Looking for Rab C. Nesbitt
If there is such a thing as the perfect football weekend, then you’d be hard pushed to find a better one than this one, the Burnley FC Supporters Club weekend in Scotland for the next of the pre-season friendlies.
Summer break was over, batteries re-charged, interest and enthusiasm building nicely; you wonder where the time goes. The England performances at the Euros had been dreadful, booted out by tiny Iceland. It was humiliating but the saddest thing was we didn’t really expect too much more from them. They landed back in the UK and I couldn’t believe that they had staff there to hold umbrellas over them as they got off the plane so that they and their headphones wouldn’t get wet. But Wales and Sam Vokes – brilliant we agreed.
Roy Hodgson resigned, what else could he do, he looked a tired, spent force on the bench during the Iceland game, bereft of any idea as to what to do. Only just this week he revealed that after the game he was deeply upset to see players already asking each other whether they were going on holiday for the summer.
But into August: Brexit the winner, Theresa May in charge, Cameron gone, Labour at war with itself, Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, Lewis Hamilton taking charge at the top of F1; and now it was Premier League madness and hype taking over, new floodlights, new super-store, builders and workmen still cluttering the place with just days to go. Bookies already making Burnley favourites to go straight back down. Clubs like Man City and United and their super-star managers splashing money and making the whole thing more like a circus than ever before. There was a joke going round that Man City had offered 50million plus Sterling for John Stones of Everton. But Everton had called their bluff and said no thanks just give us the 50million.
Thanks to SKY and the reams of pages in the press the build-up is relentless. Back in the olde days when Jimmy Mac pulled the strings, pre-season consisted of first team versus reserves; Probables versus Possibles they called it with just a page or two in the local press.
As we left Leeds Friday morning, however, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that this had the makings of a soggy three days as rain, drizzle, grey clouds and mist low enough to obscure the moorland hills as we drove through the valley from Todmorden up through Cornholme and then towards Cliviger, cast an air of drabness, gloomy enough to have us thinking we’d have been better off staying in bed.
But the football fan is by and large a hardy creature and lo and behold as we headed up the M6, the gloom lifted; the sky cleared, the sun emerged, and to our left Morecambe Bay appeared and even this looked quite appealing as the sun shone down and we began to think the world looked a decent place.
Morning coffee break was in Moffatt famed for its waters with healing qualities that are said to be particularly efficacious for those suffering from gout, arthritis and rheumatism. Alas it ceased being a Spa Town in 1921 when the Hydropathic Hotel burned to the ground. But, surveying the passengers bowling along in the Hodder coach, a defibrillator special, it seemed an apt stop. It was hard to spot anyone not of pensionable age, in fact the average age was probably heading towards the 70s, given a boost by Harvey O’Hara now well into his nineties.
Harvey deserves special mention; he was a D Day commando leading the way when the allies landed in Normandy and there are few of these disappearing guys left. D Day took place 72 years ago and Harvey is still around to tell the tale; he was awarded the Legion d’ Honnneur quite recently.
‘I know exactly where I was on D Day,’ he says. ‘I was next to the end on the left.’
These breaks in the journey can be labelled or graded by the number of pints that chaps like Barrie Oliver and Harry Gardner can consume. Moffatt was a three-pint stop. Impressive: we were only there 5 minutes. Sensible people like me and Mrs T have a bowl of nourishing soup. Moffatt is a nice enough place, small, very Scottish, a sheep farming town nestling in the hills, and famed for the rustlers whose motto was why should I grow my own sheep when I can pinch somebody else’s.
And so to Troon by the sea but take away the Golf Links in Troon and the long, clean beaches, and there probably wouldn’t be much to write home about, except for the Chinese Restaurant on the High Street. This is the Jade Dragon, made famous now because it is where the newly married Scott Arfield dines with his in-laws when he is in town. A few of the group had gone in there on Friday night, some in their Burnley shirts of course, so the proprietor was immediately wondering if this was yet more of the Arfield family clan, but no, it was quickly explained to him that Burnley were in Glasgow the following day and these were just fans up for the weekend, but could they put the meal on the Arfield account.
The hotel, right by the 18th green, had carpets well worn by the feet of all the top golfers who have stayed there and by many of the rooms on the wall are plaques to say this golfer or that stayed in them if they were a winner or a runner up. Greg Norman had stayed in the one next to us. A very fine hotel though with views of the sea, the jets coming up from Prestwick airport and the backs of the huge scaffolding stands, tall enough to block out the sun and that take weeks to dismantle. Impressive though, the Open Championship had ended a couple of weeks before we got there but the sense of something big and special was still there.
