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2016: that was some year, Brexit, Trump, a procession of stars of stage, screen, music and sport passing away leaving us mere mortals saddened, but enjoying their memories, Carrie Fisher and Richard Adams the latest. You can put that into perspective by remembering that 55million people die every year; but some we miss more than others and a little bit of our youth and growing up goes with them.

Arnold Palmer was one them and it made me remember my father who was a really keen golfer, and a good one too. Alas a tumour meant the removal of an eye and that was as good as the end of his golfing. He made valiant efforts to continue once he had recovered and his glass eye was in situ but one-eyed golfers tend to squiff most shots and he was no exception. He did have one or two moments of fun with the eye though; one party piece being to remove it on the green and look closely at the ball and the length of the grass with it. The committee, not known for its humour asked him to stop when a lady member passed by and fainted. Then at mealtimes at home his favourite habit was to take out his eye, place it on top of the mash and say:

‘By gum mother the potatoes look good tonight.’

proseccoIt’s a fair bet that not every Burnley supporter, either in Burnley or the world in general will have heard the name Charles Sutcliffe, let alone knows of the contributions he made to football. Born in Burnley in 1864, he played for Burnley, became a director, joined the Football league Management Committee, eventually to become President, and was the man that organised the football league fixtures for 24 years, long before the days of computers. He died in 1939 having spent a lifetime devoted to football. 11,000 people filled Turf Moor and sang Abide with Me at his funeral. It took 5 cars to carry the wreaths. The minister summed him up: ‘he lived and died for football.’ One story summed up his devotion and tireless efforts, it also happens to be a Christmas story.

When he was in charge of referees and their appointments he received a Christmas Eve call from a referee who had fallen ill. Sutcliffe had only just stopped refereeing games himself but knowing he couldn’t find a replacement at such short notice for the game on Christmas Day all he could do was decide to referee the game himself.

His plans for Christmas Day, being at home with his family, were therefore cancelled and on a cold, drab day he set off early to get the 9 o clock train that would take him to the game. He arrived at noon and with time to spare all he could do was while away the time wandering slowly through the cold, empty streets. Sadly there were no pubs open on Christmas Day back then where he could warm himself and have a reviving drink.

He refereed the game and afterwards the club secretary thanked him profusely especially when Sutcliffe said he didn’t want any expenses and the money could go in the players’ Christmas collection box. As a thankyou the secretary invited Sutcliffe to have a bowl of hotpot with them. He gratefully accepted having had nothing to eat since early morning. Feeling warm and refreshed Sutcliffe then left the club and followed the path that would take him to the railway station.  Occasionally the lights of a house would illuminate his way and inside some of them he could hear the merriment from Christmas parties.

He felt well pleased with himself for the sacrifice he had made, giving up his Christmas Day and a hearty dinner at home, in order to make sure that a small club had played its fixture. The hotpot had been delicious, he told himself; it was nice of them to spare me some. At this point however with the station in view, he heard the sound of footsteps chasing down the street behind him and a voice called out. It was the club secretary.

“Er Mr Sutcliffe,’ he gasped puffing and panting. ‘It was so good of you to come all this way and referee our game when tha could ‘ave been enjoying the day at ‘ome. But I’m glad I caught thee. Tha’s forgotten to pay fert thotpot.’

Those of us with long memories and a bit long in the tooth can still remember a time when games were played on Christmas Day. The last such game was at Blackpool on December 25, 1965, when Blackpool beat Blackburn Rovers 4-2. Blackpool clung to the tradition because they got bigger than average gates due to the number of people who spent Christmas in Blackpool. Back then and certainly in the 40s and 50s women’s lib and their emancipation hadn’t been invented yet and whilst the mum dutifully cooked Christmas Dinner the husband would happily and without a second thought head for the match. Or it would be an early dinner so that the man of the house could attend the game afterwards. Times have changed; it’s just as likely these days that Christmas Dinner was cooked by Dad and mum came to the game on Boxing Day. Burnley’s last ever Christmas Day game was in 1957 with a 2-1 win over Manchester City.

These were good times for men and husbands. They didn’t need to help with the ironing, the dusting or the shopping. It was an era when men were always right, and dinner was on the table when they came home from the factory or if they were a bit further up the ladder, they might be the manager of the local Co-op because back then there were dozens of little Co-op shops. Women were usually referred to as ‘mother’ and could often be found darning – an old-fashioned and seldom heard word these days that means mending old socks. It was a time when men felt free to go to the pub for a wet without fear of recrimination, in fact most pubs and clubs had ‘men only’ rooms that were free of stress and worry. Football grounds, too, were just about men-only, other than the chairman’s wife. A woman standing on the terraces, good Lord, what was that?

