BURNLEY 1 QUEEN’S PARK RANGERS 0
It was a belter of a game on the Friday might of the penultimate weekend and for 94 minutes we were all Birmingham fans. It was a tame first 20 minutes and it would have been more entertaining reading the telephone directory. Slimmed down though it now is, there’s still enough content to put anyone to sleep.
And then it livened up, became end to end stuff with Brum’s Donaldson, Cotterill and Fabbrini catching the eye. Our nerves twang quite enough when we watch Burnley, now they were twanging watching Birmingham. We roared when they took the lead, there were reports of fireworks in Padiham, groaned when Rhodes equalised with as daft and scruffy goal as you will ever see involving a Sunday morning goalkeeper error, groaned even more when Boro then went ahead, beat the air and settee in delight when Birmingham scored again with a screamer. And then we decided the linesman was just the nicest man in the world when he disallowed a third Boro goal that looked perfectly OK. Nugent came on in the final minutes and we assumed the worst that he would score in extra time. The script was written for him. He didn’t. Karanka of course insisted afterwards that the world was against Boro and different ref rules were being applied to them. He was called various things on the Burnley websites, none of them repeatable.
2-2 it ended and immediately out came the calculators, equations and formulae, notepads, backs of envelopes, scraps of paper and old maths books as most of Burnley and Clarets everywhere from Todmorden to Tasmania hurriedly jotted down all the different remaining results and points and permutations and possibilities until our heads were spinning. And still we couldn’t quite work it out definitively. Burnley had two games remaining, Brighton had two and Boro just one and now had 88 points with the other two on 87.
On the websites and messageboards the common theme was that the obsessive figuring out of the final positions was doing people’s heads in. As far as I could make out as long as Burnley beat QPR, whatever else happened, Burnley would be up in at least second spot. And then my brow furrowed, I thought again, out came the bit of scrap paper again and I re-did the calculations – and still I wasn’t bloody sure. Only one thing could be said with certainty and that was if Burnley won BOTH their games, yes, they were UP.
The next games were not until two days later, another 48 hours of thinking and wondering and computing and calculating and the Burnley game was an absolute sell-out of home seats with extra blocks opened in the Cricket Field Stand. The media, TV, press, websites had at last cottoned on to this fantastic end to the season and the endless variations of results and scenarios. The three sides had just five games left between them yet no-one seemed able to say with 100% certainty which club would end up top or second. None of us could remember an ending quite like it. Sales of black market mogadon and nitrazepan had trebled. Doctor’s surgeries were besieged by insomniacs seeking help.
Sunday, Tour de Yorkshire, May Day, pole dancing and stuff, Morris Dancers, village greens, white rabbits, no Burnley report to read in the Sundays, although there was a Dyche feature in one of them; countdown to the Monday game against QPR. Speculation, calculation, ponderation, can they do it, can we do it, joy or gloom, relegated Bolton beat top-six Hull to demonstrate yet again that nothing is for certain. Doomed Charlton the last day opponents won away at Leeds. Nerves, head scratching, finger nails, grey hair, 50 shades of it, celebration or commiseration, what would it be?
Superstition and compulsive disorders were widespread. Since the unbeaten run began some people had worn the same shirt to every game, or walked avoiding the cracks, chins had gone unshaven, and there were lucky scarves. Some folks had worn the same socks; one guy had odd socks, no matter what the weather one guy always wore his duffle coat, one person had worn the same items of jewellery, drivers took the same routes, people ate the same breakfast and put clothes on in the same order. It’s football; we do these things. It’s all phooey, baloney and tosh, course it is… but I made sure I put my left shoe on first.
Monday arrived, Jeremy Corbyn in town, early morning grey skies, cold and drab again, with Brighton set to play early afternoon so that for now we were all Derby fans with Shackell forgiven and all of us urging him to be the wonderful, handsome, urbane, imperturbable and elegant player that had once condescended to grace our turf and earned our admiration until he had decided the Derby grass was greener. His departure was temporarily forgiven; as the game kicked off we were his most ardent devotees again.
The carnival atmosphere at the ground was astonishing, the atmosphere unique; the anticipation utterly immense. Outside the Fanzone beer tent a huge TV screen had been erected showing the Brighton game. Food stalls and activities made the whole thing more like a country fair. This was shoulder to shoulder stuff, cars crammed in the car park, drinkers squeezed round the big screen, armies of fans marching up Harry Potts Way, more extra blocks of seats opened up, and a total sense of expectation you could have bottled.
We watched the big screen and urged Derby as if they were our own. That is to say we watched the big screen if we could get near it. How many people there – at least a thousand glued to the giant TV, many with pints in hand willing Derby to help us out. And indeed they did; the roar that greeted the Derby goal was the equal of any that salutes most Burnley goals. Priceless, exactly what we wanted, but a Derby win was surely just too much to hope for. So it proved, with Brighton equalising very late. 1-1 it ended still a great result for Burnley so that now we knew we could say for sure ‘win and we go up.’
