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The play-offs get underway today, starting with Newport County and Tranmere Rovers facing each other for a place in League One next season and in two days time it will be the turn of Aston Villa and Derby County with one of them assured a place in next season’s Premier League.

wembley09010One set of fans will return home miserable having been beaten whilst the celebrations at one end of the stadium will be incredible and we should know. Twice we’ve been to Wembley for a play-off final and twice we’ve come home winners. We went to the old Wembley in 1994 when goals from David Eyres and Gary Parkinson turned the game in our favour against a nine man Stockport who had scored an early goal themselves.

We made our first ever visit to the new Wembley as we searched for our own place in the Premier League and it’s that day we look at today, some ten years today since Wade Elliott’s goal gave us a 1-0 win against Sheffield United and saw “Little old Burnley” as described in the commentary by Chris Kamara leave the national stadium to prepare for football in the Premier League.

I knew that I should write something about the day; I wanted to write something about the day, and my first thought was to use my match report which was headlined something like “The 33 year wait is over” but that was quickly ruled out because I can’t find a copy of it.

It’s not about a report though is it? It’s not about what happened before that day, but for those who don’t know we beat Reading in the semi-final, and it’s not about what happened after that day, and we all know that we were immediately, as expected, relegated to leave us likely to be one of those clubs, like Barnsley and Swindon, to enjoy just one season in the Premier League, although we’ve gone on to blow that out of the water. It’s about the day, that remarkable day when thousands and thousands of Burnley fans witnessed one of the most incredible days we are ever likely to witness as Clarets.

We opted to travel by car with our trusted driver Alan Heywood. Alan was our driver at the time and not being the smallest of people we labelled his transport Big Al’s Travel (BAT). He has a big heart too and opted not to charge us for this memorable trip which also included two Up the Clarets message board posters DAVETHEVICAR and jdrobbo.

As the car pulled out of Alan’s drive, we were joined by Doris Day. I don’t have the best of voices but it didn’t seem to matter as the four of us belted out Que Sera Sera, whatever will be, will be, we’re going to Wemberlee. We just let John sing the loudest, he has the best voice.

It just seemed a normal sort of away trip on the way down, even when we parked the car and got on the underground, alongside some Sheffield United fans who, I have to say, were less confident than we were. For the trip to Reading, I’d taken some Ginger Pele biscuits from Oddie’s so obviously that ritual had to be continued.

wembley09014It all changed, I think, when we saw the Wembley Arch. That sort of focused the enormity of the occasion. The first person we bumped into as we walked towards the stadium was Paul Fletcher, then the club’s chief executive. Had someone nailed Malcolm Macdonald 35 years earlier, Fletch would have played for Burnley in the FA Cup Final. We saw a few more ex-Clarets on the day. I can certainly recall seeing Marlon Beresford and Andy Farrell, both of whom had played in the Stockport win, but then came the former players who had worn our famous claret and blue in the 1962 FA Cup Final, players such as Jimmy Robson, Ray Pointer, Alex Elder and Jimmy McIlroy to name just four.

I’d turned up at Wembley with a pile of tickets that I’d picked up from various people so I had to play ticketmaster for a while with the Bobby Moore statue used as the meeting point and when the final tickets were handed over it was time to go inside where the Burnley fans were already making an incredible noise.

Wade scored in the 13th minute. One half of Wembley erupted and I wondered what then chairman Barry Kilby might have been saying. Barry once told me that he is known as the club pessimist and his catchphrase on such occasions is always: “I hope we haven’t scored too early.”

It was tense, far too tense at times, and some of our now extended group were struggling to cope at times. In the heat of Wembley, I was dehydrating horrendously by half time but Suzanne Geldard, reporting for the Lancashire Telegraph, came to my rescue with a supply of water.

If you watch the game back, we were by far the better side, but it didn’t feel like that at times as we moved into the closing stages that saw the Blades have two of their substitutes sent off by referee Mike Dean. Jamie Ward went for two yellow cards while Lee Hendrie saw red after the final whistle for having a word with the referee.

I’ve always said I enjoyed Reading more than this game, and in so many ways I did. I don’t think I’d particularly want to live through that final ten minutes at Wembley again. Not once did we look as though we’d concede but it did only need one slip and it could have ended our hopes.

Finally, that wonderful moment. It’s called the final whistle when you’ve scored more goals than the other team. People who know me well will say I’m emotional, and I couldn’t hide it. The tears flowed and Mikey (MDWAT) still jokes about the puddles on the floor. When we’d suffered relegation in 1976, I just thought we’d be back within a couple of years, but as time went on I came to the realisation that it would never happen. It had happened and what an incredible moment.

wembley09308We seemed to be inside the now half empty stadium for ages, but I don’t think any Burnley fan was in any rush to leave. It was one of those times you will never forget and the wonderful atmosphere continued outside and on the slow walk back to the underground station.

On the platform at the underground station I bumped into my old friend Alan Beecroft. We are both long term fans of our great club and we just hugged, I think probably more in disbelief at what we’d achieved.

Back in the car, and on the M40, we stopped at a services and there I bumped into my friend Jo and her less than celebrating husband Steve who admitted, as a Preston fan, that he hadn’t particularly enjoyed the day. Jo sadly passed away in September 2017 with cancer, aged just 50, but that day we celebrated together.

Thankfully we’ve never been to this final and lost, it must be a devastating journey home for the losers. We won, it was tense at times during the game, but I can look back now at what was one of the best days ever as a Burnley fan. We’ve twice gone up since, once as runners-up and then as champions having gone on an unbeaten run of 23 games. There is absolutely no doubt that I’d rather go up automatically, it saves putting us through the turmoil and tension of the play-offs, but you can’t really beat a Wembley win.

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