Back home in a Special Place
Rumours again that Elvis is alive and well… Bob Latchford turned 65…Saint Theresa tells us how we shall Brexit Europe…Trump says smart move…ancient tunnel discovered under Turf Moor… well, almost ancient…courgettes to be in short supply…I get a doctor’s appointment within 24 hours…with or without trolley sir?
He said he was fortunate and privileged to be back. His return was sensational. He described Burnley as a unique club. People had put time and effort into him since the Rangers fiasco, so to score the winner and make an impact was so important. It had been a circus around him and Dyche had been incredible to bring him back.
Unique club, unique people, amen to that and the affection that supporters feel for the lad was never more evident than when he came onto the field in the 75th minute. Bad boy he might have been in his previous life, turmoil he might have been involved in at Rangers, there may be more to come with the FA charge re his betting activities, but he was back home and back home in a special place.
The free-kick winner was the result of crafty guile, not the cleanest hit he has ever made, he said, but he moved Hendrick into the defensive wall to disrupt it, organising things like a cop lining up an identification line-up. It might have nicked a Southampton player, it might have almost pea-rolled over the line, but the eventual placement was perfect as it nestled in the corner of the goal. It more than made up for the horrendous journey over from Leeds stuck in a near 2-hour Bradford gridlock. It was a Steven Spielberg script – the prodigal son returns, the anti-hero – and within three minutes of coming on scores the winner.
He was mobbed, the grin on his face was from ear to ear, the wall of sound from the ground was deafening. There have been some great Turf Moor moments over the years and this was one of them.
It was a privilege to be part of the group, he said, and how right he was. This was a team win, the vogue word being ‘collective’ these days. Heaton’s double save in the closing minutes was magnificent just as important as the goal. Manager Puel was stunned. The complete back four was exemplary. Lowton and Ward were magnificent. Defour was on the left of midfield but still played all the best passes of the game and Hendrick was tireless giving an immense performance. Southampton were right to wonder how they lost, they had enough chances, squiffed enough shots, to have won the game. But that’s football; don’t score, don’t win.
“Joey has an interesting story,’ said Dyche, ‘each page different, you never know what’s coming next.’ Nobody could have put it better. There’s a real and proper football novel in there somewhere with an original anti-hero at the centre.
But it was the whole group of players that gave everything. We’ve seen no end of performances in recent seasons where we could say that but maybe none more than this one. The first half against Southampton was maybe about just staying in the game, keeping them out, not going behind. Southampton were slick and inventive, showing that they are a class side, but for all that, impotent where it mattered. The second half was a gem of a half filled with action-packed incidents. Burnley upped the tempo; it became end to end stuff and then that magic moment. You thought Southampton must score at the end but up stepped the Burnley keeper at the top of his form. Goals win games, but so do saves. One of them was from the returning Jay Rodrigues who received a tremendous reception when he took the field. Maybe this was one game (say it quietly) he didn’t mind losing.
Humour abounded, as well it might. ‘It’s title form at home isn’t it,’ said the guy from SKY.
‘Have you been sniffing something, or been to the free bar,’ Dyche replied.
Before the game there was a bit of Barton/Dyche banter; Barton confessed to being confused as to what to do as a sub. ‘What do I do? Do I take my boots out with me? Wear a T shirt or wear a warm-up top or what?’
‘I said, oi, you, get on with it! There was another world in there but you can imagine the rapport.’
The Bradford gridlock before the game that took us 2 hours to negotiate was the result of an accident on the M606 that resulted in a lorry shedding 12,000litres of white paint. It seemed a novel way to gloss over the state of the nation’s roads. Motorists who drove through the lake of paint got white-walled tyres for free. No such hold-ups on the night of the Sunderland game. We came the other way, the scenic route, via Keighley and Colne.
Our Burnley chums had made a Hot Pot for tea. ‘Will there be a crust?’ I asked. I have an aunt over Warrington way who always adds a crust to her Hot Pot.
‘Well er no,’ said our hostess. ‘If it has a crust it won’t be a Hot Pot, it will be a meat and potato pie.’
There followed a fierce but friendly discussion about when is a pie not a pie, and when is a Hot Pot not a Hot Pot. ‘A Hot Pot is topped with a layer of sliced potatoes, not a pastry crust,’ said our hosts. The whole thing, however, reminded me of one of those special, warm football moments; one of those occasions that reminds you that football is not all about money and glamour or even winning, for that matter. It happened some years ago when Coyle was embarking on the promotion season and we were up at Partick Thistle for a pre-season friendly. Lafferty had just been signed by Glasgow Rangers at a time when we were mostly glad to see the back of him and his keenness to leave. The words sour taste and Lafferty appeared together more than once in and around Burnley.
But at Partick we went into the social club deep inside the main stand and there was a taste of a different kind.
‘Here we were made welcome, the room full of claret shirts, familiar faces, the staff friendly, informative, helpful and interested, anxious that we were enjoying our tour. At St Johnstone I was told gruffly to put my camera away. Here it was “Of course you can take pictures.” The room brimmed with bonhomie and camaraderie between supporters. Books are written about moments like this; try Sing When You’re Winning, about a Southampton fan’s journey around football during one season. There’s a good Burnley chapter in it.
