Into the final furlong
The pundits and hacks were still dissecting the Joey Barton incidents in the Brighton game. The words ‘past misdemeanours’ kept re-appearing. Anyone else and the two flare-ups would have been forgotten by Monday morning. But this was Barton, up there with Diego Costa in the bad boy stakes.
Brighton player Anthony Knockaert urged Barton to stop being argumentative, cut out the inflammatory tactics and change his ways. Perhaps Knockaert might also have suggested to his own player Dunk that a knee in the back when Barton was on the ground after he had been upended, was equally inflammatory.
‘When you play Burnley and there is Joey Barton on the pitch there is always an argument,’ he added. ‘Maybe he did it all his career and made some people crazy and they are out of the game.’
The last bit reminded me a little bit of Eric Cantona wittering on about seagulls following the trawler. Perhaps speaking nonsense is just a French thing. Knockaert conveniently forgot to mention his own appalling studs-up challenge on Ward.
‘Agent provocateur’ and ‘pantomime villain,’ said the Brighton Argus who in fairness did go on to present a balanced report.
Meanwhile Paul Hayward had spent Sunday reporting that Barton had repeatedly fouled Beram Kayal through the game. We wondered if Hayward had counted the fouls against Barton. We wondered if Hayward had counted the times Brighton’s Bruno had dragged Burnley’s Ward to the floor at every Burnley corner and got away with it right in front of a referee who needs a trip to Vision Express.
Joey Barton is what he is, a player that opposition fans love to boo, but most would love to have in their side. Watch closely and he has been targeted and attempts made to wind him up in game after game this season. Had someone like David Jones landed on Kayal’s leg not a word would have been said. Just like the Barnes and Matic incident in the Premier season two years earlier it was one of those things that one set of supporters say accidental, and the other set cries ‘foul.’ Interestingly Brighton manager Hughton dismissed it as being deliberate.
Cardiff had been doing OK and were not entirely out of the play-off places. They’d been looking at Burnley and identified five reasons for their position at the top of the table. There were the goals of Andre Gray, the quality of recruitment at bargain prices or on free transfers – Keane, Arfield, Boyd, Barton, Heaton and Jones. There was the quality of Tom Heaton’s goalkeeping and in front of that was the intensity and work rate of Burnley’s midfield, players with extraordinary engines and lungs. And finally there was the master motivator Sean Dyche himself. It was a nice analysis but Cardiff have never been any kind of pushover for Burnley, in fact quite the opposite.
The leader’s title tilt looks unstoppable,’ said the header in the Football League Paper. Easy to say when you weren’t chewing fingernails as the final run-in approached. Such statements can be the kiss of death all too often. And so it nearly proved, not quite but almost, when a Cardiff lob in the final minutes bounced off the bar to safety. The way things had gone all night, it would have been no surprise had it gone in and Cardiff stolen the points. But bounce away it did to the relief of all of us and at least there was a point to show at the end of an evening that frustrated all of us.
I confess to saying to all and sundry before the game that it would be a draw although my money was on a 2-2 scoreline. Several folk thought that was a bit loopy, others that I was just a bit of a misery guts, and they thought the points were in the bag. But it just had that feel to it that Cardiff would come and draw at Turf Moor yet again. They have this knack of doing this, the one that stands out being the 3-3 game when Andrew Cole chased the Cardiff centre half up the tunnel intent on doing him serious harm after a tackle had nearly sliced his leg in half. It was back in the days of Owen Coyle, he whose name shall not be mentioned, but drat I’ve gone and done exactly that.
There were different views about this game. Sean D said post-match that Burnley had done enough to win it, and that was true enough. Cardiff keeper Marshall most certainly earned them the point and thwarted Burnley of the win, but there again, there was that moment when the lob hit the Burnley crossbar with Heaton stranded, and for that brief moment the world seemed to stand still as 15,000 good Burnley folk held their collective breath and looked on horrified with many of them with half on eye on their phones, knowing that at that moment Middlesbrough and Brighton were winning.
‘My heart was in my mouth,’ said Tom Heaton as he watched the ball arc over him. Mine was somewhere down between my knees.
Some said it was a performance though that was tired and limp. At the weekend one sportswriter wrote that trying to win the championship was like a long distance race through industrial glue. Against Cardiff that’s exactly what it looked like as if half the team had their boots caked in the stuff whilst Cardiff were zippy, nippy and tricky.
Others pointed to the lack of width, pace and flair. How often did Heaton look to throw the ball into the wide areas, and then saw there was no-one there to receive it. How often, too, was the ball pumped up from the back to the front where the more than competent Cardiff centre backs mopped up these hopeful humps with ease? The Cardiff back four must be laughing all the way back to Wales, someone commented, with Gray not standing an earthly with some of the balls hoofed up to him.
Only once all night did anyone get to the by-line and whip a low cross over and when that did happen, Vokes was an inch away from connecting but I was hoping Barnes would get there. My pen was poised with a headline that read BARNSTORMER wins the points.
Yet despite all the stuttering and exasperation; in terms of saves that were forced, then Burnley did deserve to win the game. But only in the final 10 minutes or so was any real pressure applied with Barnes muscling and bustling and at last came a sense of urgency. Two of those fingertip superb Marshall saves came in this period. Gray and Boyd could both have scored in the first half but for him. Dyche was adamant that on another day, the division’s top scoring team would have packed some of those chances home.
