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Brian O’ Neil turned 73…Mickey Phelan sacked at Hull…Man City beat West Ham 5-0 int FA Cup at West Ham…The Queen’s cold is better…

Back to normal, back to work, back to school, down with the trimmings, the baubles, the cards, the lights and the tree. Pack them all away for the next 12 months. What do people do that haven’t got a loft? New Year’s Resolutions – I didn’t make any. Just take each day as it comes, make the best of things, maybe just calm down a bit during a game when referees drive you insane, or things get really frustrating and without realising it you’re up on your feet gestyicuklatyinmg, cursing, spittle flying and going red in the face, blood pressure rising by the second.

But so much to look forward to: what a great chance there is, we said, to survive this season and stay up. Do that and it would be as great an achievement as getting promoted in the first place, maybe even bigger in a league of such inequalities.

In the Etihad there was the perfect example. Strung along a balcony was a long, long banner: ‘Thankyou Sheik Mansour,’ it said. This guy is a billionaire, more money than Croesus maybe. City’s place in the football hierarchy is down to him and his money. The wealth involved is so great that the numbers become almost meaningless. At Burnley we had Barry Kilby funding the club in the decade when that famous jam jar was empty on the mantelpiece and keeping the club solvent was a constant juggling act. BK isn’t short of a penny or two, but pales into insignificance when set against the Mansours of this world.

Whilst Mansour took City to a whole new level, Barry Kilby could only make sure that Burnley survived and lived to fight another day. Does Mansour have his heart in Manchester City? Barry Kilby’s heart is embedded most certainly somewhere inside Turf Moor. Images of the stadium and the game at the Etihad returned. This was the classless, money-no-object millionaires, complete with gold taps in the newly acquired stately home bathroom, versus honest working lads from a two-up, two-down. Bill Shankly once referred to Burnley as ‘that village team.’ Set against the riches of Manchester City, now a billionaire’s plaything, he wasn’t far wrong.

James Tarkowski was one of the fringe players to come in at Sunderland
James Tarkowski was one of the fringe players to come in at Sunderland

Hampshire Claret summed what a lot of us felt: ‘When I first got off the tram for my first visit to the Etihad I was impressed by the facilities and the ‘family friendly’ feel around the place, a live band playing, plenty of places to get a drink, supporter interviews around the players’ entrance but it quickly began to morph in my mind into some sort of football Disneyland. This was only reinforced by the arrival of the City players on their coach, greeted by a blaring PA but with little enthusiasm by the surrounding fans, rather just a sea of mobile phones. Sullen looking ‘stars’ with headphones on, ignored the fans around them and in return were silently stared at. Inside, the atmosphere was no different, largely silent fans sat on their hands waiting to be entertained; the whole thing felt like some artificial experiment to kill the spirit of football and was a huge disappointment to me.’

There’s an old Manchester City story: ‘When Les McDowell was manager in the fifties and City were bang average he was once spotted carrying an old gramophone into the ground. An ageing fan spotted him and called out to McDowell, “What on earth is that for?”

McDowell called back, “I got it for the team.” The supporter fell about laughing: “Tha’s bin robbed,” he called back.

The first thing about this tale is that back then a supporter could have a bit of banter with the manager as he walked by; probably over his garden wall as well. But today, replace Les McDowell with Pep Guardiola in the lead role and it just doesn’t seem funny. Football was once filled with funny and nostalgic but affectionate stories about idiosyncratic players and chain-smoking managers. Will anyone look back 20 years from now and remember anything remotely funny and affectionate to write about Ya Ya Toure or Bachary Sagna? Have any of today’s cosseted players had the same experience as the Barnsley player years ago who used to open the dressing room door at Oakwell by head-butting it; only to find one day that the new doors had the hinges reversed so they opened outwards. With the next head-butt he only managed to knock himself out.

Back on the coach travelling back from the Etihad we talked about the number of points needed, 40 maybe to stay up; the number of wins needed by May, five more maybe. Surely there must be an away win one day, we decided. Burnley were written off before the season even started by the experts but here we were at the beginning of January, 8 points clear of the bottom three but with a far superior goal difference worth an extra point. March we concluded might be the key, the deciding month; all fixtures would be away from home but three of them against the bottom three, Hull, Swansea and Sunderland. Hull and Swansea had just sacked their managers.

Football fans everywhere play the ‘what if’ game, we can’t help it, and we wondered ‘what if’ we won all those three games in March, or failing that took a point from each. You can argue it’s just wasteful thinking but it’s compulsive and easily preferable to wondering about Trump and Putin, or will we ever get on with Brexit.

The playing surface was of course immaculate at City so I remembered Roy Oldfield’s book ‘Mud, Sweat and Shears’ is due out in June. What a pleasure it has been to work with him and listen to all his tales of managers and players. What a tribute too to man’s ingenuity, making ends meet, thinking it’s Christmas when he finds a sack of old fertiliser, and finding Heath Robinson solutions to all that the weather could throw at him, and the hundreds of pigeons that sat on the Bob Lord roof after he had re-seeded the pitch just waiting for him to turn his back. His rule of thumb was use three times more seed than you need because a third wouldn’t germinate and the pigeons took another third. When we took him to Turf Moor to take some pictures of his old favourite spots Head Groundsman Paul Bradshaw even found the ancient brown bench that he sat on over 30 years ago by the old players’ entrance at the Cricket Field end, a bench so old it deserves to be on Antiques Roadshow.

