Victory at 41,000 feet
Been a few places in my time, done a few things, been around a bit. Here and there, home and abroad, from Bacup the land that time forgot to Bournemouth the land where people just forget.
Dublin to Dubai, Manchester to Manly, Rotherham to Rochester, Pontefract to Paris, Lancaster to Las Vegas, Lisbon to Limerick, Bolton to Brussels, New Brighton to New York. All over the place with Burnley of course, Ireland, Austria and Scotland, Gillingham to Yeovil and all the big stadiums. Seen ‘em at Wembley three times. Not going to pretend for a minute that I’ve seen every game for the last 30 years, in fact far from it, but certainly been to some far-flung places.
But, best of all and such a bonus, so different, so surreal, was flying at 41,000 feet in one of those giant Airbus 380 things to Dubai and seeing them beat Southampton 2-1, whilst eating a rather nice lunch of Chicken Biryani, potato salad, and Chocolate Delice, washed down with a pleasant sauvignon blanc with a G&T to prepare the palate.
It seems to be a regular thing now this February trip to Dubai for a week. Done it twice now and presumably will be there again in Feb ‘21. The son and daughter in law are out there, object of exercise to take grandson Joe to see his dad, nice little shady villa in the suburbs filled with bougainvillea and potted plants, little park over the road with trees, picnic tables and rather nice and sizeable pool, big enough to exhaust me after just two lengths. Back of the house are cultured lawns and another park, trees and lake filled with fish. Hoopoes potter about rooting in the grass, ten a penny. Green parrots swoop and squawk overhead. Nannies look after the tots while their folks work in the city. And February is a good time to go, with the heat being acceptable.
The week before, Dubai had been filled with Prem footballers having the ‘winter break’, several have apartments there; by all accounts it had been a spotter’s paradise. Reports mentioned Aubameyang driving his family around. Well good to luck to him on that one, on roads that are terrifying. The visit of Burnley’s distinguished author (moi just in case you’re wondering who) went unnoticed, even though he was often to be seen with a copy of the Bob Lord book under his arm in various locations hoping to be spotted.
Anyway: Emirates flight at 8 50, preceded by swish limo transport from Leeds to Manchester (you get what you pay for) breakfast in the private lounge with the morning papers; they give away free copies of the Sun presumably because fewer and fewer people actually buy it. Predictions of a Southampton win from all the know-alls, eventually smoothly loading up this giant of a plane, 90 rows of seats with ten seats to a row on floor one, another floor above us for the leg-room seekers, our seats right at the back of floor one, (through choice) where there’s room to wander around behind the galley area and stretch the legs, do squat thrusts if you’ve a mind, stand at the back door and look out the window at the world way below and wonder how this bloody great thing stays up in the air.
Emirates have a huge choice of in-flight entertainment, hundreds of films and live sport. Live football! We’d sussed this out a few days earlier. Southampton v Burnley. How about that. Couple of hours before that spent watching the Brad Pitt and Di Caprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, recommended. And then the game. Settle for a draw we thought but hell a goal within a minute from a wickedly in-swinging Westwood corner. What was Ings doing, presumably letting it go by him thinking the keeper would collect. The keeper didn’t. If they don’t score, we win, was the first thought but then Ings scored a cracker. Deflation but by now the first G&T had arrived. Ah well it was nice while it lasted. The gin and the 1-0 lead. But then, second half and one of those magic moments when Hendrick played a diagonal ball forward from deep, Vydra took it on his chest, controlled, beat one man, then another and lashed home a superb shot from 20 yards. We whooped and hollered in row 87. I swear 900 people turned around to see what all the hootin’ an’ hollerin’ was all about. The guy in front of us certainly did and turned out he was a Liverpool supporter who had cottoned on to the fact that we were Burnley fans as we groaned and squirmed behind him for 90 minutes.
For Vydra it was vindication. Probably a goal and a moment he’ll remember for a long time. We certainly will. Where were you when Vydra scored his cracker at Southampton – er on a plane up at 41,000 somewhere above the Balkans at that point. Team-mates buried him alive nearly, their joy as clear and frantic as his. 34 points just two more wins for definite safety. What a start to a holiday. Something we won’t forget for a long time.
Deep inside the luggage hold somewhere down in the bowels of this monster plane were our cases. Inside one of these suitcases was packed THAT Burnley shirt, all neatly folded. Not the iconic 1970s shirt with the V down the front. The one that always makes me think of Steve Kindon. NO, this was the floral summer shirt that the shop unleashed last year. The one you wouldn’t be seen dead wearing, but we do. The one that is a fashion abomination, a crime against all good taste and humanity. The one that you can see from half a mile away, that stands out in a crowd, that makes heads turn and stare. The plan was to wear it around Dubai and see if any other Burnley fan would shout out, hey are you from Burnleh? And lo and behold one voice did indeed shout out.
It was on Day One. We’d had breakfast at the Expats Club. Daughter in law Susie was our driver for a week and knows the roads like the back of her hand. Let me explain; these aren’t roads, they are racing circuits, 12-lane Grand Prix circuits that cut through the city in all directions with flyovers, loops, tunnels, overpasses, roundabouts, exits and entrances wherever you look. These endless 12 lane motorways then have two-way service roads running alongside them and along these smaller roads are the shops, bars, restaurants, car showrooms, banks, hotels, and skyscrapers. There are no lane rules on the main superways, you weave across to whatever exit road you fancy, you cut in, you sneak in, you overtake using whatever lane is handy. If you do not know where you are going, driving is indeed a lottery. Surprisingly even though traffic bombs along at a uniform 60 we saw not one accident or pile-up. This is a testament to one of two things, either great driving, or the will of Allah.
