Shivering at grass roots level
UKIP decided to raffle the party leadership, Bill Wyman turned 80; it was the last Brown Bin collection day in Leeds. Killer Ladybirds were invading East Lancashire. The Trump, with just 7 days to go, was only one point behind the Clint in the US election polls. Halloween became yet more unbearably over-the-top and at posh houses scary kids were offered something from the cheeseboard. And what a wonderful autumn it has been, walking along scuffing up the mountains of crisp, dry leaves on the pavement (come on; don’t tell me you don’t do it too).
At 3 0’clock on Saturday afternoon we were at Old Trafford and part of a 75,000 crowd but it wasn’t the stadium and its magnificence, or the galacticos, or the heaving super-store, or even the snarling Mourinho that provided the most memorable image of the sheer scale of the club on show; it was the sight of a line of SIX identical, glistening, immaculate, dazzling, white mowers that appeared immediately after the players had left the pitch. I swear they’d all been given a polish. And behind them was a small army of groundstaff in matching track suits with forks attending to the precious, barely scuffed pitch. It was quite surreal. It was the first time I’d seen synchronised lawn mowing.
At 9.00 the next morning, in utter contrast, I was with young Joe at Garforth Cricket Club where a small junior size pitch had been marked out in the outfield. It was a cool, grey morning with rain threatening, the pitch was uneven, lumpy, covered in flattened worm casts; but you couldn’t fault the effort that had gone into making a useable surface on which these 9-year olds could play.
Two groups of parents and grandparents huddled in their separate groups most of us thinking how nice it would have been to have had an extra hour in bed on this drab morning. For the away team, Farsley Celtic, it was a drive from one side of the city to the other and an 8 o’clock departure from home. It was a journey from the glamour of Old Trafford to football’s grass roots where small groups of dedicated adults give up their time to run these teams for nothing other than the satisfaction of bringing these kids on. And it was a cracking game as well, the odd thing being it was just like watching a Burnley rear-guard action as Farsley repelled wave after wave of Garforth attacks.
With minutes to go Farsley went ahead via a penalty. It looked like a Dyche performance; resilient, gritty and determined would win the game. But then another penalty was awarded this one to the home side. And that was it – 1-1. It was ironic that penalties decided the game after Clattenburg ignored at least 56 Man U claims the day before. The two sets of parents and grandparents shook hands with each other. I think Joe and I felt kind of smug. “I bet nobody else was at Old Trafford yesterday,” said Joe. “Nobody else has Burnley season tickets.”
But when Joe said his favourite player was Pogba, I told him he ran the risk of seeing Christmas cancelled. Joe’s forte by the way is the sliding tackle which on a day of mud like this one gave him extra satisfaction. The ball and opponent might be five yards away but in he goes revelling in the sheer pleasure of it. The great Denis Law when he became a commentator, having a brew in Roy Oldfield’s room at the Turf, told Roy that as a player he loved the mud and snow and sliding about; it made him feel like a kid again, he said.
One kid stood out playing for the Garforth side. Whatever ‘it’ is that makes a footballer, he had ‘it.’ Strong, well built, balanced, instant control, able to beat his marker, powerful running, awareness, bravery; he had them all. The old football coach in me (from years back running school sides) wanted to find out who this kid was but I didn’t bother. I’ve no idea what his name was, but I wondered if one day, ten years on, he would make the grade.
It all starts here, I thought, at grass roots, on cold early Sunday mornings when devoted parents and grandparents ferry these kids round and then stand shivering on the touchline flattening the worm casts, getting muddy shoes and desperate for coffee. Huh, and there’s still January and February to come, I thought.
If the Celt’s kids gave a defensive masterclass there were different opinions about the memorable display at Old Trafford. Whilst some said this too was a defensive masterclass others differed citing the 37 shots that Man U had and the number of clear chances they made inside the box. How it could be a defensive masterclass when they got into the box so often was the question. Against Liverpool earlier in the season on the other hand you could count on one hand the touches Liverpool had inside the area. Goalkeeping masterclass was a universal verdict at Old Trafford and individuals performed above and beyond the call of duty; but 18 blocks, the woodwork twice, miracle saves, Ibrahimović’s misses, on another day they could in fact have been on the end of a tonking. But they weren’t and it was one of the great, great, extraordinary, unforgettable days to be a travelling Burnley fan.
And how true is this?
In football as in life some people start off with an advantage. Others have to fight for everything but there’s no doubt which category Burnley Football Club belongs to. They are natural ‘fighters’ and it seems that no odds are too great for them to overcome. They’ve proved this time and time again throughout their history and they’re still proving it.
‘When Burnley were relegated there was a large body of opinion that felt that this small town club was finished a football power by the Clarets have taken them little time in proving them wrong by bring First Division football back to Turf Moor. Burnley’s population is only 74,000; there is no smaller town in the division. The attendances are moderate, the financial problems are unending, the club has had to sell its best players and top class players who come onto the market are reluctant to move to Burnley when they can choose a big city club. Yet Burnley succeeds because they are arguably the best run club in the country.
These are words that could have been written last week, but they weren’t; they were written in 1973 by Peter Higgs in the celebration banquet programme after the ‘72/73 promotion. The club’s history is remarkably consistent inasmuch as it has strived incessantly to reach the top and when it falls down, it gets back up again.
Crystal Palace: known as the Glaziers until they changed their nickname to the Eagles in 1973 with apparently Malcolm Allison having something to do with this. I love the name ‘Crystal Palace’, it’s different, very unfootball, very ‘south’; not a name you’d find in Batley, or Heckmondwike or Ramsbottom. Turf Moor on the other hand; a name that’s dug out of the rough earth, northern, gritty, tough, it does what it says on the tin and harks back to the days long ago of peat cutting when life was hard and a daily struggle. This part of town also hosted a horse race track years ago when a military garrison was stationed in Burnley to keep unruly workers in check. Thatcher did much the same in Yorkshire but used the police.
