Return to the Past
Mysterious pyramids have been found in Antarctica… Farage would like to be the US Ambassador… 25 years since Freddy Mercury died… George Best would have been 70 this weekend… outbreaks of Christmas decorations had been spotted and were said to be spreading uncontrollably… but there won’t be many in Bradford.
Football fans are resilient creatures, gluttons for punishment; we were humbled at West Brom but the chance to make amends was uppermost in our heads. A home game against Man City was next, what’s not to look forward to, we thought. This is what it’s all about.
But before that, there was a bit of a jolt, the name of the school where I was head for 14 years cropped up quite out of the blue. Poor Joe while we were away in Hornsea had suffered a 13-0 defeat. ‘But they fouled us all the time,’ he said.
‘Ah well,’ I consoled him, ‘you had a moral victory,’ and then tried explaining to a 9-year old exactly what that was.
But the email that came stopped me in my tracks: next game against Carlton Giants, at Dolphin Lane, Thorpe Primary School. Hell I thought, if I had a pound for every time I drove there for 14 years I’d be a wealthy man.
At Easter, 1982, as Burnley were heading towards promotion with that last harvest of home-grown young players; I was due to leave leafy lane, St Margaret’s where I’d been Deputy Head, to be head of Thorpe on the Hill Primary School. The name gives it a pleasant, rural image. A better name would have been Thorpe in the middle of the old abandoned coalmines and engine sheds. The idea of being the head of a little village school had always appealed, except this was no picturesque, picture postcard village; this was an ex-industrial area, grey, dilapidated, with an old deserted quarry thrown in for good measure. The M62 dissected the village; in between it, and the school, lay the allotments from which hens would often wander over to the school and hop up into the hall. Another guy kept rabbits to which one errant pupil helped himself on his way home and kept his new pets under his bed feeding them chips until his mother noticed the strange smell emanating from his bedroom.
It was quite ironic that this little school of under 100 pupils out in the semi-rural boondocks and spoil heaps, but with Leeds just a few miles away, should produce the one professional footballer I ever had in a school team. At the interview for the job one of the things I said I’d do was get a football team going. This I duly did. I remember for that interview I’d even polished my shoes, something I hadn’t done for years. I noticed one of the interviewing panel peering at them as I sat in front of them arranged in a horseshoe. I like to think it was the shoes that got me the job; it was either that or bad luck.
Anyway: the ten-year old was Dean West and even then he snapped and snarled and launched into tackles in every game he played. We had so few lads to choose from we had a girl in goals long before women’s football became a big thing and in macho south Leeds it became an eye opener. If you could kick a ball you were in the team but this motley bunch of ragamuffins were second in the local Wakefield League playing against schools four times the size of little us. That was solely down to Dean West (pictured) who covered every blade of grass with complete and utter fearlessness and competitiveness. After one memorable game in mud and rain against the crack top school that we won 1-0, I jokingly said to him and his dad, “I’ll get you a trial at Burnley one day.” That went down like a lead balloon seeing as his dad had eyes only for Leeds United.
So indeed he did sign for Leeds as a youth but eventually played for Stan Ternent at Bury, and then when Stan joined Burnley he brought Dean along with him. Lo and behold the lad did play for Burnley. Funny that
Three years trickled by, Burnley had gone up, then down and John Bond came and went. We didn’t know there was even worse to come. Thorpe School meanwhile was stuck in its time warp of peeling paint, heating that failed in winter, plus two staff who had been there far too long and had both feet fixed firmly still in the fifties. One, the ageing Deputy Head ready for retirement was memorable for his Ralphie Coates comb-over hair style. The other was the school’s pianist and used the nuffnote method; that is to say if you hit enuff notes you eventually get the right ones. The first secretary was a lovely elderly lady but could only type with one finger and was deaf in one ear. Her replacement was a clairvoyant and could see dead people – or so she said. This was in fact quite unnerving. Sadly, by now, Dean West had left and the school team found its proper level losing games by huge scores on a regular basis.
One day I heard the sound of pattering hooves coming across the hall floor. It was only 8 o clock and all was quiet until I heard little voices as well. “You tell ‘im… no you tell ‘im… you knock… no you knock.”
Two small lads came to the open door and with them was a goat on the end of a piece of string that had left puddles all over the polished hall floor. The two boys looked at me:
“We found this goat sir outside in the road,” said one of them as if I would have a solution.
The goat and I looked at each other. Burnley FC’s problems suddenly seemed insignificant. I’d been to few if any games in the last few years but looked at the results and stuck reports in my page-a-day diary.
To cut a long story short the news got round that the Head had a goat in his office and eventually an old guy in a battered ancient car turned up, took it out, shoved it into the car on the back seat, and drove off. As he did this another car turned up with an LEA adviser inside who looked askance at the old man and the goat and then stared at me with a dumbstruck look. I, meanwhile, didn’t bat an eyelid as if it was quite normal. It was that kind of school. You never quite knew what might happen next, unlike Turf Moor when every day was in the wilderness of the old Fourth Division you knew what to expect, just more misery and false hopes.
