Five years of Sean and what a five years
It was Tuesday, 23rd October 2012. We’d just beaten Bristol City 4-3 at Ashton Gate with a late, late winner from Chris McCann for a Burnley team who had Terry Pashley in charge. I’d travelled on a supporters club coach and had just taken my seat for the return journey when someone on the coach said: “Radio Lancs have announced we have a short list of three for the manager’s job.”
I sent a quick text to someone I knew would be able to confirm the identity of the three, and I received a reply which read: “Prepare to be underwhelmed, it’s Sean Dyche, Steve Lomas and Steven Pressley.” Four days later at Cardiff, as we fell to a shocking 4-0 defeat (this was a team more than capable of conceding goals), one of those three, former Watford boss Dyche, was in the stand watching. He’d got the job and on the following Tuesday, 30th October, was confirmed as the new Burnley manager by joint chairmen John Banaszkiewicz and Mike Garlick.
He’d done a good job at Watford, their fans were disappointed to see him go, but with names such as Ian Holloway supposedly in the frame, it wasn’t an appointment that was greeted with huge excitement. Some fans even accused the club of taking the cheap option in appointing an out of work manager.
An underwhelming appointment. What does that mean? During the summer this year, Sunderland were looking for a new boss following the departure of David Moyes. I have a good friend who supports Sunderland and he wasn’t too sure what to make of Simon Grayson getting the job.
“What do you think?” he asked me. I told him: “In the summer of 1997, we appointed Chris Waddle. We were all excited. In October 2012, we appointed Sean Dyche. We were all underwhelmed.”
Dyche took over a team that had conceded 29 goals in the first 13 league games. We were only as high as we were in the table (a bottom half Championship team) because Charlie Austin was scoring goals for fun and had already hit two hat tricks. Before we’d kicked a ball in anger he talked about playing from a framework but surely he might need new players before that could change.
We got a surprise; we kept clean sheets in our first two games against Wolves and Leeds, two teams we don’t have a good record of beating at home. I wonder if you can remember the team that played in those games.
We lined up for the Wolves game: Lee Grant, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, David Edgar, Brian Stock, Ross Wallace, Dean Marney, Martin Paterson, Charlie Austin. Subs: Brian Jensen, Kevin Long, Danny Lafferty, Cameron Stewart, Junior Stanislas, Danny Ings, Sam Vokes. Playing against us that day was Stephen Ward.
For the Leeds game, Chris McCann, who had missed Wolves through injury, returned for Edgar who was on the bench along with Marvin Bartley. Long and Stewart weren’t in the squad.
It was up and down at times for the remainder of that season. There were undoubtedly some good performances but there were also the horror midweek shows in the spring at home and the performance in the return at Leeds is one that remains in the memory for all the wrong reasons.
It was a ridiculous season that saw us on 54 points with three games to go yet still under the threat of relegation, but we finished with 61 points and were a long way from relegation troubles as the final whistle blew. Some wanted him out and I often refer to the abuse he suffered from one group of Burnley fans at Blackpool five games from the end of that season. They clearly wanted him out.
What did happen? McCann left the club as did a few others, including Grant and Paterson. The grass is always greener, as they say, and they opted for free moves to Wigan, Derby and Huddersfield. Charlie Austin departed two days before the season started when we’d done no more than bring in a few goalkeepers, free signings Scott Arfield and David Jones, and persuaded Dean Marney and Ross Wallace to sign new contracts on reduced terms.
The loss of Charlie was frightening. It left us with just two strikers; Ings had previously scored six goals for us in 48 games and Vokes had also netted six goals, his coming in 58 appearances. Dyche said of Austin’s departure: “It’s an opportunity for someone else,” and my word how Ings and Vokes grabbed that opportunity.
The 2013/14 season was magical. I’ve always thought that the 1972/73 promotion season could never be bettered. We lost just four games that season but how close was this one with only five defeats? We finished second only because Leicester had an exceptional season. There were some magnificent performances, none more so than the home wins against QPR, Nottingham Forest and the promotion clincher against Wigan. There was also the small matter of a 2-1 win at Ewood Park. “They can’t hurt us anymore,” I wrote after Dyche became the first Burnley manager to get a win against them in 35 years.
We were back in the Premier League. We made the backup signings, the likes of Lukas Jutkiewicz, Marvin Sordell, Steven Reid and Matty Taylor but the big signings didn’t come although at the eleventh hour on transfer deadline day we did acquire the loan signing of young Manchester United defender Michael Keane.
No wins in the first ten games made it an uphill battle and we eventually went down, just as we’d done in 2010 at the end of the 36th game. At least we won 33 points, three more than in the previous Premier League season.
Ings, Trippier and Shackell all left under very differing circumstances, and it was rebuilding time again. No wins in the first three games didn’t give us much enthusiasm on our return to the Championship but two crucial signings were still to come in. Andre Gray arrived from Brentford and then our manager showed his culinary skills, cooking an omelette for Joey Barton and persuading him to sign for us.
