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1718 burnley sam vokes goal v chelsea 1000x500It all happened so quickly. At the start of this week there was no hint that Sam Vokes might be leaving us but by Tuesday there was speculation of a bid from Stoke and by yesterday evening he was gone, the deal being announced just minutes after we’d confirmed the signing of Peter Crouch.

Sam started his career with Bournemouth, making a first team debut over 12 years ago against Nottingham Forest in a Bournemouth team that included their current, and our former, manager Eddie Howe and current Burnley midfielder Jack Cork. Eleven days later he scored his first goal in a 1-1 draw at Gillingham.

He did well in the lower divisions for Bournemouth and his performances earned him a move to the Championship in the summer of 2008 with Wolves. He was in their title winning squad in 2008/09 when we went up with them in the play-offs but he was never able to pin down a place in the Wolves team. In four years there he only started four games and during those years he spent time away on loan at Leeds, Bristol City, Sheffield United, Norwich, Burnley and Brighton.

The Burnley loan was from November 2011 to January 2012. He made nine league appearances for us, two as a substitute, and scored twice. The second of those goals was the winner at West Ham not long after he’d come on as a substitute for Junior Stanislas.

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A largely disappointing loan followed at Brighton but that didn’t deter Eddie Howe. He’d wanted to tie him down during the loan and in the summer of 2012 was able to bring him back to Burnley on a permanent deal.

In his first full season at Burnley, one which saw Sean Dyche replace Howe as manager, Vokes played all 46 league games although only 13 were starts. He scored four times, significantly including the late equaliser against Blackburn and that never does any harm to a Burnley player in terms of gaining popularity.

In truth, at the end of that season, there was little to suggest he was going to be anything but a bit part player going forward but the sale of Charlie Austin, just two days before the start of the season, changed all that. Charlie had scored 25 of our 62 league goals in the previous season but his departure left us with just two strikers at the club, Danny Ings and Vokes, who had netted just six league goals each in Burnley colours.

I think everyone was concerned to be honest. We’d seen some potential in Ings but there wasn’t much confidence that Vokes could become a regular, goalscoring striker at Championship level. Sean Dyche put his usual spin on things and described Austin’s departure as an opportunity for someone else but that someone was not going to be a new signing given the financial position of the club.

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What happened over the next few months was difficult to take in. We all hoped for another season well away from the relegation zone, anything else would be a bonus but we started the season well and it was the 3-0 win at Derby that had me sitting up and taking notice of Vokes. He wasn’t just the man of the match that day; Derby didn’t cope with him and that performance wasn’t a one off.

Our shortage of strikers was highlighted by the fact that he played the full ninety minutes in all of the first 26 league games that season, but he wasn’t just filling in. He was turning in some outstanding performances, linking up really well with Ings and both were scoring goals aplenty.

What none of us had really noticed was that prior to the 2013/14 season kicking off, they’d only started seven Burnley games together. We’d won five of them and drawn one with only one defeat, and that after we’d had a player wrongly sent off. It was always a strange one but, despite his goals, we always got far better results when Austin didn’t play than when he did and we’d seen the start of the Vokes-Ings partnership without really noticing it.

Cruelly, with us storming through to promotion, Sam suffered a cruciate ligament injury early in the Leicester game and missed the final seven games of the season. We were so thankful that by then we’d been able to sign Ashley Barnes because there were a few games when Ings was also ruled out. On the day the players received their runners-up medals, Sam was on crutches but very much part of the celebrations, rightly so.

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That injury ruined his chance of a Premier League season. He did come back later in the season with little impact as we fell away and went back into the Championship.

By the time the next Championship season kicked off, Ings had gone and Barnes had suffered his own cruciate ligament injury. We started the season at Leeds with Jelle Vossen and Lukas Jutkiewicz up front; Sam came on as a substitute and scored a superb headed goal to earn us a point.

Vossen didn’t stay long, Jutkiewicz, like Sam and Ashley, suffered a cruciate ligament injury, further signings Chris Long and Rouwen Hennings made no impact, but Sam was able to play it again with a new partner, this time Andre Gray who arrived for a big fee from Brentford.

In a season when, for long spells, we were settling for a play-off place, despite being told by Joey Barton that he hadn’t come to finish anywhere other than first, Sam built up another terrific partnership with Gray. We should have believed Joey, we went up as champions and it has to be said that Vokes had enjoyed another outstanding season.

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As he’d done at Leeds, he scored our first goal in the following season, this one against Liverpool. With us now being able to rotate our strikers more, he shared duties with Gray and Barnes but led the scoring chart by the end of the season with ten. Notably, he scored our final four goals that season and just before that he’d netted a penalty at Everton; we haven’t had a penalty since in the Premier League.

He made it three successive seasons by scoring our first goal of the 2017/18 season. He got two of the three as we beat Chelsea 3-2 at Stamford Bridge. He scored just twice more, like the Chelsea goals, both away from home. He came on as a substitute to score the winner at Southampton with his next coming at Watford when he scored within seconds of coming on.

He’s already started more Premier League games this season than he did last, but he lost his place after the Everton game on Boxing Day with Barnes and Chris Wood preferred since. There were just two more substitute appearances to come in the league, the home wins against West Ham and Fulham when he replaced Wood.

I don’t think any of us could have expected that late cameo against Fulham to be his final appearance. As recently as October he’d signed a new long term deal and there was no hint of any move away. But he must have thought it was time for him to go and suddenly, early this week, we learned that Stoke had made an offer for him and yesterday he made that move to Stoke.

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I don’t think any of us who were at Old Trafford this week were left in any doubt when Sam came over at the end of the game. I know it is something he always does but there seemed more of a farewell to it.

I’ve met him just a small number of times and he has certainly come across really well. I spoke to some people at the club yesterday and they described him as the best, so it was no surprise to see some of his now former team mates coming out and wishing him all the very best.

It’s so typical of Sam that he’s sent a message to all at Burnley. He said earlier today: “First of all, I’d just like to say a massive thank you to everyone at Burnley Football Club; all the staff, management, players and, of course, the supporters. It’s been an incredible journey that we’ve been on over the past seven years, with promotions, relegation, survival and even European football through the Europa League. There have been so many highlights and every step along the way has been a joy, but now I am looking forward to a new challenge at Stoke City and hoping I can help to get the club back to the Premier League, where our paths will cross again.

“I wish everyone connected with Burnley Football Club nothing but success. You made the club a ‘home’ for myself and all my family and for that I’m eternally grateful.”

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He was a player clearly appreciated by the manager. Despite losing virtually a year to the injury, he’s still featured in 217 of the 263 league games Dyche has been in charge, albeit a lot of those from the bench. Ben Mee, on 214, is the only player close to him. And no one has scored more league goals for Dyche. His 56 is way ahead of Ings and Gray who scored 35 and 32 respectively.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at selling Sam Vokes. That, I have to say, was prior to the 2013/14 season. We have sold him now, that’s what happens in football, but I can’t imagine there is a Burnley fan anywhere who wouldn’t join me in wishing him the very best at Stoke. They’ve got themselves a very good player and more importantly a very good bloke.

All the best Sam, after all, there’s only one Sam Vokes.

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