A Great Britton
We’d been in Kent for the week and drove home on the day of the Brighton game hoping to get back in time to watch at least the second half on TV. The injury time Wolves equaliser was still an image that hadn’t quite gone away and made the Brighton game all the more important. One hates to say that the Brighton game was one we could not afford to lose; especially in this case with several games still remaining so that a defeat was not the end of the world, but it was another thought that wouldn’t quite go away.
Meanwhile it was with great sadness that we learned that Ian Britton had been admitted to Pendleside and had then later passed away. All of us who attended the Orient game in May of ’87 will never forget the headed goal he scored; one, because he was just about the smallest man on the pitch but rose to pinpoint the header home and two, because it was a goal of such staggering and historical importance it could well be described as Burnley’s most important goal ever, and in that we include those scored by Wade Elliott at Wembley in 2009 or Bert Freeman’s at Crystal Palace in 1914. Two goals were scored that day in May; the other by Neil Grewcock, but it’s the Britton goal we remember. Neil might well understandably feel a bit left out of things I suppose, but that’s just the way it is. Ian stayed in Burnley and became a familiar face, a cheerful and laughing one at that and always ready for a chat and a jest or two. Even at the very end he was larking about in his hospital bed with what my grandmother used to call the gazunder.
It was a week of news in fact, Burnley posting a profit of £30million, Ronnie Corbett passing away, Middlesbrough beating QPR, the wonderful T20 midweek win against New Zealand, and the news of Blackburn’s horrendous £100million+ debt. But the Ian Britton news overshadowed all that and affected us all. In his latter football years you might say he was a bit of a journeyman, but that followed 10 great years at fashionable Chelsea with a memorable hairstyle to match. They paid him a huge tribute on hearing the news.
Part of his journey landed him at Burnley; thank goodness it did because without him and that priceless goal who knows where this club would now be, or even if there would have been a club.
Players come and go, some make no impression at all and just disappear, some leave a memory or two that might last a few years; but others leave a long and lasting impression. Then there is the small cluster that enters the realms of folklore and Ian Britton is one of them. In 50 years’ time which are the names that will still be mentioned, his for sure, alongside the likes of Jimmy Mac, Bert Freeman, Jerry Dawson, Tommy Boyle, Brian Miller and a tiny smattering of others.
Few names will be written on the Burnley history pages with as much significance as his. ‘That goal’ will be talked about by those that saw it, and then those that will read about it. Its value was incalculable. As a place Burnley has its detractors but as an outsider I often wonder why. To me from 40 miles away it seems homely with a real community feel, a place that has given roots to so many people, and a place that has been adopted by people like Ian Britton as the place where they chose to stay. He became a part of the place he helped to save which made him all the more worthy of the affection and respect bestowed upon him.
A hero but modest, a legend but approachable, so sociable, no airs or graces, none of the conceit that comes from the trappings of wealth or ostentation that so many of today’s players display. There was none of that for Ian when he hung up his boots so that he had to work for a living afterwards. He was an ordinary bloke and remained an ordinary bloke despite that moment of fame and glory. He fulfilled our own fantasies. Which of us have not imagined or pretended that we have scored a winning goal for Burnley in a massive game? These blokes who possess the talent that we do not, become extensions of ourselves out there on that pitch on a Saturday afternoon when in our heads we kick every ball with them.
Of course there were 10 others out there on the pitch that day but it was Ian Britton who was in the right place at the right time to save Burnley Football Club. I can still picture Whoosh Deakin, Taffy James and limping, galloping Joe Gallagher and I can still see the shot that Neil Grewcock blasted home; but it remains Ian Britton and an iconic photograph where he wheels away, arms wide, face creased by the biggest grin in history, that capture the drama of the moment and the intensity of the passion that he and we all felt.
In football, there are heroes, legends, cult figures, journeymen and galacticos, but it is the word hero that best sums him up, a word that fits him like a glove.
We haven’t quite got to that particular season with former groundsman Roy Oldfield; we still have the John Benson relegation season and then the next one that featured Martin Buchan and Tommy Cavanagh and this was the season at the end of which the club was an inch away from closure. If during the months before Wembley 2009 the club was teetering on the financial edge, then at the end of season 85/86 it was actually well over the edge and hanging on by a cliff-edge tree root by one finger. It was so bad that the club printed extra programmes for the final game just in case the club did fold and it would at least leave souvenir programmes as a memento of a once great club.
So: if the club was close to extinction on the day of the Orient game, it was actually in an even more vulnerable state the season before. You could argue that the seasons from 82/83 to 86/87 were the five worst seasons ever in the club’s history, a sort of football equivalent of the Twilight Zone, a mixture of drama, fiction, fantasy, horror and suspense. To have been a supporter then was an endurance test of faith and loyalty with those that were still turning up game after game true heroes. There was a messageboard suggestion that special badges should be minted to give to the hardy souls (some would say barmy) that stuck with the club when gates dipped below 2,000.
