A new hero is born

Having signed for Burnley JB had hit out at Premier clubs that hadn’t been prepared to take a gamble on him. His attitude was clear. Any club in the bottom half would have found him a good addition to their team. By ignoring him they were being ‘lazy.’

Perhaps, he thought, that having him at their clubs would have been like inviting Charles Manson or Fred West into the building. He was being judged on past reputation, he argued, rather than on pure footballing ability. It’s a ridiculous legacy I have, he said. They tune in to things I did in 2006 and 2007, rather than his last two or three years and how his family circumstances have changed. 

He stressed he had changed from being a single lad with a lot of baggage and being in trouble to starting a family and changing his life around.

He would most certainly have signed for West Ham but it was West Ham that pulled the plug on the deal after complaints from fans and allegedly players too. But a closed door is a new opportunity and maybe he fits Burnley better than West Ham.

"Lancaster Castle" by Photo by Tom Oates. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lancaster_Castle.jpg#/media/File:Lancaster_Castle.jpg

At Turf Moor there would be bridge building and he was quick to say that his previous tongue in cheek comments about Burnley were meant in good humour.

The one about ‘at least not having to live in Burnley,’ (hardly earth-shattering for anyone to say) was a throwaway comment that attempted  to defuse less charitable abuse hurled at him by Burnley fans on social media. Let’s be honest, it’s a town that can be easily stereotyped, a place of chimneys and cobbled streets and tiny terraced houses populated by people that wear clogs and cloth caps. Brass Bands play background music on street corners. People still eat fish and chips from newspapers. Nothing could be further from the truth; Brass Bands only play in the town centre now.

Even so, he said, ‘I could have done without saying that.’ But, he added, irony and humour on twitter is all too often missing. People find offence where none is intended. Things that he finds funny, other people don’t. On radio he revealed that he sees Turf Moor as an intimidating and threatening place to play. He thrives on that. Off the field tweeting is simply him standing his ground just like he would on the pitch.

But let’s face it; the guy had just had a bottle of coke thrown at him during a game at Burnley. He had made no song and dance about it and just got on with the game. Had he gone down and rolled around the consequences for Burnley might have been serious. But the incident quickly faded.

The spate of cruciate ligament injuries, five in 18 months, was unprecedented. People asked why? Were these footballers now like athletes, just too finely tuned to reach peak performance? Were they like a Stradivarius violin? Tweak a string just that bit too much and TWANGGG it would go.

Or was it more to do with modern pitches that had little ‘give’ or softness in them? But was it something more sinister? Had some Blackburn Rovers fan climbed Pendle Hill and cursed the club? Britain’s leading white witch was in no doubt it could be exactly that.

Kev Carlyon saw these injuries as no coincidence and set out to counter them and whilst many might scoff, I didn’t. After all, my great grandmother X 10 was Alice Nutter of Roughlee and hanged at Lancaster Castle charged with witchcraft.  It’s in the family. I take it seriously. Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play.

‘The situation goes beyond coincidence,’ insisted Kev, explaining that the spell could go back at least 20 years and could even begin to affect other areas of the club, the ground, finances, fans, other members of staff. The proximity of Pendle Hill was significant.

Kev therefore called upon all his powers to cure the problems, powers that he insists helped Liverpool to win that memorable European Cup Final when after being 3-0 down they went on to win. ‘I performed my Hocus Pocus,’ he said, ‘and it worked.’

His Burnley Hocus Pocus incantation is no secret:

‘To this circle I now add my spirit and now as all these elements are combined, I purify and energise a circle of power. So may it be done. I now ask the element of nature to reach out and allow me to perform this spell to both protect and reach out to the ground, now used by Burnley FC. And as I reach out I protect the club from evil intent.  I now reach out to Burnley FC top both protect and increase the luck of all players. Whoever has placed these malicious and demonic energies, may the elements rebound this to the place it came from. On this day I ask that luck and health comes top all, that use the football ground, including members of staff, the players and fans attending matches. May it be that by Halloween, these repetitive knee injuries are stopped. And may the energies that I invoke start a run of increased luck for Burnley. May it be that a psychic wall is placed across the goalmouth of Burnley FC each time they play and a winning streak be played upon the club so that its fortunes return.’

If I’d known this chant 60 years ago I could have used it to stop my mother burning the sausages time after time.

