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A Leap Year and an extra day at the end of the month of February; an extra day to look at the league table and think hey that looks OK, an extra day to think about how far this club has come along.

I was rooting through old scrapbooks and found something from a book that covered the promotion season of 1981/82. It was a joyful season filled with hope. Bob Lord had just died, John Jackson was the new chairman, and Derek Gill was sorting out finances and clearing up debts with new sponsorship deals. He had summed up the situation the club was in, in a few words:

The club was in an administrative shambles; in fact it was verging on insolvency as Bob Lord was reaching his final months. Suppliers were not being paid, the position with the Inland Revenue on PAYE and National Insurance was chaotic, and the VAT commitment was something to ignore and hope it would go away.

The new board had huge decisions to make and although within two or three years it had all turned toxic in the boardroom, for their first 18 months it seemed they could do nothing wrong.

But one early subject was what to do with Gawthorpe? It was at an AGM that Chairman John Jackson dropped a bombshell when he said that there was a chance they would have to look at Gawthorpe with a view to selling parts of it such was the need to raise income levels.

‘We may come to the conclusion,’ he said, ‘that Gawthorpe is too big for our needs. Possibly some of the acres could be sold at the right time.’

Then he went on to have a dig at Old Bob: ‘The club would not sell players in order to ‘live well’ and Burnley would not become the first club with a three-tier stand called ‘The Trevor Steven Stand.’

George Boyd the destroyer

George Boyd the destroyer

But he did go on to pay tribute to Lord: the most knowledgeable man I met in football, he said. But, if he had appointed a public relations man to work alongside him he might have gone even further, added Jackson.  On the one and only occasion I met Ken Bates, he said exactly the same.

We can look now at the aerial shots of the building programme at Gawthorpe and take pride in all that is going on. But did the club come close to selling chunks of it in 1981/82; I don’t suppose we shall ever really know.

With Brighton winning early in the week on Monday against a decidedly puny Leeds United; they were 4-0 up by half-time, it meant that just two points covered the top four as they began to pull away from teams below. Leeds were a disgrace in that first half and you wondered if Evans would get the sack at half-time. But no, at the end of the evening he still had his job. Cellino was there but left at half-time ordering Evans not to speak to the media.

Next up was Blackburn versus Middlesbrough on the Tuesday. For once we really wanted a Blackburn win; if Middlesbrough won they would go top again. How often do we want Blackburn to win, very rarely if ever, but this was an occasion to put old grudges aside and wish them well. Blackburn did indeed win to our amazement; we rejoiced and then asked the Lord would he wash our mouths out with soap and water. By coincidence a website topic had been the riots of ’83 at Ewood Park when there were appalling scenes and a roof was wrecked. Despite amazing cup-runs, 1982/83 was not the best of seasons with relegation at the end of it, and the Rovers game was when frustrations were let loose and exploded on Easter Monday, April 4 and the declining Clarets lost 2-1.

They’d been promoted to the Second Division debt free, with a new chairman, fresh board and a team of promising youngsters including the mercurial Trevor Steven but alas it all went pear-shaped by the end. It was the season when Miller was replaced by Casper and they promptly went to London and beat Spurs 4-1 in the Milk Cup. It was the occasion when a snooty Spurs director after the game was saying he couldn’t believe the score, but Burnley man Derek Gill, taking great pleasure, replied that all he had to do was look in the newspapers the next day for confirmation. It was the season when Burnley beat the all-conquering Liverpool 1-0 at Turf Moor.

1983: and the occasion of the ‘riots’ at Ewood Park was prompted by a bit of fun with a wellington boot being tossed around in a small corner of the away end. The police decided that this had to be stopped and the bit of fun escalated dramatically to the point of thudding truncheons and heavy boots. The tough, hard lads that stood up in defiance were caught up with all the innocent bystanders. Then, faced with an uncompromising plod back in an era when the idea of police restraint was quite alien, the hundreds of fans cornered in the Darwen End utilised the plastic, rotten timbers and asbestos that was so easy to find to hurl at the police. Frank Casper spoke to calm things down and was ignored.

When the game resumed for the second half the disturbances started again and the players were taken off. This would be the third of five consecutive defeats and the elation of the previous season had been replaced by resignation and anger at the plight of the now sinking club. ‘The Match That Died of Shame,’ headlined the papers the next day. This game was a huge stain on the club and its fans, and if fans wondered if things could get any worse, the club still faced the John Bond season, boardroom tensions, relegation under John Benson, and then the ensuing wilderness years that would last what seemed an eternity.

Reading up on all of this only serves to underline the stable, respected and hugely optimistic state of the club at the moment. The Burnley of the 80’s and the Burnley of today are two entirely different worlds.

Wednesday and there was an article in an online magazine that suggested that the coming game against Blackburn would be Burnley’s best ever chance to batter them.  It described Sean Dyche as like a trained killer moving on from one target to the next. It lauded Burnley and belittled Blackburn. It was the time to stick a few past them and we were fed up of odd-goal wins. Then it reminded us there hasn’t been a home win against Blackburn since Boxing Day 1978. Saturday is the time to put Blackburn to bed it ended.  I cringed reading it, not because I didn’t share the sentiments but because putting it all down on paper seemed to be inviting an upset. Blackburn were on a roll, confidence would be high. This was no game to take for granted and crow about battering them.