Early rain had changed to bright, sunny, but still cold skies. The sun shone but the promised 75 degrees was still a few days away. Anyway it was the Daily Express that was forecasting a min- heatwave and we all know how accurate their weather news is. The roar and volume of noise that filled the ground when Burnley came out was awesome, almost frightening. These were our gladiators; shut your eyes and it might have been Ancient Rome with us willing QPR to succumb and fail so that we could give them the thumbs-down and see them mercilessly despatched. Oh for a performance that matched that against Wigan two years earlier when Burnley had purred like a Rolls Royce with immaculate passing, individuals skills, and sprinted like greyhounds, all in equal measure.
But, oh dear, alas this was not a day that Burnley purred like a Daimler or a Bentley and Dyche at the end had to acknowledge that this was not a good day at the office. This was not a Rolls Royce display this was a 20-year old Skoda failing its MOT, stuttering, coughing and spluttering. Dyche said they couldn’t be brilliant every day; this was all about the result, about their resilience, hard work and strong chins. And they needed those strong chins with QPR outmuscling Burnley time and again and with Vokes and Gray fighting for scraps.
Heaton in the first half proved the old Cloughie adage that a good goalkeeper is worth a dozen points a season and his string of first half saves earned the three points just as much as the Vokes header that decided the game. It wasn’t quite shooting practice for QPR, but the chances they created and the shots they had, could have so easily won any other game but for Heaton’s cat-like vigilance and sharpness.
In truth this game by half-time had ‘upset’ written all over it so that it seemed inevitable that everything would go right to the last day down at Charlton. They were not playing well, but we willed them to grab the priceless win that would take them up but this was a game that was scrappy, decent football at a premium, flair absent, it’s like they’ve got their feet stuck in glue, said Mrs T at half-time. Nerves, apprehension reigned supreme.
A goal seemed a million miles away, but then a free-kick in the sixtieth minute out wide. Jones, he of the sweet left foot, the other is just for standing on, took it low and in-swinging. Was this a training ground move? It looked like it as Vokes suddenly darted in front of the markers to the corner of the 6-yard box. The perfect trajectory connected with this head that glanced it into the far corner of the net. Blink and you missed, such was the speed of the whole thing and there it was; the ball nestling in the corner of the net and the ground going mental.
It didn’t quite sink in at first, the brain didn’t compute, it was so out of the blue, had we really scored, was promotion now firmly in our hands. The noise roared round the ground, the mood changed, the support increased, confidence grew, there was now a different kind of inevitability that we were going to win this game, as if the script was clear, that the draws for Boro and Brighton had now opened the door for Burnley into the Premier League. Riches as great as those that Carter found in Tutankhamen’s tomb beckoned.
Now there really was belief and conviction, this was going to happen, it was ordained, the win was just part of the great masterplan that this was the day when everything converged, the stars were aligned as they should be, and that everything so far had been the precursor to this one result. QPR had been so much better than Burnley yet here we were winning 1-0. QPR hit the post with a stunning curling shot, yet here we were still winning 1-0 and it just seemed that nothing was going to take that away even though there were 20 minutes left although you could be forgiven for thinking that Referee Moss had other ideas.
Moss contrived to disallow a perfectly good second Burnley goal when he spotted the goalkeeper on the floor as the Vokes header went in. The nearest player to the goalkeeper was a QPR player; it looked to me that the keeper had just keeled over to get the free kick. As it turned out it didn’t matter but it might have done. A QPR player should have been red-carded as early as the 2nd minute when he lunged into the back of Barton’s ankles from behind with a horrendous challenge. Moss gave a yellow. The most curious thing he did was noticed by many people. As the first half ticked away QPR took a corner, the ball was cleared, Moss raised the whistle to his lips to blow for the end of the half, a QPR player steamed in to take a shot, Moss lowered the whistle as if to give the lad time to take the shot, the player took the shot, then Moss blew for half-time. According to Mrs T he blew for full-time absolutely spot on and it was then the signal for the ground to rise as one in acclaim and utter, wild jubilation.
The little club had done it again although this time, said Dyche, it was not the same kind of fairytale as it was two years earlier when the promotion was a surprise to everyone and Burnley snuck in under the radar. This season it had been planned and designed as a result of losing three key players and bringing new players in. And on top of all that was the expectation placed on club and players this time round that was so different to two years ago. The experts and media expected that Burnley would at least be in the top six; other managers referred to the ex-Premiership players and the huge sums Burnley had supposedly spent. And hadn’t Karanka in his moment of pique said that he’d have had Burnley promoted by February.
What poetic justice that Sam Vokes who missed so much of the last Premier Season should score the goal, the £200million goal, the magical goal, the solitary goal that brought unbridled joy and an eruption of seismic proportions, that brings financial security for another four years, a pot of cash so great now that the jar on the mantelpiece will surely be replaced by a wheelbarrow in the corner of the boardroom filled with Premiership gold. A great club, great town and great people commented both Steve Cotterill and Ian Holloway that deserve this success and promotion.
A genius, said Holloway of Dyche. ‘I lived round here for three or four years,’ he said. ‘I know these people.’ Both he and Cotterill received applause every time they walked round the perimeter to get to their broadcast and summary pitchside point.
We put away our slide rules and calculators, formulae and equations, cleared our heads, superstition flew out the window, it didn’t really matter anymore which sock we put on first, Burnley were UP. We knew it at last and we all sang ‘til it rang around the ground. . And now you’re gonna believe us… and now you’re gonna believe us.