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Adam with his cap in front of the international honours board at Turf Moor
Adam standing in front of the international honours board at Turf Moor proudly showing his Scotland cap

When Burnley were drawn to play Aberdeen in the 2nd qualifying round in the Europa League, there were certainly mixed feelings, a groan from some at missing out on an exotic trip to such as Kazakhstan or the likes, delight from others that it was a very manageable trip, albeit a long one.

I’m not sure which camp I fell into; I’d say both probably, but the very fact it was Aberdeen immediately brought into focus my biggest ever football hero. We all have them as kids but quite why I chose mine I’ll never know. When my dad first dragged me along to the Turf, the team that day included such as Jimmy Adamson, Jimmy McIlroy, Ray Pointer and John Angus. We beat Manchester United 5-3 too. Pointer and McIlroy both scored, as did John Connelly, twice, and Walter Joyce.

Which of these wonderful players did I choose to be my hero? I chose the goalkeeper Adam Blacklaw. I don’t know why I made that choice, but I did. I adored him, he was always special and, no matter what, in my eyes he’ll always be the best goalkeeper ever at Burnley although I can still hear my dad shouting at me and telling me about Colin McDonald.

Your first hero remains a hero forever, and the only time Adam came close to falling from that lofty perch was when he left Burnley and signed for Blackburn Rovers. Yes, I even forgave him that.

Adam got his chance a year or so before my personal debut as a fan. He’d already had a few games due to an injury sustained by McDonald who then saw his career ended through a broken leg. Sean Dyche will always say that such a situation is an opportunity for someone else and how Adam took it.

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He’d made his debut in December 1956, but in March 1959 he became, through McDonald’s career ending injury, the number one goalkeeper at Burnley and in the next six years was missing from the team on only two occasions; one of those was to allow him to make his Scotland debut and the other came when Harry Potts made ten changes for the visit of Chelsea ahead of the big European Cup tie in Hamburg.

Adam was in masterful form that season, and in the European matches he stood out. Brian Miller once told me of his incredible performance in Paris against Reims whilst the two saves that always stand out to me, those I saw live, were from Uwe Seeler in the home game against Hamburg and then from Sheffield Wednesday’s Tom McAnearney in the FA Cup in the same season. Both Seeler and McAnearney stood astonished before applauding him.

He lost his place in March 1965, Harry Thomson coming in at Leicester. Thomson gave away a penalty in that game, shame on him. He saved it, how dare he? Burnley won 2-0.

Adam won his place back in October and retained it until the two Christmas games against Stoke in 1966. We played them on successive days but he had a nightmare at the Victoria Ground in the second of them and would not play for Burnley again.

Even so, he still had a massive part to play off the field, none more so than when he came to the rescue at the final whistle in Naples. He was sat on the touchline watching the game but became the central figure when all hell broke loose even finding himself arrested for his own safety having had guns pointed at him by the police.

adam blacklaw 2Sadly, so sadly, he left Burnley in the summer of 1967 and signed for them down the road before ending his league career at Blackpool where he played just once.

I’d never met him and it was some years later that I was finally introduced to him by Miller. It’s strange, I knew Miller well and was comfortable in his company but I was shaking when Adam spoke to me and offered a handshake.

I did meet him occasionally after that but always found it difficult to allow him to serve me with a pint when he was steward at Burnley Cricket Club and later landlord at the Cross Keys in Barnoldswick and one night I found myself sat next to him at a dinner at Fence Gate. No one has ever known me be so quiet.

Adam won three caps for Scotland during his career, the last of them ironically in the same stadium in Naples, but the Scottish FA, for whatever reason, didn’t present him with a cap until 2009. By then he was far from well although was able to travel to Glasgow to receive it.

Early February 2010 I was organising a dinner and wanted to invite members of the championship team given it was the 50th anniversary. I first spoke to Jimmy Robson. He accepted his invitation and I then asked if it was worth inviting either Blacklaw or Pointer. I had concerns over their illnesses. He said no, particularly in Blacklaw’s case.

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Less than two weeks after the conversation with Robson I was in town when a message appeared on my phone. It was the 28th February 2010. It told me that Adam, my hero, had passed away at just 72. I can be emotional at times; I just stood on Manchester Road and cried, unable to take it in. I was devastated. My hero, oft described as a big, strong, craggy Scot from Aberdeen had left us.

I still talk about him so often. He will, undoubtedly, always be my hero. Yesterday’s draw brought it all back – all my memories of that big, strong craggy Scot from Aberdeen. Adam Blacklaw – my hero.

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