Goodbye Ray Pointer
The thought was still going round my head that the win over Derby was another of those special Turf Moor nights under the floodlights when the place looks and feels like a theatre with the spotlights picking out every bit of drama and everything looking so much brighter and sharper.
The tribute to all those who had passed away in 2015 was sobering and respected immaculately; the list including a number of people I knew and several former players. But then the news came that Ray Pointer too had passed away and I’ll bet that more than a few us who saw him play muttered a saddened ‘oh no.’ When he came back to Turf Moor as a Portsmouth player he was given a huge reception filled with respect and love. Supporters remember these things and appreciate returning players who have had a genuine love for Burnley and didn’t leave simply in search of the lure of the lucre. The great Ray Pointer was just such a player and he has a warm place in our hearts.
In his prime there were no other centre-forwards quite like him. He came to prominence when the typical English CF was just a muscular battering ram with a forehead made of stone whose job was to steamroller opponents in just one area of the pitch and get up to the high balls. And then Ray came along, a touch of glamour in a grey Burnley, a slight, will-of-the-wisp figure with wonderful blonde hair, lightening sharp, quick as a whippet, and a new style centre-forward that didn’t just plod up and down the middle of the pitch like a leviathan, but covered every inch of the opponents half, chased, harried and in modern parlance ‘pressed.’ And whilst doing that he scored goals, chasing lost causes or nipping into positions unseen because he was so quick. He latched onto Jimmy Mac passes or headed home crosses from either Pilkington or Connelly, none better than one goal in particular a bullet header in the 2-0 win over Spurs at Turf Moor in the title season. And brave too: he once clattered into the Cricket Field Stand and was carried off. You assumed he was on his way to Casualty. But out he came again with his head swathed in bandages and carried on. He was a wonderful, wonderful player, played three times for England; he would be worth millions in today’s money, and remains a genuine Burnley legend when the word is bandied about so much these days, it is almost meaningless.
I only ever met him once and that was in October 2006 at a club dinner and he was 70. He looked about half that, still slim, lithe, athletic and blonde. We all knew of his Burnley goal scoring exploits but when he left he just carried on scoring. Even in a short stay at Bury he scored 17 goals in just 19 appearances and then Jimmy Hill snapped him up and took him to Coventry where 11 more took his tally to 28 for the season. Bob Lord always said he only sold players that were past their best but I think we all know that in many cases this was just spin to appease unhappy supporters.
His memories of the ’62 Cup Final were interesting and he said what others of the side said, that it was a flat occasion when they just weren’t up for it. Of course they were all disappointed that they had lost, as much for the supporters as for themselves. But, he added, it was a rare occasion when they worried about the opposition, they weren’t their ‘normal’ selves and the occasion he thinks did get to them. Towards the end of that season he said they had lost their feeling of invincibility and it had been replaced by self-doubt. It was the season when the double was a real possibility and the goals were going in as if they were playing pinball, but over the last 10 games of the season it all faded away.
Of the goals he scored he remembered that it was rare to score from a long-range shot. ‘You can’t really expect to beat the goalkeeper from outside the penalty area. You’re pretty lucky if you do.’ He played in age when the ball was heavy, there was little if any dip and swerve, when grounds were mudbaths. You wonder just how many he would have scored today with his speed of foot and thought and perfect pitches. I can’t help thinking he would have been the type of player to score every week in a slick, free-flowing side like Manchester City or Arsenal. If the traditional centre forward of the time was a bludgeon like Bobby Smith, then Ray was the rapier like Aguero.
There have been all kinds of theories as to why Burnley faded in that Cup Final season. Was it because they had simply run out of steam, their legs had gone, or was it because they lacked what we might call ‘swagger’ so that when they met the millionaires of Tottenham feelings of inferiority crept in. Did the feelings of doubt stem from the ‘small town’ mentality, or was it simply that Jimmy Mac was never fully fit over the final games; in fact he missed several of them? Whatever it was, they enjoyed themselves far more at the evening banquet than they did in the game itself, as if they were relieved it was all out of the way.
If you happen to have one, there is a big chapter about him in No Nay Never Volume Two with an extensive interview with him that Tim Quelch conducted some years ago. When I re-read it, it struck me that the descriptions of him were so ‘modern’ and that he would have fitted into the current Burnley side so easily with his incredible work ethic, as he switched positions, dropping back into his own half to pick up the ball, harrying the opposition attack, working so hard to regain possession, roaming all over the opposition half. The most iconic picture of him is of a moment when he didn’t score and he is standing in the goalmouth, knees slightly bent, at Manchester City when the title was won, arms wide across and looking in jubilation and triumph as Pilkington’s shot goes over the line. He was only 5’ 9” and weighed a mere 10 stones. Small in stature he might have been but he was a giant on a football field.
It was intriguing to read that Joey B keeps a diary. Good for him I thought, I bet not too many footballers do that. But Joey is different and if he thinks that Burnley FC is smarter than the average bear, then Joey B too is smarter than the average footballer methinks. The Derby game was another when he ran the show to the point of exhaustion as Burnley gained the ascendancy.
