CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0 BURNLEY 3
The irony was clear to everyone. One club, Charlton, relegated, angry fans, badly run, foreign owners, had been on a downward trajectory since they had exited the Premier League. The second club, Burnley, stable, well managed, local directors, passionate fans, no debts, realistic and had achieved promotion to the Premier League yet again.
You might have argued it was a metaphor for the state of the game. Chaos is the norm, debt is the norm, and failed ambition is the norm. But a club run like Burnley, a model club, a well-run club, ‘a proper football club,’ is the one-off and quite unique. The failed policies of Blackburn, Bolton and Blackpool are to the west, the remnants of Leeds United and Sheffield United to the east. Burnley is the shining light of football and the model that others declare they aspire to.
Leicester City were the public darlings, everyone’s fairytale story but Burnley is the club that comes from a small town of just 80,000 people, that 30 years ago was knocking on the door of closure. Leicester got themselves a brand new sparkling stadium out of administration and now has millionaire owners that fly back and forth in helicopters. They scout Europe and the Far East for players but as Burnley Director Barry Kilby once said, “We look for people in Skipton.” I know which my fairytale story is.
And so to the final game of the season at Charlton, with the Football League having decided that the trophy would be parked in Middlesbrough in case they were the title winners. If not then either Burnley or Brighton would be presented with it at a later date. Although Burnley’s promotion was secure the situation was that any of the top three clubs could end up as champions.
Dyche said they were heading there with one purpose, to win the title. “Preston was the big result for us,” he said. They all had a warm inner glow, not the one that comes from a bowl of porridge, but the one that had come from doing the job they needed to do on Monday and beating QPR. Their only concern was what kind of disruption to the game might come from the disgruntled Charlton supporters. How must they have felt seeing that the visitors were the successful Burnley side heading to the Promised Land? Just how does this small unfashionable club in this small town do it, they must have wondered.
Who writes these scripts: one game being top against bottom and the top side still needing the win to be champions; and at the other end of the country a virtual play-off for the second automatic promotion place? These were no ordinary final end-of-season games with players thinking of beaches in the sun.
It was the hottest ticket of the season: the websites during the week before were swamped with requests, ‘anyone got a spare ticket?’ On the day before the game Facebook and twitter were filled with pictures and messages that people were already heading down to London for the weekend. On the morning of the game there were dozens more from people about to depart or on the motorways, or on trains. More than just a few tweets damned the vagaries of British rail. 3,000 tickets were available for the game but yet more messages revealed that by hook or by crook other Burnley fans had tickets in the home stands. The rest of us said thank the Lord for SKY and put an extra shilling in the electric meter just in case.
The night before Mrs T had said, ‘Are you nervous?’
I said I wasn’t but by the morning I was. ‘Champions’ has a wonderful ring to it. It’s not something you can put on your CV too often. It would be the icing on the cake and anyway wouldn’t it be just a hell of an achievement to go half a season undefeated, a new post-war record and all on a day of glorious sunshine in the capital. Meanwhile, all of us wanted Brighton to win at Boro. Karanka had shot himself in the foot as far as we were concerned with his barbed remarks about Dyche and Burnley. Knowing the trophy was up there it would be nice to say: ‘look this is what you could have won.’
It had been a few years since Burnley had been involved in any end of season game that could be described as truly meaningless or lacking in any interest, the kind of game where we’d go along out of a sense of duty and then sit and doze as the season ebbed away. This one was up there with all those end of season games that had so much depending on them, be it winning promotion or avoiding relegation. Burnley has had a great record of winning games at Charlton; it was a 3-0 win in the last promotion season. If we could have chosen a team to play against for this final game, Charlton might well have been the popular choice.
Charlton fans had their own plans to get their message across that they wanted their owners out and their club back. A huge sit-in was being organised to disrupt things as much as possible in front of the main stand entrances and the ticket offices. Charlton had hired an extra 100 security staff to prevent objects being taken inside. The popular bet was sprouts. As it turned out it seemed to be just rolled up balls of paper and the occasional flare in the second half.
Burnley Football Club means so much to so many people – like Tom Tomlinson from Cambridge – on pins like the rest of us hoping we could win the title:
Being a Burnley fan living in Cambridge means I have made the trip up so many times over the years by both train and road. This time was different, not sure why; myself and my two boys, Sam 23 and Jack 20, had decided weeks before that this, QPR, was the game and we had decided on a stop-over at The Premier Inn. I was nervous, the boys in high spirits; last time I had felt this nervous for a home game was Orient in 1987.
The days very different on the pitch, very different off the pitch; in 1987 in a very rare occurrence my dad let me down and said we could not go to Orient. I was distraught. 15 days before I had major knee surgery to correct a ruptured ligament, but aged 14 I defied my dad and went anyway.
The day ended with me sitting on the pitch crying my eyes out, for three reasons. My beloved Clarets were staying up; because of the late kick-off and the celebrations that followed I was going to miss my train home; and last but definitely not least during the melee on the pitch I got knocked down right on my bad knee.
But this time, events up to kick-off were much less traumatic. An easy journey up followed by a cheeky breakfast in The Boot; the usual over-spend in the Turf in town, parked up and in the fan zone for 12.30.
My son said to me at half-time during the Brighton game “can you feel it?”
“This is it, it’s our day,” and he winked. At Wembley in 2009 a rather worse for wear Claret said this to us as we were going in and randomly hugged and kissed us.
