BURNLEY 1 STOKE CITY 0
MIDDLESBROUGH 0 BURNLEY 0
EVERTON 3 BURNLEY 1
We were in Tenerife. Trump was squaring up to Assad. Trump was squaring up to Putin. Trump was squaring up to North Korea. He was just one side short of a full square. But worse still, in Golf del Sur, the Russians were after our sunbeds.
Must admit that when we booked this holiday we never thought we’d be heading for safety in the Premier League. It seemed a fair bet that we’d be marooned in the bottom three by Easter. All the pundits thought the same back then and who were we to argue with Merson and Le Tiss and the expertise of Garth Crooks. It didn’t seem to matter, back in September, that we’d miss three games. But astonishingly by the time those games had been played we were on 36 points, well clear of danger, and barring Trump’s gung ho politics and fleet of ships just off North Korea, we’d be effectively 9 points clear with just five games to play and safe for another season.
When we touched down at an arctic Leeds Bradford Airport, Burnley had four points from the three games they’d played. We were in fleeces but others were in just shorts and T-shirts. It never ceases to amaze me that the British holidaymaker comes back in mid-April and thinks it will be warm.
At the time of the Stoke game we were in Zachary’s Restaurant, having arrived that day in the afternoon and already had a couple of hours in the sun and pool. It was Flamenco Night on the small outdoor stage, so between mouthfuls of dinner, stomping feet and clacking castanets, we followed the game on’t internet. With the Flamenco background and stirring music it actually became quite bizarre. As the game wound down, tension increased, the music intensified, the volume was pumped up, the castanets became deafening, and the dancing feet were just a blur.
The heart wanted the win, the head said a dull draw 0-0 maybe, but then George Boyd scored. Allegedly he drinks two cans of Red Bull a day and eats ‘loads of pasta.’ We stared at Mrs T’s phone with a definite degree of incredulity. There was good reason for jangling nerves; the poor spell had dragged on for 7 games. Paul Merson and Jamie Carragher, newly converted Clarets, and Sean Dyche disciples, were worried that Burnley were on the slippery slope down the glass mountain towards the bottom three. But what was truly surreal was that just as the last dramatic guitar chord was struck, the last castanet clacked, the last foot stamp nearly split the stage, the dancers struck their final pose, and the small audience roared and whistled, with perfect timing up flashed the final score on the big TV screen, Burnley 1 Stoke 0. Dancing and football finales perfectly choreographed.
The little shop in the village has all the papers by 8 o’ clock. The routine is the same each day. Pull back the sliding veranda door and smile at the clear blue sky and rising sun. 8. 30 and go down to the shop; get the paper, warm crusty baguettes, and a sausage roll for Master Joe. But the key part is, on the way to the shop, dump towels and gear on the sunbeds by the pool for the day. I am not proud of this. It shouldn’t be this way. The signs say do not reserve sunbeds but these are ignored. By 8. 30 towels are festooned on most of the beds by the water and the bar. And Germans have been replaced by Russians.
There is no shortage of sunbeds but a plumb position is where you can literally roll off the sunbed and into the water, or halloo a passing waiter. Some of them are beneath a bit of shade (even better). Staking out such a bed is therefore a ritual and the Brits are always in there first, masters of the pin a towel to the sunbed technique. There was never any intention to appropriate sunbeds at 8. 30 but it was when I saw one guy laying towels on 8 beds that I thought right, two can play at that game.
In the days of old we used to stand and chant ‘You’ll never take the Longside,’ at raiding away supporters. At Sunningdale it’s ‘You’ll never take the sunbeds’ to the Russkies. They are reasonably easy to spot. The men are mainly muscled; shaven headed, square faced and firm jawed. They don’t smile much. The women are not particularly attractive, tending to be thin and pale. It is rare to see more than one offspring. The men tend to have a larger than average bulge in their swimmers. I always assume this is either a small Beretta or padding.
So on the Sunday after the draw at Middlesbrough, we lay on our sunbeds and Joe spent a happy 2 hours careering down the inflatable water slide, Sunderland lost and then Leicester. It was a Carlsberg Sunday. We’d been through all the permutations on the Saturday about what might be the best results. A Burnley win at Boro would be perfect and then they’d be within a spit of the winning post. The pundits were assuring us by now that Burnley were well safe but as my pal Joe Mac always says, ‘But we know different.’ Then we worried that Burnley might lose, a natural thought after years of practice. But Hull would lose, we decided, Crystal Palace would lose, Bournemouth ought to lose. And thus on that basis, what did it matter if Burnley lost?
A Saturday morning coffee in a comfy chair by the bar confirmed all our decisions. A win would be too much, we’d settle for a draw but then a most curious thing happened. A Eurowings plane flew over, one of the dozens of different airlines that land just a mile away, and it was the first time we’d seen one, and the tailplane logo was a distinct claret and blue. Does this mean a 1-0 win? Is this an omen? And then blimey another one flew over and the reaction was to think that the signs were pointing to a 2-0 win for Burnley.
A group of West Ham fans had commandeered the telly in the bar. They loved everything about their new stadium until they sat down and saw a game 200 yards away. A Man U fan was in there, a diehard, but confessed he loved the Man City stadium more than Old Trafford, and everything they had done in the surrounding area. ‘I’d never say that back home in Manchester,’ he said. ‘I’d be locked up.’
The Eurowings omen didn’t quite work out but the 0-0 draw was good enough. Reports indicated that not winning was not for the want of trying with Vokes, Brady, Boyd and Mee all going close. Ward was rampant down the left. Lowton made key clearances. It took them to the 36 points that many of us had thought for a while would ensure another Prem season.