‘Anyway, you’d hardly describe the pre-match social club at Partick as a glossy, corporate event. This was ‘Working Man’s Club’ territory. Not that I’m knocking the corporate experience, I’ve enjoyed a few in my time and there are fans in there just as passionate about their club as what we endearingly call ‘the rank and file’. You don’t have to stand outside in a downpour to show dedication. But, you could never say that watching football from the cocooned warmth of an executive box is what makes the heart of football. And a ‘heart of football’ moment is what I had in that packed clubroom deep in the old stand at Firhill. These are ‘real’ football people I thought, ordinary people, grateful people, loyal to their clubs, not obnoxious starlets, not the galacticos on £100k a week, jetting around the world, filling the pages of ‘Hello’ with their tacky mansions and faux furniture.
‘And all this before I had the best pie and chips of any ground I have ever been to. Here I was starving and just sometimes a man has to put his foot down and insist that he has a plate of pie and chips and gravy. Just sometimes Mrs T knows that I am determined to be independent and that pie and chips is in order. Just sometimes I have to stand up to her. It doesn’t happen often, but this was just such a day.
‘God, that pie was good and the chips were to die for. And maybe, it was just at the moment when I put the steaming plate laden with love and hearty goodness on the table that I had that Damascene moment, savouring the culinary picture before me, and the revelation descended of all that was good about football. This is what it is all about, I thought; travelling up and down the land and the highways, travelling with a good bunch of people, seeing a new ground for the first time, talking to the locals… and consuming a plate of pie and chips, lathered with gravy, and salt and vinegar. St Paul must have felt much the same on the road to Damascus.’
Credit the 1,000+ Sunderland fans, too, that made the trip to Turf Moor on a misty, murky night down from Wearside. Their season joyless, stuck in the bottom three, thumped by Stoke, thumped by Burnley and the Andre Gray hat-trick. But supporters are the constant, players might come and go; managers flit in and out, but supporters are there come what may, no matter what their club.
They saw their team lose again and not muster a shot on target until the 85th minute. They saw Sunderland lose 2-0 with a meekness that was embarrassing. They booed their team off the field at the end, but we didn’t doubt for one minute they’d be back for more and follow their team again to the next away game.
A decent crowd of 12,257 + 1 saw Burnley win with a comfortable ease that raised barely a sweat, or the need to move into third gear, let alone top gear. The +1 was goalkeeper Pope who until the 85th minute must have wondered why he bothered getting out of bed in the morning. It was that easy. Mizzle, as my granny used to call it swirled around, although when and where my granny first heard the word remains a bit of a mystery as it’s a Cornish word and the nearest she ever got to Cornwall was Southport.
Sean D rang the changes. In came the squad players, Darikwa, Pope, Kightly, Tarkowski and Flanagan. Heaton was rested, Robinson was on the bench and the Pope took his place. We are blessed with goalkeepers. Fortified by Lancashire Hot Pot we took our seats actually wondering if Sunderland might sneak the win; such is the fickleness of football when a team so out of sorts it really ought to see the doctor, meets the in-form team, and causes a bit of an upset. But no: Burnley will never have an easier, less troublesome win than this.
While we applauded the Burnley lads off the field. The Sunderland fans booed their team and Moyes. Of course , if the lead is only 1-0 there is always that element of doubt that it won’t be quite enough and indeed, when Defoe came on in a last gasp gamble by Moyes to rescue something, there was a bit of a Sunderland (revival might be too strong a word,) splurge. It was short-lived and Defoe touched the ball just once, and that was at the kick-off after Gray had scored Burnley’s second when he left the warmth of the dug-out. 2-0 made it respectable and certainly more representative of Burnley’s dominance and class.
Burnley and ‘class’ in the same sentence, maybe that’s a first too; we know all about being resolute and relentless, of being gritty and determined, but this was a night when there was panache aplenty, the moves flowed, the passes were intricate, the ball was seldom hoofed and Tarkowski’s distribution from the back was a joy to behold. What a player, a colossus: it seemed ridiculous that he wasn’t first-choice. For someone built like an ox he showed a deftness and skill that was a delight. He twisted and twirled, danced and skipped, and sold more dummies than Mothercare. He won every header and every tackle and has that priceless commodity of muscular solidity that made Sunderland players wince when he stood firm. He was worth the entrance money alone.
A close second for a towering performance was the redoubtable Hendrick, ‘a force of nature causing havoc all over the pitch,’ said my pal. Hendrick swished and swash-buckled his way through the game, allowed to, because Barton and Defour had total control of the middle of the park so that Hendrick had licence to go wherever he wanted. And Darikwa too, what a game on the right, roving boisterously, rampaging forward, raiding incessantly, ramming crosses over, one of which, an absolute peach, made the first half goal for Vokes whose header was in the net before you could say ‘Moyes was getting sacked in the morning.’
I overheard a conversation behind us. ‘Can you fit Mee, Keane and Tarkowski in the same side, someone asked’?’
‘Yes,’ his mate replied, ‘you play three central defenders with two wing-backs and one of them is Darikwa with his pace. In midfield you can have any three of Hendrick, Defour, Marney and Barton, up front any two of Barnes, Vokes or Gray.
Bristol City next at Turf Moor, a cup run in the offing; who knows? But as Joey B might say, ‘I wouldn’t bet against it.’Follow UpTheClarets:
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