The military however, the Fifth Foot and Mouth, needed somewhere to stable the officers’ horses and somewhere where they, the gentlemen, could race and pass away the time. So, a race-track developed and in time even a small pavilion. Prior to all this it was an area for grazing livestock and horse sales.
The good news was that Defour was fit to play but Sean D said a strange thing though that there were no guarantees that the Belgian would ever meet the levels of physicality and fitness needed in the Prem. In seven games he had yet to last the full 90 minutes. SD was also honest enough to say that whilst this latest promotion side performed less effectively than the previous one, it had amassed the most points. This group was the more solid, he added; in other words it ain’t as attractive but it sure can defend.
We came down the stairs in raptures afterwards. What a game… best game we’ve seen for years… it had everything… my nerves are in shreds… just a few of the comments. Clichés perhaps, hyperbole maybe, Cheshire cat grins on every face – unless you were from Palace.
But the minute’s Remembrance silence impeccable, then a game to savour, a result to relish, ninth in the table, Dyche like the rest of us wallowing in the satisfaction – and hundreds who left early expecting this to stay at 2-2 missed the finale of all finales and a goal that was sheer Premier League class from start to finish; from out of the Burnley area into the back of the Palace net in just seconds. A goal of blistering pace, one end of the field to the other, a slide rule pass, a pin point cross and a goal thumped home with a force that almost broke the net from Ashley Barnes.
At half-time you might have thought that we were doing another ‘Liverpool.’ You score twice in the first 15 minutes with swift and incisive moves, one a poacher’s goal from Vokes who stabbed it home from about 6 inches, and the other from Gudmondsson firing a bullet shot from 20 yards that the goalkeeper could only parry so that it looped over him and bounced into the net. And then you keep the buggars out. It was working a treat with Burnley at last looking like a Premier League side. Yes Palace were good with Townsend on form but Burnley gave as good as they got and created some delightful moves. At last we looked at home in this division.
But the second half was totally different. Now it was Palace dominant with sporadic breaks from Burnley; although admittedly on another day might have seen them go 3-0 up but the wily Pardew had changed things and Zaha, average in the first half, now began to run riot. His superb cross was hammered home giving Heaton no chance. The inevitable equaliser came when Lowton handled another cross that was whipped in. Benteke anonymous in the first half but now having a fine second half, stroked it home.
We groaned and remembered the scoreline of two years ago when Burnley had gone 2-0 up and lost 3-2. It’s happening all over again we told ourselves and resigned to our fate sat grim and stony-faced and waited for the inevitable winner. Palace dominated, poured forward, pinned Burnley back, moved forward with pace and menace; it seemed just a matter of time before Burnley wilted and conceded. We clung to the hope of a 2-2 draw and a point, disappointing though that might have been. Zaha was running riot, Benteke inspired by his goal; Palace seemed just too good.
But Dyche made his brilliant substitution. Those who wanted Andre Gray were disappointed for on came Ashley Barnes, Dyche explaining afterwards that he was brought on as a hunch, that the game seemed right for him. Not many might have backed the hunch but how it paid off. Out of the relentless Palace pressure the ball broke clear out of the box. Marney raced out, Dyche super-fit, to take the ball onwards for a stride or two and then to Barnes inside his own half; he played a perfect through ball to Gudjonsson racing away ahead of him to the right. Barnes sprinted forward to keep up and just behind the Icelander by now steaming down the right to collect the ball. The Icelander whipped it over low and hard and from 8 yards Barnes was on hand to slam the ball home. Blink and you missed it; leave the ground with five minutes still to go and you sure as hell missed it. Some of these folks came running back in to see the replay on the concourse TV screens. This was a truly magnificent goal, a goal of exquisite, wonderful quality, a goal that left us delirious at the sheer unexpectedness of it deep into injury time.
Surely to God that’s three points we told ourselves, surely that’s it, blow the whistle for God’s sake; but Palace came back in the minute remaining. Zaha again whipped a ball over, it broke out to the edge of the box and we held our breaths as Townsend drove a beauty of a shot from 20 yards that slammed against the post. But instant prayers were answered as we uncovered our eyes; it hadn’t ended up in the back of the net and ricocheted away to safety. Near heart attacks are parts of football.
Barnes was ecstatic and disappeared in the scrum of players just below us, all of them as joyous as he, celebrating his return from the months of injury nightmare he has had, the on-loan Flanagan leading the charge. Who says loan players don’t show passion for their new club?
England manager Southgate was at the game but this time it was Mee who took the eye rather than Keane leaving some pundits to suggest that a pairing of Mee and Keane at England level might be no bad thing. Heaton added to his list of saves. Gudmondsson MOTM was a revelation. Defour was just class but again left the field well before the end signalling that he needed to come off.
Last season at Leicester Ranieri was saying they were dilly dong games. Dyche was now saying this one was ding dong. It’s the new language of football. The whistle went, the roars of acclaim reached the sky, the points were won, the football Gods had been with us, and we knew we had seen something very, very special.
So too was the exquisite steak and the crisp baguette at the Kettledrum and it seemed fitting that we drove home against a background of bonfire night bangs, explosions, rockets, starbursts and sundry fireworks as if the world was celebrating this stunning victory with us.
The guy from Luanda, Angola, who had sent super-polite emails to directors offering to buy the club for £300million, was now no doubt doubly disappointed by their lack of interest. At least he wasn’t a prince from Nigeria.Share this page :