful game at Sunderland earlier. Consistency was never Brian’s strong point.

The December AGM was depressing. The previous year’s loss was £2.6million. The Chief Exec said it was more or less Barry Kilby keeping the club afloat. The club was living hand to mouth and dealing with each crisis as it came along. The Chairman said it would get worse before it got better. There was enough money to last until February but if there wasn’t a good cup run the bills and the staff would have to be re-structured again. The previous year’s wage bill was £7.4million. This current year it was £3.6million and this still needed to come down to £3million. As if that wasn’t depressing enough, the next game at Crewe saw another defeat. It was Crewe’s first win in six games with one goal made by Kenny Lunt, not a name to repeat after a few drinks. Burnley were at this point careering towards the third relegation place compounded by a depressing defeat at home to Stoke.

   The second week in January 2004 was probably the gloomiest since the week leading up to the Orient game. SKY and Radio Lancashire both announced that the club faced the prospect of administration when the cash reserves ran out. Chief exec Dave Edmundson spoke openly about the crisis to supporter groups. Message boards had been awash all week with fans’ wailings and gnashing of teeth. Speculation was rife that we were about to offload Robbie Blake to ease the shortfall. Rumours abounded that David May was about to leave for Hearts. Christiansen’s trial ended during the week, too, with the Danish goalkeeper announcing tersely, “The club has no money, that is all there is to say.” Tim Quelch mag 157

Hopes of a cash windfall from the FA Cup were dashed when the draw pitched Burnley against Gillingham at Turf Moor. An away game at Old Trafford would most certainly have cheered up the accountants but no, it was lowly Gillingham. The boardroom groans could be heard in Barrowford. The five-point cushion above the relegation zone was some comfort. The debt was an alleged £5million with £3million of that owed to just three creditors. Fund-raising became a key issue, Barry Kilby was trying to raise half a million from local investors; a £1,000 special shirt was planned. The players were none too keen on wage deferment. There was to be a 500-mile bike ride and a Lancaster to Burnley walk. George Boocock would paint the Bob Lord Stand for free. The subject of bucket collections was raised. Alastair Campbell and Alex Ferguson would head a fund-raising dinner.

Bucket collections are a regular feature at the Turf these days. There was one that prompted a fine piece of ‘terrace wit.’

“Collecting for Africa,” one collector shouted out over and again one Saturday.

“Never mind Africa,” another voice rang out, “What about f*cking Padiham?”

Burnley duly beat Gillingham with one goal coming from a perfect Mo Camara cross. A perfect Mo Camara cross was unusual; most of them either hit the far corner flag or sailed over the stand roof and into the nearest river. He was an exciting full-back, had pace to spare and was no mean player but his crosses made even Dracula giggle. The crowd was just under 10,000; lucrative this was not. Prayers were said for a decent draw in the next round but God was an unwilling listener. The Lord sent us to Millwall setting up a game that was destined to be controversial as well as the end of the FA Cup road for the season. There was to be no huge pay-out that would pay the wages for the rest of the season.

This was an evil game, sullied with bitter acrimony on and off the field, wrote Tim Quelch. It was frantic and ugly, a game of niggles, theatricals, notable for the abuse aimed at Mo Camara, the sending off of Paul Weller with a gentle shove that wouldn’t have knocked a three year old over, but the loveable Dennis Wise fell back several feet as if shot by double barrel elephant gun. And then there was a miss by Alan Moore that would have levelled the scores, possibly the most inept attempt at a header many of us have ever seen. With the goal gaping and everything at perfect height the poor lad just froze. A replay and a win would have seen Burnley play a beatable Tranmere Rovers and then the semi-finals and the big money.

But resilience is a Burnley trait and dates back to days long before Sean Dyche made it a big word or bouncebackability was invented by Iain Dowie. Fund-raising was going well. Dave Edmundson revealed that the club had avoided administration. Bucket collections would indeed go ahead after much soul searching since they were redolent of humiliation, real poverty and scraping the barrel. But with a loss of something like £10,000 at every home game there was no room for snootiness.

