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Burnley reached forty points last Saturday in the Premier League to secure a second successive season in the top flight for the first time in over forty years. I think many of us are still pinching ourselves at how good things have been over the last four years, and for those of us who can recall the events of thirty years ago today, when we were fighting for our very future, it really is a position we never thought we could ever be in again.

We were champions of England when I started to watch Burnley and, after some years of success, I saw the decline. It might not have been rapid in football terms but from the spring of 1975, when we were close to going top of the old First Division, we found ourselves dropping into the Fourth Division within ten years and then, two years on, fighting for our very lives on 9th May 1987 when only a win against Orient, and at least one positive result elsewhere, would keep us in the Football League.

For much of that season, although it was never going to be a successful season, there were no obvious concerns. We were fifth after seven games although a decline set in then which saw his slump to 19th when Cardiff beat us at Turf Moor in December. Even so, we were nine points clear of bottom of the league Stockport and the lead increased to eleven points after a draw at Wrexham and a 4-0 home win against Crewe on Boxing Day.

orient 2It wasn’t good; you could say it was bad, and then bad went to worse. Two home games on from Christmas we were hammered 6-0 at home by Hereford, but that was actually a better home performance than the previous home game when Rochdale beat us 3-0. We went ten games without a win but, although Stockport had got within two points, we were now nine points clear of Rochdale albeit they had five games in hand.

A 1-0 win at Stockport, courtesy of an Ashley Hoskin goal, was followed up by a 2-1 win at home against promotion bound Northampton when Hoskin scored again after Joe Gallagher had got the first. Things looked brighter but then four more defeats followed and it was time to worry again. Then came three games without defeat including a 2-0 win at Rochdale that left most of us believing we were safe.

But, on Monday 4th May, we were beaten 1-0 at Crewe on a day when most of our rivals picked up points. I’ve never, ever witnessed a journey home from a game like it, either before or since. Hardly anyone on the coach spoke a word. It was devastating. We were bottom. We needed to beat Orient five days later and hope that one of Lincoln, Torquay, Rochdale (who had two to play) or Tranmere would slip up. Stockport? They were clear of relegation by then.

Rochdale won their game in hand; they were out of the reckoning and when Tranmere won their last game on the Friday night they were also safe. It was now Burnley, Torquay and Lincoln left with us clear favourites to go down.

We all know what happened. We all know we won 2-1 with goals from Neil Grewcock and Ian Britton and we ended the season above both Torquay and Lincoln, the club who went down. We wouldn’t be here today had things gone wrong on that horrible, horrible day. Everything I did that day I kept thinking would it be the last time. Would I ever go through the turnstile again? Would I ever stand on the Longside again? Would I ever watch the team again that I’d followed, supported and loved for 27 years?

orient 1At the end of the game, chairman Frank Teasdale said: “Absolutely fantastic, we got what we deserved.” I’ve never been sure of that. We were bottom of the league because we were so poor and we probably deserved to be bottom of the league. It was absolutely fantastic, but deserved?

The fans, as one, were saying that this must never happen again. This should never have happened in the first place but what can happen once can happen again. As we sit now thirty years on it really is difficult to imagine we were ever there.

It must never happen again. I would not ever wish our supporters of the future to go through the agonies, the torment and the sheer emotions of 9th May 1987.

Those who played that day have become heroes and yet it was those players who took us there in the first place.

We used 22 players that season but the 12 on duty against Orient were: Joe Neenan, Peter Leebrook, Peter Hampton, Billy Rodaway, Joe Gallagher, Ray Deakin, Neil Grewcock, Phil Malley, Leighton James, Phil Devaney, Ian Britton. Sub: Ashley Hoskin. For four of them, Neenan, Hampton, Rodaway and Gallagher, it was their last game for the club.

In the dug out that day were manager Brian Miller and his assistant Arthur Bellamy, two absolute stalwarts of our club who, like winning goalscorer Britton and captain Deakin, are sadly no longer with us. How on earth Brian and Arthur stayed so calm I’ll never know. They took on a complete mess at the start of that season, somehow steered us through it and got their reward with a trip to Wembley a year later.

Remember the date Burnley fans, 9th May 1987, we must never, ever forget it.

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