BURNLEY 1 LEICESTER CITY 0
If anyone shoots at Trump…agents will yell Donald duck… he and Theresa seen holding hands… chaos at airports around the world…Nicola Sturgeon to rebuild Hadrian’s Wall… killer arctic blast on way says Express…
Cup weekend was over and two days remained to the closing of the transfer window. Now it was king of the scoops, Alan Nixon, saying Burnley were after Dan Gosling from Bournemouth. Jason O’ Connor, someone who claimed to be in the know, tweeted that the Brady to Burnley deal was very close and on the 29th Brady had met with the club and agreed terms. All of us dashed to the salt pot and took a pinch. Yeh right, we said, with a wry grin. Who’s Jason O’ Connor when he’s at home? Next we were said to be offering £10million for Hull City defender Andy Robertson. Dyche was still saying that deals were pending. So far there had been 22 links to players. At Watford it was 42.
Much as we looked forward to what might be a pulsating night when Leicester City arrived, it kind of detracted from the fun of the last night of the transfer window. Last time we’d sat glued to the webs as the Grosicki story broke, club officials were dashing to Manchester, we were about to sign the Polish international, his plane was being tracked, his plane had been spotted from someone’s bedroom window, his plane had landed, and then he was sent packing when his gambling debts were figuring in the equation. Sitting watching the hectic final hours has always been one of the highlights of the football season as Jim White works himself up into a gurgling lather and one of the lackeys stands at, and works the moneyometer. Then, of course, all the SKY bimbos with their revealing décolletages decorate our screens and Mrs T always asks is it in their contracts to wear these low-cut outfits. Personally, I don’t mind.
The news was good and for the first time that any of us could remember, Burnley was the first ball out of the FA Cup hat. Number 12 and we relaxed a bit, a home game; anyone will do if we were at home, we thought. A big name would make for a glamour-tie; a little name would make it easier to progress, though none of us took anything for granted. Burnley 0 Wimbledon 1, when Wimbledon were a non-league side, and Burnley were then a top side of the mid-70s, would always be a reminder of the shocks of football and the magic of the Cup. So: when the name of non-league Lincoln came out, of course we thought surely Burnley will progress to the sixth round, but not without just a smidgeon of caution.
Lincoln folk were not too chuffed if twitter was anything to go by. If they wanted Arsenal at home then that plum fell to Sutton. ‘You got to feel for Lincoln. Hope they like going back in time,’ was the first of the predictable responses.
‘Of all the teams Lincoln could have drawn it had to be Burnley. All there is is a Tesco, a football ground, a cricket field and a bookie.’
‘Do visit the pride and joy of Burnley – the bus station.’
Got to feel sorry for Lincoln, Sutton get Arsenal and they get Burnley away.’
‘The cobbled end of the M65…’
‘Lincoln now have to travel to Burnley away. No fan deserves that.’
‘No buzz of excitement at Lincoln, more like the thud of disappointment.’
‘Worst draw for us, I said Burnley away, and that’s what we got.’
‘BBC trying to polish a turd and pretend Burnley is an exciting draw for Lincoln.’
Lincoln City fans might well be amused by something Tony Adams said way back in 2010. He was, at the time, manager of Gabala, a far flung outpost in faraway exotic Azerbaijan. When questioned about where the hell this place was and what on earth he was doing there, he replied: ‘It’s not perfect but it could be worse, it could be in Burnley.’
The insults made us smile. ‘No-one loves us, we don’t care,’ is a well-founded truth. The image remains of a manky East Lancashire town, frozen in time. It remains the subject of denigration and stereotype. From 50 miles away, anyone would think it still consists of cobbled streets, terraced rows, back to backs, brass bands, thick fog, grey sheep, mill chimneys, pie and peas, fish and chips, and nothing but pound shops and charity shops. For charity shops you should try Otley.
But how wrong can they be? Burnley might feature in any top 50 lists of poorer places to live, but the regulars in the top ten over the years are places like Morecambe, Milton Keynes, Watford, Hull, Blackpool and Middlesbrough. In a recent ‘crap towns’ survey, Blackburn was well in there but no mention of Burnley. Jack Straw to our great delight was outraged.
‘Compared to Blackburn, (mill chimneys replaced by golden domes and minarets), Burnley is Biarritz,’ was one observation. And wasn’t Burnley recently awarded the accolade of ‘most enterprising town?
Prior to the game, those of us who could were sitting glued to the SKY Sports transfer desk. At 11.35 a.m. their man at a wet Turf Moor reported that ‘slowly but surely it was all falling in to place,’ when asked about Robbie Brady. There was no mention of Robertson or Westwood having a medical, an earlier claim on twitter. That came later, yes Westwood was having a medical, we assumed it would be more thorough than the one that Joe Gallagher had years ago when he had to run up and down the stairs; but Robertson would not be leaving Hull. It was at halftime in the game versus Leicester that the announcement came; Brady had signed for a record fee and he saw out the game from the directors’ box. In his flimsy coat he presumably didn’t know about Burnley rain.
