BURNLEY 1 CHELSEA 1
A Sapphire Jubilee… Watford was Burnley’s 100th game in Prem… Bercow says no more trumps…goodbye scriptwriter Alan Simpson…hospital corridors re-designated wards… Robbie Savage hairstyle the worst ever…
Next up Chelsea, the big one, the kind of game that makes us want to be in the Premier League and the world from Singapore to Seattle looks at Burnley and asks, can they pull off another huge result at home against the side currently romping away with the Premier title? It sounded like the world was indeed focussing on the club, the media department saying it was their most manic week yet.
They don’t come much bigger than a game like this. This was Bank of Dave versus Coutts, Boohoo versus Calvin Klein; David versus Goliath. And: with Hendrick suspended for three games, Defour injured, Marney a long term injury; we hoped that the FA would not be in touch with Joey Barton just yet. Could Burnley squeeze maybe three more games out of him?
Burnley nine points clear of the drop zone, plus a better goal difference worth another point. The Watford result hugely frustrating, this was a fixture we’d hoped to get something. But just 2 points separated the bottom 6 clubs and Burnley were not one of them. Burnley with one of the best home records in all the top European leagues and with the goalkeeper who tops the lists for saves in the top five European leagues with 103 saves. In 25 games Michael Keane had committed just ten fouls, an astonishing stat for a centre-half.
If the Watford result had done one thing, it had galvanised the Burnley team. It was clear they felt hard done by and if some results can undermine morale and sap resolve, this was not one of them. An Al Pacino team talk couldn’t have fired them up more and Dyche was dismissive of Burnley suffering any mental hang-up.
14 games remaining so that pub and club talked centred around how many more wins were needed to stay up. General talk was that just two might do it, plus the odd draw since this would mean the bottom three teams would need to win half of their remaining games; and seven games seemed a tall order for them. It seemed so clear and simple; two maybe could do it, three definitely. Such is the football fan, forever working out permutations, variations, combinations and suffering palpitations. SKY analysed who would go down from the bottom seven clubs and Burnley were not even mentioned.
Chelsea fans might well have been having palpitations too, when they heard the news; their charter train would be arriving in Burnley later than planned. National Rail, bless them, were suffering from delayed engineering works at Northampton so that no train could pass along that stretch of the line before 9 a.m. Not even Chelsea and Abramovich have any sway over National Rail it seems and Chelsea were therefore faced with the problem that even if all else was on time, there were no leaves on the line, no bridges had collapsed, no snow on the tracks, they would not arrive at Manchester Road until just 45 minutes before kick-off. You could well imagine them, all getting off the train in a mad scramble, close to panic. From swinging London and trendy Kings Road to provincial Burnley on a cold, grey, drab northern day; they’d need their gloves poor things, we could only mutter. Next up was a 0.9 mile walk to the ground. Let’s hope it’s pouring down as well, we wished. Add to that their news that Hazard was doubtful, or maybe that was codology and mind games, and we did begin to wonder if something was working in Burnley’s favour. Chelsea fans were certainly apprehensive judging by the number of tweets that appeared and Conte seemed a tad wary and had clearly looked at all the Burnley home stats and mentioned them in his press conference.
The questions poured out; would they all manage to squeeze into the tiny dressing room, who would start for Burnley, would Matic and Barnes be pleased to see each other, would sparks fly? Would Costa be up to all his tricks, a sort of Sonny Liston with boots on? At the Stamford Bridge game two years ago when it was 1-1 all the focus had been on Barnes and Matic, nobody picked up on Costa whacking Shackell when the ball had gone; it was miles away and the ref was looking elsewhere and Costa just belted into him. Lip readers nearby swore blind that Dyche had fumed at Mourhino and told him in no uncertain terms, ‘you’re a f*****g disgrace.’ I like to think it’s true. And Chelsea have got previous; way back in the 70s they came after a 2-2 FA Cup draw at their place and proceeded to leave Ralph Coates black and blue from head to foot. Names like Eddie McCreadie and Chopper Harris won’t be forgotten, and then there was Micky Droy, about the same size as the Statue of Liberty but not quite as mobile.
