Michael Duff – twelve years with three promotions
The date was 5th July 2004. New manager Steve Cotterill had taken over a squad of eight players and had added just one new signing with the capture of Ipswich Town’s John McGreal by the time pre-season got underway but one soon became two with the addition of another defender with Michael Duff arriving from Cheltenham Town.
Cotterill, of course, knew Duff well having managed him at Cheltenham, and on confirming the signing he said: “They say that if you can sign players you know, it’s a good thing. Michael is a good player and one I feel can make the step up through the divisions. I’ve known him a long time and he’s a good, strong character who is tall, strong and good in the air and has been in the Third Division team of the year. He’s very determined to succeed and it’s a great opportunity for him.”
Burnley were not in the best of positions financially at the time and were looking, mainly, for free transfers, but we had to pay £30,000 for Duff with half of it paid immediately and the other half in a year’s time. We also had to commit to a pre-season friendly at Cheltenham in 2005.
“We have got Michael at what is a very good price,” Cotterill added. “He was in the last year of his contract at Cheltenham and wanted to make the step up. It is a small fee, but when you get a good player from the lower leagues you sometimes have to pay something for them.”
He described Duff as a calculated risk with the new man saying: “I’m really looking forward to the challenge and the chance of playing at a higher level. Steve and I had a couple of meetings about the possibility of a move over the last few weeks and I’m made up.
“I was in the last year of my contract at Cheltenham and when the chance game to make the step up to a higher level, I had to take it. It will be strange leaving Cheltenham, because I’ve been there for over eight years and it’s become my home.
“I was there just before Steve came in as manager and I was only 18 at the time. But he took over and had unbelievable success and he made me the player I am now.”
Generally, Burnley fans had been delighted with the McGreal signing but I think underwhelmed might be a good choice of word at the addition of a 26-year-old defender from a League Two club when the club was desperately short of quality defenders after two seasons when the goals against column was frightening.
Duff didn’t get a place in the centre of defence. Frank Sinclair came in too and Gary Cahill joined on loan later in the season. That meant he played at right-back and that was often the case during his first five seasons with the club although he did make appearances in the centre and once played up front in a 4-4-2 alongside Kyle Lafferty, who was making his first start for us that day, in a home game against Reading. It wasn’t a success, we lost 3-0 and Duff was soon back into the defence.
Steve Cotterill once told me that he would become a centre-half at Championship level but would need to gain some experience playing at the higher level first. He got through his first three seasons before both McGreal and Sinclair left but with Clarke Carlisle and Steven Caldwell forming another partnership, it was still right back for Duff until disaster struck with a serious knee injury against Crystal Palace early in the 2007/08 season.
There were concerns that it could be a career ending injury but he fought back, scored on his reserve team comeback at Tranmere before returning to the first team in the last game of the season in the return fixture against Crystal Palace. He might have wished he hadn’t, with Carlisle sent off early in the game we were beaten 5-0.
In his first three seasons at Burnley he’d missed just eleven league games, but the next few years weren’t quite so good. He was never considered first choice by either Owen Coyle or Eddie Howe and it was only because of Rhys Williams’ loan terms that he got a place back in the team for the 2009 play-offs, culminating in a first ever promotion to the Premier League with a bit of dancing thrown in.
I think I’m correct in the assumption that he’s never played at right-back since with all his appearances coming in the centre of defence and not even one more attempt at playing up front.
He was restored to the team by Terry Pashley as a replacement for David Edgar when Pash became caretaker manager as we searched for a replacement for Howe, and he was therefore in the team when Sean Dyche arrived as manager in October 2012. For over three years he was, for much of the time, a first name on the team sheet. He played all but five of the games in the 2013/14 promotion season and continued that into our second Premier League season until injury forced him off in the 2-1 win at Stoke.
For a time he lost his place to Michael Keane and then, with Jason Shackell having gone to Derby last summer, he partnered Keane for the first half of this season. The two of them played every game until Boxing Day but he was left out after the 3-0 defeat at Hull.
He’s joked about us not having lost since as he’s been forced to watch from the sidelines but it was brilliant to see him come on for the last few minutes at Charlton for what we all knew was going to be his final appearance before hanging up his boots.
We did get a couple more of his dances too – one on the pitch at Charlton wearing a horse’s head and one last night on the town hall steps.
That cameo at Charlton was his 342nd league appearance for us, his first as a substitute since he came on for Sam Vokes in a 2-0 defeat at Huddersfield in August 2012. Only seven players have made more post-war league appearances for us. Five of those were John Angus, Jimmy Adamson, Tommy Cummings, Jimmy Adamson and Jimmy McIlroy, all members of the 1959/60 Championship team; the other two were Alan Stevenson and Martin Dobson who played in two promotion teams in 1973 and 1982. Duff has beaten them and has now won three promotions with the club.
Was he a calculated risk? I reckon Cotterill knew that was not the case but was smoothing his path into the club as fans questioned the wisdom of signing a player from League Two.
No one is questioning Cotterill’s decision now and no one is questioning Duff. He received a superb ovation when he came on for Keane at Charlton and was similarly welcomed last night at the presentation ceremony.
I wondered whether he would move on and try his luck elsewhere, but he’s not one for changing club too often. Only Cheltenham and Burnley have benefited from his services and Burnley will continue to do so as he moves into the coaching arena.
The club confirmed he would be working with the academy and I believe that he’ll be involved with the youth (under 18) team who have suffered this year from the loss of Terry Pashley and Andy Farrell.
Is there a Burnley fan who doesn’t wish him the very best in his new role? I doubt it. Is there a Burnley fan who doesn’t want to say a big thanks for what he’s given us as a player? I seriously doubt that.
The day Steve Cotterill spent thirty grand on bringing him to Turf Moor was an outstanding piece of business for us.
Just a year ago I spoke to both Cotterill and Steven Caldwell, his first promotion captain, about him when he was selected to win the Supporters Clubs Special Achievement Award. Cotterill said of Duff: “He’s a good lad and he fully deserves everything he’s achieved in the game. Even as a teenager I thought he had the ability and the attitude to go much further in the game.”
Caldwell said: “He has integrity and heart. He is a man I consider one of my closest friends in football and I’m proud to say he’s a friend. In my opinion he should be under discussion as one of Burnley’s greatest players. Michael Duff is the consummate professional. He is a winner and a leader.”
The Burnley fans sang: “You’ll always be a Claret,” and certainly that’s going to continue as he passes on his knowledge to the young players who might also learn some of his dancing skills.
Thanks Duffo for twelve fantastic years.Share this page :