Promotion Season Number Nine
What constitutes a good season? You would definitely include five years ago when we qualified for Europe and there have been others in my time watching Burnley when, despite winning nothing, you looked back with fond memories.
But, unless you are in the top division, you can’t beat a promotion season and last Friday at Middlesbrough, when it was all confirmed, I was able to enjoy my ninth promotion as a Burnley fan.
Was it the best of them? I’ve been asked that question a few times and my answer is that they were all different and all special. They must be special because all have signalled that we’d be playing in a higher division in the following season.
Of the nine, four so far have seen us win the league, with surely a fifth to come. There have been two where we’ve ended the season as runners-up and then two successful trips to Wembley for play-off finals.
I would never, ever try to put them in any kind of order and the moment promotions are clinched remain the most memorable that any football fan can witness.
When I took my first steps on the Turf, we were a First Division club and, therefore, there could never be a promotion but following relegation in 1971, I had two years to wait before seeing us return in triumph after a magnificent season when we won the Second Division title.
Was it expected? I don’t think any promotion can ever be expected. It’s more hope than expectation in the previous autumn but as a season develops, then you can see the possibilities and in some seasons even the likelihood that there is gold at the end of the rainbow.
There was nothing in the summer of 1972 to suggest we were set for promotion other than having ended a largely disappointing 1971/72 season with six successive wins. In these days of transfer windows a team can change dramatically ahead of a new season, as we know from this year, but ahead of the 1972/73 season the only new face was that of Keith Newton, a 31-year-old full back of some repute, but back then, half a century ago, signing a player at that age was considered a major risk.
For over forty years I spoke about this season, about how it was the best I’d ever seen. We played some superb attacking football with such as Martin Dobson, Frank Casper and Leighton James in the side. We even sold the mercurial Dave Thomas to promotion rivals QPR around October.
Losing only four games all season, two at home and two away, we clinched promotion with four games to go with a Monday night 2-0 home win against Sunderland when Paul Fletcher scored the two goals. It’s making me feel old but that win will be fifty years ago this Sunday.
This was in the days of two up, two down but we just couldn’t shake off QPR. We won the next three and then, on the most emotional of days, we turned Deepdale Claret & Blue and took the title with a 1-1 draw when Colin Waldron scored the goal.
Waldron and his defensive partner Jim Thomson remain the very best of friends but are always taking the mickey out of each other. Jim featured in a Burnley v Chelsea match programme in one of our recent Premier League seasons and was asked which had been his favourite game. He referred to this win at Preston but added: “I can’t believe Waldron scored the goal because he was bloody rubbish.”
I know them both well and saw them recently in town with Brian Flynn. I asked Flynny how he’d managed to get himself lumbered with this pair. “Don’t associate me with him,” Waldron said, pointing at Thomson who then told me to buy the local paper on the following day. “There might be a murder reported.”
I’ll never, ever forget that night we beat Sunderland. It was back to the Park View after the game. I’m not daring to suggest there was a lock in but by the time I got home my dad had long since gone to work.
It was a great time to be a Burnley fan back in 1973. This was in the day when players and fans were much closer and the players organised a promotion party evening at the Cat’s Whiskers with the inevitable appearance of Fletcher’s ukelele accompanying Geoff Nulty on vocals for ‘Leaning On The Lamppost’.
If anyone had told me then that nine years later we would be winning promotion again, but this time from the Third Division, I wouldn’t have believed them. But the decline had set in and this really became a one-off season in that decline.
Again, there was nothing to suggest anything special was on the cards before the season kicked off with an awful 3-1 loss at Gillingham. After eight games, we’d won one, drawn one and lost six and the only thing then on people’s minds was what looked to be a potential drop into the bottom tier of the Football League. Incredibly, we weren’t bottom. Both Plymouth and Wimbledon were below us on two points each but we were already six points from safety.
On 10th October, as we made our way to Portsmouth for game number nine, it was announced that chairman Bob Lord was to sell the bulk of his shares. It was like a weight had been lifted; we beat Portsmouth 2-1 and actually moved up a place in the table, going above Preston.
There were a lot of draws to follow, six in the next seven games, but that Portsmouth win kicked off a run of twenty league games without defeat. We lost just twice more all season against Exeter, when we were done by a shocking offside decision given by an Exeter supporting linesman, and at home against Southend when we lost 5-3.
