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We had this scientifically fool proof way of forecasting the score on the day of the Lincoln Cup game as we drove over. The route takes us through Halifax and Mytholmroyd and as all ice cream devotees will know, Mytholmroyd is the home of Royd’s Ice Cream. The website says they have the largest fleet of Ice Cream Vans in the UK. Just like counting Eddie Stobart trucks on motorway journeys; we count Royd’s Ice Cream vans in between Leeds and Mytholmroyd. Even on the coldest, iciest day in the depths of winter there is always one. When a hot toddy and a hot water bottle would be more sensible, there is always one person who can guzzle a 99.

On an August trip we once counted 20 heading east and on the Cup day we decided after we’d seen the first one, that whatever number we saw, that would be the score against Lincoln. Being only February and sales being slow, there were just five. It seemed reasonable therefore to think the score would be 5-0.

As well we know; it wasn’t. Trust me: this will be the last time we use the Royd’s Ice Cream van method of predicting any score.


The effects for those of us who were there will not go away for a while. Us oldies still remember Wimbledon.  A trip to the dentists would have been preferable. Criticisms of the result may well seem like sour grapes; the Lincoln thousands went home fully convinced of the magic and romance of the Cup. The media promoted it at full blast. MOTD fawned over the two Lincoln managers there in person. The Press splashed it all over their pages. The main news channels just had to feature it. Burnley fans on the day, high on emotion, with immediate mixed feelings of both anger and dismay, went along with this and wished Lincoln well. But then some of us began to think and replay a few incidents. In the cold light of the following day we were a tad more analytical.

Burnley were poor, it has to be said. Dyche held up his hands and said as much. But citing the state of the pitch and how they failed to cope with being favourites was unconvincing. Sean D could have done a Cloughie, packed his bags and gone away to Magaduff for the week, left them to get on with it, sent them a postcard, wish you were here, see you on Monday lads, enjoy the game, and they should still have had the nous to win this game. They had the chances and shots to have won but failed to capitalise with what one can only describe as clumsy feet syndrome once they got in the box. This was not the romance or the magic of the Cup. This was just really good chances squandered; and that was the bottom line.

Not much romance either in the forearm smash on Joey Barton committed by Matt Rhead that went unmentioned and was a clear red card long before all the later shenanigans and confrontations in the Burnley box. And the huge stroke of luck that lead to the Lincoln goal when the ball clearly went out off a Lincoln player, not a Burnley player’s head. On such moments are games decided and the winners and media say it’s ‘romance.’ The day after was a rare Sunday when the Sunday papers lay unopened for much of the day.

We still remember Wimbledon in 1975 like it was yesterday but that result was a truly magical FA Cup day; Burnley played well but just could not beat a wonderfully inspired Dickie Guy in the Wimbledon goal making save after save. This truly was the romance of the Cup. It left no ill feeling, no grimaces of anger at the team, no sour grapes; no complaints. But the Lincoln game left a number of grumbles. It was a red letter day for the fans; but it could so easily have been a red card day for one of their players instead of all the focus being on a huffy Barton later in the game. It was hard to find any newspaper that didn’t have pictures of Barton and THAT scuffle whilst Rhead was portrayed as a folk-hero.

In general the papers made for sorry reading, as much for their glorifying of Lincoln and the dissection of J Barton, as the result itself. The Sunday Telegraph was perhaps the nearest to any kind of balance, written by Jonathan Liew, the challenger to Henry Winter’s reporting crown.

You could call it cup magic. But magic is rarely as brutal as this. Quite aside from the result, it was an utterly enthralling cup-tie, rugged and passionate, concussive and ill-tempered, off-kilter and off-colour, intensely physical and unashamedly English. Lincoln successfully drew their Premier League opposition, a side that manager Danny Cowley describes as ‘a really good version of us,’ into a scrap.

This was no wild fluke, but the result of as meticulous plan ruthlessly executed. Lincoln hassled and hounded, put their necks on the line, a foot in the tackle, a sneaky elbow in the ribs if needed. They defended outstandingly and when their chance came late on, they took it. In essence Burnley were Burnleyed. Lincoln did to them what they have done to so many Premier League sides this season: sat deep, dug their heels in and turned it into a scrap. Startled by Lincoln’s lack of decorum, bewildered by the novelty of enjoying 60% possession, Burnley simply rolled their sleeves up, turned down the quality dial and fought dire with dire.

Not much romance of the cup here. Romance is always a funny way of describing it. This was not so much a candlelit dinner as a sloppy breakfast, not so much a tender smooch as a large hairy man shouting: ‘Have it.’

A confrontation between Joey Barton and Lincoln striker Matt Rhead had been brewing for much of the game. Rhead is one of those players that only non-league football could produce: a loveable, terrifying, nuclear chimney of a man with a giant bald patch and an indomitable physical presence.

It was hard to decide what was more depressing: the single line news ticker in Times Square New York that read, Lincoln shock EPL Burnley (a chum sent me a picture), the meltdown of the NHS, fat cat Lords on Euro pensions, Paul Nuttall, Trump, Blair, Daily Express weather forecasts (what happened to the Tropical plume), more pictures of Lincoln on the front pages, or blaming the pitch.

So the pitch was a bit bobbly and bare in places, so what? It never stopped the McIlroy Adamson side playing their passing game from ’59 to 62’ when they were at their peak. It never stopped Adamson’s side playing their passing game from ’72 to ’75. It never stopped Miller’s side in ‘81/82, Mullen’s side in ‘91/92; all these triumphs when pitches were often atrocious, or Stan’s side in 2000. The Desso pitch was installed in 2010 and prior to that Coyle’s side played yet more great football that resulted in promotion. Twice Head Groundsman Paul Bradshaw has been nominated for Groundsman of the Year. But ageing Desso pitches are not indestructible; blaming it for the Lincoln performance was just lame.

