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It’s 20 years since Harry Potts passed away in January 1996 and the anniversary passed by with scarcely a mention; it seemed rather sad bearing in mind the part he played in BFC history.

His achievements were memorable but what sticks in the mind is the way he was treated when Bob Lord shunted him upstairs to the role of general manager so that Jimmy Adamson could become team manager; it was a post that seemed hazily defined and carried little responsibility. It was a period of real loneliness when he was even asked not to visit Gawthorpe. Eventually he was asked to leave altogether with a handsome settlement that allowed Bob Lord and Jimmy Adamson to have clear consciences. Margaret Potts was always convinced that things had been going on for some time designed to push him out completely and Harry who didn’t possess an ounce of cunning or deviousness in his body just didn’t know how to react; in fact he was possibly totally unaware of it.

‘Yes he received a handsome settlement,’ wrote Margaret Potts,’ but there was a mortgage to pay, a large tax demand and his parents to support.’ And so he went on the ‘dole’ and what a miserable experience it was, she remembered, and he found it so embarrassing that the sympathetic unemployment officers took to seeing him in a private room away from prying eyes. The man who had provided Burnley FC with some of its most glorious years was now going down to Padiham to sign on. Today it seems inconceivable.

Harry Potts with Bob Lord in better days
Harry Potts with Bob Lord in better days

Bob Lord had issued a statement that everything had been settled amicably. Margaret Potts might have argued otherwise. At the next AGM Lord revealed that the arrangement involving both Potts and Adamson at the club had not worked out, a polite way of saying that it was Jimmy Adamson that had no inclination to involve Potts. Potts in fact was yesterday’s man, his philosophy one of simply putting out the best eleven players game after game and letting them get on with it. Adamson was the new era of football, involving deep thinking, specific coaching, and tactics geared to the opposition. They called it ‘scientific football’ back then. On paper it was the dream team of two men with different skills, a classic partnership of complementary talents. But Harry was simply frozen out and cut a forlorn figure around the club. It wouldn’t have been rocket science to have made him responsible for recruitment of young players since he had such a marvellous way with players and their parents. But nobody thought of that.

The Press after the Brentford win were not just impressed by Burnley’s attacking flair in the first half but also the defensive strength in the second half (now said to be interested in Wolves defender Danny Batth). One of them went so far as to describe the back four as the iron wall. Way back in ’47 and then for the next couple of seasons the miserly Burnley defence marshalled by Alan Brown was often called the iron wall or the iron curtain. Comparisons with that redoubtable defence are a bit fanciful, but with more defensive performances like that, the current team won’t concede that many more.

Iron man Alan Brown became manager in the summer of ’54 but there’s a tale, apocryphal perhaps, that even he found his match in a player called Eric Binns who was largely a reserve centre-half at Burnley from May ’49 to May ’55. Brown had always been a known hard man as a player and now as manager still took part in the regular 5-a-side games that he encouraged.

On days when the weather and conditions were too bad to train on grass there was an area under one of the stands that could be used for these 5-a-side games. During one of these games with Binns and Brown on opposing sides, there was an altercation involving an alleged dirty tackle by Binns on Brown. This ended with an angry Brown telling Binns in front of the other players that if he wanted a regular first-team place he would have to start playing a lot better. In the ensuing argument Brown finally threatened to sort Binns out afterwards when training had finished.

After training, everyone left including Brown and the incident seemed over except for an irate Binns who followed Brown and reminded him of the threat and told him he wasn’t having him bullying him in front of the other players and wanted an apology from him the next day in front of them all. Brown refused and the two of them continued the dispute with a bout of push and shove in private under the stand. Binns was victorious, largely because he had terrific strength on account of all the heavy work he did helping on the family farm.

Alas the matter wasn’t over. The same thing happened again in another training game and this time Brown accused Binns of deliberately trying to injure him. Another bout of pushing and shoving took place, again in private at the end of training. Binns was once again the winner and this time earnestly told Brown that he hoped that with a shake of the hand this could be the end of the matter. Alas for Binns, not long afterwards, he was summoned to Brown’s office and learned that you don’t mess with the manager and was informed that his services were no longer required, he wouldn’t play for Burnley again and he was on the transfer list, whereupon he was sold to Blackburn Rovers.

Today with things chaotically as they are at Ewood this might be seen as further punishment but back then there were no problems between the two clubs and Binns was doubly pleased. It was a better chance of first-team football and he was still near to the farm where he could continue to work.

January 18 was officially Blue Monday when huge swathes of the population are said to be suffering from depression after Christmas excesses, debts, going back to work, and miserable weather. 87% are apparently depressed by the weather and 61% by going in to work. Leeds and Manchester are said to be the worst hit places. Tesco were reportedly trying to counter this by handing out free fruit, with a Tesco top director saying that he hoped that a piece of fruit would help offset depression. A bacon sandwich does the trick for me whether it’s free or not.  In Burnley the mood was cheerful following the best 6 days in many a year in the football club’s history and the news that tickets for the Arsenal cup-tie would be a very fair £26 and just £11.25 for OAP’s.

The snow on Leesburg, Virginia
The snow on Leesburg, Virginia

Mrs T and good-self had a bit of a treat on the night of the Derby game with an invitation to partake of the James Hargreaves hospitality. With the nights being damp and chilly, the Hargreaves being warm and inviting, and a good meal on offer, cheese and biscuits, Colombian (naturally, what else) mints and coffee, it would have been rude to say no.

