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Italy said NO to something… The Christmas Radio Times arrived… the £100 OAP fuel bonus arrived… The HP gave Brexit got the nod… Bob Lord died 35 years ago… the spread of Christmas decorations and illuminated Santas has at last reached the north…

There was a bit of a kafuffle in midweek when there was a suggestion in the Lancs Telegraph that away game tactics needed to change and that one way would be to play a flat back 5. The line-up would go 5-4-1. The tactic would be to park the back 5 near the half way line rather than deep. This is known as parking the bus in technical handbooks. It might not be pretty, we might not get a shot on goal, it might be boring but we might get a point, was the argument.

Some weeks earlier there had been a suggestion to go 5-3-2 or it might have been 5-4-1, I can’t remember which but the key point was that two of the back 5 would be the flying wing-backs necessary to make this work. The essence of it to be successful would be pace. This is known as a Flat Back Three with a Frilly Bit on each side in the technical handbooks.

I think many of us do it; we get our new Christmas Radio Times and in the half-hope and half expectation that there will be a few decent programmes, we get our pens, and circle all the things we want to watch. In our house it’s part of the ritual, along with putting up the tree, clambering up into the loft and dragging out all the decorations, festooning the house, writing the cards (what a chore), hoping nobody sends one of those infernal round robin letters that tell us all the bad news that someone has experienced in the year. Who wants to read about gallstones, shingles, broken legs at Christmas? It’s always struck me as one of the great mysteries that come Christmas someone will sit down and write down every mishap that has happened during the year, when it’s supposed to be a time of good cheer and merriment, and send their misery list to all and sundry. We’ve had them in previous years from people we hardly know. We’ve had them from people we haven’t seen for at least ten years.

dt-121216December is mince pies, seeing what new lights the neighbours have got, sloe gin and the order to Abel and Cole, not reading about some distant relative’s emphysema. It’s piling up all the presents you’re sending to people, lots of them from the club shop for Joe, realising you don’t have enough wrapping paper, the roll of sellotape is about to expire, suddenly remembering you haven’t sent a card to dear Aunt Gladys, indeed wondering if old Aunty Gladys has lasted the full year and would a card to her be wasted. In fact, did she actually send us one last year?

On a glum note, (sorry) it’s about (in our house) the central heating packing in, having engineers come to investigate the subsiding conservatory and dig yer patio up, the day before Christmas Eve; the central heating packing in, about catching mice in the kitchen while the damn cat sleeps and yawns all day. I can hear these mice chatting under the dishwasher:

“Nowt to worry about chaps the cat in this house, Mabel, is no problem, if she sees you just act confident, wink, and say you live here, she’ll go straight back to sleep.”

Anyway: there’s something quite therapeutic about going through the new Radio Times. The cover is cheerful and bright, a picture of Santa never fails to gee me up. It’s one of the great comforts that all’s well with the world and another year has gone by without the world blowing up totally, although come next year with Trump in charge of the world it might be a different story. I looked for all the old chestnuts, Morecambe and Wise… Wallace and Gromit… Dr Zhivago… Casablanca and High Noon, yep there they were. But I did manage to circle Last Tango in Halifax… Mrs Brown’s Boys… The Lady in the Van…  Grantchester… Maigret… Jungle Book the new one… Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes… Ethel and Ernest… Jonathan Creek …  and Captain America.

On SKY there would be Ten in Ten: that’s 10 games in 10 days, and not one was Burnley, but the bonus being no monkeying around with kick-off times.

Christmas and December back in 2002: it was the daft season with all those cricket scores. We’d lost 6-2 at home to Rotherham when Rotherham looked and played like Inter Milan in their blue and black striped kit, all 6 feet tall, made of solid brawn and Yorkshire pudding, muscle-bound hybrids from the cloning labs of Rotherham. Next up was Gillingham 4 Burnley 2 so that was ten goals conceded in just two games.

Fog and mist had swirled off the Medway producing Dickensian conditions making a backdrop that would have suited any film or TV production of a horror story. Or they could have just filmed the game. Stan T was sorry that people had paid good money to travel so far and see such a performance. The treatment room was full of the injured, suspensions were looming, too many players were off form and we dreaded the next game, Wolves on Boxing Day.

But this was Burnley, as unpredictable a side back then as you could wish for. Being a Burnley supporter we said this was punishment for something done in a previous life. In the first half Burnley played them off the park and went into a two-goal lead. And then in the second half it was back to the old Burnley as Wolves piled forward and Burnley vanished. Wolves scored but somehow Burnley held on as nails were chewed to the bone and nerves were shredded. We had eleven heroes was the general verdict. Gareth Taylor scored the first and Dean West the second and we all sat back at half-time filled with the spirit of Christmas and pies but we all knew that it would have been better if we’d scored three. It was a landmark day though, Boxing Day wins were as rare as hens’ teeth and Burnley hadn’t beaten Wolves for something like 40 years. It was a time when we were just pleased to be able to hang on to the Championship place. We’ve come a long way since then.