Alas, Burnley were at Millwall again a couple of weeks later for the league game, with their ‘arrogant chairman, repulsive fans and obnoxious manager,’ wrote Patrick O’Neil. It was another defeat, this time by 2-0, with Brian Jensen making enough saves to stop a worse score. It was the first league defeat of the year but the abuse aimed at Mo Camara was again unacceptable. Patrick O’Neil was livid:

After the final whistle we couldn’t wait to get out. Naturally the police had other ideas. We were told that we’d be kept in for a few minutes but it turned out to be considerably longer. Oh well, we’re only football fans not human beings. Actually on second thoughts, some football fans are actually sub-human and that includes the scum who were abusing Camara, both in this game and the earlier FA Cup-tie. What will it take to get the relevant authorities to do something?’

A nasty dose of Paphitis hits the clarets, wrote Phil Whalley. Stan Ternent was angry:

     The abuse of Camara was scandalous. The people who did it should be locked up. Of course it’s racist. There were monkey chants when we came here in the FA Cup and it’s the same again this time. It’s a BNP stronghold here. We know all about that because we’ve got them in Burnley.

Paphitis replied:

‘It’s beneath contempt for Burnley supporters to accuse us of racism just because they lost. Stan must have extremely good ears because I didn’t hear any racist chanting and I was sitting only a few yards away from him. Camara committed a bad foul in the FA Cup game here a few weeks ago. He’d have been booed if he’d been black, white or green…

     ‘…I’ve spoken to Stan and told him it’s not on. He says this is a BNP stronghold but what does he know? I doubt if Stan knows what BNP stands for. He probably read it on the back of a cornflake packet.’

This was strong stuff, cornflake packets indeed. Alastair Campbell waded in, in a lengthy piece in the Times. It was in fact a restrained piece, nothing contentious, no insults, no abuse, nothing personal, but most certainly referred to the unpleasant atmosphere at the Den and the constant abuse of Mo Camara. After the first game Campbell was by no means convinced that the abuse had been racist; after the second game, he was. He was balanced enough to point out that a minority of Burnley fans, too, responded in kind against certain Millwall players. He was as much sickened by that as the Millwall chanting. This was a far from polemic piece, in fact Campbell went out of his way to be as unbiased as possible being reasoned, calm and analytical. The Paphitis response in the Evening Standard was personal:

Campbell has been in our boardroom eating prawn sandwiches on many occasions to watch his beloved Burnley. After a couple of times in the stands he was one of the few people who heard the boos as racist. It is disgusting. I think there is a village somewhere missing a fool, and I know where he is. It is a dodgy dossier in the Times and this time he cannot deny writing it (ouch). What has he ever done? In my opinion he has done more to damage the UK than anyone I can think of. He is a dangerous man…’

‘Dodgy dossier indeed – there was more from Paphitis including an accusation that Campbell once tried to blag a lift in the Paphitis helicopter. Campbell was quick to rebuff this in a Guardian interview explaining that it was Sonya Kilby who shouted across to Paphitis that AC might have a transport problem if Burnley got to the FA Cup semis, getting from the marathon he was in, and then up to Birmingham or Manchester straight after. “No problem,” answered Paphitis.

‘There is some irony here,’ wrote Phil Whalley in magazine 158; ‘the king of the spinners himself trapped by a masterful Paphitis googly.’

It was Barry Kilby who defused the whole thing with a letter to Paphitis that was conciliatory without being apologetic. And meanwhile the season teetered along with survival at the end of it and all of us saying goodbye to Stan Ternent whose contract was not renewed, even though some time earlier Barry K had said that he wanted Stan to stay. But, it struck me at the time that Stan’s fate was sealed after an awful game and result away at Rotherham.