The 3-0 defeat at Hull on Boxing Day proved crucial. It signalled the end of Duff as a first team player at Burnley and saw Mee move into the centre to partner Keane with Ward coming in at left-back. I think it could be considered a gross understatement to suggest it went well from thereon in. 23, 23 undefeated it was and we went one better, this time winning the title.
Could it be third time lucky in the Premier League? Could we survive this time? We were stunned as the transfer record was broken to bring in Steven Defour and again when Jeff Hendrick signed. In January it was broken for a third time when Robbie Brady arrived from Norwich.
I know we struggled away from home but we’d just earned a point in a battling 0-0 draw at Old Trafford at the time of his fourth anniversary and we were 13th in the Premier League.
So what’s happened in the last year? We stayed up comfortably and we’ve picked up a total of 42 points from 37 Premier League games in the last 12 months. Barton, who had left us for Rangers, came back, did well and then disappeared again after getting an FA ban for betting. He’s cooking omelettes on Talksport now and speaking positively about our club.
Besides Brady, Ashley Westwood arrived on the same day and during the last window we strengthened the squad and brought in big money signings Jack Cork and Chris Wood although we did lose Keane and Gray.
When Keane departed, Dyche said it was an opportunity for someone else and right now that opportunity has been grasped by James Tarkowski every bit as much as Ings and Vokes grasped theirs four years earlier.
We’ve seen an amazing start to the season away from home, with wins at Chelsea and Everton sandwiching draws at Spurs and Liverpool. It took Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to finally move the away defeats column from zero.
This morning we are tenth in the Premier League with 13 points from 9 games and, as he will tell us, it’s all about adding layers and moving the club on.
As we’ve built up to this fifth anniversary, the last two weeks have been difficult for supporters due to Leicester and Everton sacking their managers. We had speculation linking Sean with Crystal Palace in the summer and we’ve had it doubly so with these two clubs. Leicester, thankfully, appointed Claude Puel but right now he remains a favourite for the Everton job. The sooner they appoint someone else, the better.
Over five years we’ve got used to these new words and phrases. Remember the one game at a time mantra during that first promotion season? It doesn’t get mentioned quite so often now but it does still apply.
We all know we’ve got ourselves a good manager, but what is it about him that makes him so good? One thing he has to do is have a good relationship with his players and I recall a podcast done by Matty Taylor around the time of the 1-0 win at Blackburn when Scott Arfield put the ball in their net. He was asked, Taylor that is, what made Sean Dyche a good manager. “He gives you honesty and respect,” said Taylor, and that from a player who couldn’t get into the team.
Stephen Ward said about him this week: “He’s great. He gets involved in a bit of craic with the lads. How the team gels together comes from the manager and staff. He likes to have a laugh together and we spend a lot of time together. It’s informal and a bit of a laugh, but he knows when to cross that line into seriousness.”
I always remember him bringing rules in when he first became Burnley manager. He wasn’t over happy with what was going on at the training ground and we were certainly undisciplined on the pitch, collecting far too many cards.
His right hand man Ian Woan said that three things they insist on are ‘please, thank you and excuse me’. They are just basic good manners but they set the standards that have seen our club progress incredibly since he got here five years ago.
For the record, I wrote a year ago that in post-war football only five Burnley managers had held the post for longer. They were Frank Hill, Harry Potts, Jimmy Adamson, Jimmy Mullen and Stan Ternent. You can now cross Hill and Mullen off that list; he’s passed those two and he is now less than a year behind Adamson and Ternent. How good it would be to think he’ll be here in a year’s time and we can line him up alongside Potts.
Five years in which we’ve won two promotions to the Premier League and gone on, after the second, to survive a Premier League season. That’s what we’ve seen on the pitch but then you travel down to the training ground at Gawthorpe and stand opened mouthed at what’s been achieved down there. It’s allowed our academy to move up too to EPPP Category 2.
None of that would have happened without the promotions and the money it has brought in from the seasons in the Premier League.
Tonight will see him stride out for his 211th league game in charge. Of the 210 so far we’ve won 84, drawn 64 and lost 62. We’ve scored 255 goals and conceded 220 and given that 85 of those games have been played at Premier League level, that’s some achievement.
He’s used a total of 65 players in those 210 league games while we can add a few more who have played in cup games only, such as Matt Gilks, Phil Bardsley and Charlie Taylor.
Sam Vokes has made the most appearances, 173 in total. Ben Mee has played in 170 and passed Tom Heaton (169) last week at Manchester City to go into second place. The next two in the list of appearances are Arfield (166) and Jones (124).
What about the goalscorers? Vokes leads the way with 51, followed by Ings (35) and Gray (32).
I’ve been watching Burnley now for over 57 years. I started when we were good, very good, and I went through a period when we were bad, very bad. I thought I’d seen everything but I still struggle to take in just what we’ve achieved in these last five years, moving our club to a level I thought we’d never reach again in my lifetime. That’s down to our manager Sean Dyche.
Those three things Woany said they insist on. One of them was thank you and that’s what we should all be saying to Sean and everyone involved in the fantastic achievements of the last five years.
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