Gridlocked in Bradford
Trump struggling to find someone to sing at his inauguration…thundersnow forecast and not just the Daily Express…NHS ordering extra corridor trolleys… Graham Taylor passes away…what happened to the blizzards int north…
The passing of Graham Taylor maybe took us all by surprise. He was one of football’s good guys and what he did for, and at Watford, was a true football fairytale. He was a gentleman, honest and dignified and on the same day that he died there was the incredibly talented Dimitri Payet refusing to play for West Ham again, driving away in his Ferrari and demonstrating all that is appalling about the game today. Payet’s rise to stardom too was a bit of a fairytale but whilst his name is now tarnished and deserving of contempt, Taylor’s name is celebrated and revered at Watford. He found his role as England manager a cruel place but his place in club football’s history is assured.
Matt Rowson a Watford supporter and writer in his tribute maintained that everyone he met had a good story to tell about him. Roy Oldfield has one of the time Graham Taylor’s team was at Burnley and Roy was out there pre-match working like a navvy to make the pitch better with his fork and sand and filler after bad weather that morning. Graham Taylor, he remembers, saw Roy and took his coat off and went out and worked with him for 30 minutes helping to sort out the pitch. No other visiting manager then or since has ever done that with just half an hour to kick-off.
A bit of faith in modern-day footie was restored the day after the Cup game at Sunderland. It was an away game for Joe at Crofton and Crofton was a proper away game, not just at the next club just down the road from Farsley but a real journey, an hour away, a few miles south of Wakefield where every village was once a pit village but now there’s not a sign of them as the old tunnels and shafts lie buried beneath land that is either green farmland or new housing estates, and not a scrap remains of anything above ground.
‘Pop Pop (preferable to Grandpapa),’ he said. ‘It’s just like being a proper footballer.’
It meant loading up with sandwiches for us, and a picnic of pork pies and Oreos (though I don’t suppose that’s what proper footballers eat) and cheddars for Joe and it was a throwback to the mudbaths of the 50s and 60s. And we enjoyed every minute of it. These ten-year olds ran, chased, passed and played neat football as best they could. It was pretty much Farsley versus the Crofton goalkeeper, a little scrap of a lad that gave the performance of a lifetime, diving, tipping, catching, leaping, scrambling and pouncing on everything that came his way.
Farsley won by just the one goal but without that little goalie it might have been ten. On another day three of them would have been slotted home by Joe but on this day this tiny goalkeeper was everywhere. All of us wide-eyed and open-mouthed were spellbound by his dives at feet and plunges in the mud. All of them came off that mudbath black from head to toe like little Brian O’Neils.
We grumble a lot about football these days: overpaid players, surly, scowling faces buried beneath headphones, high prices, technicolour boots, the dictators at SKY, there’s a long list we could cobble together. But the other day I came across a little book, only pocket sized, only 145 pages put together by Daniel Gray. In Saturday, 3pm, he identifies 50 things that still make football attractive and magical, and we’re not talking about great games of the past or old legends like Jimmy Mac or Bobby Charlton, or how it was once affordable and the ‘working man’s’ game; we are just talking about the little things that still give us a buzz and a sense of enjoyment, that still make the game so special.
In a previous book, Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters, Gray wrote about his journey re-discovering English football, an odyssey during which he chanced upon Burnley and a game against Bolton Wanderers. He once worked in a psychiatric hospital, surely a job that helps if you’re writing about football.
In Saturday, 3pm, he finds a host of things that symbolise the appeal of football. If some are a bit tenuous, others are easily identifiable like seeing a football ground as you pass by on the train. Your head turns immediately. For others of us it’s more likely to be seeing a stadium as we speed by on a motorway, Walsall, Bolton Wanderers or Leeds United.
The way the away end erupts when their team scores: Years ago when Burnley beat Chelsea away in the League Cup and 6,000 fans filled the away end, it was a stunning sight to watch that crowd erupt like a volcano when Akinbiyi equalised. We were sat in the Chelsea seats with a friend who had got the tickets and spent as much time watching the Burnley end as we did the game. When that goal went in, the sight of that crowd exploding, with raw, raucous, tribal noise, has stayed to this day.
Getting the new fixture list: how we look forward to it, the day before; and when it comes we study it avidly, we look for the ‘big’ games, the Christmas games, we look who we play first, will it be home or away, we look at who we play last, we look at the games we think might be good for a weekend away with the Supporters Club, and we look at the Easter games and if we have an Easter holiday or an August or a September holiday and then we see how many games we will miss. And how many of us tick off the games we think we can win? The new fixture list: it ranks with the first sighting of the Christmas Radio Times.
Spotting a fellow supporter when we’re miles from home on holiday; you can only do this of course if they’re in a Burnley shirt. There is a definite effect. You don’t know them from Adam but there’s an instinctive urge to go and say hello and have a chat. It might be in a motorway service station. It’s happened a few times but the one time it stuck in the mind was in Kalkan; it was in the weekly market when an acre of stalls was filled with tourists and locals. But some distance from me was a bloke in a Burnley shirt, gone by the time we reached the spot where he’d been standing. “Damn,” I thought and looked out for him all the rest of the week.
The ball smacks the crossbar. It always seems so much more spectacular than a shot hitting the post. It seems to have more of an impact. There’s a groan and a grimace, it’s just as much a miss as a shot going wide but somehow we don’t see it that way and sometimes it’s even more spectacular than a goal if it’s a thunderous free kick from 35 yards that clatters that narrow bar. Maybe that’s why they have these ‘hit the crossbar’ competitions in training or at half-time. And it’s inspirational, don’t we roar them on even more in the minutes after.
