Curtain comes down at Turf Moor

John Francis in action during the Turf Moor leg of the play off semi-final
In the last eleven seasons we have three times hosted Plymouth and twice the crowds have turned up in numbers with neither side knowing which division they could end up in the following season.

Both times ultimately things went the Clarets way, the first of these coming in 1994 when we were paired in the Division Two play off semi-final first leg on a Sunday in May.

We had won the corresponding league game earlier in the season 4-2, the day when Nathan Peel came on as a substitute and scored his only two Burnley goals, one of them a superb volley from the edge of the box, past Argyle player boss Peter Shilton.

It had been a season where winning at home had proved relatively easy, seventeen times we had picked up maximum points, and with the poor away form it was vital we won this game and took a lead to Home Park.

Shilton knew that and they came for a draw and achieved it with a ninety minute performance that I would describe as physical if I wished to be polite. In truth they played like a set of thugs, had Steve McCall sent off, but achieved their goal in holding us to a 0-0 draw.

This look back is at home games so we should not be concerned with the second leg, but it would not be right and proper if we didn’t recall that it was the night when Jimmy Mullen’s Claret & Armada set sail for Wembley, a night when John Francis, not for the first time, became a big Burnley hero.

We won that Wembley final against Stockport and so we went our separate ways, and didn’t meet again for three seasons, by which time Adrian Heath, who had set up those two John Francis goals was managing the Clarets.

It came during a run of seven successive home wins for us, and this one was won 2-1 with goals from Kurt Nogan and a David Eyres penalty. The win took us to tenth whilst Plymouth were in fifteenth place. By the time we next met on the Turf things were somewhat different for both clubs.

An even bigger crowd than the one that had witnessed the play off game four years earlier were there as Chris Waddle’s Burnley took on a Plymouth side now managed by Mick Jones who had replaced Neil Warnock.

Simply either or both of us could go down to the basement division but no matter what the result we couldn’t both survive. It was without doubt the most vital game the club had played since the Orient game eleven years earlier, not as vital but the last thing we needed or wanted was another spell in that bottom division.

Andy Cooke - got the two goals that kept us up
The game featured three players who are now playing football at our current level. Glen Little was in the Burnley side whilst the visitors line up included Paul Wotton, who will be in their side again tomorrow, and Darren Currie who will play for Ipswich in our next home game.

Attacking the cricket field end in the first half we got the start we wanted when Andy Cooke headed in from a right wing cross with only twelve minutes gone. The tension was lifted slightly but it wasn’t going to be an easy game and after Paul Weller had crashed a shot against the bar Mark Saunders, who has just recently left Gillingham, scored an equaliser midway through the half.

It was fairly even stuff after that but it was the Clarets who sneaked ahead again just a few minutes before half time and again it was Andy Cooke on the end of a cross. The second half is something of a blur but I do remember just before the end us almost conceding when Mark Winstanley failed to clear, but we held on and Plymouth were relegated. For us, we had an agonising wait for the delayed game between Bristol Rovers and Brentford to finish.

Rovers had been reduced to ten men early in the game but were hanging on at 1-1, we needed them to get a result. Just after our game finished, the Turf lifted as news filtered through that Barry Hayles had put Rovers back in front.

That was the final result, we stayed up, Chris Waddle disappeared up the tunnel and we’ve never seen him since, and Burnley and Plymouth went their separate ways again.

It was to be a full seven years before they came to Turf Moor again, once more for the last home game of the season in April last year. This time there was no danger of us going down although it was still possible, albeit unlikely, for the Pilgrims to be relegated.

The game was hardly a classic, neither side played well, and it all came to life in the closing minutes when we scored twice. Firstly James O’Connor put Ade Akinbiyi through but he was brought down by Plymouth defender David Worrell for a clear penalty.

Last home appearance for Gary Cahill
There was a long delay before the penalty could be taken as Ade and Plymouth keeper Luke McCormack decided to go beyond discussing the decision from referee Bates, and they had to be separated. Ade pushed the ball into the keeper’s face, the keeper then pushed him to the ground, and Bates showed some common sense and only gave them yellow cards.

Eventually up stepped the unlikely figure of Jean Louis-Valois to convert the with three minutes to go and we expected that to be the last home goal of the season and a 1-0 win. But it was not to be and in stoppage time we doubled the lead, just as we were trying to get a player off the field.

It was Gary Cahill’s last Turf Moor appearance and Steve Cotterill was frantically trying to replace him with Michael Duff to allow him a standing ovation, but the ball wouldn’t go out of play.

When it finally did, it was 2-0 and again O’Connor was involved. He picked the ball up around the half way line and failed to make obvious passes to the left and then more so to the right for John Oster. He just kept going and finally took the ball past the last defender and crashed the ball past McCormack into the goal for what was the last Turf Moor goal of the season.

The crowd had saluted the players back in 1998 after our escape from relegation, this time they gave them, and manager Steve Cotterill, a fantastic ovation as they came back out. And I don’t think Gary Cahill will ever forget the ovation he received at the end of his last home appearance for the Clarets.