It was a long Saturday. Unloading the dishwasher might be exciting for some but it only takes so long. Sunday couldn’t come soon enough. Plans to pass away some time by doing a few odd jobs in the garden were abandoned as soon as we looked out the window and saw the dull, dank, dripping, murky drizzle. But a tiny Goldcrest that landed on the bird table and poked around seeing what was on offer had us glued to the window whilst it was there. We get a whole range of stuff, goldfinches, bullfinches, chaffinches, and all the other usual stuff, robins, blue tits and dunnocks, thrushes and collared doves; but a Goldcrest, that was a bit special.
So: it was up to the paper shop for an armful of papers; and the mystery of Warburton at Rangers. For a while he’d been the best thing since sliced bread up there, but now had he gone, resigned, been dismissed or just had enough of Rangers politics. No-one seemed to know. But stability was alive and well at Turf Moor. I’d been looking through back issues of the London Clarets magazine and what struck me was ‘pre-Dyche’, just how unstable it was, with a procession of managers, changes of chairmen, cries of no money, player sales, unsettled supporters and inconsistent results. Unstable: in the sense of so much change going on in the short space of time between Coyle departing and then eventually Howe heading home. But now the place rolled along, eventfully but smoothly, genuinely optimistic, successful, upsets and traumas in short supply, cash in hand, and all the new developments.
Even without Burnley playing it was a ‘big’ afternoon and if the bottom three all lost again we could breathe a sigh of relief if Chelsea won again at Turf Moor. Arsenal versus Hull was on TV so we sat and watched that one, but with Arsenal so inconsistent any result was possible. Up next to see Farsley Celtic versus Glossop in the Evostick Division One North League; would I be glued to my seat? The ground only five minutes from home and only four quid to go in (OAP concession) and if they won all their games in hand they could go top. And the pies up there (Growlers) were well recommended. In the interests of research I would need to sample one. And then, if the neighbours were back from shopping, it was Liverpool Spurs on BT Sport. He’s a Liverpool fan and was currently unhappy; he’d need moral support.
Farsley won 4-1 against Glossop North End. The steak pie filling was excellent, the texture and flavour of the meat would have been a credit to Fanny Craddock, the crust perhaps a tad on the brown, crisp side, but very acceptable on a bitterly cold afternoon; the Farsley ground, open to the wind, making Tow Law or Oldham Athletic seem like the Maldives. The crowd of 201 (the 1 was me) and five dogs (yes 5 dogs) was raucous and partisan. The claggy, bobbly pitch was similar to what Gawthorpe must have looked like in the 50s.
My neighbour was there and introduced me to his dad who to my great surprise had once repaired Jimmy Adamson’s boiler in Leeds when Jimmy lived in the Roundhay area. Leeds were playing away and the boiler needed emergency attention on this particular Saturday. His wife May was there and explained the problem whereupon my pal’s dad examined it, took it apart and then pronounced it more or less expired. He could, he explained, do a temporary repair until they got a new one. The phone went and back came May. It was a friend to say Leeds had lost again.
‘Just do a temporary repair,’ she instructed him. ‘We may not be here much longer.’
3-1 down and dusk falling, the floodlights just about illuminating the pitch in the gloom, Glossop made three substitutions all at once. The tannoy crackled into life. The announcer cleared his throat.
‘Na then, this’ll test me,’ he said, and went through the three slowly and thoughtfully. At last he finished. ‘Na then, are we done, are we reyt, ah ther anymoor, no, there’s na moor, ah think we’re alreyt then?’
Home in five minutes, feet like an iceberg lettuce, and saw that the bottom three had all lost. Burnley therefore had the equivalent of a free hit. Things could not have gone better.
