We’re Just a Small Town in Europe
Huge, intricate flags waving? Check.
Overly flamboyant hand waving at any controversial refereeing decision? Check.
Couple of flares? Check.
Yes, now the European adventure has truly begun.
And just as it has begun, the perceived wisdom is that Burnley’s European adventure now hangs by a thread. But the phrase ‘strong jaw’ wasn’t coined for nothing and while that throwaway comment has lingered, I suspect the great Greek philosophers would also have something to say about throwing in the towel.
Indeed, the Burnley fans unanimously belted out ‘We are the Longside Burnley, We are the Longside Burnley’ for the final 20 minutes of the game. This wasn’t a celebration of how far we have come in this competition or a surrender to the natural order of things. No, this was a roar of defiance: We are not yet done.
Compared to our illustrious Greek opponents – veterans of such nights – we had no right to be here. And yet we had, have, every right to continue this marvellous adventure.
The first half we prodded and probed and had deserved our away goal but going down to 10 men in controversial circumstances provided a huge test. Thereafter, Olympiacos did not play the role of domestic cat, toying with their wounded prey. Instead, they went on a full frontal assault, straight for the throat and threatened to completely devour us.
But we battled, kicked and snarled until, finally, they had decided enough was enough for the last few minutes. Even the intensity of the flag waving eventually seemed to fade, the pole lazily floating through the humid air as if assuming a position of casual indifference to the events on the pitch. Perhaps the smallest hint that the home side felt it was ‘job done’?
Pre-game, many fans had gathered in the large, airy outdoor pub that was the recommended meet point. Soon enough, one of the bars had run out of beer, leading to the incongruous sight of Burnley fans singing disdainfully about our nearest rivals, only pausing to sip their gin and tonic.
It was there that I met and chatted with Brian, 81 years young, having watched his first Burnley game in 1950. This was his first outing to watch Burnley abroad and he was going to enjoy it, no matter what. Brian had seen Jimmy McIlroy in his pomp and our fans, most far too young to have seen that great man play, made sure that he would be remembered with several renditions of ‘There’s only one Jimmy McIlroy’.
The journey to the stadium was much quicker than Istanbul, Olympiacos being faithfully rooted in the heart of Piraeus. They may be the Athenian aristocrats of Greek football but this is a gritty, raw club, far from the refined riches found at the top of the Premier League.
Indeed, it seemed that every alleyway and wall surrounding the ground had some sort of graffiti paying homage to our opponents.
The home fans like to say of the Karaiskakis Stadium, ‘Our paradise, your hell’, so intimidating an atmosphere they try to create. And immediately on entering the stadium 90 minutes before kick off, the atmosphere began to build.
I’ve always felt that a set of fans choice of football songs reveals a great window on to a culture. The self-deprecating corner of Burnley fans playfully sang out ‘You’re only here cos of Burnley’ and ‘We’re just a small town in Europe’ while passionate, intense and energetic Greek fans would respond with ‘Legend, My God, My Olympiacos’, their fans well practiced in creating a feverish atmosphere on nights like this. The clichés could go on; the atmosphere created very much how you would expect and it was intoxicating.
We had experienced the all action Battle of Britain at Aberdeen, the somewhat lifeless technical skirmish in Istanbul; this was something different and our players appeared to use the atmosphere to further energise them in the sapping heat. No surprises there.
Eventually the final whistle went and while the Burnley fans kept on singing long after the final whistle, the energy levels were waning. We had given it our all, backing our team for a full 3 hours inside the stadium.
We can’t or won’t lay claim to Turf Moor being ‘Our paradise, your hell’, Burnley fans not given over to hyperbole. But we can make sure our opponents know they’re in for a game next week. I can guarantee the players will. After that, who knows? Maybe this adventure will carry on just a little longer. If not, it’s been a hell of a ride.Share this page :