You know the rest, Brighton drew; we won. I was sat in the David Fishwick the same as ’87. I found myself on the pitch the same as ’87. I hugged Sam Vokes, Joey Barton, I got knocked over again but I got up again (there may be a song there) and the night ended with celebrations, songs and family in an ale house I have never frequented before.
We’ve not been able to get Charlton tickets, so SKY it is, followed by a Bar B Q in the garden – and no doubt another sore head. Tom Tomlinson
The morning dragged, 9 o’ clock, 10 o’ clock and 11 o’ clock. At last coverage started. Common sense said this should be a win, but Charlton had other ideas and were slick, pacey and carved out regular chances. Burnley were sluggish but took the lead with a fine goal, in truth their first bout of dangerous passing of the game; it took them to the edge of the box whereupon Ward put a superb low ball over that eluded the defenders and there was Vokes to tap home. What utter relief and joy at the same time.
Burnley we thought would settle and begin to turn it on and dominate the game. Wrong: this was a limp showing, letting Charlton have possession, the defence dropping back and giving them space so that it was Heaton that was the saviour several times, three of his saves being world class. The half continued in the same vein with a Charlton goal looking inevitable so meek were Burnley.
It was a Burnley player that revealed to the SKY team on the way out for the second half that they’d had the mother of all bollockings in the dressing room. Irony indeed, in the most recent interview Dyche had said he didn’t throw teacups but it was clear that he could dish out the verbals. It might have been so different in the first half if attempts on goal from outside the box had been of the Bobby Charlton thunderbolt variety rather than the ambitious attempts to float clever shots into the top corner. At least three times this happened as if the players were having some kind of competition to see who could actually manage to score this way. All of them went into the crowd behind.
The second goal came early in the second half and it was another beauty, an Alka Seltzer goal, settling the stomach. Three passes and the ball was out on the left with Lowton this time; the cross came over and Gray got a head and flicked the ball to Boyd beyond him just outside the 6-yard box. Boyd controlled it, took his time, he had plenty of it, enough to read the programme, not a Charlton player near him. He slammed the ball home. Delirium this time, not just relief; surely that was it, the game was won and the title belonged to Burnley.
And then it got even better. Within a minute Burnley had scored again with a stunning goal. You could have been forgiven for momentarily switching off and missing it; since when do Burnley ever score two in a minute? Marney sent a glorious 50-yard pinpoint pass out wide left to Gray. Gray just about controlled, cut in, and fired home an angled shot. And that was that, job done, game won, play out the game, and be crowned champions, except the cup the team held aloft was a plastic inflatable that a fan had brought, apparently all the way up from Cornwall.
Charlton played with verve to the very end, their fans by now having spent the final 20 minutes of the game making their feelings known but without seriously disrupting the game. Stewards with sand and buckets periodically ran on to the pitch to gather up the flares, the firework kind, not a pair of 70’s trousers. At the end of the game there was one of those lovely sporting moments when Burnley fans in their hundreds on the pitch, stood at the Charlton end to applaud them and their protests. The Charlton fans returned the applause.
Whilst the two Charlton fans on the SKY sofa at the Charlton end of the pitch no doubt squirmed and grimaced, we at home on our best-room, parlour sofas, sat back and relaxed as soon as that third goal went in. Now we could enjoy it. Now we knew we were the champions and on the very last day, in the very last game, number 23 of the unbeaten run since Boxing Day, we were not just going up, we were the Championship Winners in a season without one red card. Not that you would have thought so from the niggardly coverage on the news channels where Middlesbrough seemed to take centre stage. It would have surprised no-one if the BBC had announced that the Championship winners were Barnsley. Let’s face it Burnley are not front page news and whilst at Leicester, galactico Andrea Bocelli was singing centre-stage; at Burnley we’ve got Chumbawamba and the Milltown Brothers if one day we need a flashy intro.
Dyer, Barnes and Duff came on and for Duff it must have been an emotional moment. It was announced afterwards that this was his retirement game. What a dignified way to leave the game, on his own terms, at the very top, over 600 career appearances, nearly 400 of them for Burnley, a player who is respected and admired. How well he has served Burnley Football Club, helping them win three promotions to the Premier League, a quite unique achievement, and a member now of the Burnley Hall of Fame.
Sunday morning and normally I’d be out buying extra papers, but this time what was the point. Champions and heading to the Prem but as far as the media were concerned, still little Burnley, unfashionable, and barely worth more than a paragraph. The esteemed Sunday Telegraph was a case in point. On the very front page of the broadsheet main section was the top-of-page banner Joy for Burnley, Middlesbrough and of course Leicester. Wow I thought maybe a feature inside. In the actual sports section there was not one single mention. The Sunday Mirror had a two page spread on Middlesbrough. Burnley was a footnote at the bottom of the page. Never mind, here we were in deepest Leeds, with flags in the garden and banners in the windows. An inflatable trophy would have looked grand on the doorstep if I could have found one.
But the best was yet to come. There was a new hot ticket in town and they had sold out weeks earlier; tickets for the Gala Player Awards Evening at the club the day after the Charlton game. Win the title on Saturday and a Gold ticket party just 24 hours later. 600 of us squeezed in around the tables laden with food and wine, on a glittering celebration evening.
But this time the trophy was real.