A week of massive change at Burnley
The 2015/16 season has just ended with Burnley returning to the Premier League as Football League Champions having amassed another 93 points in a terrific season in which we weren’t beaten even once during the second half.
“23, 23 undefeated,” sang the Burnley fans at Charlton on that last glorious day of the season as goals from Sam Vokes, George Boyd and Andre Gray gave us a 3-0 win to add that title to the promotion won five days earlier.
Burnley held an unbeaten record for years. In the 1920/21 season, having lost the first three games, we went on a run of thirty without loss which enabled us to become Champions of England for the first time. Such an unbeaten run within one season remained a record until the Arsenal Invincibles played the entire 2003/04 season without defeat.
That achievement is so far back now in history; it’s something we’ll be looking to enjoy the centenary of in just a few more years, but the previous post-war record of twenty unbeaten league games is another remarkable story as we turned what looked set to be a disaster into another title winning season.
I don’t think you would have found too many Burnley supporters who were encouraged ahead of the 1981/82 season. Having been relegated from the Second Division in 1980, we’d just completed our first ever season as an associate member of the Football League. We’d ended that first Third Division season in eighth place, a finish that led to Peter Higgs, the Burnley Express sports editor, getting sore feet.
Ahead of the 1980/81 season he proclaimed that such was the lack of quality in the Third Division that if Burnley didn’t finish in the top six he would walk to the first away game of the next season. With the walk confirmed, it could have been a walk to Huddersfield or Preston, or maybe a bit further to one of Chester, Chesterfield or Doncaster. No such luck for Peter; Gillingham was the destination for the opening game of the season.
We lost 3-1; Steve Taylor scoring our goal and Brian Laws hitting a spectacular own goal past Alan Stevenson. The next three away games also ended in defeat. They were at Bristol Rovers, Millwall and Carlisle. It was hardly much better at home. We did start with a 1-0 win in the first home game against Plymouth, but then came a 0-0 draw against Huddersfield and defeats at the hands of Doncaster and Swindon without a solitary goal scored.
This was the first ever season when three points were awarded for a win so that Plymouth victory, courtesy of a Martin Dobson penalty twelve minutes from time, was our first ever three pointer. But it wasn’t looking good after eight games. We were sat on four points and already six points from getting out of the dreaded bottom three. Thankfully, the inept Plymouth and Wimbledon had gained only two points each so at least we weren’t bottom.
We’d turned in better performances in the defeats at Millwall and Carlisle to give fans some hope but game number eight, the Swindon home defeat, was as poor a performance as we’d seen all season and there was no sign of any improvement on the horizon. Manager Brian Miller had called for help. We’d not signed a player since the end of the previous season and quite simply we couldn’t afford to. Chairman Bob Lord had run the club into the ground and we didn’t even have a pot to, well you know the phrase.
Then it all changed, but what changed? How did we go from this to a run of twenty games without defeat that catapulted us out of the bottom four and right into a position challenging for promotion?
Game number nine was at Portsmouth but win lose or draw, there was so much news to digest off the field prior to the long journey down to the South coast starting with Miller being rushed into hospital with appendicitis. Frank Casper took temporary charge but he outlined the problems in no uncertain terms. “We have reached crisis point,” he said. “It is vital that the cheque book must come out now. New players must be bought if this place is not to become a morgue.”
But the big news centred on chairman Bob Lord. The whole town knew that he was ill. The official line from the club was that he was suffering from a cold and chest infection, but he hadn’t been seen since August and there was speculation that he was terminally ill.
Lord was under investigation by the Football League. They had received statements from eminent people within the game making allegations about certain matters concerning him. One club, Fulham, demanded he be banned from the game during the investigations.
Fulham director Mr Brian Dalton said: “We have seen copies of these signed statements and firmly believe that Mr Lord should be stopped from serving on councils or committees or play any part in football until these allegations have been proved or disproved.”
Lord had certainly had his run ins with Fulham and less than two years earlier had thrown their chairman Ernie Clay out of Turf Moor but Dalton added: “I must stress that Fulham is not making the allegations but we strongly believe that Mr Lord should be stopped from participating in football until he has proved is innocence.”
It mattered not. On the eve of the Portsmouth game came the staggering news that Lord had sold the bulk of his shares to directors John Jackson and Dr David Iven. He’d retained enough to allow him to remain on the board. Although, as we made the long journey to Portsmouth, he was still officially chairman we all knew that the Bob Lord era had ended.
It was like a weight lifted and the team responded with the best performance for some time. It was inspired stuff from Burnley. Casper changed things round. Besides recalling both Billy Hamilton and Kevin Young, he moved Micky Phelan alongside Vince Overson in the centre of defence with Martin Dobson acting as a sweeper.
Young made the most of his return with a spectacular 35-yard opener early in the game with Pompey only getting back in after a shocking penalty was awarded by Martin Bodenham, on the say so of the linesman, against Vince Overson for handball. But it was Burnley’s day with Andy Wharton volleying home the winner; it was his first ever goal in the Clarets’ first team.
The Burnley team was: Alan Stevenson, Brian Laws, Vince Overson, Martin Dobson, Micky Phelan, Andy Wharton, Derek Scott (Eric Potts 84), Trevor Steven, Kevin Young, Billy Hamilton, Steve Taylor.
One week later we met Exeter at home but by then it was all change in the boardroom with John Jackson having been elected as the new chairman at a quickly convened board meeting at which all directors, Lord apart, attended.
Lord’s last act of defiance had been to remove all concession prices for home games, forcing kids to pay full price, and he even introduced a charge for season ticket holders to attend reserve games and forcing them into the cricket field stand for the privilege.
Jackson’s new board removed all that and even reduced the adult prices across the board. It meant adults could attend a home game for £1.70 on the terraces with children, previously paying £1.95, now to be admitted for £1. The new chairman also said that public relations had to improve. He admitted that supporters had been treated appallingly under the previous regime.
Unfortunately, Jackson couldn’t kick off as chairman with a home win but he almost did with Exeter scoring an equaliser in the 87th minute to earn a point in a 3-3 draw in what had been a thriller of a game which included two penalties and eight yellow cards, seven of them to Exeter players.
Six of those seven came in a ten minute spell from referee Keith Hackett, and if we had complaints over the penalty against us at Portsmouth, Exeter boss Brian Godfrey described the two we got in this game as ridiculous, and you would be hard pushed to have disagreed with him. I think, in today’s terms, they would be described as soft.
We led through an early Steve Taylor goal but by half time we were behind and had missed a penalty. For the second home game in succession, Dobson failed from the spot and I don’t think he ever took another penalty for us. Overson equalised and when the second penalty came it was given to Laws who made no mistake. It looked as though it was going to be a win but that late goal meant we had to settle for a point.
Still, it was the first time all season we’d managed to play successive games without losing. We were still in the relegation positions but it was looking a little bit more hopeful now with us only three points away from getting out of the bottom three.
We were paying less to watch, Lord had all but gone and we’d started picking up points. There was also better news of the manager who was now home from hospital recuperating.
We’d finally had good news.Share this page :