Promotion night was Friday night in Southend. Andy Wharton and Paul McGee gave us a 2-0 lead but Southend, managed by former Claret Dave Smith, pulled one back right on half time. We had to wait and wait but a second from McGee and a Brian Laws goal gave us a 4-1 win. We were promoted and in some ways this was the least exciting of them all with only just above 5,000 in Roots Hall.
There were almost 19,000 on the Turf four days later when a win would ensure we won the title. Chesterfield were our opponents but the game was delayed because of a storm ahead of kick off which left the pitch waterlogged. It probably shouldn’t have been played at all but after Chesterfield took the lead just before half time, we came out and quickly equalised after the break through Kevin Young. We had to wait a day for Carlisle. If they went to Chester and won 7-0, they would be champions, but they needed to win to ensure promotion and did so 1-0. We had won the league.
It was the first ever season after three points for a win was introduced. Looking back, it’s incredible to believe we won the league with just eighty points. Those teams who were behind us in October; Wimbledon went down with a high of 53 points but Plymouth ended the season in the top half.
There had been two relegations between those first two promotions and so it was the same again before the next one in a season that can be described in the six words ‘Jimmy Mullen’s Claret and Blue Army’.
This time there had been some expectation. We’d reached the play-offs in the previous season when, after losing to Torquay, we were told that we would be staying down forever.
Not on your life, after a difficult start Frank Casper departed to eventually be replaced by his number two Mullen who steered us to nine wins in his first nine league games. It all led to that glorious night at York. We still needed a point from three games to go up while a win would see us finish first. We went there in our thousands and returned as champions. John Deary equalised a York goal on the hour before, deep into stoppage time, John Francis converted a Mike Conroy cross before jumping onto the fencing in front of the packed away end.
I never thought I’d ever have to celebrate a Fourth Division title win but this one was special. Mullen had done it with Casper’s players. Some of those players have strongly told me that we’d have won it with Casper in charge, but I’m not so sure we would. I think it took the change of emphasis to get us to that title.
We’d been in the doldrums for so long and for many the play-off defeat had been the final straw. We reached the promotion positions in November and never dropped out. So many Burnley fans refer to York as the best night ever. There is no doubt it’s up there.
Mullen repeated the dose two years later with another promotion. For the first time for me, this was not as champions but via the play-offs. Even as late as April we were outside those play-off positions but got there in the end with 73 points. Plymouth had ended the season twelve points ahead of us but we beat them in the semi-finals before winning against Stockport in the Wembley final, who had also ended the season with twelve points more than us, with David Eyres and Gary Parkinson scoring in a 2-1 win after we’d fallen behind.
It was the first time I’d seen us win at Wembley, but I’d been ill all week and thought I was going to have to miss out. Thankfully, I got there, but I really wasn’t up to celebrating and for me it felt as if it was a promotion that had just happened that I’d all but missed out on. I wasn’t well for a couple of months afterwards, but I was ready for the next season which, unfortunately, far from lived up to any expectations.
Mullen went, so did Adrian Heath and then Chris Waddle before Stan Ternent strode into Turf Moor. After a difficult first season, as we battled against relegation, it all turned round in his second season in charge.
This was another season that built and built as it progressed. We always looked a certainty for the play-offs but other than a short period in September, we were never in the automatic positions. With two games to go, we were third and that having won five out of the previous six games. We then beat Cambridge at home before going to Scunthorpe for the final game knowing we had a chance.
We had to better Gillingham’s result at Wrexham. Things didn’t look too good when we fell behind but Micky Mellon equalised a few minutes before half time and Glen Little, on as a substitute, scored the winner to spark wild celebrations in the away end at Glanford Park although we had a wait until Wrexham’s win against Gillingham was confirmed.
I referenced the small attendance at Southend but it wasn’t too much higher at Scunthorpe but it definitely felt like it. This really was a big celebration. Stan had got us back into the second tier of English football and, unlike Miller in 1982 and Mullen in 1994, he would keep us there. Some 23 years on, and we have never returned to the lower divisions of English football.
We flirted with the play-offs a couple of times but Stan gave way to Steve Cotterill who was then replaced by Owen Coyle and his first full season in charge saw us return to the top flight of English football for the first time in 33 years, since relegation in 1976.
This was a season that started dreadfully with the only noteworthy event being the parachutist landing on the cricket field stand. In true Burnley pantomime style, we were told over the PA that he’d now got down from the roof despite everyone still being able to see him up there.
It was a season that seemed to have disaster stamped on it but it proved to be anything but although it was probably the League Cup run to the semi-finals, and that dramatic, heart breaking exit against Spurs that gave it such a lift.