Interestingly it was Sunderland next at Turf Moor; Sunderland almost a last bastion of male superiority, allotments, giant leeks and working men’s’ clubs where you can still find the occasional men-only snooker room. Up there women are generally called ‘pet’ but to be fair men have stopped patting them on the head; although back in the day this was often difficult since the women usually had their hair in curlers under a headscarf.

Christmas well and truly over and the turkey remains made into a splendid pie for some future family gathering. Sweaters from M&S returned and exchanged for larger ones that fit (sad I know). A few sad-looking mince pies lingered in the tin; matchday grey, dull and overcast. The first of two games in three days: a throwback to the old days when such things were a matter of course; but these days, coaches, managers and fitness experts bemoan the lack of recuperation and recovery time.

‘We’ll have a bottle of Prosecco tonight if we win,’ said Mrs T. We were due to eat at the Hare and Hounds, Todmorden, after the game. Little did we know we’d end up having two and courtesy too of our good friend W who was feeling in a generous mood.

‘W is thinking of treating us to a bottle of Prosecco tonight,’ tweeted Mrs W, as we were driving to the game.

‘Well what a coincidence,’ Mrs T replied, ‘we’d thought of that as well but if W wants to treat us, all the better, we won’t say no.’

Now we know W well; let’s just say that throwing money around is not his forte; we’re not saying in any way his middle name is Scrooge, but just sometimes you can hear the sound of a scratchy pen nib in the candlelight when he counts his money in the front parlour and he treats himself to two extra bits of coal on the flickering fire; so the offer did indeed surprise us (in the nicest possible way), but when Mrs W tweeted during the game in the second half as the goals rained in, it seemed he might be having second thoughts.

‘W is quietly weeping as the Prosecco seems nailed on,’ she tweeted.

We needn’t have worried about whether there would be Prosecco or not, the game was won, in some style, Sunderland thumped, Burnley fans delirious, Sunderland fans aghast and there on the table when we got to the pub was bottle number one of the bubbly nectar. It went down far too fast. A second bottle was immediately ordered. And Gray, we hoped was on champagne by now, having scored a superb hat-trick and for added pleasure, the first to be scored by a Burnley player in the top division since Peter Noble in 1975.

To put it mildly Sunderland were the worst side to have visited Turf Moor for years but in no way should that detract from a superb Burnley performance once they got into their stride. It could so easily have been more than four but Arfield missed a golden chance to make it five. Burnley took their foot off the pedal once they were four up and allowed Sunderland to get back into the game so that Defoe was able to score a consolation goal.

Managers and pundits have this formula that if at least seven or eight of the team are at their best then a win is on the cards. This was a game in fact when every player was at his best other than Arfield leaving his shooting boots back in the dressing room.  On another day it might have been him with the hat-trick. A shove in the back as he burst through and seemed certain to score earned the penalty that Barnes tucked away nicely.

Defour was in for the suspended Hendrick and ran the midfield with delicate, clinical passes, assured control and pure intelligence, possessing the priceless knack of always being in space. Biff Bang Barnes was just Barnes, making one of the Gray goals, all muscle, belligerence and fearlessness. Boyd covered every blade of grass, harrying, covering and tackling. Mee and Keane showed Sunderland what defending was all about other than allowing Defoe to score. Heaton had so little to do he could easily have brought an armchair and the programme to read. Ward (continually bursting forward) and Lowton were dominant, Marney was simply Marney, all energy and unlucky to be booked meaning that he would miss the City game.

And Gray: outstanding with a display of taking chances, bullying defenders, working the right wing, using his pace and demonstrating the power and fierceness of his shooting. Exactly a year ago he had scored a hat-trick against Bristol City in the Championship. His face, his smiles, the image of him holding the ball high above his head one-handed after his third goal, was iconic. His Little Mix girlfriend was in the crowd in the cheap seats watching him. Glamour and Pop show-biz came to Turf Moor for the day.

This, according to Sunderland manager Moyes was classic old-fashioned English football to which they had no answer. Oh dear Boro lost again, but no doubt it would have made the snooty Aitor Karanka sniff with disdain. But Sunderland had no answer to balls over the top, balls down the wings, and balls forward, simple, basic back to front football. The Sunderland defenders simply couldn’t cope. Funny really: play the game this way and lose and you might call it Hoofball; but play it and win and then you can call it classic, highly effective, retro style, power football.

In less than a week, in the space of just two games Burnley pulled away even further from the bottom three, in fact were actually nearer to the top seven. Hull had only drawn the night before, Swansea lost and of course Sunderland had been routed. On New Year’s Eve Burnley were in 11th place and few people would have bet money on that at the beginning of the season.

At the end of the day, one manager would be able to go home and celebrate the New Year in style with champagne. The other probably needed a large brandy. Much the same could be said for the fans of each club. Whilst Burnley fans preened and danced, Sunderland fans were humbled.

And for us, the two bottles of Prosecco at the Hare and Hounds went down a fair treat. That was some year, and we finished it in style.

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