In the land of Nostalgia
China ordered its citizens to prepare for WW3. Bill Wyman turned 80. Jimmy McIlroy was 85 and the tributes flooded in. Bobby Vee passed away. His hit record Rubber Ball about bouncing back could almost be a Burnley anthem. Jimmy Perry the genius writer of Dad’s Army and other shows died. Man United were thumped 4-0 by Chelsea and we were due there next. But the Daily Mash had downgraded Mourhino from Special One to just adequate.
When Burnley play Man U it always takes my mind back to days long gone. I’m back in the days when my father used to drive the little Ford we had up through the Cornholme Valley and we’d watch the champions’ team, Jimmy Mac and Jimmy Adamson, and we could go to Old Trafford and win 5-2. At home we could beat them 4-2 and in that game the goal that stands out to this day is a Walter Joyce 20-yard header that rocketed in; in an age when a goal from a 20-yard shot was difficult enough with a ball that weighed the same as a small cannonball.
Close my eyes and I’m back at Tod Grammar School and I spent one season actually going to all the home games at Man U there with a lad called Tim Greenwood and another called Podge. It was a season of Dennis Viollet, Albert Quixall and a young Bobby Charlton and we’d get the train from Tod and then the bus to the ground along Deansgate. The allegiance to the Reds was short-lived though and trips to Burnley became the norm. But the dashing Albert Quixall, dazzlingly blonde, was probably my first football hero, quick-witted, sharp and deft; he always stood out from the rest, not quite Denis Law but almost. As the years went by he ended up at Oldham when Jimmy Mac was manager there and Ken Bates was chairman. By then, ageing and filled with the aches and pains of football, he was going through the motions I suppose and Ken Bates bemoaned the fact that he was always either ill or injured when an away game beckoned. But at Manchester United he was electric, played for England and stood out a mile.
Close my eyes and I’m back in the Milky Way coffee bar in Todmorden and next door was Parker’s Record store an Aladdin’s Cave filled with those old-style 78s, LPs and CDs. For several years that coffee bar was the centre of our universe where we went after school and talked of Juke Box Jury, Burnley, Bobby Vee, Adam Faith, Frankie Avalon, Elvis, the Drifters, Ray Charles and Roy Orbison. The milk shakes I drank in there would have floated a small battleship. I can see us now, satchels strewn all over the floor upstairs in the café in the corner by the window smoking our first cigarettes, Ed Cockroft, Jammy Fielden, Colin Walker, Winston Sutcliffe, Kathryn Collinge and Pamela Crabtree. We really did believe ‘you’re never alone with a Strand.’
The bone shaking Morris 10 that we had was retired. A rather swish black 1954 Ford Zephyr arrived next with a front bench seat and a steering column gear change. It guzzled up the petrol and so it too went. Sad: this was a car that had heads turning in provincial Todmorden where most of the mills were still standing and cobbled streets lined the three valleys. It was still an age where you could play football across the street without any fear of being flattened by traffic. The replacement was the Ford Prefect that was staid, reliable and just chugged along.
After the season trekking to Old Trafford, the Turf Moor bug bit and three or four of us would pile into the Prefect and head up the valley through Cliviger and then along by the old Fighting Cocks (now a swish Italian) and the Kettledrum. We alternated between the Longside or behind the goals. The first time I saw Jimmy Greaves and barrel-chested Dave Mackay was when they came with Tottenham. I was awe struck. Mackay did something we’d never seen anyone do in the warm-ups before. He showed off. He strutted his stuff. He did tricks with the ball; a few dozen keepie-uppies, landing it on the back of his neck, controlling it on his thigh, balancing it on his head and then something that we’d never ever seen before. He received a practice pass and kicked it back in such a way that when it bounced, it then spun and rolled back to him. Now that was magic. It might be commonplace today; even kids can do it, but back then, by an away player in front of a hostile crowd, it was unheard of. Mackay was announcing hey I’m here, I’m special, and I’m better than you lot. But they weren’t and we beat them 2-0 but I loved Dave Mackay from that day on.
Jimmy Greaves in a later different game did something memorable, something so subtle, so clever (so obvious in hindsight) that I remember it still. It was a Spurs throw. Blanchflower took it and Greaves was several yards away facing him with Brian Miller breathing down his neck behind him close enough to make you wonder if he was glued to him. With a hardly discernible gesture Greaves indicated with a finger on his left hand that Blanchflower should throw the ball just slightly to Greaves’ left. This he duly did whereupon Greaves headed left as the ball was thrown and was away round the side of his marker in a flash and blur that left Miller floundering and gawping at the empty space in front of him. Before you knew it Greaves was in the box and had scored with a ploy that was so simple but devastating.
For years, as the 80s and 90s went by, we believed that playing teams like Man United would never ever happen again, but here we were at Old Trafford for the third time in 7 years. On the first occasion Coyle had just left the ship and taken his crew with him. The club, supporters and the town sneered at his previous honeyed words. But the deafening response at Old Trafford from supporters during that game was emotional, powerful; the roars were of defiance, the sense of togetherness in adversity was overpowering.
On the second occasion we had dazzled and played with such dynamism and flair that it remains impossible to this day to think that we actually lost. It was the game when Ings played out of his skin; he was untouchable, uncatchable, with feet so quick he was sending opponents dizzy. Van Gaal had got Man U competing again in a messy kind of way and they had a team filled with stellar names. Van Gaal had his flow charts and ring blinders, pie charts, slide rules, set squares and folders. Sean D had the back of an envelope. It was the game where we all sang, “We only cost three quid,” as we ran rings round them.