The 10th day of Christmas and Joe was mascot again, the annual birthday treat. You take out a mortgage to pay for it these days. The omens were good; he had been mascot on three previous occasions and we’d won them all. Mascots for this game had a special treat; normally they do a training session in the gym with the coaches but in December it is out of action because of the all the Christmas revelries. They train on the pitch then and who’s grumbling? It must be a dream for these young lads to be out there in front of the stands at the same time as the team. All he wanted for Christmas was kit, track suit, the annual book, goalkeeper gloves, a goalkeeper top and a Premier football. The till played Jingle Bells when I paid the bill.

Gray was not back in the starting line-up again and had been talking about the tweets that got him in such bother. They were really wrong he admitted and when they were made the audience was small; fame and being a role model was a long way away. At the end of the day back then he was a ‘nobody,’ he said and now he regrets writing them and is frustrated by the quickness to see the bad side of him, especially being photographed with a drug dealer who has since been jailed for 7 years. People, alas, have no idea what his life has been like and what he has had to deal with whilst growing up. Where he comes from has made him what he is; friends and his father spent time in jail. It’s nothing new to him. What frustrates him is people seeing the bad side and not the good and he does not want to be tarnished as homophobic.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, not 10 Lords a leaping, but Bournemouth and Eddie Howe. Sean Dyche had been lamenting that Burnley did not have the same spending power as Bournemouth, now wanting to build a new stadium. Burnley weren’t a club that could spend £15million on one player. At the beginning of the season this was a game that you saw on the fixture list and had down as a home win. But Bournemouth had proved they were no slouches with some fine players and results.

The incredible run continued: four times mascot and four wins. It started with a cautious 4-5-1; I suspect most of us expected to see Gray up front in a 4-4-2. Nevertheless with goals from Hendrick and Ward Burnley were two up within 15 minutes. The Hendrick goal was sublime and must surely be a contender for goal of the season, controlling a ball beautifully 30 yards out, a few strides forward setting up the shot and then a wonderful volley from well outside the box that upped and then dipped into the top right corner. It brought the house down, settled nerves, inspired confidence and before we knew it Ward pounced on a loose ball in the six-yard area and it was 2-0.

Not until then did Bournemouth begin to play and dominate with some lovely football, but didn’t look like scoring until in the second minute of the one-minute added time at the end of the half and then scored after a spell of passing. Dyche was livid, no doubt counting up the number of times that late goals have been conceded with a referee’s help.

By this time Vokes and Defour had faded and just minutes into the second half were replaced by Gray and Barnes. The warning signs had been there that Bournemouth were taking over the game and 2-2 looked imminent. At last came a really pro-active pair of substitutions early in a half; rare for Dyche and by the end of the day he was to put it mildly, dead chuffed. The game was transformed, Gray was up for it, Barnes as ever was beefy and bouncy and could have scored with a magnificent volley with his first touch from 20 yards but it was just over. And Gray: back to his marauding best and deserved a goal for one run from deep inside his own half, speeding away right into the Bournemouth box, shooting, forcing the save from a difficult angle, which even then might have spun into the net but for a second save. The Bournemouth back-line was now nervy and unsettled.

If we thought the game was safe when Boyd scored a third after Gray had flicked him through, we were wrong. This is Burnley and they leave us nervy and tense whenever we have even a two-goal lead. And so it proved again as Bournemouth came back into it, far from defeated and with just minutes to go scored their second. But Burnley held on without further ado, the points safe, euphoria supreme and birthday boy happy as Larry. We’d been right back up on Row Z at the back of the James Hargreaves (I won’t bore you with why) the first time I’ve ever sat higher up than a pigeon).

What a perfect view though of the Boyd goal down below us, the crisp shot from just inside the corner of the area, megging one defender and evading the keeper at the far post. Initial reaction was to leave us wondering just how the hell he scored that. TV replays showed this was no fluke; heaven then for all of us in claret spectacles, more so for those sat up right at the back only a few more steps away from cloud nine.

The day not finished; ten of us to The Queen at Cliviger for the first time in months to continue the birthday celebrations. Steak and Kidney Suet pudding for me, Mount Everest on a plate, I’ve seen some Suet Puds in my time but this was a beaut, hand crafted with perfect symmetry. Those who had the Cheese and Onion Pie pronounced it as good as ever and the Cliviger Gorgeous sausages quite resplendent on a bed of mash and veg with extra gravy.  Harry Hill’s golden sausage paled into insignificance.

Sean D was clearly delighted afterwards: “I was super pleased with our substitutions. I don’t often try to take credit but Ashley and Andre has a massive effect when they came on. Often it’s a case of waiting for something to happen to make a substitution but today I was pro-active in making something happen. It clearly had an effect on the game and we created three or four really good chances after that.”

“What good value our season tickets are,” someone pointed out. “We may look as though we don’t know what we’re doing away from home, but the home games have been fantastic, even the one’s we lost against City and Arsenal.”

Before the game a mini band of a trio of Santas wandered round playing, singing and spreading good cheer. This was an all-round day of excellence, including watching Blackburn lose while we stuffed our faces in The Queen and then the bonus of watching Burnley all over again on SKY and MOTD.

The tenth day of Christmas was rather special and young Master Joe not little any more, slept like a log from the minute his head hit the pillow.

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