Ten days without a game
At last after all these years of lies, smears and cover-ups the South Yorkshire Police were found guilty of unlawfully killing the 96 victims of Hillsborough. 27 years it has taken to see the truth out in the open at long last. The affected families and campaigners have been magnificent. Those who hid evidence and doctored testimonies have been shameful; the institutionalised cover-up was monumental and the society of Freemasons in South Yorkshire now comes under scrutiny. And then there is of course the role of Margaret Thatcher. Of course the verdict was big news and as we watched TV replays of the scenes at Hillsborough, the horrifying scale of the disaster came flooding back. Not only were there 96 deaths but there were over 700 injuries with many of that group still suffering the effects. The effects on the families will never go away and listening to them and the campaign leaders brought lumps to our throats. Ordinary men and women beat the ‘system’ to get this verdict. It took them three decades; they have been simply wonderful.
It was St George’s Day, it was the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, and Obama astonishingly threatened Britain with the back of the Trade Agreement queue if we left the EU. Burnley sat top of the league. A sheepdog somehow walked 240 miles over 12 days to get back to its first home after it had been sold to someone in the far north. We saw hailstones like golf balls, snow on the streets of London and hills covered in snow. Somehow Van Gaal’s Man United had sneaked a way through to the FA Cup Final. Mourhino was linked with the job there. It was not far short of a year since Danny Ings went to Liverpool and now Burnley fans sat waiting for the result of the tribunal.
Meanwhile we were all over the moon with the win at Preston. And it was Charlton versus Brighton and Middlesbrough versus Ipswich. We were asking who would be the first to blink. The answer to that came when Middlesbrough could only draw at home. They dropped two more points. Brighton of course won at Charlton as everyone expected them to but could only score three thus leaving Burnley still with the better goal difference. It meant that with just two games remaining for each team it was Burnley still at the top of the pile, not Middlesbrough – but only just.
With Burnley having played on the Friday night and no further game until May 2, there would be a ridiculous ten games without a game. At this stage of the season it seemed absurd but there it was and so we looked at all the permutations over and again.
If Burnley won their last two games they would be champions if they could maintain the better goal difference. If either Boro or Brighton won their last 2 games and scored enough goals then Burnley would only be runners-up. One of the two could drop all three points on the last day, or both of them would drop two points if they drew their final game against each other.
And Burnley’s final two games, the first at home to QPR and the very last game at Charlton with away tickets already sold out. The Charlton game against Brighton was marred by crowd scenes, marches, protests and a delayed start. The natives were restless down there and who could blame them seeing their club relegated against a background of contentious ownership. Trouble is, it posed a serious question.
What would happen if due to crowd scenes and pitch invasions the final game of the season was badly affected and abandoned? The season before, the final game at Blackpool was indeed abandoned when fans vented their spleen. It was decided in that case that because the demonstration was so late in the game it would not be replayed as it had no bearing on the season’s final placings. But at Charlton in such a high profile game, with the possibility of Burnley’s promotion or Championship title hanging on it, exactly what would happen? It was a genuine question and one that added spice to an already enthralling finale, especially in front of 3,000 Burnley fans and some Charlton fans threatening to throw not just Brussel Sprouts onto the pitch but boxes of drawing pins. Their fans were adamant; the campaign and disruptions would be unrelenting until they got their club back and the Belgian, Duchatelet, was no longer owner. The Clarets could face organised chaos someone noted. How would the team react; how would 3,000 Burnley fans react?
Clearly the Charlton fans have good reason to dislike Brussels for reasons other than the EU and its 43,000 bureaucrats. Whilst us other footie fans might be more worried by being banned from the Champions League if we leave (unlikely), that we won’t be allowed to call British sausages ‘bangers,’ and that we will be invaded by giant French snails, the Charlton supporters had more serious reasons to dislike someone from Belgium.
Dyche sang Joey Barton’s praises after the Preston game and not for the first time. ‘He was excellent and he’s been excellent all round. He’s still delivering and has a real thirst to be successful. He continues to be in among that group that’s got that. He’s been a good example to the whole group. He’s been fantastic. He’s still got his edge and desperately wants to be successful. It’s a great credit to him. A lot of people said I was losing my senses signing Joey. But the lads enjoy having him around; he allows other players to come to the fore.’
Preston manager Simon Grayson echoed those thoughts and was complimentary about Burnley in general: ‘he’s been a fantastic signing. He manages his game both with the ball and without it. He shows his experience and plays that position really well. When you look at Burnley and their recovery runs they get back into their shape. They have players who can influence games.’
And now it was 21 unbeaten games. It was a remarkable achievement, we all agreed, and yet it hadn’t produced any clear lead at the top; too many draws had seen to that plus the other two sides each having good long runs of consecutive wins. Most of us probably wanted Middlesbrough to be the one that would miss out, on account of Karanka’s unwarranted comments about Dyche and then Burnley’s style of play. Already there were stories that whatever happened he would leave at the season’s end.
But outside the Premier League did the media really care? Not on Saturday morning after the away win at Preston. Here was the team that had just gone top again in a local derby game but there was not a mention of the game at all in three dailies that I saw; page after page of Premier League stuff but not a mention of PNE 0 Burnley 1.