If we’ve won, isn’t a treat to listen to the other results on Sports Report as we drive home. It’s kind of comforting. It’s almost a ritual. We wait for the round-the-ground reporters to describe the Burnley game. We revel in the praise and the description of how well we’ve played. And many a motorway journey has passed by almost without us noticing as we listen to the game on the radio. We lost but what a game it was in the FA Cup at Southampton when Burnley lost 4-3. Another was a 2-1 win away at Stoke and we’d gone 2-0 up and then endured a Stoke aerial battering for the rest of the game.
We make a point of a wander round the shop at an away game. The glossiest was at Arsenal. The one that was filled with every language and nationality and where you had to push and shove and barge just to move just a couple of inches was Old Trafford. Southampton is the only shop where we found every book on the shelves had been signed by a player. (Memo to Burnley Club Shop, it sells more copies). But the best ever shop was at lowly Yeovil on a day that Burnley won 2-1 and one goal was an Ings screamer. It was no bigger than a shoebox but somehow they’d shoehorned miles of shelving and there was more stock and variety in there per square foot than any other shop we’ve been in. This was a treasure trove of a shop.
Is there anything better than settling down with the Sunday papers after a win? I must have more money than sense because if it’s a win, especially against a top team, I’ll buy an armful. And then on Monday I’ll buy more. Then the page is cut out for the scrapbooks. For some reason it’s all the more pleasurable if it’s pouring down outside and you’ve got the Sunday SKY game on as well. You read with one eye and watch the footie with the other. And then Mrs T says “dinner’s ready,” maybe roast beef and Yorkshire pud, loads of veg and gallons of gravy…some Sundays are made in heaven.
That’s just a small selection; Gray has 50 including the first day of the season, sliding tackles, diving headers, floodlights, getting soaked, standing terraces and collecting programmes. So there we have it: reasons to still love football. And that’s before you experience the special thrill of seeing the team bus.
This is especially magical when you find yourself behind it on the motorway and overtake it. You peer upwards and see who you can see. Here’s me and Mrs T in our 70s and we stood at Glasgow Rangers to watch the team get off the bus like schoolkids. Ayr United was another years ago. We had an excuse then, we were only 65. And better yet: staying in the same hotel as the team. Twice this has happened, once for a game against Plymouth and the second against Cardiff. Not many people can say not only did they have breakfast with the team, but actually showed two of them how to use the toasting machine. Does life get any better? Well, only, maybe, if Joey Barton scores the winning goal in a 1-0 win after he’s only been on the pitch 5 minutes in his ‘first’ game back at Turf Moor.
We wondered if the Saturday game against Southampton would go ahead. The midweek gales wreaked havoc in the north. Roads were closed in Hebden Bridge; there’s an old factory that we pass every time we drive through. It’s just before you get into the town, Maud’s Clog Soles, at least that’s what it was years ago when clogs were standard footwear for cotton town workers. Now it’s derelict and forlorn and the howling gales were whipping of the old stone roof tiles and the whole place was even more unsafe than ever. The winds died down, planes no longer had to land sideways at Leeds Airport; I managed to find the length of drainpipe that had blown away down the street , but next up were the tons of snow forecast by the usually inaccurate Daily Express, but sadly this time most other weather channels. They didn’t seem to materialise – quelle surprise.
Burnley: the tenth most profitable club in Europe, the fifth in the UK, said a EUFA report into finances across Europe. Good Lord we said, although the caveat was that this was the end of the 2015 financial year so maybe we are now not quite so flush with higher wages plus the stadium and training ground re-developments. The stadium offices may well have been upgraded and extended but that didn’t stop pantomime scenes on the day of the great gale as supporters queueing up outdoors at the windows saw their tickets and money being blown up into the skies, along with scarves, hats, caps, umbrellas and small people. I was in Burnley the next day so called to get cup replay tickets cursing and humphing as rain and sleet dribbled down the back of my neck, arriving too early to benefit from the shelter of the marquee that was erected later.
The Maud’s Clog Soles factory was still standing in Hebden Bridge, it leans a little more every time we drive by; it can soon be re-named The Leaning Tower of Hebden. Southampton had just beaten Liverpool in the EFL Cup. Burney had injury problems so that Defour was on the left and Marney was playing with a niggly niggle that has niggled him for a while. The day dull, the sky leaden, the air dank, the prospects only so so; this had all the hall marks of a tough afternoon in prospect.
The drive over from Leeds marred by an M606 accident that saw Bradford gridlocked, with us in the middle. The air was blue, tempers frayed, face grimacing as we inched forward with every possibility of missing the kick-off. 2.15: two hours after setting off and only in Halifax when normally we are parked up and reading the programme. Somehow…we made it…just…skidding on icy roads over the tops from Hebden Bridge… cursing every slow driver in front of us…no time to admire the distant snow covered views of the Dales far away… parking a mile away, the nearest we could get and me running to the ground after I’d dropped the others off as close as I could get. And well worth it; a fantastic win 1-0 and the artful dodger himself, Mr Joey Barton, who else, scoring the solitary goal from a cunningly canny free-kick.
‘It is incredible to lose this game,’ said Claude Puel afterwards clearly baffled.
Diddums, welcome to the ‘how-the-hell-did-we-lose-that’ club Claude, the club whose members have all come to Turf Moor over the last season and a half, and been sent packing by this Burnley side, from this far flung outpost in the bleak Lancashire hills, wondering just how they have lost; and all of them probably wondering now just how the hell this group of scrappers and scufflers lie tenth in the Premier Division.
Tenth, it’s worth saying again… TENTH… and the Sunday papers still to read.Share this page :