It was the time Burnley had this ghastly strip in all silver, a kit so awful you just shook your head in disbelief that someone actually put it on the shelves in the shop. Yet, despite this abomination they produced a first half display that oozed class, slick passing moves and pace, the latter provided by Trippier and Ings who produced a goal that was simply stunning. The move came down the right in a blur and the cross that came over was met by a diving Ings and the ball rocketed home. Yet despite playing like Barcelona, Burnley somehow contrived to lose 3-1 because of poor defending at corners and the usual bad luck in front of goal. It was a display that produced a wonderful accolade: ‘If Burnley are eventually relegated, it will be to a standing ovation.’ It turned out to be prophetic when they won the last game at Villa and we cheered them off the pitch with lumps in our throats and memories in our heads of goals that might have been and games that should have been wins, when we came away thinking just how did we lose that – like the game at Old Trafford.
This time it was Master Joe’s first trip to the Theatre of Dreams, although at the moment dreams might not be quite the right word. Theatre of sullen faces might be more appropriate since Mourhino’s team in the league had performed worse than any that Van Gaal ever produced. The annihilation at Chelsea was simply humiliating; Mourhino’s face a picture, bereft of any answers and looking like a busted flush. But the young lad was in awe of the place, the size, the scale, the statues, the milling crowds and the numbers of foreign faces. The whole place reeks of being a money factory. The statue of Charlton, Law and Best is iconic, but my mind went back to when I went all those years ago; it could just as easily have been Charlton, Viollet and Quixall. Nostalgia was doing overtime. I knew Podge was now in South Africa; but of Tim I had no idea.
In the mid-week cup game Man U had salvaged some respectability by beating Man City; they hadn’t played particularly well, Ibrahimovic had a stinker. In the back of my head thoughts were lurking that Burnley might just pull off a backs-to-the-wall 1-0 win but then we saw the United team sheet and all those million-pound names. Dear God I thought just how do you compete against this lot unless they have a bad day?
There was the faint possibility that Ashley Barnes might figure in the squad and we wondered what his role might be; sit him on the bench next to Mourhino to wind him up was my first thought. The perfect scenario would be to come off the bench in minute 85 and score the winner in minute 89. Mourhino had been playing the sympathy card all week in the press saying how he was lonely and marooned in his hotel penthouse unable to escape from the paparazzi waiting down below.
It was the Less-than-Special One that made the news during and after the game, his behaviour as bad as anything ever seen before. But the news that was the best news was the magnificent point that the Clarets came home with after a display of goalkeeping and defending that surpassed anything we have seen so far this season. Logically, a club like Burnley has no right to expect anything other than a defeat at a place like this. The Man U teamsheet was awesome with names so illustrious and costly that what else could you think other than how is it even possible we are on the same pitch. And before the game the announcer rammed down our ears that this was The Theatre of Dreams, the home of the greatest football club in the world.
But football doesn’t work like that so that we even harboured faint thoughts of stealing a win. What Burnley came away with however was a point, only one point but its significance so huge that it was like coming away with a win. In fact it could indeed have been a 1-0 win when one of the best chances of the game fell to Arfield but alas the shot went high over the bar. This was no exercise in parking the bus with a starting line-up of two up front with the return of Andre Gray later replaced by the bustling Ashley Barnes. Gray too might have nicked the win when he was through one on one but for a last ditch intervention.
The Holy Trinity statue stands outside the ground, Best, Law and Charlton, a magnet for the hordes of tourists that swell the 75,000 crowd week in and week out. You can barely move for them with their infernal selfie sticks and huge bags bulging with over-priced merchandise. 30,000 people pass through the shop every home game said the attendant as if we should feel inclined to be open-mouthed. But back at Turf Moor we could erect a Holy Trinity statue ourselves of Mee, Keane and Heaton. Their display of courage and determination was the best yet. There cannot possibly be a better ‘back three’ at any other club anywhere was the consensus.
37 Man U shots the stats said and 12 Heaton saves, the one that will go down in the annals of the club being the point blank from Ibrahimovic that had Peter Schmeichel tweeting that this was surely one of the best ever in the history of the Prem. It was a save so extraordinary that Heaton feared initially he had broken his arm. But the man is made of strong stuff; his arm is possibly bionic, maybe with Halloween supernatural qualities. Or maybe he is just Superman without the costume.
How many talking points did this game have; the penalty claims, the red card, the Mourinho histrionics, the saves, the misses, the woodwork, the Ibrahimovic bloopers, the close shaves, and to be fair the slick play and passing of a rampant Man U side that did all that could be expected except score. And above all what was referred to on MOTD as “brilliant Burnley.” If there has ever been a better 0-0 draw than this one in the Premier league, I’d be astounded. Thrills and spills, it had everything so that we sat with hands over our eyes sometimes, hearts in our mouth on others.
We almost lost count of the Man U penalty claims but when Clattenburg ignored strong Burnley claims for a shove in Barnes’s back, we knew that this was a game when he must have got up in the morning and said to himself: “today I am ignoring all claims no matter how strong.” In our little row of seats we couldn’t think of any other logical explanation.
“Sssssssh” the Burnley crowd kept hissing at the United fans as three silent sides of the stadium made it more like a church than a football stadium.
And we taunted them mercilessly: “you’re just a ground full of tourists.” Meanwhile the away fans sang, roared, chanted non-stop for the 90 minutes obliterating any tannoy announcements. After the game the enigma that is Mourinho went into the Burnley dressing room to congratulate Burnley and reportedly shook every player by the hand. This unfathomable man, the scourge of referees, and for whom the word unsportsmanlike could have been specially written, confounded us all with his magnanimous gesture afterwards. A sports psychologist would presumably have a field-day analysing him.
For Dyche what you see is what you get, and it was the fourth anniversary of his reign at Turf Moor. Four more years of the same success rate will do us nicely thank you.Share this page :