Uwe played for Burnley like a fan would
Saturday, 6th May 2017 brought with it Burnley’s first ever survival as a Premier League club with a 2-2 home draw against West Bromwich Albion securing our place in the top flight for the following season, but it is a day that will forever be remembered with great sadness as the news reached us that one of our iconic players from the 1970s had passed away.
Peter Noble had been ill for some time. His passing came as no surprise to those who knew him best, but it was so hard for a generation of Burnley supporters to take in. Two weeks later those supporters stood in silence outside Turf Moor as the funeral cortege passed along Harry Potts Way before, ahead of the final game of the season, we all stood as one inside Turf Moor to pay our final respects. It brought a lump to the throat as once more we heard the chant of UWE-UWE-UWE come from the Turf Moor stands.
What was it that made him so special? After all, he’d been an underwhelming signing from Swindon following our promotion to the First Division in 1973. By the time he made his Burnley debut he was aged 29 and his record didn’t suggest he’d be a particularly good signing. A centre-forward, he’d played a few games for Newcastle (25 league appearances) but for the previous five years had played for Swindon and much to our cost in his first season when he scored the goal that took them to the League Cup final at Wembley at our expense.
Burnley were on the crest of a wave. We’d just won promotion back to the First Division having lost only four games all season and it was thought that we might be competitive enough with two or three astute signings. Noble didn’t appear to fit into that category at all and, as it happened, he was the only new player to come through the door.
With Mick Docherty, who had missed the end of the previous season with injury, fit to return, Jimmy Adamson named his tried and trusted line up for the opening game of the season at Sheffield United. New boy Noble was given the substitute berth ahead of Billy Ingham. Being named as the substitute proved to be crucial for the new signing when Docherty was stretchered off with seven minutes remaining having sustained a serious knee injury. With a 2-0 lead, we just saw the game out with Noble filling in at right-back for those closing minutes.
I think we’d all assumed that Ingham, who had filled in for Docherty at the end of the promotion season, would come in at right-back, but no, Adamson left Noble there and basically left him there for the entire season. So, we’d won promotion, made just the one signing, a centre-forward, and we played him in the number two shirt all season.
To be fair he did well. We had a good season, finishing sixth in the table and missing out on Europe on the last day of the season. We reached the semi-final of the FA Cup and played in the final of the Texaco Cup. You would have thought he’d played in that position all of his life and he did that well there was no apparent effort to bring in a new full back in the summer of 1974.
Things changed early in the 1974/75 season when chairman Bob Lord upset just about every Burnley fan with the sale of Martin Dobson to Everton. Adamson moved Noble into the midfield, switched Keith Newton from left to right and introduced Ian Brennan at left-back. Noble was now a midfielder and we all very soon saw what a good player he was.
His all-action style couldn’t be compared with the elegant Dobson, but he undoubtedly took over from Dobbo as the crowd favourite. The Burnley fans loved his combative style to which he added goals. His only goals in his first season had come when he was pushed further forward in Texaco Cup games, but he netted 12 in 1974/75 which included a hat trick against his former club Newcastle.
Not one of those goals had come from the penalty spot but that changed when he replaced Leighton James as penalty taker. What a start he made to the season that ended Burnley’s top flight life for 33 years. He scored another hat trick, this one in a 4-1 win against Middlesbrough and in the next home game scored all four in an astonishing 4-4 draw against Norwich. His second and third goals that day were his first penalties and his record of never having failed to score from the spot made the Trivial Pursuit game.
With Burnley back in the Second Division in 1976, it soon became evident that there would be no quick return. The club was by now struggling financially and Noble, at times, was the one shining light in a team that for two of the next three seasons fought against relegation. He also became captain midway through the 1976/77 season. In those three seasons he missed just three league games during which he scored 35 goals but when we moved into the 1979/80 season it was obvious that it was going to end with us relegated to the Third Division for the first time.
Noble was struggling with injuries. On 9th October 1979 he scored our third goal at Charlton in a 3-3 draw, his last goal for Burnley. Soon after, on 3rd November, we were beaten 2-1 by Orient in Brian Miller’s first home game in charge. Noble played his 301st and final game for Burnley.
Despite having reached the age of 35, he was signed by Stan Ternent for Blackpool for a fee just about £10,000 less than we’d paid for him. Incredibly, he went on to play almost 100 league games for them before finally hanging up his boots at 39.
He never became a forgotten former player and that was largely down to him having opened his sports shop in Burnley Market Hall with his wife Jenny. He became well known to many Burnley fans too young to have seen him play,
I recall going in one day and he looked particularly pleased with himself. “Tell Tony your news,” Jenny said. His news was to have been invited to play at Wembley in the pre-match game ahead of the Sherpa Van Final against Wolves in 1988. “He won’t be able to walk for a week,” she said but he looked like the cat that had got the cream.
My favourite was in 1999. He was thrilled with Sunderland’s promotion to the Premier League and looking forward to the Tyne-Wear clashes. He’d played for Newcastle so I dared to ask who he would want to win the games. “Sunlan,” he said indignantly in his strong Mackem accent. “But you played for Newcastle,” I responded.
We were talking about him on the touchline at Gawthorpe one Saturday morning and I said: “I like Peter Noble, he makes me feel young, he always calls me son.” Geoff Smith, then a coach at Burnley said: “He calls everyone son.” I laughed: “Not when he’s talking to me he doesn’t.”
I can vividly remember the last time I saw him, He and Jenny were shopping in Tesco, so he got the usual greeting of Uwe from me. I was baffled initially; I got the impression he just didn’t want to speak to me. Then I looked over again and I knew. He no longer recognised me.
His former team mates rallied to support the family. Colin Waldron told me that all he could ever say was that he’d never missed a penalty. He couldn’t recall having played football. It led to that sad day in 2017 when we all received the news that he had passed away at the age of 72.
I can still hear him greeting me with: “Alreet son,” and I can still see him converting penalties and turning in those memorable performances.
Back in September last year when I considered writing this article, I asked about him on the message board. I loved the comment from poster bobhino who wrote: “Uwe was utter class and played for Burnley like a fan would.”
I can’t think of better words to end on.Follow UpTheClarets:
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