It’s the Orient season that receives the focus so it may well go unnoticed that the end of this season, 2015/16, marks the thirtieth anniversary of the club incredibly close to going out of business a full year before that unforgettable game. It makes the £30million profit just posted even more remarkable. The club’s debts then were simply enormous. In a bundle of scrapbooks I borrowed to help with the ‘Roy’ book, there were cuttings relating to the state of the club and what horrendous reading they make. Money was in such short supply that Roy Oldfield used to take his wheelbarrow around Gawthorpe and collect all the soil from the molehills to use as filler and levelling. Reading that you might think it’s some kind of April Fools spoof, but it isn’t.
Saturday of the Easter weekend and in the olden days there’d have been a game, and in the very olden days there’d have been three games over the Easter weekend, three games in four days. We used to love them. Win all three and you could win a title; lose all three and you could end up in the relegation zone. Thank goodness this time round there was the T20 game against Sri Lanka and then in the evening the Germany England game. These T20 games have been getting better and better and this one was a nail-biting thriller with England winning by ten runs when it looked like Sri Lanka batting second, were about to pull off a quite improbable win. It’s not often I’ve sat on the edge of a sofa so engrossed in a game. And then in the evening there was the England football game. How often have we sat and cursed these friendly games that get in the way of club games at a time of the season when the last thing you want is a break. But this one was a treat to watch with as dynamic an England team as we’ve seen for a years. 2-0 down to the Germans (and was that the music from the Dam Busters we heard in the background at one point), then 2-1 with a Harry Kane twist, turn and shot, then 2-2 with a Clyne cross, a Vardy back-flick that was so quick if you blinked you missed it, and then in the dying minutes 3-2 with a thumping header from a corner. This was a simply stunning day of cricket and football.
In mid-week Sean Dyche had committed himself to Burnley for the time being at least. It’s not a forever story he said, you can be hero one minute and zero the next, modern fans get fed up of a manager’s rhetoric and eventually feel the need for change, but for now he had no intention of running out of here, as he put it. The reference to managers’ talk was true enough inasmuch as there are only certain things a manager can keep on saying and they can soon become repetitive. Nobody minds what a manager says then the team is winning, but start to lose and the words for certain lose their effect and fans stop listening.
But after the Brighton game in the SKY post-match interview his comments were absolutely spot-on. It was in fact a stunning day at Brighton with a game that was packed with talking points, a goal that was but wasn’t, a Joey Barton controversy, er nay two, a last minute Burnley equaliser, all played in brilliant sunshine, and a sell-out game that Brighton must have thought was done and dusted as the final minutes ticked away with them 2-1 ahead and three points nearer Burnley. This was no lazy afternoon on the beach; this was a high-octane, adrenalin-filled, Championship frenetic slug-fest. A ‘don’t get beat’ game said Dyche that Burnley had taken over in the latter stages.
Gray was due a goal and got one to equalise the first goal by Brighton but then as we drove back up the motorways from Kent, Brighton scored again before half-time and we thought it would be their day from that point on. But what can you say about this Burnley side? The words have been used often enough, never-say-die, unyielding, unrelenting, determined, dogged and unwavering. Not for them a collective long face when a good goal was not given, clearly a foot or more over the line. Within a couple of minutes they did score again and deservedly so.
Football two weeks earlier had kicked us in the teeth when Wolves equalised in the last minute and we went home morose, feeling like we had lost. Now it was Brighton’s turn to feel exactly that, and our turn to feel like we had won despite the solitary point. Much as we would have loved to have won, this was a marvellous point and probably one that most of us would have settled for before the game.
Joey Barton was in fine form on twitter in the evening announcing that football was a contact sport and not quite crown green bowls. It followed his character assassination by all and sundry (most notably by Paul Hayward in the Telegraph) after firstly he had appeared to stamp on a leg that was underneath him as he tussled for the ball and hurdled the player beneath him. As he came down his boot landed fair and square on Kayal’s leg. The twentieth slow-motion replay and compulsory close-ups made it look bad as they always do. Normal speed and you simply thought accidental. Then, secondly, there was an alleged elbow in the face when he rose to head the ball, against the same player. They’d given each other stick all afternoon no quarter asked and none given. But where was the outcry when Barton was clearly hacked down and then got a sly knee in the back as he lay on the floor. Where was the Brighton indignation then? There was none – funny that.
‘But,’ said Hayward, ‘Kayal had brought Joey the old enfant terrible, back to life.’
How often have we said this season, this was not Burnley’s best performance; it was hard to find anyone who said they’d played dazzling football but most were agreed that Barnes, Marney and Taylor coming on made a difference. But they’re good at what they do, said Hughton. Somehow they are top of the league, the leading scorers and unbeaten since Boxing Day, just 10 defeats in the last 88 championship games. Heck, they must be doing something right.Share this page :