If humour and laughs were in short supply at Turf Moor in the wilderness years, there were plenty at Thorpe. There was the Christmas that Santa in the grotto got slowly tipsy. The mums had been down to Leeds market to get cheap sweets. The brought half a ton back and Santa was giving them to the children as they left. Most of them pulled a face and said they were horrible. The mums had unknowingly bought bagloads of chocolate liqueurs upon which Santa was happily snacking. One lad called David had the happy habit of running out of the classroom and sitting either on top of the piano or on the shed roof. I could never persuade him it would be helpful if he ran straight home. Sports Days were fun. We had them for parents as well until the time they were stopped because two dads had a fight because they both said they’d won. The kids didn’t bat an eyelid; it was quite common up on the estate.
For all of the 80s that I was in this little school Burnley were pants other than the one promotion year. Whilst I was the wasteland of Thorpe, Burnley were enduring the backwoods of the Fourth Division. It seemed kind of apt.
Burnley versus Manchester City: funnily enough there was no sense of apprehension or trepidation. A defeat would be nothing less than expected; anything else an absolute bonus. The email about the game at Thorpe had been a reminder of times past when not a person in the world would have forecast that one day we’d have a third season in the Prem and the next game would be against Man City in front of an absolute full house. OK we lost badly at West Brom, but just think back to games at Hartlepool or Maidstone or Exeter many of us thought, knowing which we preferred.
We wondered if Sean D would make a few changes. His words after West Brom, more blunt than usual about his players, suggested some kind of possible epiphany, a road to Damascus moment perhaps when he had realised that some of his players were just not up to the task and there’s no way to make a silk purse out of just running, resolve and digging in. Defour it seemed could still not last a full game. Hendrick seemed no better than the loaned-out Ulvestad; Arfield looked to be running on empty. The lack of pace was blatant. Meanwhile: Joe (he prefers it to Joey) Barton was back training at Gawthorpe, albeit not with the first team; “hmmm,’” we hummed wondering what that might bring.
“Don’t write us off this weekend,” the manager said referring to the unpredictable marvel of football. And we didn’t: anticipating at least a fightback if not a win. There’s always something special about a game like this when the millionaire, super-power elite are in town and all away seats are sold out and filled with raucous, away fans. There’s a kind of carnival atmosphere; Harry Potts Way heaving, the world watching, crowds building at the turnstiles, the samba band, an atmosphere you could bottle.
Pep Guardiola was quick to praise Burnley for what they had achieved so far. Among his compliments was: “Their legs are faster and cleaner than ours.” It reminded me of the old Paul Fletcher joke when he said as an older player he had a hot bath before every game to help him loosen up.
“I was never fast but I was always clean,” he said.
The plus of a lunchtime kick-off is a 10 am Weatherspoon’s breakfast messaged Garry Ingham; wrap up warm messaged Eddie Rawlinson with a fabulous picture of white, frost covered Cliviger fields and hedgerows. In Leeds there was a blanket of fog with a pale, hazy sun just visible through the grey murk. The car took an age to de-frost. Out came the old flask for its first appearance of the season and the old heavy overcoat that weighs a ton. Driving across the moors the view of Ingleborough and Pen Y Ghent white with snow 40 miles away on the horizon was breathtaking beneath the clear blue skies. A stunning drive and a great game in prospect; what more could you want? An upset was maybe on the cards.
But Burnley lost and the more I looked at the scoreline back at home, the more miffed I felt that they hadn’t got a deserved point from a battling performance. Of course City were the more skilful, Toure back in favour was hugely impressive pulling all the strings. Two years ago he hardly left the centre circle, today he was everywhere.
Today was light years away from the dross of the West Brom performance which was no surprise; no one doubted that they had all had a Pep talk but the surprise in fact was Heaton’s absence. Robinson took over. Not bad when you can replace an England international with another and Robinson had a fine game delighted no doubt to be playing in a Premier game again.
The abiding images: Burnley taking the lead with a Marney piledriver not unlike the Boyd goal of two years ago. Referee Marriner’s refusal to award a penalty when Hendrick was sent flying in the first half. The two city goals as scruffy as you will see. Marney and Gudmondsson departing with injuries within minutes of each other. The quickness of petulant, snarling City players to surround the referee at every opportunity complaining about decisions; the pressure Burnley applied in the final 15 minutes forcing Bravo into saves and defenders into hoofed clearances, the save from a great Barnes overhead effort crucial. THAT splendid crunching but perfectly fair tackle by Mee on Sterling that put him out of the game. The splendid contribution of Tarkowski in the makeshift midfield role, and the huge encouragement and roars of support that came from the Burnley fans when it was clear that this team, thrown out of its stride by the two injuries, was refusing to lie down and capitulate.
City knew that they had been in a game; Burnley knew that they had deserved something. It left us all at the end with that empty feeling that you get when you know you had not deserved to lose, especially when the second of the goals was simply a comedy of errors. In a crowded box with the ball set up to be comfortably cleared, two defenders went for it and made a total hash, crashing into each other so that the ball ran free. In a trice it was gathered up, taken to the by-line and crossed where the comedy continued as it bounced off Aguero’s knee with him barely aware of where it was. It was just a cruel way to lose. It left us with that same feeling that we had losing to that ridiculous last minute Arsenal goal.
We trudged down the stairs, disconsolate and miffed. We shook our heads. We asked each other just when will a Premier ref recognise a blatant penalty and award it in our favour. All the BT pundits including Howard Webb were agreed; this was a penalty. On MOTD it looked impossible not to give it. How many is that so far this season, we wondered. Maybe Sean D lists them in his Filofax; who can blame him if he does.Share this page :