Thursday and we sat glued to Birmingham v Hull on TV. Now then, if at the beginning of the season you’d said to me and Mrs T that on March 3, we’d be engrossed in a game like Brum v Hull we’d have said yes and the moon is made of cheese. But we did. Top spot in the division was at stake, and on an awful night of rain and sleet and in front of a miserable, sparse looking crowd, Birmingham did the job we hoped for and won by the one solitary goal. And what a corker it was too. It’s reasonable to think that few if any Burnley fans at the beginning of the week would have put money on Burnley still being top on Thursday might. But there we were and whereas Dyche never entertained the idea of automatic promotion in 2014 until late on, ‘I’m a different animal now,’ he was saying, meaning that he was accepting the notion that Burnley were promotion candidates.

The X Files were back on TV, North Korean President Kim Jong Wrong Un had ordered his military chiefs to get his nuclear missiles ready for use, and deep in space, mystery, fast, alien radio signals were being picked up from a faraway distant Galaxy. The European IN campaign was suggesting if we leave the EU we might even be invaded by giant rats.

An Atlantic front had brought ice and snow a couple of days earlier. But who cared about all that, this was Burnley versus Blackburn. Middlesbrough had gone back to the top of the table with a 2-1 win over an abysmal Wolves side that somehow did manage a goal towards the end of the game. It was just too much to expect another result in Burnley’s favour. What struck you again though were the rows and rows of empty seats, hundreds of them. No so at Turf Moor where the ground was packed with just a few empty seats and those probably belonging to Season Ticket holders, ill maybe, or sunning themselves in Tenerife. The snow had gone but the route was again littered with red lights and roadworks. On one of the messageboards someone had posted that it felt like a Christmas morning, a morning when you can’t wait to get up and enjoy the day, but you don’t really know what to expect, you don’t quite know what’s under the Christmas tree.

My God, what a game, what an afternoon; what a nerve shredding experience that was. It was up and under, it was up and at ‘em, it was trench warfare; it was no holds barred, in yer face, get stuck in and just good old fashioned last-man-standing no nonsense. And in between all that there were moments of dullness and tedium.

‘Blood and thunder and muck and nettles,’ said Dyche adding that it was not the best they’d ever played but he’d not lost to Rovers yet since he had arrived and dedicated the ‘double’ to the fans.

Pretty it was not, silky smooth it was not, Burnley football at its finest it was not. This was not the beautiful game; this was Burnley versus Blackburn on a raw afternoon and all of this sucked out your emotions and drained us of anything resembling calmness and cool heads as we willed that final whistle to blow.

It had everything ranging from moments of decent football, to passages of Hoofball, to head tennis to downright sloppiness. It had thundering challenges, sliding tackles and last ditch clearances. It had a referee, Mike Jones from the Prem, that drove us nuts with some of his decisions but he gave the one decision that we applauded him for. The foul on Boyd was clear cut, his feet were taken away, the ref pointed to the spot and Gray did the rest.

For some of the rest of the first half Burnley played some decent stuff, Blackburn forced two top class saves from Heaton whilst at the other end there was one particular passing move of such blistering pace and geometrical precision that had the move been converted into a goal it would have been the goal of the season. Only a last ditch interception saved Blackburn as the ball flashed past the post by a whisker for a corner.

And then the second half and Blackburn came out fighting and moving and passing. It was Blackburn versus the Burnley defence as they dominated the game, found space, got crosses in, filled and crowded the box, had corner after corner; but Burnley stood firm and there was just no way past. For all their possession and moves the ball rarely got as far as Heaton, but when it did, there he was in total control. Blackburn may well feel aggrieved and that they deserved something from the game but they got nowt. It was payback time for past games they won undeservedly, in the Prem under Coyle when they won 1-0 having been awarded a penalty for as blatant a dive as you will see;  then at Ewood when a goal was scored with Blackburn players a yard offside.

Pinned back for long spells in that second half, blood pressure rising, you couldn’t question any Burnley player for commitment, grit, guts, blood, sweat and passion. Barton was crowned MOTM but a word for Boyd. Today he was Boyd the destroyer, chasing, tackling, harrying, harassing, blocking and covering all parts of the pitch. And, it was Boyd that won the penalty.

Who cares if Blackburn fans were arguing they were the better side. It matters not one jot if you don’t score. Burnley scored and Blackburn didn’t so there’s the end of it, giving Burnley the double this season and the first win at Turf Moor since 1978. And to top all that, Burnley went back to the top of the division. Of the top four, which two will crack first; so far, not Burnley.

After this game there should be a Government health warning on Turf tickets:  Watching Burnley FC can be harmful to your health. But wadda week, Sean got us all a double: and as David Frost used to say and Millicent Martin used to sing: “That was the week that was.”

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