At the other end Heaton had a few saves but a reasonably routine night; in fact it was his crossbar that made the best save of the night. Cardiff were good and those of us who thought that the final run-in would never be easy were proved correct. As well as hitting the bar, a golden chance for them was squandered by one of the tamest weakest side-footed shots ever seen at the gaping Burnley goal. They were slick, broke at pace and carved Burnley open on several occasions.
And yet, out of sorts as Burnley were for much of the game, it was Marshall who saved Cardiff from defeat. And Joey Barton – if anyone thought that the Brighton game would produce any lingering effects they were wrong. He was in the thick of everything, as combative as ever, got whacked a couple of times but just got on with things, the odd pass went astray, not everything came off but then that’s bound to happen sometimes. Dyche had briskly defended him after the Brighton leg-stamp accusations and pointed to what we have all seen this season, that he has been targeted over and again but has never retaliated. ‘He’s had the rough end of the stick,’ he said. But Barton being ‘normal’ doesn’t make a good newspaper story, sadly.
The applause and tributes to Ian Britton before kick-off, and then in the 48th minute, were loud and joyful. And joyful is what we should feel at his memory. His was a golden goal to celebrate and after that game in May of ’87 it was the Ian Wooldridge report that best summed it up. It was a memorable report that began:
WE gathered like predatory undertakers and professional mourners, lured by the death throes of a stricken giant. Reporters who had forgotten where Burnley was spilled out over their press seats, which had gathered the dust of disinterest. Some had their obituaries already written.
They don’t write stuff like that anymore but one fan who did write down his personal memories was Keith Sladen. People flew in for that game from all parts of the globe whilst others sat in other parts of the globe glued to the radio, and unreliable radio networks at that. This was a time without the instant communication of today even though it was as recent as the 80’s. Keith wrote:
‘Burnley fans everywhere watched the 1986/87 season with growing dismay, not to say alarm. As the weeks passed and the prospects of the Clarets finishing at the foot of the Football League’s lowest division became increasingly likely, surely the league rules would be amended to avoid the embarrassment of a founder member being expelled.
‘At the time I was living in Hertfordshire and working for an insurance company in the City of London but a Burnley supporter won few bragging rights in those days and away matches near home at venues such as Colchester, Cambridge, Peterborough and Northampton were a world away from previous decades. Nevertheless, they had to be endured. As the season moved into May, I found myself on an overseas business trip to our branch office in Bogota, Colombia, quite a dangerous place in those days, 8,660 feet up in the Andes with kidnappings, drugs cartels and far-left revolutionaries exerting an unhealthy influence over almost every part of daily life. I quickly learned never to dawdle on the street between hotel and taxi.
‘We insured large parts of the legitimate economy including power stations, paper-making mills and textiles. This involved travelling around Colombia, but thankfully not to Medellin the nerve centre of the drugs cartels and the base of the notorious drug baron, Pablo Escobar.
‘Anyway, on the day of the Orient game I knew no news would come through unless or until I actively sought it. In those days there was no instant communication, no internet, no emails, no mobile phones etc. Unsurprisingly the fortunes of Burnley Football Club were not high on the priorities of the Colombian press and UK newspapers took several days to arrive. So, to keep in contact there was only a crackly and temperamental international phone line, but I couldn’t summon up the courage to phone home until the Wednesday of the following week. For four days I simply blanked Burnley FC out of my mind. Was this preferable to the nerve-shredding experience of actually being at the match? I think it probably was.
‘I didn’t have much optimism that events would go Burnley’s way (did any of us?) but when, with much trepidation, I did make the call I adopted the nonchalant approach.
‘“Oh… by the way how did Burnley get on last Saturday…”
‘Also, there was the added complication that a Burnley victory would not in itself guarantee survival so I had to pose further probing questions on a bad phone line. I’m not sure that Margaret, my wife, understood the permutations but eventually we got there. I have to say that the news was a great relief, surprising maybe, but as we all know now it marked a huge turning point for the club. Indeed, who could have predicted that the Clarets would appear in a Wembley final little more than 12 months later in front of a crowd of 80,000+. There have been setbacks since then of course, but overall, the progress had been little short of miraculous. (Keith Sladen December 2015)
If that story isn’t dramatic enough then another recent letter came from Nick Davenport whose support goes back to the title season of ‘59/60, and even today still works in Kinshasa in the Congo. For some reason in ’87 a much younger Nick was on an island in the middle of the Congo River, the river at that point being 19 kilometres wide.
‘I was on my own,’ he wrote, ‘in the middle of the island that was between Kinshasa and Brazzaville, glued to my radio. Communications then were diabolical and the match over-ran the 5pm sports report deadline because of the unexpectedly large crowd delay. I did not find out the result, or sleep properly, until the following Tuesday.’
I guess so many of us have our own personal stories to tell of the day and where we came from and how far we travelled plus all the emotion we felt so that the passing of Ian Britton has brought so many of them back to the front of our memory banks. Mrs T tells me that these days I forget my own name often enough. But one thing is for sure, I have never forgotten the image of that Ian Britton header.Share this page :