John was a US army colonel we met, attached to NATO and based in Brussels. He had his three young kids with him. We exchanged opinions on Trump, Brussels, Brexit, the Italians and the French. Brussels he described as a giant clique of privileged diplomats riding the gravy train and living in splendid luxury; the Italian army the best in the world at running backwards, and the French – ‘I guess we know why they wear brown trousers.’ And the Brits: ‘how on earth did you guys win two world wars?’ All of this was of course said with disarming good humour.
Every so often he said they had Brit nights in which they pretended to be British using the lingo… I say old chap… toodle pip…Bob’s your uncle, and all that stuff. I offered to do a training day if I got some expenses and they flew me over, and teach them some proper stuff – by thi eck… ee by gum… ah’ll sithee … well we mun do summat abart that… what’s up withee thart just a barmpot… where’s mi kecks, and up the Clarets. If someone comes in and says dear God, Trump has just nuked Korea you could look wide eyed and reply, ‘well ah’ll go ter foot of our stairs.’
We were sitting in the deckchairs conveniently placed for parents and grandparents while the kids disappeared in to the wonders of the Lost City in Siam Park, one of the top water and splash theme parks of Europe with 101 ways of getting drenched and paying for the privilege. The Lost City was a huge fun filled place of climbing, sliding and getting soaked. It was a kid’s only zone and a chance for some serious recuperation for exhausted grown-ups after we’d trudged round various other activities with cheerful names such as the Tower of Power or the Mekong Rapids. And it was heaving: just a shuffling mass of crowds meandering from one activity to the next. You might have expected to see at least one Burnley shirt amongst the crowds, but not one did we spot.
‘I’ll sure look out for Burnley results then,’ he said as we parted an hour later, lunch beckoning.
A win at Goodison against Everton was probably too much of a wishful think. Everton had won all their last home games for weeks. Lukaku had scored in every home game for weeks. While they kicked off we were just boarding the flight home so we had no news until landing at 7.15.
‘3 – 1,’ said Mrs T glumly as she looked it up. But: by the time we’d seen a few snatches of the game on TV, read the reports and scanned the Everton websites it all seemed that yet again we’d gone away, played well but failed to get anything out of the game. Everton goal number one was one of those wibbly wobbly things in a crowded 6-yard box that pings around and just about gets over the line despite frantic efforts to clear. The Everton second had Dyche scratching his head at the sheer bad luck involved, that Heaton would undoubtedly have saved but for the shot from Barkley skimming Keane, then glancing Mee and even then going in off the post. In between those two goals Burnley had equalised with a Vokes penalty and on the evidence of the first half the 1-1 scoreline at that point was well merited.
An Everton pen pal, Becky Tallentire, who has written some excellent Everton books, said that in the first half it looked like Burnley had 4 extra players as they simply strangled Everton. Two Burnley headers were cleared off the line by Barkley who chose this game to show his talent and Vokes had other good chances but lack of pace let him down. It was Vokes and Barnes preferred as the two strikers in this game. One could only wonder what Gray and his extra pace might have done with those same chances.
An Everton site (Obstructed View) said nice things about Burnley admitting at the same time that only Vokes’ lack of pace had saved them as he tried to move through the gears away from the last man with the 0 to 60 acceleration of a Toyota Prius that you could outrun in your slippers after a night on the ale. Presumably this was a sample of Scouse wit. And then Obstructed View became really complimentary:
The first half by common consent was pretty dire – by Everton. Their excellent travelling support that yesterday won the ‘Best Away Fans’ award this season were treated to a display that that only served to mystify why they are winless on the road and have only scored 10 goals in the process. This can’t be down to just Vokes and his startling lack of pace. Yesterday, from the first whistle, they harried, closed down our full-backs, especially Baines and gave Schneiderlin no time at all on the ball. Some might say that Barton’s harrying was a little close to the mark but he wasn’t booked. And Clattenburg continued to prove that however much we erm, ‘love him’, that he’s the best ref in the PL by a country mile.
You have to give credit to Burnley for their performance yesterday and frankly we could have been 2-0 down by half-time easily, had they had a little more quality up front. Why they didn’t start with the pace of Gray I’m not sure. And Barkley extended his floor show to clearing off the line, a feat he managed in the second half as well. I was impressed by Keane but just as impressed by Mee and I’d happily see their double act take a turn down the East Lancs to Goodison next season.
If there was a grumble it was only at the coverage of the game by TV and press. The latter was all about Barkley and not much else after his torrid week following the city centre incident he was involved in and then the Sun article about him. The 30 minutes SKY highlights showed largely Everton and little of Burnley’s chances or their contribution. But the much criticised Barkley was fired up which turned out to be rather unfortunate for an unlucky Burnley. Dyche rarely moans about the lack of luck but he did after this game and who could blame him.
And meanwhile: it turns out there is a pie shop in Seattle, well if not actually in Seattle, in nearby Belle View where the British Pantry does a great pork pie amongst others. This info came from Andrew Wood, an UptheClarets follower from the US. Belle View is about 10 miles from Seattle which may well be a fair trek to get a pie for those living in Seattle. Andrew gets over here every now and then, (two daughters living near London) and lives a complicated life clocking up air miles between the Seattle area and Philadelphia where he works, plus hopping over here to get a game.
He didn’t say if he ever used UNITED airlines, by all accounts the Friendly Airline that if overbooked will just drag you off by the arms and legs if you are the unlucky random chosen one. Mercifully we chose Jet2. This is an airline that has no qualms about throwing groups of 20 off…but only when they’re drunk and disorderly.