Derby had been going through a bit of a sticky patch with a draw in one game after which the tale emerged that the chairman or owner had gone into the dressing room to give the players a bit of an ear-bashing. It didn’t do much good. They limply lost the next game 3-0 at home. There is no record of what the chairman said then. With that as the background, and Burnley absolutely on fire we could have been forgiven for thinking that a Burnley win was not quite a certainty but almost.

But then we remembered; this is Burnley and many of us had grandmothers who used to say if it’s too good, it won’t last. Mine used to work in the cotton mills in Tod and knew how hard life could be. We approached the game with caution then, as one views a banana skin on a slippery pavement. No-one was taking any kind of win for granted.

Whilst we sat indoors and dined in fine style, dedicated Claret Nigel McWilliam was digging himself out of the blizzards in Leesburg, Virginia. Leesburg is about 30 miles from Washington and sounds to be one of those lovely old colonial towns worth a visit. Nigel was born in Laneshawbridge in 1951, then moved to Brierfield in ’56 and left the UK in ’81, ending up in Leesburg in ’93.

‘About 30 inches in the last 28 hours he mailed; stopped now but temperature below freezing, too much snow to plough. Wind made for a white-out. So watched lucky Liverpool beat plucky Norwich, then saw Charlie make the majority of football fan’s day (come on you ex clarets and finally saw Citeh scrape a point from the Hammers, Payet is the real deal, lovely to watch. Spent 2 hours digging the driveway but pointless as the close hasn’t been ploughed so when they get here, they will pile the snow back in the drive making it impossible to get out. We are lucky though. The power stayed on. Compared to the folks in Carlisle, Yorkshire and Scotland who had the floods to deal with, this was trivial. Hope to find streaming site for the Monday game.’

One day when Jason Shackell meets St Peter at the Pearly Gates, the good St Peter will ask him, ‘and what did you do on earth my son and what is the worst day you can remember?’

And Jason Shackell will surely reply: ‘I was a footballer and the worst thing I remember is the time I went back to Burnley with Derby County and those Clarets gave me a pig of a night. They booed, they barracked, they whistled, they jeered, they sang I was a greedy bastard and all in all it was howibble. And then on top of all that I gave away a penalty when I caught the ball instead of kicking it, and then I deflected a shot into my own net. After that they kept singing Super, Super Shack, sooooper, sooooper Shack, super, super Shack, sooooper Jason Shackell.  It was the most wotten night of my life.’

‘Well that sounds awful,’ St Peter will say,’ come in, come in my son, you’ve surely had your share of hell.’

And hell it was for all the Derby players who must have gone it at half-time fully expecting to go on and win the game, and then must have left the field at full-time thinking just how the hell did we lose that?

We, of course, went home well amused by the excruciating night Jason Shackell experienced and then the four goals that went in and secured the points. When Ross Wallace came back with Wednesday he was applauded with affection and respect. Shackell on the other hand, having made it clear he was done with Burnley, a cardinal error, and was in no mind to play for them again, was savagely heckled and hissed every time he touched the ball just as we hiss and boo the villain in any pantomime. The footie fan can be unforgiving to some like Shackell and will cherish others like Rodriguez or Blake. Despite his goal at Blackburn it was made clear in this game that Shackell, like Coyle, is yesterday’s man.

What a wonderful game this was filled with thrills throbs and thrust. Our meal in Box 10 was splendid washed down with a cheeky Pinot Grigiot. The first half was all Derby, they were good, Shackell shackled Gray, they advanced over and again, they were organised, powerful and threatening so that the goal Burnley scored, or at least scored for them by Keogh, was well against the run of play. They equalised in the blink of an eye with a wonder volley. Oh Gawd, we thought, they must surely win this game if they keep up this up and Burnley struggled to do anything meaningful except defend superbly.

But Derby didn’t win. Sean D didn’t rant at half time and merely asked them could they do better to which the answer was yes. Arfield switched wings and was transformed. Barton ran the show, he must surely be made of rubber the way he is clattered so often and bounces back up again. Gray and Vokes began to bully Shackell and Keogh. Mee and Keane snuffed out the Derby forwards. Lowton and Ward were dominant, Jones mopped up, and the rewards came.

In 50+ years of watching the Clarets I have never before seen them score two penalties in the space of 5 minutes so this was a first and the game was turned on its head. Gray was brought down after tricking his way into the box. He scored. Shackell did his handy juggling act with the ball minutes later and this time Vokes scored. This being Burnley of course we naturally thought three is not enough against this side so Arfield smote from 25 yards and the ball deflected off Shackell’s boot and looped into the net. We went wild. Shackell must surely be man-of-the-match we shouted. What made the penalties all the more surprising was that referee Oliver had spent the first half allowing Derby to get away with all manner of blatant pushes and shoves in the back.

Job done, the final 20 minutes was Burnley toying with Derby like a cat might play with a mouse. Sure, the mouse can run around a bit, might even throw a few shapes, blow the odd raspberry and make a few moves, while the cat languidly sits back and permits it. But all the while the cat is in total control and with a swift swat can regain control.

And so it was with Burnley. Derby made a few excursions into the final third, made a few moves, but these were instantly snuffed out. There were a few last twitches over on the left wing but they came to naught so that the life finally expired and Derby finished deflated, dejected, depressed and defeated. De Clarets had done a job on them. But even so, the crowd had still not done with Shackell and cruelly mocked and taunted him even more as he walked off the field and into the merciful protection of the tunnel.

Not since the crowd reduced Alan Ball to a jelly way back in the 70s has any visiting player received this level of derision. Shackell might well go home and count his extra shekels, but I doubt he’ll forget the withering and merciless barrage of dog’s abuse and mockery he got on this night to remember, or in his case – to forget.

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