From breakfast at the Expats club we sped along to the Old Souk area (pictured) in old Dubai near the river, an area of traditional buildings with flat roofs, shady courtyards, narrow alleyways, little shops and an enclosure where two camels were the centre of attraction besides a traditional desert tent. Lawrence of Arabia was away at lunch. I was in THE shirt. People had stared at it but no-one had as yet exclaimed ey oop are you from Burnleh?
But then a voice did call out, I was just admiring the camels, not a Burnley voice but an American voice. And it called out. ‘HEY GREAT SHIRT.’ Do you know I felt such a thrill at that moment; here we were in downtown Dubai and the shirt had been recognised. Not only that, the American voice asked, as I turned to see who this shirt enthusiast was, it added IS THAT A BURNLEY SHIRT. To say I was impressed was an understatement. Funny what a football shirt does. We greeted each other like lost friends, the two camels looked on bewildered. Turns out he was a Premier League fanatic, knew all about Burnley, watched all the games back home and truly loved the shirt. It was one of those odd days that wherever we went next, we kept bumping into him and his young family, later in the day in one of those narrow street bazaar places, lined with shops selling everything from Arab gowns, to spices. The street of a thousand tat shops. Open all hours. Ronnie Barkers in cloaks.
The trick was to get to the other end without buying anything as hands reached out to grab you, voices implored you to see the goods and one bloke asked did I need Viagra. Trouble was, I was a clear target in THE shirt in which I stood out a mile. Perhaps only sad men wear a shirt like that, this seedy salesman was probably thinking. Anyway, he wasn’t that much of a salesman because he didn’t persuade me to buy Viagra. Little did he know I don’t need the stuff, filled with Boris Bounce, and enough pep to make a souffle rise just by looking at it. Still, however, an interesting experience and should the day ever come, I know where to go, Ali Baba’s Viagra Emporium down by the water taxis.
The week passed by, the heat in February quite bearable, in fact the evenings quite cool, the car journeys exhilarating with one trip to the Rose and Crown a British Pub in midtown. Classic pub grub and chips to die for. Steak and Guinness Pie, gravy like yer granny used to make, Shepherd’s Pie, Fish ‘n Chips, the Rose and Crown Burger, Mixed Grill, Bangers and Mash, Heinz baked beans, chicken nuggets, Blackberry Pie and Apple Crumble with custard. Huge TV screens showing every sport under the sun. Lots of Aston Villa shirts and memorabilia, the owner a Villa fan.
Funny who else you bump into when you least expect it. We had a couple of nights at the Jebel Ali Beach Resort Hotel. A super-swish place on the beach, acres and acres of facilities, golf, riding, swimming, boating, tennis, you name it, gigantic buffet breakfasts, my favourite kind. Miles out of town, an hour by car, or a day by camel. And who do we bump into in the lift but an Accrington supporter in his shirt. Just an ordinary Accy shirt, nothing fancy like my beauty, but instantly recognisable nonetheless. Wonderful things football shirts, a way of striking up a conversation with a total stranger, an immediate introduction, the football bond clear, the common interests, and the chat about how your team is doing, are they safe, are they going to win the next game, and in Accy’s case what a fabulous little club it is, a Lancashire miracle story, a club to warm the heart, that there is indeed good in the game and that in some rare places, the word greed, is unknown.
And so, we said farewell to Dubai, this glittering, shoppers’ paradise city of skyscrapers, concrete, giant shopping Malls, super highways, sandstorms, 7star hotels, luxury, Lamborghinis, Viagra, theatres, water parks, celebrities, attractions too many to mention; and took the overnight flight back to Manchester. Somehow, I stayed awake and watched three films. Downton the Movie, frothy silly nonsense. Joker, macabre and gruesome; and Harriet, great film, the tale of slavery and freedom, a true story of an amazing woman. Breakfast was a kind of omelette made of rubber.
Stepping into the wet, cold Manchester morning was a shock to the system. Dense black storm clouds above as we traversed the Pennines. 50mph speed limits because of the howling winds, tales of floods and devastation. Just a bit too late to head straight over to Burnley and the Bournemouth game. We did contemplate it but glad we didn’t as disoriented drowsiness took over once we were home. But by all accounts, what a cracker of a game we missed.
VAR again the star of the show and much grumbling afterwards from Eddie and Bournemouth. One decision really controversial, was it arm or shoulder, but the second quite clear cut. Without Pope’s early saves and VAR this might well have been a different story but after that Burnley ran riot in the second half and how they didn’t score six remains a testament to the Bournemouth keeper.
VAR at Stockley not the only VAR in town. We have our own VAR force, Vydra and Rodriguez. They were a delight to watch when we saw the extended highlights. Burnley have to play a different game with them in the side, ball to feet, not ball to bonce, and inevitably it was Vydra who scored again, the Burnley first. After all this time, things decide to go right for him. Neat, nimble, pacey, skilful, elusive, he could have had three. The delight his team-mates show for him is clear, the supporters have taken to him. And what a bonus for the lad, his goal was the February Premier League goal of the month. And we saw it at 41,000 feet. Just brilliant.Share this page :