It came down in buckets, a groundsman’s nightmare; there is a limit to even Desso durability, and this was the seventh game since Boxing Day at Turf Moor. At the end of the day, despite all the advancements, science, seed that germinates all year round and sun lamps, a football pitch is still vulnerable grass. The long gouge marks that now appear regularly are almost Kindonesque. No-one made deeper ruts than Stevo with his size 12 boots. The wear and tear in the corner between the James Hargreaves and the Jimmy Mac quite clear, made worse because this is the corner where the team does its pre-match intensive training routines. And then at half-time out come the school teams to play their games. With such short gaps between games, recovery time has been short-lived, the gantry lights have not been used because the pitch has been so sodden that wheeling this heavyweight equipment around the pitch every three or four days would do more harm than good with the ruts they can cause. Every time I met Roy Oldfield I left with the feeling ‘who’d be a groundsman’ and battle with soggy English weather. 30 years may have passed by since Roy was there, but the weather is much the same.
But if the pitch glistened with the wet, then so did the game. This was a pulsating, high octane, no holds barred confrontation that Burnley deservedly won with their best performance of the season so far. Of course Leicester showed glimpses of class, moments of pace, but their threats came only from breakaways and a handful of long shots comfortably held by Heaton, bar one. But on this wet and skiddy surface to spill the ball just once was understandable. Barton was simply immense, Hendrick not far behind; all of the others gave their all. But at corners the wrestling and grappling by Leicester was simply appalling, the back-street brawlers Huth and Morgan in particular, Mike Dean seemingly with no idea how to control it. West Brom were once the chief culprits, now it was Leicester taking it to a whole new level of blatant wrestling, pushing, jostling, mauling, elbowing and shoving.
The partnership between Barnes and Gray is developing. The partnership between Gray and Vokes continues to develop. But it is the partnership between Barnes and Vokes that impressed. Barnes starts the game, puts himself about, roughs ‘em up, snarls and roars almost in preparation for Vokes who then continues, maybe with just a little more finesse and politeness, and in this game scored the winner. Was it a deliberate handball? No: this is Sam Vokes, a player so honest he doesn’t do dives or faking. So honest, if an Asda checkout girl gave him just one penny too much change, he wouldn’t sleep that night, and he’d take it back the next morning. A player so gentlemanly he feeds the birds in winter and helps little old ladies across the road. A handball, maybe; deliberate never.
We came home damp, delighted and disbelieving at what we had seen – and the news we had heard about what we had spent. For once a referee’s poor decision-making did not cost us three points and if the winner was controversial because of an alleged handball by Sam Vokes, then it was no more than Burnley deserved on the night, having peppered the Leicester goal with 24 shots, had 60% of the possession, and had a nailed on penalty claim (maybe two) ignored in the first half, Mike Dean showing again that with him it is pot luck whether or not any team is awarded a penalty.
So, whilst Ranieri tut tutted and shook his head afterwards, we Burnley folks had not one shred of sympathy. This was a totally deserved win against the Champions of England. ‘Are you spending any more?’ asked a reporter at the end of the game. ‘Yes on a takeaway,’ said Dyche.
‘If the goal was a suspicion of handball, hopefully we get the balance with decisions, then c’est la vie,’ he said wryly, ‘but I think it hit his chest and then his arm. We’ve had enough decisions go against us.’
We drove back to Leeds through the murk and rain and spray on empty roads thinking, is this is the club that 30 years ago on the night was playing at Hartlepool in the old Fourth Division, that had bucket collections to buy players, that once couldn’t pay the electric bill, that used soil from molehills to repair the pitch, that 30 years ago played the Orient to stay in the Football League and skipper Ray Deakin drove the team coach to save money. But now SKY were describing Burnley as deadline day’s biggest spenders.
The stats were trotted out – and why not, on such a heady day. This was the first win against Leicester in ten attempts. Leicester had beaten Burnley at Turf Moor on the last three visits. This was the best home run of wins in the top division since 1966. And this was a minute 87 winner, almost Arsenalesque in its lateness and controversy. £18million poundsworth of new players were in the stands watching. And: the really eagle-eyed had spotted that in 2009 Burnley beat the champs Man United 1-0 at TM. In the next promotion season they beat the champs Man City 1-0 at TM. And now they had beaten the champs Leicester 1-0.
How does that song go? ‘Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.’ And better yet, the pitch was due 10 days respite and sunshine from the lamps before Chelsea arrived in town.