Burnley’s safety was confirmed by Palace beating Walsall. It certainly wasn’t the result of the game at Rotherham which was so inept it defied description. Errors and gaffes littered the performance and to compound all of that there were unseemly squabbles and arguments amongst Burnley players whilst on the pitch, castigating each other for the goals or misplaced passes. Stan T was furious and publicly rebuked the players afterwards, apologising for the display, adding there was not a lot he could with these players. I will be doing something about it, he added, showing that in his mind at least, he was staying on as manager. Alas for him, it was possibly this display and his tirade afterwards that convinced Barry Kilby that it was time for a fresh start with a new manager.

There was a fair bit of grumbling after the dreary draw with Huddersfield. Folks began to trickle down the stairs with 10 minutes of the game still to go. With just five minutes remaining it was a steady stream. Sure, it wasn’t the most riveting of games but there was a clean sheet, a point and star Defour performance. We were ninth in the table and in the top 30 of Europe’s richest clubs. Cast your mind back to 2004; that was real suffering. And say a silent prayer. Spare a thought for Stan Ternent that season. He concluded a press briefing by saying that keeping Burnley up that season was one of his best achievements.

The memories of that Rotherham game and the grim reading in magazines 157 to 159 put the Huddersfield game into a better perspective. So too did the Ham, chicken and mushroom pie, with chunky chips, mushy peas and lashings of gravy, at the Hare and Hounds in Todmorden.



2002, In Praise of old Magazines

Thank goodness for old Claret magazines you can leaf through and see how things were way back in the yesteryear. Someone posted somewhere that anyone under 17 will have no idea of the struggles this club once went through; it’s been Championship or Premier League all the way for them. Not that the Championship was always a bed of roses. Far from it, administration beckoned on occasions, the ITV Digital fiasco nearly did for us, the buckets were out, and the word relegation cropped up more than once.

So: it was fascinating as ever sitting through the final day of the transfer window and seeing on UTC the number of comments that we still needed this and still needed that that, and we still needed a centre back and we still needed a winger. And then I was digging through some old London Clarets mags and spotted that 12 years ago our big signing was Duane Courtney for £25,000. Then, when we signed Ian Moore for £1million in the days of Stan, we were all amazed and went dizzy and had nosebleeds. Burnley spending a million, it was unheard of. But here we are today and we spend £15million on Chris Wood, and then in addition, there’s Cork, Walters, Taylor, Wells et al.

So, anyway: at the end of last season it was getting harder and harder doing a weekly piece that was more than just a match report; so I thought I’d just send a piece every now and again when something turned up. So, with a bit of time to spare and when not falling asleep watching England in Malta, I dug out all the old London Claret mags I have, all 250 of them that go back to the days of Queen Victoria, and see what was in some of them.

Number 145, January 2002, was a classic. It celebrated what looked like might be a good season with success at the end of it, either automatic promotion or at least a top six place. December of 2001 was a great time as Burnley beat Crystal Palace 2-1, Preston North End 3-2, Stockport County 3-2, and drew against Millwall. Near the end of November in a TV game on a Friday night they had consolidated their lead at the top of the division with a 1-0 win against Grimsby Town in front of 18,000+ fans. If memory serves, did we not go 5 points clear that night, but then as the dusk of age descends, my memory ain’t what it used to be. Then of course came those wins in December and we were all thinking what can stop us now.

The answer of course was Manchester City who smacked the Clarets 5-1 at Maine Road. ‘Cometh the fixture cometh the thrashing,’ wrote Tim Quelch who went on to write:

‘Anyway, here we are at the turn of the year with Burnley still top. It is a magnificent achievement by all concerned. Let us celebrate that. God knows, there’s been little cause for rejoicing this year with Ground Zero, the Burnley riots, Foot and Mouth, Railtrack and Celebrity Big Brother. 2002 may prove to be harder going for BFC. Let’s hope that our fickle fans recognise that we have one of the very best management teams in the club’s history and continue to credit them even if the results start to go against us. Stan et al have not reached the dizzy heights scaled by harry Potts, John Haworth etc but what they have achieved with limited means and within such a short timescale is simply amazing. If Steve Davis, Ian Cox and Kevin Ball are prepared to place Stan among the very best in the business then so should we. There is no doubt that this is a golden age; long may it continue.’