Like so many other people, Roy long before he was groundsman and when he worked down the mines loved to watch Jimmy Mac. Mac’s first ever away game was at Sunderland, Burnley’s next opponents in the FA Cup. In an ancient fanzine I found a short interview with Jimmy and in it he revealed that his favourite part of the Turf Moor pitch was always down the Longside:

‘It’s true that I used to hold the ball for some time but there was one occasion that I’ll never forget. On this occasion I was down in front of the Bee Hole terrace and we were playing Bolton Wanderers. We were leading the game and I got the ball with just a couple of minutes to go. I was holding the ball up and I remember someone saying “just hold it Jim.” But the strange thing was that I was looking at this enormous shadow which was coming closer and closer and I was thinking this looks like a monster or even Frankenstein. In fact it was notorious Bolton full-back Tommy Banks so I didn’t hang around. The funniest memory from the Longside is maybe about Billy Morris. He was a Welsh international and was in the Burnley side before me. The story was that Billy kicked the ball over the Longside wall and someone shouted to him, “Tha needs a spade lad.”

 “Why?” shouted Billy. “To bury theeself with,” came the reply.

Banks’s’ partner on the other side was Roy Hartle, the better looking of the two. Banks was craggy, square jawed, short cropped hair, a stare that frequently turned a winger’s knees to jelly, and a face that would curdle milk. He was stocky and broad, square shouldered and made of granite. A tackle from him was the equivalent of Fred Dibnah demolishing a chimney. But Hartle’s good looks didn’t make him any less fiercesome. He would shout across to Banks:

‘Hey Tommy, when tha’s finished wi’ yon winger toss ‘im o’er ‘ere for me to ‘ave a go.’

Sunderland away in the Cup: there was talk of Joey Barton maybe featuring in the game. There was the possibility of fringe players starting – Tarkowski, Kightly, Darikwa, Robinson perhaps. There was conjecture that the next Premier League game against Southampton would be the priority. Dyche had hinted that whilst the FA Cup might provide memories and emotional highs, it was the Premier place that paid the bills and was the real business. Jermaine Defoe was quoted as saying that there was unfinished business; the defeat at Burnley had left its mark and since then they’d drawn 2-2 with Liverpool. It was the kind of game that Burnley could easily lose along with all the others so far in the season. But said the gaffer, ‘If we can get a Cup run we’ll take it.’

Meanwhile David Moyes at Sunderland was claiming he had just about 11 senior players available with a number of players injured and that half a dozen of his U23s would be involved. But Moyes, currently so naturally gloomy, could make a carnival sound like a funeral so we took all that with a pinch of salt. Whilst Dyche in fact made several changes, Moyes put his strongest team out.

Mark Lawrenson had Burnley down for a defeat, but then he usually does and whilst the 0-0 scoreline was probably the last thing anyone imagined and some such draws can be as exciting, gripping and nerve-wracking, this was most certainly not. ‘Bored really,’ said ex player and radio pundit Paul Weller.

‘Yawn…not much going on…the game has utterly died (Talksport)…not much to report at all…magic is in short supply…dull stalemate…a forgettable 90 minutes…drab…lifeless…bore-draw…a shapeless scrap..’

Only 17,000 or so turned up for this sad game in which Burnley it was said ‘were resolute at the back, ‘ but this was more Wearyside than Wearside. Tarkowski replaced Mee, Darikwa replaced Lowton, Gudmondsson replaced Boyd and the midfield-two were Defour and Barton. Both of them played the full 90 minutes with Barton heavily booed by the sparse Sunderland crowd although they got bored of even doing that as torpor descended.  A career as a pantomime villain is yet another option for him when he does finally hang up his boots. It looked like he would survive the game without a booking but alas referee Stuart Attwell waved the yellow in the final minute. Maybe that was his cunning plan.

On chances and opportunities it did sound that Burnley could and should have won; Vokes had a great chance early on, a Tarkowski effort hit the post and in the final 15 minutes or so it seemed that Burnley were the team that looked like winning whilst the Moyes team was only succeeding in putting its supporters to sleep, said one report, the same report suggesting that if both teams had played all night they wouldn’t have scored.

On SKY Soccer Saturday: ‘And is anything happening at the Stadium of Light?’ Stelling asked a couple of times. ‘No’, was the inevitable answer.

‘I’m not bothered about having another fixture to play,’ said Dyche, explaining that this had been normal life in the Championship and all part of the challenge. He was delighted, too, with the performances of the players brought in, particularly Darikwa at full-back and Pope in goal, the latter in fact as good as replaced by Robinson as Burnley’s second ‘keeper. Defour had his first full 90 minutes for the club and Dyche was clearly delighted with Barton’s contribution. Gray, meanwhile, hat-trick hero of the league game at Turf Moor, hardly got a sniff in this game

‘Barton breezed through his first 90 minutes on his return to English football,’ said the Sunday Mirror. ‘But the bad news for fans is they now have to sit through another 90 minutes at Turf Moor.’ The club immediately announced it would only be £5 for pensioners at the replay. ‘Hmmm after that game, perhaps they ought to pay us £5,’ was one prompt reply.

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