There is a plan, we win, they lose
Andy Murray worked his socks off to become world number 1, Blackburn lost again to stay in the bottom three, the first snowfalls in the north, Leonard Cohen and Jimmy Young passed away, Joey Barton was signed off with stress and left Rangers. Brexit now Trumpit, but the biggest shock, M&S will close 60 stores and the new Toblerones will have fewer sticky-up bits.
Sean D doesn’t blow his own trumpet, he doesn’t do elation, never has, chooses words carefully, never overplays things, hyperbole is unknown, pretty much the total opposite of the new US President. He’ll credit others, usually the players, but after the Palace game even Sean D, whilst as undemonstrative as ever, allowed some of his satisfaction and pleasure to show through. He talked of the outstanding and superb mentality that created the winning goal.
The previous week we’d seen one of the most astonishing goalkeeper displays of all time by a Burnley keeper when Tom Heaton defied Man U over and again. Colin McDonald in the 1958 World Cup, Adam Blacklaw away against Reims in the very early 60s, Harry Thomson away at Naples in the mid-60s were probably the yardsticks for truly great goalkeeping up until Heaton’s gymnastics at Old Trafford. But afterwards, true to fashion, Dyche didn’t really single him out for any special praise or go into meltdown with effusive tributes.
But after the Palace game, for once, his jubilation just kind of crept out; the mask slipped just a fraction. He just couldn’t help it. Barnes had come on in the 85th minute and deep into injury time sent supporters into raptures with a goal that was reminiscent of the one he scored against Wigan in the previous promotion season. It was the scenario we thought might have been in the script at Old Trafford in fact, but it wasn’t to be. But it most certainly happened at Turf Moor. Donald Cooper described the winning goal:
When Dean Marney, Gudmondsson and Barnes combined to score that 94th minute winner we were watching poetry in motion. Artistry created by masters of their profession. From out of nothing, while defending against a determined opposition seeking a last gasp winner for themselves, Marney’s quick thinking and vision triggered a 30-second masterpiece of soccer science. No amount of transfer money can buy a goal like that.
The game plan had worked to a treat, the choice of Barnes over Gray might have been a hunch, but it turned out to be masterful. And Ashley Barnes: is there just a touch of the Steve Kindons about him, the sheer size and power of the man; picture him bearing down on you at full speed, motoring like a juggernaut, frightening. This is a beast of a man that knows how to put himself about, a throw-back to a different era perhaps. Sean D deserved a bit of a preen and the warm glow of a bit of inner self-satisfaction. The Dyche legend grew just a little more.
A win that will go down in folklore, he said and surely in that was the clue to how good he must have been feeling, though doing his best not to be too histrionic. Klopp maniacal fist-pumps, high jumps in the air and uncontrolled demonstrativeness is not his style. Mourinho melodramatics are mercifully absent. You can’t even imagine Sean Dyche being sent to the stand; grappling with a spectator on the floor a la Nigel Pearson – heaven forbid, unthinkable.
What a glorious feeling to see us ninth, even after the Sunday games that’s where Burnley stayed for the next two weeks with 14 points and two players in the England squad, Heaton and Keane. Comparisons with the previous excursion into the Prem were inevitable when the first ten games were near-barren and the seeds of relegation were planted in those early weeks. But after game 11 this time round there was the foundation for survival thanks to the home form.
The stats people had noticed it was an age since we took a lead and lost, and months since any away team scored at the Jimmy Mac end. The perennial plucky underdogs might, we wondered, be on the edge of becoming something a little more than that. Barnes’s return made a huge difference, Gudmondsson was a revelation, Vokes was developing twinkle-toed skills with every new game, Mee and Keane simply immense, Marney like a fine wine getting better with age, Defour sheer class whilst he is on the pitch; and Heaton, the icing on the cake with real claims to be England’s number one.
So just when you couldn’t wait for the next game it was the international break and kicking heels time for us rank and file. But Joe had another game and this time it was Saturday morning and not the usual Sunday. Alas the lads received a lesson in the cruelty of football (just like Liverpool, Everton and Palace) that you can have 80% possession and 20 shots and still lose to breakaway goals and an unbeatable opposition goalkeeper. But off came Joe, well pleased with his cuts, bruises and covered in mud and well versed in the arts of grappling at corners.
Saturday morning: like back in the 70s when the school team always played on a Saturday before teachers got stroppy and worked to rule and stopped being ‘nice’ when they realised that saying “no” sometimes gets you what you want, in this case a decent pay rise. But part of the not being ‘nice’ included saying we’ve had enough of giving up our Saturday mornings doing football and as far as I know it’s now a rare thing these days.
Under the watchful glare of the irascible, plump, old Head, Jack Prince, I ran our junior team at Horsforth St Margaret’s for several years. If you thought Bob Lord was a tyrant then Old Jack was worse. He was only about 5’ 4” but glared at you with narrow eyes and a cig dangling from his lips and he smoked anywhere inside the school when it pleased him. You could follow his trail round the school by following the little piles of cigarette ash on the floor. Every decision was his and the symbols of his iron rule were the ten sets of classroom door keys. I’m sure it pained him to hand them over in the mornings and we had to personally hand them back every evening; there was no asking someone else to do it.
On the one occasion I entered his room before hearing the word “enter” I was soundly reprimanded for my sin. Apparently Bob Lord did just the same according to someone I met who worked in his meat factory. Anyway, as Jack cursed me the ash from his cig fell off the end and plopped with a sizzle into his cup of tea. I was straightaway cussed for that as well.