You can’t beat keeping a diary for getting rid of angst and stress or at least that’s what was clear many years ago when after a day’s slog headmastering I came home most days in a strop about other folks, or days when nothing went right, or some parent had come in complaining. Don’t get me wrong there were good days too and they got jotted down as well, but today when I look at these ancient page-a-day tomes it’s clear they were essentially a way of getting de-stressed. It seems Joey sees them in a similar light.
He’s wrong on one thing though, seeing them as something that isn’t a male thing to do. But he’s 100% right about something else; that they are a way of reflecting and sorting out in your mind what is rational and what isn’t, and indeed who is sane when things around you are all going crazy. They are a coping mechanism for when things go out of kilter and the act of simply writing them down gets things out of your head and acts as a straightener. That, plus walking our Golden Retriever whatever the weather every night for 10 years and more when I was a Head, certainly kept me sane.
‘They’re almost like Old and New Testament,’ he says. His career can be parcelled up into different phases. The New Testament is the now, happy at Burnley, committed to the club and a staunch supporter of all that Sean Dyche stands for.’
I went to see Roy Oldfield again the former Burnley groundsman and a few more tales of the Turf came out including Ray Pointer with whom he shared a brew many a time when Ray was back as a coach in the late 70s.
Roy was another one who kept a diary, except this was a practical day-to-day diary of everything he did to keep the pitch at Turf Moor in playable condition and as perfect as he could manage considering how basic his equipment was. Mrs T keeps a garden diary and I used to keep a steam train diary in the days when I chased stream trains all over Yorkshire with a camera. Roy’s diaries give an insight into all kinds of things:
Which was the visiting manager that thought using the floodlights would thaw out the pitch? Who told the apprentices one winter to throw buckets of hot water onto a frozen pitch top melt it? Who was the PNE manager that hit his head so hard on the dugout roof his teeth fell out? Which star legend player mistook Roy for the car park attendant? Which star player had a brew with Roy and told him how Bill Shankly had fattened him up? How many turkeys were given out each Christmas by Bob Lord? What was the mystery of the dead tomatoes? Which manager nearly broke Roy’s ribs and when? Which manager was deliberately locked in the Centre Spot bar overnight? Which visiting manager was only interested in the racing results when the game ended?
And so to Arsenal and with the passing of Ray Pointer it was a time to remember he scored a hat-trick at Arsenal in 1960 in a 5-2 win. Those were the days and a season when Burnley went to places like Highbury, White Hart Lane, Old Trafford and all the other top sides quite the equal to anybody and in most cases totally superior. Results like this were almost taken for granted so good was that team with Pointer at number 9 running defenders ragged. Blink and he was gone and all a defender saw was the back of him. Blink twice and he had scored. He really was a truly special player. It’s often said it was a disgrace that he never got more England caps; it might well have been because he was a player with a style that really belonged to a future age.
It made the Cup-tie quite a poignant occasion and what was also touching was the number of today’s top players that had twittered their recognition of his talents even though he had preceded them by 50 years. One now ageing player in fact made reference to the time when they had played for the England under-21 team together and Ray had introduced him to the ‘magical qualities of bananas.’ There was a story on a messageboard some while ago by a poster who as a young lad had seen Ray and invited him to watch his team play one Sunday morning never thinking that he actually would. Ray arrived on the bus with his girlfriend to the young lad’s utter astonishment.
There were mixed feelings about this game; disappointment that we hadn’t got a home Cup game, or on the other hand, whatever the result this was a good day out and a nice pay day for the club. Andre Gray was delighted to be there having been an Arsenal supporter as a boy. In the Premier last season the Gunners had won comfortably and you had the feeling that once they had gone a goal up in that game the result was a foregone conclusion. Their win at Turf Moor had been the result of a fluke goal. This time by all accounts Burnley gave them a game.
At Portsmouth there was a minute’s applause for Ray. At the Emirates chants of ‘There’s only one Ray Pointer’ and applause rang round the ground after 9 minutes. How fitting then that it was when big Sam Vokes in the number 9 shirt headed home Burnley’s equaliser from Darikwa’s superb cross after Arsenal had taken the lead. At 1-1 someone tweeted ‘comfiest seats in the league but nobody’s sitting down.’
Sanchez, returning from Injury scored the Arsenal winner (it had to be him) and Wenger acknowledged that they’d had to dig deep to get the win. Burnley battled away, never crumbled, the 5,500 followers quite magnificent. How do you cope with a player like Sanchez? His is a special talent; it was Burnley’s bad luck that this was the game he made his full comeback after a couple of months out.
Burnley had chances, mainly through Gray, one chance very early on when he had an opportunity to square the ball to Vokes who was screaming for it, but fluffed the chance. So: they returned beaten, albeit with a healthy addition to the bank balance. Beaten by two class goals and an irrepressible Sanchez was the general consensus, but continue to play like that, and they’d be back at the Emirates next season.
The last word can go to Joey B. ‘If it weren’t for the Burnley fans you’d have heard the passing traffic,’ Joey tweeted to Piers Morgan, as we got ready to wait for the transfer window final day SKY pantomime.Follow UpTheClarets:
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