No laughs at West Brom
The Queen is going to get the builders in… Brexit could mean Santa is barred from entering the UK… Blair threatens to take up politics again… Ed Balls was still going strong on Strictly… England walloped by India… not many laughs this week and certainly none at West Brom.
With Mrs T I moved to from Hebden Bridge to Leeds in 1969; it’s an age ago and I really can’t remember exactly which year it was. The Turf Moor roots were and remained sound enough; they had to be. I was entering Leeds United country at a time when they had a cracking side. In between the kicks and bruises they inflicted on other teams, along with small dogs and stray old ladies, they did actually play a superb brand of football.
The kids at the school I joined, St Margaret’s Horsforth, were all disciples which set an immediate problem when, overseen by the dictatorial Head (Old Jack who we met in the last diary) and with no school kit, I asked them what kits they had at home, and of course they all said white Leeds United shirts. There was nothing for it but to say that this would have to be the kit we played in. What made all this worse of course was the fact that we could see two Leeds landmarks quite clearly from our upstairs windows, one was Armley Jail and the other were the Elland Road floodlights. And then as if to underline the predicament, Burnley were doing far from well at this time, in fact were heading for relegation from the First Division.
Anyway: Jack Prince did two things that have always stuck in my mind; one of them involved Gilbert and Sullivan and the other the FA Cup when Leeds United won it in 1972. We never ever saw his wife, Mrs Prince, who was said to be as portly as he and six inches shorter to boot, but then, one Christmas, he insisted that the older children accompanied by their teachers, one of them me, should attend Yeadon Town Hall to see his wife in a Gilbert and Sullivan production. Up until this point she had seemed like the wife of Captain Mainwaring – just a figment of the imagination.
If I say that this was the musical equivalent of watching Burnley 0 Hereford 6, you will appreciate just how awful it was until a wonderful moment arrived when someone stood on his wife’s long gown. She turned to walk offstage, you could see the foot on the bottom of the dress, you knew what would happen, and just as a Jimmy Mac penalty kick might slowly but unerringly trickle across the line, the dress slipped slowly down and half of it stayed on the floor whilst she exited stage right. It was the only and last time he ever dragooned us to Yeadon to see Gilbert and Sullivan. It was the last time we saw her.
And then he insisted that the school football team should see the FA Cup that would be on display in a church hall down Horsforth Town Street one weekday evening. This meant that I would have to be there as well. And the old head being the tyrant he was, you didn’t dare say, “No I’m a Burnley supporter.” You were told to be there and so you dutifully turned up.
In my hazy mind I can half see Peter Lorimer coming on the stage and saying a few words and then some lackey in attendance lifted up the Cup and the lads cheered whilst I sat there thinking what on earth am I doing here. How is this happening? The lads all went up and made a queue and were allowed to touch the Cup but I thought NO, no way am I going up there to touch a Cup won by Leeds United. It was a defining moment in which I convinced myself that in this act of defiance I had stood symbolically up to old Jack Prince as he glowered at me with narrowed eyes for not accompanying the boys.
In 1974 we were there at Elland Road to see that memorable game when we trounced Leeds on their own pitch 4-1. We had tickets in the home end behind the goal and were very close to the front. In went that delightful chip from Doug Collins (pictured) right in front of us. In went Nulty’s goal that sealed the win with him somehow on his hands and knees as he scored. But we also saw close up that vile challenge on Casper by Hunter after the ball had gone that left him writhing on the ground. Were we already 4-1 up at that point I seem to think we were, but the recollection is not of the score as Hunter made the tackle, but how delayed it was and then the look of sheer venom on Hunter’s face as he looked down at the stricken Casper on the floor. It’s over 40 years ago now. I doubt Hunter remembers it but Frank certainly does.
And so since all those years ago, we have trudged back and forth from Leeds to Burnley, save for a lull in the 80s when job and offspring interfered, the journey becoming more and more fraught as delays, roadworks, speed cameras, plus more and more traffic and traffic lights, have slowed us down more and more. But, the stretch between Todmorden and Burnley through the Cliviger Gorge has barely changed one bit since the old Ford Prefect in the late 50s chugged to Turf Moor from Longfield Road.
Somewhere, somehow, there’s an alternative Leeds United history. What might have happened if they’d stood by Brian Clough instead of showing him the door after just 40 days? It was the very same day that now doing supply work at a school in Beeston; I’d taken a group of lads and dads on a tour of Elland Road with one of their old pros as host. We got there to find cameras, lights and a whole sea of action, of photographers and reporters and microphones.
What might have happened if Jimmy Adamson had got his way, the directors had backed him and he had been allowed to sign Kevin Keegan from Hamburg and Keegan had transformed a whole city as he did at Southampton. And then I stopped wondering what might have happened and thought, who cares, I’m a Burnley supporter. But, having said that, I felt real sympathy for Adamson because it was then he lost what little love he had left for football.
World Cup weekend was over and Burnley players were back in the fold, Heaton and Keane England, Defour Belgium, Hendrick Ireland, Vokes Wales and Gudmondsson Iceland with no injuries to report. The game against West Brom scheduled for a Monday night so it was a Hornsea weekend for Mrs T et moi.