Of course as we all know, it did not continue and the top six was missed by a whisker. It was pointed out in Mag issue 145 that what was to come in the second half of the season would be the real test. There would be few if any cannon fodder teams to play and nearly every home game would be against a potential top-six side. As things stood there would be no more games against anybody below mid-table. The forecast that was made, that the second half of the season would be far more difficult, was sadly correct. Mother Shipton would have struggled to do better.

But all that was to come and the mag also contained an apology for being top of the division. Who were these impoverished upstarts, how dare they upset the established order of things:

‘We are sorry for being top of the Nationwide League. We do realise that this is not supposed to have happened. We would particularly like to apologise to clubs like Kevin Keegan’s Manchester City and Gianluca Vialli’s Watford for being in a higher position than them. We also feel we should apologise to the media for getting in the way of the anticipated battles between the household names, particularly as no-one knows who Stan Ternent is.’

One of the wins in November was indeed against Watford, and Watford in the London Clarets mag always came in for some merciless, but good natured ribbing. Igor Wowk, ribber-in-chief, wrote:

     ‘It’s easy to see why Watford supporters loathe Burnley. With their fantastic one-way system, big shops like B&Q and the redundant power station close to Vicarage Road, it’s hard for a down to earth place like Burnley to match the architectural majesty of the jewel of the M25. Watfordians used to spending their evenings lingering over cappuccinos in the fashionable High Street, as carefree citizens wander around soaking up the last rays of the autumnal sun, probably find the gritty and unpretentious surroundings of Burnley less than pleasing on the eye. What better things in life can there be than soaking up the pre-match atmosphere in the Parisian style sophistication of Downtown Watford which is only a stone’s throw away from Vicarage Road, especially when Luton are the visitors.

     Once you are in the stadium, it must be great to mingle with the crowds brought up on a diet of flair and sophistication, as epitomised by icons like Luther Blisset, Kenny Jackett, Ross Jenkins and the other big ugly bastards they had in their side at the time that made them the envy of Europe. Those sublime moments of skill will linger long after they have occurred, which must make watching the current Watford side somewhat painful.

     Next time I go to Vicarage Road, as I negotiate the outstanding curves of the Inner Ring Road and the circular nature of the one-way system, even as I seek to nizzle my battered old car amongst the Ferraris and BMWs of the local population, my mind will be turned towards those poor unfortunate Watford supporters. As I wander the twists and turns of the narrow streets I might be distracted enough to wonder why they built their houses so close together. I suppose it’s because they are such a friendly lot, unlike us. Yes, the place that gave the world the immense cultural talents of Elton John and Geri Halliwell must be a really great place to come from and must give everyone a sense of pride.

     ‘Je suis de Watford,’ you would be able to say on the beaches of St Tropez.

     ‘Io sono di Watford,’ you could say in the San Marco Plaza di Venezia.

     ‘Si, si, lo so, Luther Blisset, che un grande stronzo,’ they might reply in Milan.

     Being such a low and humble form of life form, I ought to be really grateful for the opportunity to visit such a magnificent centre of cultural and architectural and 21st century style that following Burnley presents us, in the shape of a trip to Watford. Flanked by the M1, the London Orbital Road, the A41, and those other mystical highways that lead to other similarly evocative places nearby such as Rickmansworth, Potters Bar and Barnet, it’s always the first fixture I look for. Monday night in Watford, I can hardly wait. I am off to choose my outfit, visit my stylist and colour co-ordinator.

     Buonos Nottes, as Del Boy might say, and Hasta la Pasta, Sharon.’