We’ve probably all met someone who with one stare can set us into a dither; like Andy Lochhead used to give opposing goalkeepers the mean look and set their knees knocking, and there was one particular teacher there who turned to jelly just thinking about Old Jack and who continually for good measure forgot to hand in her keys at home time. With the bravery of youth I suggested to Mr Grumpy that he could solve this by fastening the keys to a piece of elastic so that when she unlocked her door she could just let go of the keys and they would fly back to his desk. Like Bob Lord he had no sense of humour at all; not even a flicker of mild amusement crossed his face. In fact he went red in the face with wrath and I thought he was going to have a heart attack. It was my one and only attempt at being light-hearted with him and I remember waiting for him to say “you stupid boy” like Captain Mainwaring.
The head of another school ran the famed Pudsey Juniors set-up in the area, a club that at one stage was almost a feeder for Leeds United and a couple of my lads joined this club. Years later working on Roger Eli’s book the name Cowley cropped up again. Roger too joined Pudsey Juniors with Alan Cowley one of his early mentors and it’s funny to think that I might well have watched Roger playing as a kid. Only one kid I ever taught went on into the professional game, Dean West, and as an 11-year old he stood out a mile from the rest going on to play over 350 games at Football League level. The right wing trio he made up with Glen Little and Paul Weller at Turf Moor was often a joy to watch. I can still see the 30-yard screamer he scored at Stoke City.
With all the fuss about West Ham’s stadium going on at the minute, it made me appreciate a little more just what a good old traditional football ground we have at Turf Moor. We might have our grumbles every now and then; the roofs are not much use in really bad rain when the wind is blowing up your trouser leg. The facilities for the disabled are poor. But over and again in the media it is described as a traditional old-fashioned football ground and all the more intimidating for that. Walk from the town centre and then along Harry Potts Way to the ground and it’s a proper football walk, shoulder to shoulder with fellow fans, past the pubs, and fast food outlets, along the club frontage and then to the crowds filling the Park View pavement and then funnelling into the ground.
West Ham’s new stadium is turning out to be a bit of a disaster and Paul Fletcher has said umpteen times it should have been demolished and rebuilt if it was needed as a football stadium. A Stokie wrote disparagingly about it. I read the piece by the Stoke guy, Anthony Bunn, and could identify with everything he said. If things are right, then where a team plays, feels, smells and sounds like a football ground, he argued.
‘Narrow streets, terraced houses, pubs, the bustle and the floodlights; ah the floodlights standing proudly as a civic beacon, I’ll never lose the buzz of seeing the hazed splendour of proper floodlights in the distance…. But I wouldn’t give a stuff if I never returned to the London Stadium ever again.’
The community feel has now gone, he says, whereas at Burnley that’s a huge part of the location of the ground, nestling in the streets and fitting like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. West Ham have now lost their identity he writes. The London Stadium feels more like a part of a Theme Park and inside is so sanitised that cleaners pick up the ketchup sachets as fast as they hit the ground. Away fans are so far away from the pitch that the opposite end of the ground looks a mile away. ‘The nearest goal looked like it was in another post-code.’
The West Ham fans he spoke to say they hate it. The old ground was truly representative of the area, the authentic, good old East End, a real pie and mash ground. But the new ground: ‘a glorified fruit bowl sat in the middle of nothing, the new gaff the football equivalent of going in a brothel and asking for a hug.’
The Donald Trump election TV coverage on the actual night was almost as entertaining as the final day of the transfer window and Jim White. In fact I kept waiting for Jim and his yellow tie to put in an appearance amongst the cartoon graphics. What emerged was that Trump by virtue of a Scottish mother is eligible to play for Scotland. His idea of a wall to keep the Mexicans in could easily be adapted over here. There is a certain attractiveness about the idea of building a wall around Blackburn. The new guy (his victory said to have been predicted by Nostradamus and the Simpsons) could surprise us all; let’s face it, is there anything more satisfying than a really good trump.
Reaction to his win seems to have bordered on the hysterical but look how good Ronald Reagan turned out to be despite huge reservations about his capabilities when he was elected. “You need a strategy to handle the Russians if they attack,” said a condescending aide.
“I have a strategy,” he replied as he saddled up his horse. “We win, they lose.” The aide slunk off, his ego crushed by those four simple words.
Bill Shankly once said much the same on the eve of a European game in the days long ago when I was at college and did a teaching stint in Liverpool. Bootle docks it was and I still shudder at the thought of it. Football back then in the 60s was still very much a simple game; the only instruction was to pass the ball to someone in the same colour shirt, or as Clough told his players ‘treat the ball with care like you would your girlfriend.’
What are your plans, the press guy asked Shankly. “It’s really simple son,” said Shanks in that characteristic gravel voice. “We win, aye, they lose.”
All Burnley fans were probably hoping to see either Heaton or Keane, or even both, in the England team to play Scotland at Wembley. Common sense, however, said that Southgate would pick neither of them for this game despite Heaton being currently by far the top goalkeeper and Stones decidedly iffy at times. But Southgate is nothing if not cautious and conservative and all the same familiar faces were in there. With a 3-0 win under his belt Southgate though could feel well pleased although England were hardy dazzling and better Scottish finishing might well have produced a very different result .
Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, said she would not be accepting the result of the England match, it was not in Scotland’s best interests, and would be demanding a replay.Share this page :