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Tom Heaton’s signing for Aston Villa was confirmed earlier today and there is no doubt that it brings to an end an era for the popular goalkeeper who has played in two promotions to the Premier League and captained the Clarets during his six years at Turf Moor.

It was the 17th May 2013 when Heaton first signed for Burnley. Sean Dyche had been manager since the previous October but he was his first permanent signing and with Lee Grant, Brian Jensen and Jon Stewart all having left the club it was very much a necessary signing.

At Morecambe ahead of his first Burnley game
At Morecambe ahead of his first Burnley game

The first four signings that summer were all goalkeepers. Alex Cisak signed while we also saw the arrivals of Nick Liversedge and Dan Nizic although the latter pair were signings previously arranged by Eddie Howe.

There was never any doubt who was going to be first choice come the start of the season. On the day we signed Heaton, Dyche said of him: “Tom is someone we knew all about at Watford and we have monitored his progress since then. We have had him watched several times in the past year, he’s just had a really good season in very tough circumstances at Bristol City and he recently played very well here at Turf Moor, as every Burnley fan will know.

“He is a good technician, he has great pedigree, having come out of Manchester United, and is a good age and willing to learn. We have been aligning things for the what-ifs, as we are in all cases, and Tom is a great signing and one we believe will do very well for us.”

He  had played well against us for Bristol City on the Turf although he did concede three to add to the four we’d put past him at Ashton Gate earlier in the season. He’d had, on paper, a difficult season with Bristol City conceding that many goals it had looked like one of our old throw one in seasons.

The first sighting of him for Burnley came in a pre-season game at Morecambe. He played the first half that night behind a back four of Joseph Mills, Kevin Long, Jason Shackell and Danny Lafferty, kept a clean sheet and watched Cisak play the second half.

Early in his first season at Burnley, in just the fourth game of the season at Brighton, he was ridiculously sent off. Cisak came on as a substitute and those were the only minutes of league football that Tom missed in his first three seasons at Burnley.

The save which denied Ibrahimovic at Old Trafford
The save which denied Ibrahimovic at Old Trafford

They were three seasons that saw us win two promotions with a relegation in between. The two promotion seasons, both of which ended with us on 93 points, will long live in the memory. Tom played a vital role in both and in the second of them was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year alongside team mates Michael Keane, Joey Barton and Andre Gray.

He’d also assumed the club captaincy by then. Jason Shackell had led the side previously but, just as we were approaching the turnstiles at Elland Road for the opening game of the 2015/16 season we were greeted with the news that the manager had given that captaincy to his goalkeeper.

It wasn’t bad was it? Captaining a side to the Championship title and then going on to win your first full England cap soon after and being part of the England squad for the Euros. Things got even better in the next season when he captained us to our highest ever position in the Premier League and, for the first time, survival, even though, on this occasion he did miss three games through injury and illness.

Many will talk about his performance at Old Trafford in that 0-0 draw. I doubt you would get too many disagreements about it possibly being his best ever game for us although, personally, I don’t subscribe to the argument that he made his best ever save in that game. For that, I go back just one away game to Southampton and the stunning save he made to deny Charlie Austin.

I thought it might take something a bit special to remove him from the goals at Burnley; in the end it was a serious shoulder injury sustained in the second home game of the 2017/18 season against Crystal Palace. It ruled him out for months and gave Nick Pope his chance. Cisak, Matt Gilks and Paul Robinson had all acted as his understudy but Pope, the fourth to assume that role, was now to get his opportunity and he took it so well he too went on to win an England cap.

Tom had to sit on the bench on his return while we won our place in Europe and circumstances again went against him just a year ago. He suffered a calf injury at Preston in a pre-season friendly and that allowed Pope to step back in at Aberdeen where he too suffered the same shoulder injury Tom had almost a year earlier. That led to the signing of Joe Hart who took over as first choice for the first half of last season with Heaton on the bench.

The injury against Crystal Palace early in the 2017/18 season
The injury against Crystal Palace early in the 2017/18 season

There was a lot of talk about Tom moving on in January but the Boxing Day disaster against Everton saw him win his place back and the roar that greeted him when he led the team out against West Ham said everything. As Burnley recovered, Tom Heaton kept his place for the remainder of the season and all talk of a move, or so we though, was at an end.

However, that’s not been the case and the speculation with Aston Villa has been around for some weeks as has his decision not to sign a new contract at Burnley with his existing one having just a year to run. That has all ended with today’s news of him signing for Aston Villa, just two days after he played his final Burnley game against OGC Nice.

In terms of appearances, he made exactly 200 competitively for us, 188 in the league and a further twelve in cup competitions.

How will he be remembered? Hopefully as an outstanding goalkeeper, an outstanding club captain and a member of the squad who has helped take our football club to a level we never, ever expected or even thought possible.

But he’s more than a good goalkeeper. A lot has been said about the togetherness of our squad and it is no surprise to know that Tom has very much been part of that over the past six years and he will definitely take some replacing.

I’ve seen that at close quarters on a few occasions, usually at the end of each season at the Supporters’ Clubs’ Player of the Year Evening when he’s been an absolute credit to the club. I think it was that event in 2014 when I first spoke to him and David Jones and he came to ask if there was anything they could do to help.

with Ann & Colin McDonald at Gawthorpe in October 2018
with Ann & Colin McDonald at Gawthorpe in October 2018

I just happened to be sat behind him at Old Trafford on Boxing Day 2017. I doubt any Burnley supporters in the vicinity that day would have one negative word to say about him.

The last time I spoke to him was back in October last year when we, members of Burnley FC Supporters Groups, took former Burnley and England goalkeeper Colin McDonald to Gawthorpe. It was at a time when Tom was out of the side and you wondered just how he would be. He was, as you would expect, the perfect gentleman and host. He was brilliant with Colin that day, and with us too.

Whatever Dyche said about him today as a player, and being his first signing, he also said: “Tom is a fantastic bloke. He’ll be remembered very fondly, not just on the pitch, but off the pitch as well as being a top professional and a top person.”

I’ll echo that, I really don’t think I need to add any more.

Thanks Tom for the last six years.

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