Poor Stan: he came so close to the play-offs not once but twice and it’s reasonable to say that the dream, the second time round, began its end on that December day at Man City when Burnley were already 3-0 down after just 37 minutes. Hego, another celebrated London Clarets writer described the day, much abridged:

‘I suppose it was inevitable that the run was going to come to an end at some stage, but yet again we failed on the big stage. I had looked forward to this game for some time as I genuinely believed we could get something here as did most neutral observers. In the pub before the game manager Keegan was getting some serious stick from City fans one of whom commented, ‘As the psychiatrist once said of Basil in an episode of Fawlty Towers, there is more than enough material there for a dissertation.’

The manner of the defeat however was surprising after a reasonable start to the match. In particular the pressing game, the mainstay of our most impressive results against good teams completely deserted us. Anyway, a nice sunny day at Moss Side’s finest stadium. A mid-day kick-off but a generous helping of ale to ward off the vision of the City orcs a mere three feet of netting away. There was a fairly liberal interpretation of spring time around these parts or maybe they hadn’t actually closed from Friday evening. The stands here are of course hideous, designed by the same firm that did Stonehenge and will hopefully disappear soon. A couple of thousand clarets were in evidence to boost giving ‘the arrogant prats’ some serious oral abuse before the start of our cup final.

Half-time and game over, so then, a huge disappointment again after a Man City game with a certain amount of gallows humour in the local hostelry, decreed that a slight variation of the normal method of choosing man of the match was required. This was primarily to cheer us all up and of course to pad out this short and hugely unsatisfying match report. So here it is; the Worst Man of the Match voting.

First worst: Glen Little, more holes in his game today that a statement from the Transport Secretary.                                                                                                                                                                                  Second worst: Gareth Taylor did the work of two men today, Laurel and Hardy.                                                                  Third worst: Alan Moore, a good player but with more Achilles heels today than the average biped. Fourth worst: Kevin Ball, raced hard for the ball but time’s iron grip had a firm hand on his shirt.                                       Fifth worst Tony Grant: there are amoebas on Saturn which display better ball control than he did today.                                                                                                                                                                                      Sixth worst: Dean West, everything went over his head today so should look for future employment as a limbo dancer.

          Thus ended Stan’s dream to take the club he loved to the Premier League. The season before, the club had finished two points below the top six. Now it was just one goal difference. It was cruel. The fingers point to the defeat at Manchester City as being the catalyst for the run of games that saw Burnley fail in the dream again. Yet they were by no means down and out, still clinging to the hopes of the top-six place. The drama, however, was reserved for the very last game of the season against Coventry City at Turf Moor. A horrible 3-1 defeat at horrible Grimsby in the penultimate game was a sickener. Everything depended on the last game at home. Win it by two goals or more and the top six final position beckoned.

By now Stan had signed Paul Gascoigne in a move designed to repeat the inspiration provided by the signing of Ian Wright a couple of seasons earlier. Sadly it was wasted money. With a 1-0 lead in that final game against Coventry it still needed one more goal and the game was into the final five minutes. Those of us there will never forget the feelings of desolation and emptiness when goalkeeper Hedman made two wonder-saves from Gascoigne’s free kicks. The latter had been brought on the final stages; it was if the stage was set for the goal that was so necessary, when the two opportunities arose. With minutes to go Norwich were leading 2-0 against Crewe and Burnley just had to score one more.

David Johnson was brought down on the edge of the box. Gascoigne took the kick, a near perfect strike arrowing into the bottom corner but Hedman read it right, flung himself and saved. We groaned. But even then the game was still alive as another free kick was given with seconds remaining. This time it was Glen Little brought down. The free kick looked perfect again, but again Hedman saved. The whistle went, we were desolate beyond measure.

Over the years probably most of us have managed to forget the heartbreak of that day. From then on it was pretty much all a downhill struggle for several years to come. I’d managed to expunge the memory of that heartrending final five minutes of that game. Issue 145 of the London Clarets magazine unfortunately brought it all back.

Nostalgia is great sometimes, but at other times you could do without it.