On Monday 25, at last the media in a limited kind of way did begin to cotton on to the situation at the top even looking at what would happen in the event of the teams in second and third place having identical records with nothing to separate them, not impossible if all the final games had the ‘right’ results. It could happen for the first time ever that second and third would face a play-off game, to decide who would take second place and who went into the actual play-offs. A unique situation was brewing including the unheard of scenario that top and second could be in a similar position with utterly identical records so that this would entail a play-off to decide who would take the Championship title.
And then we came back to the obvious; if Burnley went out and won their last two fixtures none of this would matter one jot. They would be up. And there was that word again… if…
The pundits also latched onto the Charlton situation and hoped that their fans’ common sense would prevail. It would be bad enough that Burnley might face a game that would decide how their season would end, without having to worry about would the game even finish. And by now everyone was noting that the jackpot would be up to £200million by the time parachute payments and extra commercial income were taken into account.
In our blinkered view of football (what else matters but Burnley FC) just sometimes we can lift up our heads and see other football news. Leicester City slammed four past Swansea to go 8 points ahead again in their fairytale season. Some might argue it is not a fairytale and that they have fabulously wealthy owners; that some years ago they went into administration and came out of it smelling of roses and that two years ago there might just have been some financial diddling going on in their promotion season. But that doesn’t take anything away from the present crop of players who have performed miracles. Spurs could only draw at home to West Brom so that Leicester’s lead was only cut by one point.
Leicester on the verge of winning the Premier League, Burnley on the verge of promotion again, Accrington on the verge of promotion; it would be an astonishing end to the season if all three clubs reached their destination.
It was a week when we could look at moments in past games that with a better outcome might have secured promotion earlier (February according to Karanka), Cardiff goalkeeper Marshall’s super saves in the home game against Cardiff, the sure-fire penalty that was not awarded in the home game against Ipswich, the Wolves last minute equaliser at Turf Moor being just some of them. Then there were the moments of luck that preserved the unbeaten run, the ball gently looping over Heaton and bouncing off the crossbar in the home game against Cardiff not to mention the number of times that opposing managers and fans must have wondered just how Burnley had beat them.
Even almost a full week before the QPR game the excitement was mounting with not much more than 200 tickets remaining and the club opening up another block in the Cricket Field Stand. It promised to be an absolute sell-out despite it being live on TV. If the two other big results of the weekend went the right way, it would be the game that could see Burnley promoted we hoped. But there were no assumptions, no presumption of a win. Football is too unpredictable. West Brom demonstrated that at White Hart Lane to the chagrin of Spurs supporters, glum-faced at the final whistle. Ipswich too demonstrated the first rule of football at Middlesbrough – take nothing for granted. Barton we knew would be relishing the game. We all remembered the incident of the coke bottle when one landed on his head at Turf Moor. We all remembered that he made no fuss at all and just got on with the game.
We messed about with all the possible results permutations until we went stupid, but in reality what it boiled down to was that if one of them, Brighton or Boro, only drew their penultimate game and Burnley beat QPR, then Burnley were up… or did it… and then we scratched our heads again? But what gave us nightmares was both of them winning their penultimate games and Burnley losing to QPR. If they then drew their final game against each other that was Burnley goosed and consigned to the play-offs.
I wondered if I was becoming just a tad obsessed. Driving to Wetherby I deliberated, my mind was drifting, if we would manage the fairytale again or would we fall short at the last two hurdles. Shopping at M&S and perusing the cauliflowers I was thinking that Ashley Barnes was due a goal. In a meeting I was dreamily distracted hoping that Birmingham could do something against Boro on Friday. Watching an episode of Blue Bloods I lost the plot because I was thinking just keep two clean sheets and somehow nick a goal at the other end, that’s all we ask. Wandering round Home Bargains looking for cheap tins of beans my mind is at Turf Moor and it’s half-time and we’re 3-0 up already against QPR. I’m watching Master Joe (too big now to call Little Joe) in the football training session on Tuesday night; he scores a hat-trick in one game, which sets me thinking can Andre Gray grab a hat-trick in either of the last two games? And then when Mrs T asks what veg we shall have with our dinner I’m thinking Charlton…protests… Duchatelet… Belgian… Brussels… sprouts. And it’s only Tuesday and the QPR game is still six days away. This is getting ridiculous, I decided; it’s time to get a life.
But well done Ben Mee. At the Supporters’ Clubs Awards night he was named Player of the Season. Game after game it has been Joey B that has been in the spotlight and his performances have been consistently exceptional whilst Andre Gray has been the darling of the Press with his goals record. But unobtrusively doing his job in the background Ben Mee has been a huge success; a centre half by trade, but played as a full back for so long that many folk seemed surprised by his performances in the middle of the back four since it was re-organised after Boxing Day. He isn’t the tallest guy on the block but somehow he has that priceless ability to time his jumps and out-head forwards inches taller than himself. His bravery is the stuff of legends; who will forget the time he headed the ball when it was actually on the floor and boots were flailing and kicking all around him. Single minded, eyes only for the ball, never mind the lumps, bumps and bruises, classic attributes of a rock-solid centre back; he’s one of the quiet ones and goes unnoticed… but not by the supporters.Share this page :