That came in the middle of a run of five successive league defeats. By the end of February, we were ninth after Sheffield Wednesday had completed the double over us, scoring eight times into the bargain.
“The play-off dreams look like a pipe dream,” was a message I received by text as I left the ground, but it signalled the most dramatic of responses. We had eleven games to play; we won seven of them and only lost one and it left us with a fifth-place finish and an extension to the season.
We won a dour first leg semi against Reading at home, courtesy of a Graham Alexander penalty, but it was the first thirteen minutes of the second half in the second leg at Reading that turned it our way with both Martin Paterson and Steven Thompson scoring spectacular goals.
I always believe that the night at Reading was better than the final but there has to be mention of that wonderful Wembley day when Wade Elliott scored the only goal against Sheffield United. It was no surprise to hear Elliott’s name mentioned at the game this week when we beat Sheffield United.
As was the case with Mullen, Coyle won promotion with Cotterill’s players but again I’d suggest that it was unlikely we would have achieved it with Cotterill still in charge, in the same way as I didn’t with Casper.
Back at the top, a first season in the Premier League. It didn’t last unfortunately and for the next three seasons in the Championship there was never really any suggestion there would be a return.
The money had all but gone. Two days before the 2013/14 season kicked off, we sold our shining light Charlie Austin and had no money to replace him. Our only signings had been Tom Heaton, Scott Arfield and David Jones on free transfers with us adding Michael Kightly on loan in time for him to debut against Blackburn on the Turf in game six.
Following that game against Blackburn, which finished 1-1, we set ourselves up with seven successive wins. From then we were rarely out of the top two and never below third. Having been top at Christmas, it was Leicester who moved ahead with QPR occasionally threatening us.
By March, Derby were becoming the closest threat but we beat them at home and on the following weekend they lost to Millwall before, on the following day, we won that memorable game at Ewood Park. From that day on, I never doubted that we’d go up and that’s exactly what we did, clinching it with a superb performance to beat Wigan on the Turf.
The second season in the Premier League was no more successful than the first and down we came again. Could we ever get back? Back in the Championship, we always looked potential play-off candidates but rarely looked as though we would be a top two side, this despite new signing Joey Barton telling the world that he’d not come to Burnley to finish anywhere but top of the league.
By February we had reached third, then came six wins on the bounce. They took us to the top of the league but we were in a massive three way battle with Middlesbrough and Brighton. We got there in the end, winning promotion in the final home game against QPR, who we beat 1-0, before beating Charlton 3-0 at The Valley to ensure we’d won the league on a day when the Charlton team included both Nick Pope and Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson.
Sam Vokes had scored the goal against QPR. He scored the first at Charlton too with George Boyd and Andre Gray adding goals in the first six minutes of the second half. Late in that game, Michael Duff, who hadn’t played since the Boxing Day defeat at Hull, came on for his final appearance as a substitute. He’d been involved in all three promotions to the Premier League, a record that was to be equalled seven years later by Ashley Barnes who had just missed the bulk of this season with injury.
This time we didn’t go back down. We stayed for six years and even had a month in Europe, but eventually, in May last year, we said goodbye to the Premier League for a third time. Sean Dyche had gone, we’d no manager, a good number of players left and the future looked uncertain.
In June, Vincent Kompany was named as the new manager. We all knew how good he’d been as a player but we’d had top players come in and manage us in the past with absolutely no success. In a summer of change, more players went to bring in some money and sixteen players arrived, many of them unknown to a lot of us although some of those hadn’t arrived when we kicked off a Huddersfield in July.
Once this season has ended, I’ll review it, so there isn’t too much to say right now other than recalling how we all stared at each other open mouthed when the half time whistle blew at Huddersfield. It had been brilliant to watch even though we did only lead 1-0.
We drew a lot of games but didn’t lose many and when we got to Middlesbrough last Friday for game number 39, only Watford and Sheffield United had beaten us.
It was special, very special, we were promoted once more and we are now edging ever closer to making it a guaranteed first place finish.
That’s it for now, nine promotions I’ve witnessed. If I say I hope there will be no more, that’s wishing that we will now remain in the Premier League leaving us with no need for a further promotion.
How can you choose your favourite from those nine? If they say the first is the best then it’s 1972/73 for me and that night against Sunderland and then the trip to Preston will remain special for me. But there have been others, and there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that this latest one is right up there.
Six games to go and then back to the Premier League. I can’t wait.Follow UpTheClarets:
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