Sunday weather perfect, the sort we say these southern boys don’t like, the expression it’s-grim-oop-north covers it nicely, not just cold but very cold, grey, overcast, damp and sleeting and snittering when anybody from Brazil might think they are on an alien planet. It gets right in me bones, my granny used to say; weather that even a brass monkey would avoid, Turf Moor at its inhospitable best. The word could have been invented for days like this. But us northern lads cope in our shirt sleeves and call it brisk.
There was a strong story that Chelsea brought more heaters for the dressing room from Argos. Then somebody said that was rubbish, it was Homebase. ‘Hurry up, ees cold,’ said Conte to an autograph hunter after the game. You got the same feeling about his players as they left the field. Costa when he got off the coach had a face like a bag of bad prunes. It was clear as day by minute 85 they’d had enough and by the end wanted a warm bath, although they’d have to queue for that and the bar of soap in the away dressing room. For the warm ups they were in snoods, mufflers, hats and gloves. The subs sat on the bench beneath what were either rugs or huge towels. There were suspicions they had portable heaters underneath. They were utterly shrammed. We were too, but we’ve had practice, we live with weather like this. We’re ‘ard in Burnley.
If Chelsea thought they would walk away with the points how mistaken they were. If we too thought they would be too good, how wrong were we? Taking the lead in the 7th minute we might have been forgiven for thinking that a tonking was on the cards, such was the ease they dissected the Burnley defence. But it was merely a flash in the pan. Sure they had the majority of possession but after that goal there was not one more Chelsea shot on target and Heaton, thereafter underused and untroubled, must have just stood and shivered in the cold wishing he’d brought his duffle coat or a heater from the Chelsea dressing room. It was the last real Chelsea threat and once Burnley equalised with a wonderful Brady free kick from 25 yards midway through the half, it was very much a question of not would Chelsea win, but would Burnley, with Barton in the thick of everything.
For all the pretty Chelsea patterns and passing, it was Burnley that fashioned the best chances. A ball played across the goal line by Gray that no-one was on hand to clatter home; a 20 yarder from Barnes that he hit as he was falling that whistled by the post, two blocked piledrivers, a Lowton shot after a passing move in the box that Courtois saved with his legs and then a wonderful chance for Gray played through by Barnes that he hit straight at Courtois. If Burnley had won this game by taking just one of those chances, only the Chelsea people could possibly have grumbled. The MOTD pundits drooled with appreciation.
Enthralling, intriguing, compelling, this was a game that you couldn’t take your eyes off and all the more riveting for the way in which the little team never really looked like losing once the equaliser had gone in. In fact it was a measure of how well Burnley played that as we left, there was more than a tinge of disappointment that Burnley hadn’t taken all three points. Chelsea fans were in the main, in agreement. They had gained a point, not dropped two. They knew they could have gone home with nothing.
Conte’s delightful explanation for the result was that the pitch was small and helped Burnley to defend. ‘You have less pitch to defend.’ It was actually enlarged in the summer to meet Premier League specifications. But no-one begrudges the Italian’s eccentricities. Whatever he says, he says with a twinkle in his eye, with charm and appealing passion. Mourhino could learn a lot from him. Courtois meanwhile blamed the weather and the snow and the pitch for making things difficult. Burnley don’t need a good pitch, he said, for the long ball game they play. WHAT! Did Costa really say it was too cold to play? He was largely anonymous. Matic and Barnes never even got close to trading snarls or glares.
There was praise for Burnley from everyone. They were held up as the example of how to stop Chelsea. There was praise for the togetherness, the spirit, the never say die attitudes and huge praise for Dyche who was described as having out thought Conte. A tactical masterpiece, said Keown; Dyche and Conte the two best Premier managers.
‘Absolute privilege to be part of such a selfless group,’ tweeted Barton, ‘real team on many fronts.’ After this game, all of us felt much the same.