Matchday and you can’t beat a brisk walk after a very fine breakfast, out past the 18th green, up along the beach into Troon and then along the Prom to the harbour and back again. On twitter Paul Weller was asking why we can’t spend 20 to 30 million, it won’t kill us if spent right, he adds. The £3.5million we have spent was on display at Ibrox, plus Jon Flanagan would be arriving from Liverpool on loan for the season. The Stephens and Hendrick sagas seemed to have gone quiet after a series of increased bids had all been rebuffed.
‘I’m like a broken record,’ says Sean Dyche as for the umpteenth time he says how difficult the transfer market is unless you want to spend silly money. It’s in the chairman’s hands, it’s down to the board, he says pointedly but politely. Does he mean that the chairman is doing his best and they would spend a lot more if other clubs were cooperative; or that the problem is that the board isn’t bold enough, finds it difficult stepping up to the next level, and won’t think big enough?
Last year’s profit was the £30 million that Paul Weller is talking about and on top of that is the Ings money.
“It needs that magic big cheque to get signed,” Dyche added. “It’s up to the powers that be… it’s their job now to get the deals over the line.” You can read into that what you will, but it does seem it could well be a very gentle challenge.
What a stunning ground Ibrox is, the old tenement blocks that surrounded it, streets and streets of them now long gone, replaced by open spaces and shopping centres. Rab C. Nesbitts are hard to find these days in the Ibrox area. The welcoming greetings were friendly from people who were proud of their club and ground; they’ve had some tough times and this club not that many seasons ago was the classic financial basket case. One assumes they are still not that well off, otherwise why sign Clint Hill, given the run-around all afternoon by an on-fire Andre Gray.
The whole thing was very much a stroll in the park for Burnley, two up by half time, and it could have been three after Vokes hit the post after some scintillating Barcelonaesque approach play. Gray got his third early in the second half and then Burnley relaxed (Dyche not best pleased at their casual we’re-ready-to-go-home-now attitude. A few changes were made but by and large the last 20 minutes or so was just a side going through the motions. They didn’t need to do much else.
As we slowly nodded off in our little corner it was the seagulls that woke us up as dozens of them appeared out of nowhere cavorting all over the place with spectacular skill, swooping and diving and mobbing one poor creature that had managed to snaffle a large crust from the streets below. The poor thing had no chance of eating it and the real fun began when it dropped it; it was caught in mid-air by the next bird, which then likewise dropped it as it was pursued by the mob, and so it went on until presumably one of them managed to swallow it down.
Heaton, Mee (despite his o.g) Keane, Gray and Marney impressed; new man Gudjonsson was neat and tidy in his cameo appearance. Marney in fact was outstanding and if this form continues into the proper games when they start, then Joey B will not be missed.
By and large Rangers could find no way through the impressive defending and Barton was very quiet. Of course he was given a grand reception by the Burnley end but other than pinging a few long passes from inside his own half he was restrained and almost casual. Dyche and he had coffee on Friday afternoon and it’s not rocket science to suppose that Dyche was disappointed he didn’t choose to stay at Burnley.
The pitch was immaculate and there’s something splendid about the lush, pristine condition of a football pitch at the beginning of the season. The green is just right, the lines where the mowers have been are perfectly straight, the groundsmen have been out manicuring; the height of the blades set scientifically, the amount of fertiliser needed per square metre worked out by computer. It’s an absolute science these days at the top level a far cry from years gone by when the grass was gone by the end of November.
Old groundsman Roy Oldfield said he only ever cut the grass diagonally just the once for a change. It was when Terry Cochrane was at Burnley but Brian Miller took Roy on one side to have a word with him.
“Don’t do it that way again Roy,” Miller told him. “If you do it that way, Terry Cochrane won’t know where he is and he’ll just run and follow the lines into the corner and he’ll end up by the flags every time he gets the ball.”
When Roy left it was Arthur Bellamy who took over and Arthur was never shy of yelling at players for a sliding tackle that dug a deep furrow, or when someone kicked up a huge divot. Arthur in an old programme feature said that he and his team would sit on the bench watching and pointing where the divots were appearing and it could take them a couple of days to repair them when conditions were really bad. Divots and long gouges are a thing of the past now at Turf Moor although it might be fun to hear Paul Bradshaw bawling at Pogba or Ibrahimovic “Oy yer great lummox put that divot back.”Follow UpTheClarets:
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