And so to the KCOM stadium: Hull the 2017 City of Culture, an oxymoron if ever I heard one; you can buy mugs that say ‘you’re only here for the culture.’ The City has come a long way since medieval days when felons and villains said a prayer: from Hell Hull and Halifax good Lord deliver us.’ Hull was famed for its stinking, cesspit of a gaol and Halifax was one of the few place in England with a gibbet for beheading the ne’er do wells. There are fears that the Tories, strong on crime and anxious to reduce the welfare bill, would like to re-introduce them.

It was a game that was the beginning of a critical period when the next four games were all away games, including Sunderland and Swansea. Then there was the small matter of the away game at Liverpool. We knew at the beginning of this that if there were four defeats then the bottom three could well close the gap. The general feeling was that at least a couple of draws from these four games was a must. And surely we argued; the day must come when there would be the first away win.

But now Gudmondsson was out, along with the unavailable Marney, Defour and Hendrick. There was no certainty that Barton would not be given his inevitable betting suspension. Maybe too there might be a hangover from the Lincoln result. Things were not exactly hunky dory. Silva had done a good job at Hull and made astute signings in the January window. As early as Monday the local Hull press were building this game up. ‘The countdown starts now,’ they said. Lose to Burnley and they were truly in the mire; win and their season was kick-started.

Storm Dora had been and gone. The poor cat was blown back in through the cat flap. Folks from the south huddled indoors. Folks from the north went out as normal in a big coat. Andre Gray had been at the Brit Awards big bash on Wednesday. Burnley had won 5 of the last six games at Hull. Only 5 of the remaining 13 games were at Turf Moor. ‘If City can score twice, they can beat this lot, they don’t like travelling’ said ex-bruiser and Burnley player Peter Swan, now the leading pro-Hull City pundit for the local press, adding one or two complimentary things as well.

Hull were looking for a fifth successive home win after a few days in sunny Portugal. Flying Polish winger Grosicki was looking for a chance to show Burnley what they missed when his proposed move to Turf Moor fell through. If Hull won they could be out of the bottom three with Leicester not playing; the football world from Barnet to Bangkok stunned by the sacking of Ranieri, allegedly the result of backstabbing whinging prima donna players blabbing to the owners; this they would later deny.

According to other sources Sean Dyche was actually chuckling about his adopted son Joey Barton as he pondered on the incidents in the Lincoln game. ‘I think it’s pantomime stuff myself. I’ve got to be honest. I’ve seen a lot more controversy around Joey than that. If that’s as far as it goes I’ll be a happy man. That’s just part of being Joey I suppose. It could be a TV series actually – Being Joey – it’d be interesting; never a dull moment, unless he’s in here training with me.’

SD had a point and added what we all think at Burnley, that Barton has been fantastic in every game he has played. But: whilst the forearm smash on Barton by man mountain Rhead early in the game was a sickener and went unpunished, not raising even a tiny paragraph in any report on the game; the Alli leg-breaker tackle in the Europa League at Tottenham against Gent was a real sickener, eclipsing any tackle Joey has ever made. That one was soon forgotten. Barton’s are entered into a sort of permanent Hall-of-Infamy record book to be wheeled out as soon as he even sneezes.

Whilst not in the category of winner takes all, nevertheless the stakes in this game, the first in the month-long road trip during which Burnley would criss cross the UK from coast to coast, were unquestionably high. A Burnley win would be a huge step to safety. It was the side with a currently good home record against the side that just could not win away from home. It was impossible not to think of a Hull win. But this True Grit, dogged, cussed Burnley side had other ideas and the Lincoln result had clearly left no lingering hangover.

No we won’t be changing our routines, said Dyche; we won’t be having fish and chips on Friday night. We’ll stick to our tried and tested plans and tactics. And the result was a terrific point despite falling behind to a contentious penalty decision. A corner was swung across, the melee of manic, packed, jostling bodies looked like Poundland on half price day. The referee had no hesitation in giving the penalty but later pictures clearly showed a hand and arm from Maguire on Keane’s offending arm affecting its movement as he rose for the ball. You could argue it was harsh. Barnes rushed in. Barnes argued. Barnes was booked. Barnes thought no more about it.

‘That’ll larn ‘im,’ my grandmother used to say if I did owt daft that got me in bother. ‘He’ll only do it once.’

Maybe if my grandmother was around to give Barnsey her homespun advice, he’d get fewer cards. He has many qualities, a sort of superior, upgraded, Premier League, Matt Rhead, but then he went and got yellow carded again, this time for a flailing elbow. Perhaps though, Rhead might be able to teach him how to use the elbow or the forearm and get away with it, for that is an expertise that Rhead most certainly possesses.

We’d hardly finished groaning but within minutes Keane had levelled, from villain to hero almost instantly, when he swooped on a corner that came to him unmarked at the edge of the Hull 6-yard box. With the aplomb of a seasoned striker, and putting another £5million on his price, he chested the ball down and slammed it home; the sort of goal that we say is a gem when we score them, but the sort that we say is bad defending if scored against us. We said the same when Lincoln scored their winner when a player in the build-up was totally unmarked. Silva looked crestfallen; Dyche simply looked business-like and took his customary swig of water.

It was a great point; but with good news came bad. Barton’s hearing is in early March. It was not rocket science to presume it might be the end of his season and in all probability, Swansea his swan song.

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