A night I’ll always remember
Last Thursday I finally witnessed seeing Burnley play away in Europe in a competitive fixture outside of these shores. I loved the Aberdeen trip, opted not to go to Istanbul, but I wasn’t going to miss the game in Olympiacos and, despite the result, I know this time the decision I made was the right one.
Aberdeen was great fun. I travelled with two good friends, setting off on the Wednesday and returning two days later. Then came the game in Turkey. At the time I made the sensible decision not to go but on the day of the game I realised that sensible decisions aren’t always the correct decisions. I vowed then I would not miss the next one should there be one.
It wasn’t quite a Wade Elliott at Wembley moment, but Jack Cork’s winner, the goal that sent us to Greece, I think I celebrated more than any other for a while and there was real relief when the final whistle blew and I knew I was going to be able to join this European adventure.
The first task was the mad dash to get flights booked. As prices went up and options reduced it meant that our trip took us via Berlin on the Wednesday and back, yesterday, via Kefalonia. Burnley fans seemed to be using virtually every European airport on this latest adventure as we all descended on Athens and then, from Friday morning onwards, began to make the return home.
It was around 3:45 a.m. on Wednesday when the alarm told me it was time to get out of bed; an hour later we were on our way to Manchester for the flight to Berlin. There we had a six and a half hour stop over. While some Burnley fans on the two flights spent that time in a bar outside the airport, we opted for a trip into the German city before returning for the flight to Athens.
We’d time for a quick look round, a few drinks and some food and we started to catch the atmosphere with a number of Burnley fans outside some bars. But that was nothing to what we witnessed on the Thursday.
The group decision was to take in the Acropolis on the Thursday; after all you do have to do some of the touristy bits. I stood, looked up, and decided my legs wouldn’t take me up there so opted out for a break. It wasn’t just the Burnley fans up there either, they all bumped into Sean Dyche and his entire backroom team who were also taking a look at what the Greek capital had to offer.
Tickets then had to be collected, a visit to the recommended meet up point was a must and what an atmosphere at the two locations taken over by Burnley supporters. It was noisy, very noisy to be honest, but it was good fun too. It was fantastic in Aberdeen; this was even better as the chants and songs got louder and more frequent. I met Clarets I’d not known, I chatted with some I’d not seen in years and bumped into Burnley supporters I see often.
We talked about some supporters who are no longer with us. I recalled my mate Brian getting the sack after the Burnley Express pictured him on the trip to Frankfurt in 1967. I don’t think he cared to be honest.
This was so different to Aberdeen. I thought the first bar area was better than the first and we stayed at them until it was time to walk down for the coach to take us to the Karaiskakis Stadium, home of Olympiacos. Apart from one bloke not being very well, and I’ll say no more on that, it was a nice relaxed drive from the Panathenaic Stadium until we reached the approach. It was like going into Ewood on a bus operation but this time into a compound surrounded by a rusted up fence.
There was a heavy police presence too, another reminder of Ewood, but we were eventually allowed to pass through, get through the turnstiles and up the steps into the away section which gave us a lofty view from the corner of the ground although we would be required to watch through netting.
Among the first there, coach number two to be exact, it was pretty much deserted when we first arrived and there were very few home supporters inside the stadium.
Most of us had heard the sad news of Lenny Johnrose during the previous 24 hours. The former Claret is suffering from motor neurone disease. A good friend of mine is suffering similarly right now and so I know just how devastating this news must be for Lenny and his family.
But the former Clarets whose name was on the lips of all the Burnley fans was that of Jimmy McIlroy who had passed away three days earlier. “Oh, Jimmy Jimmy – Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy McIlroy,” sang the Burnley fans. I just closed my eyes and imagined this wonderful footballer out on the pitch again playing for us.
“We are the Longside Burnley,” it was incessant prior to the game as both the home and away stands filled up, and what an atmosphere they provide. It’s nothing like an English ground. It’s intimidating, you got that feeling that this was European football.
It’s a couple of days after the game, I think most know what happened now, that we lost 3-1, that they weren’t that well behaved off the pitch, but I have to report that the first poor decision of the game went our way when we were given a throw in that clearly should have gone the other way.
There was a time, in the last part of the first half, when I thought we were playing well and at 1-1 I was confident at half time that we could bring them home perhaps needing nothing more than a 0-0 draw.
It went wrong in so many ways in that second half and looked as though a lot of decisions were going against us but we can take great heart from the last half hour when, with ten men, we closed the game down really well when it could have gone right away from us.
“We are the Longside Burnley,” returned. It was none stop in the last twenty minutes or so of the game and only abated at the final whistle to allow the manager and the team the opportunity to come over. Sean Dyche looked incredibly animated. His applause was sustained for some time. This was a manager clearly delighted and thankful for the support his team had received and yet angry at what had happened with the referee, the Olympiacos backroom people and now, it has emerged the owner and the people who were spitting at some of our players.
The Burnley fans were locked in for what seemed an age and the chanting continued. This was, as Pete Waters wrote, defiance from our fans. This is what we need next Thursday. We are not out of this competition just yet and we need that fantastic support to help spur on our team.
Did I say it was like Ewood? Well, they kept us locked in the ground for far longer than I’ve ever experienced before, but safety was paramount. We’d already heard of the stabbing. It’s something that just shouldn’t happen and I hope those responsible are caught, sentenced and kept away from football for a very long time.
Finally it was time to leave, past a line of armed Greek police and Alastair Campbell. Quite why he was with the local police and not the Burnley fans only he will know. The coaches initially moved slowly but eventually took us back into Athens.
Our flights home weren’t perfect so we soon had to say our goodbyes and make our way home, and back to Burnley by just after 4 p.m. yesterday. It wasn’t very warm and it was raining. It was almost a relief after the heat of Greece. I don’t think the temperatures had dropped much even by the time the game finished. It was hard work watching in that heat, even harder I can only think trying to play in it.
This morning I’ve been to Gawthorpe, home again, back to normal life and ready for my trip to Fulham. But I’ll never forget my trip to Athens, I’ll never forget this opportunity to see Burnley away in Europe.
I don’t know whether we’ll get through on Thursday but I really hope so. I want more of this, it was an incredible three days and it will be fantastic to get to play at least another three away games in this competition. If not, we’ll just have to win the FA Cup and get back in again.
It’s been a long, long wait, but I loved it, result apart. I’ve travelled with great company and it’s been special. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.Follow UpTheClarets:
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