Tom Heaton had a fine game at Wembley and until the madness of the final five minutes could have been well pleased with his performance. But 2-0 up, the defence went gung-ho, Heaton was dreadfully exposed for both goals, the first of which he had absolutely no chance. The second was of the sort that is embarrassing for all goalkeepers, through his legs. But: where was the left back, where was the cover; there wasn’t any leaving the scorer in oceans of room to streak forward and fire home from close range. The press were kind asking questions about the defence rather than Heaton. Unlucky was the general consensus in those papers that I saw. Southgate meanwhile preferred to give the ageing Jagielka 45 minutes rather than a debut to Michael Keane. We scratched our heads and then groaned.
We were in desperate need of some football of our own. We’d watched the weekend games and most of the results had been pretty favourable to Burnley with Hull, West Ham, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace all losing. The Burnley game on Monday night TV: and the last time they had played at West Brom in the Prem it has been a 0-4 catastrophe.
Sean D in a huge Sunday Times feature briefly compared the two Prem seasons; the first had been ‘a rolling wave of emotion, this time it felt like business.’ SD is nothing if not consistent and even the huge full page feature had little new to say, homing in on his belief that all these new and overseas coaches that have flooded the Premier League and lauded for their ‘innovations’ are doing nothing that hasn’t been around in football for some time.
‘Horrible journey and bloody freezing,’ wrote Paul Weller as the rains lashed down and the motorways in several places ground to a halt. There were flood alert warning sirens in Padiham, Todmorden and Hebden Bridge as if they hadn’t had enough a year ago. Roads into Whalley were closed. In Leeds the rain was biblical, lashing down in horizontal sheets driven by the winds and running like a river down the drive below our house. Wheelie bins were seen floating down roads that were now rivers.
But all the while the news was that at West Brom the pitch was fine and things had abated down there. The Hawthorns, pitch fine, drizzly, traffic grim, tweeted Henry Winter. It would have been a mercy if the Hawthorns had been flooded but we weren’t to know that prior to the game.
‘Horrible night,’ one tweet summed it up, and not just the weather. Somehow Burnley contrived to make West Brom look like Barcelona on a night when all the shortcomings we knew were there surfaced again. West Brom: a side of no great brilliance, no galacticos, nothing outstanding, bang average – or so we thought.
Gifted two early goals they took complete control of the game and made Burnley look like mugs. They were everything Burnley were not; quick on the break, powerful, strong, springing attacks like sprinters off the blocks. Burnley passed it around, backwards, sideways, more sideways, back again, getting nowhere and when they did reach anywhere near the West Brom area it all faded to nothing. Impotent was the only word to describe it; plenty of possession but not a clue what to do with it.
Just one good chance fell Burnley’s way with the score at only 1-0. The ball came to Hendricks who had a perfect opportunity to lob the keeper (which he tried to do) but the attempt was way off target. After that I guess we all knew this was going to be a long and painful night.
Defour as ever did not play the full 90 minutes in fact was taken off after just 45. On came Barnes to make a 4-4-2 formation, Gray again left on the bench looking morose. Things picked up a little but by this time West Brom had gone 3-0 up all too easily. Gudmondsson was the pick of the bunch but was taken off when it would have been a kindness to have replaced the toiling Arfield.
As bad as anything I can remember under Dyche, tweeted Chris Boden. Did they all go out ‘til 5 in the morning partying with Rooney, asked someone else; in Accrington Julian Booth’s Facebook message was TV GONE OFF. He was one of the lucky ones. ‘We should have our fares and ticket costs refunded after this dismal show,’ said many who went. On the touchline as the debacle continued Dyche looked on quite shell-shocked, frequently consulting, hand over his mouth, his henchmen as to what to do next. If he was bemused who could blame him; how on earth was this the same side that dug in at Old Trafford?
After the game he lamented that West Brom has always been a bad ground for him since he broke his leg there as a 17-year old when he was at Nottingham Forest but whilst the results against Man United, Everton and Palace had given us all cause for some optimism, this West Brom result was a painful reminder of just how fallible and limited this Burnley side is and that the result had little to do with bad grounds or bad luck. This was a result down to rank bad defending at one end and a lack of any ideas as to how to get forward at pace at the other, or what to do in the final third. If West Brom were ‘sensational’ as one report claimed, it was because they were allowed to be – or because the wily old Pulis pulled off a masterstroke.
Quite simply West Brom sat back and allowed Burnley to have possession and this as we know is an alien game for them. This time they passed and passed and then when they lost the ball in the final third as they inevitably did, the West Brom counter attacks at speed were all too much. Time and again they were helplessly exposed and with Keane and Mee having nightmare games against the rampaging Rondon, a centre forward with terrifying pace to match his physical presence, the night was set for an abject defeat and all too sadly shown on SKY for the nation to see just how tame and weak-willed Burnley could be.
This was a gloomy and chastening result but a wise old man once said to me no matter how down and despondent you feel, always try to end the day with a chuckle and this I did. As sure as apples is apples someone will surely one day take a pot shot at President Elect Trump. But just think, how would we keep a straight face when his bodyguards all shout “Donald duck.”
It seemed moderately amusing at the fag-end of the evening as we headed to bed desperate for something to lighten the gloom. In the cold, grey light of the following morning, however, it was anything but, as images of the sorry capitulation returned and news of rain and floods dominated the news.Share this page :