Earlier this year I actually visited Lancaster Castle and hugged the wall of the tower where Alice Nutter was incarcerated. I looked at the ancient wooden door that she would have entered and then climbed the winding stairs to her cell high up in the tower. The rain was pouring down, the skies black with clouds. It was a forbidding and gloomy place. ‘Poor dear,’ I muttered to myself.  What must she have thought as she entered seeing real daylight for the last time? She was doomed.

Sheffield Wednesday were in town and things over there were on the up. New owners had injected new purpose. They’d brought in loads of players and a continental manager. Hordes of Yorkshire folk descended on Burnley and Turf Moor. Steve Carlyon’s psychic goalmouth wall would be under real threat since Wednesday were a team that had the hex over Burnley at Turf Moor for some considerable time, 15 years and 8 games. White witch or no white witch rooting for us, the omens were not auspicious. It was a game made for Joey but he was deemed still unfit and the club’s sports science guys were monitoring his every footstep especially during the 90 minutes he did play at last against Middlesbrough.

Mercifully Hebden Bridge town centre on our journey over was still untouched by diggers and contractors. It was the only stretch of the road between Halifax and Todmorden that had been untouched by roadworks in the last three years so somewhere some planner must have thought, ‘Ey up we’ll soon fix that.’ It will soon be dug up.

Something else that was dug up as good as 20 years to the day was the old Longside.  Tears were shed when it came down and the wreckers moved in to dismantle the huge roof and all the concrete terraces. Instrumental in overseeing the construction of the new stands was Clive Holt who also kept a camera record of all the different stages. Clive says he got his bad hips from the number of times he clambered up the new emerging stands to take pictures. In 1946 when football resumed after the war only the front ten yards were concrete terraced and the rest was just earth. Over the next few years more terracing was added and then for season 1954/55 the roof was built at a cost of £20,000. The first game with spectators properly sheltered was against Cardiff City and a Les Shannon goal won the game 1-0 in front of over 27,000 spectators. For the next 40 years until 1995 the rest is history as they say and anyone who stood on the Longside whether it was in the heady days of winning teams, or the awful days of ignominy in the old Fourth Division, will have their own stories to tell.

The half-time guest was Brian Pilkington a player that thrilled a packed ground during many a game in the 50s and then the title season of 59/60. A memorable Longside night was capped by the two goals he scored against Hamburg in the European Cup. Folks who never saw that Burnley side will see the names of these legends; and on days like today might well wonder exactly who they were and what all the fuss is about, since they are only seen now in their fragile and in some cases fading old age. Well: people like me can say they were true greats and today are among the real legends.

Although memories of the Longside remain strong and vivid, what is seldom mentioned are the old floodlights that stretched up into the sky like four Eiffel Towers, one in each corner. They were just as iconic as the Longside itself; on misty nights acting as beacons as if guiding us to the hidden ground, visible long before you arrived. And there is the old story that in the good years Bob Lord had them switched on early when there was a night game so that townspeople would know there was a game. And what night games there were to treasure and remember of European nights, cup replays and wonderful league games. And what misery they highlighted too in the wilderness years, games that would have been better played in the shadows.

The Wednesday end of the ground was a sell-out, every ticket they had been allocated, sold, and the crowd a healthy 17,000+ and the cash rolled in. A third of the Cricket Field end was empty however, in readiness for the MK Dons game when it would be filled with home supporters and every one of the 1,500 available tickets sold.

Make no mistake Burnley played badly for long spells. Dyche himself said after the game that they were far from the real deal. And yet astonishingly they won 3-1.  With 15 minutes to go not a person in the ground could have been expecting two more goals from a struggling Burnley side and an improbable win. We left almost laughing at the absurdity of it as Wednesday threw the game away with rank carelessness after dominating the second half for the first 30 minutes.

For those 30 minutes they had poured forward slicing through the Burnley midfield with impunity. By hook or by crook Burnley defended and beat the ball away on numerous occasions; you wondered not if they would score but when. Up front for Burnley there was just one attempt at goal to write home about when a good shot from Boyd was deflected, was heading in, but a goalkeeper’s flailing foot directed it away. 

Too many Burnley players were as good as anonymous; the Boyd that rampaged and ran at defences last season is missing. The ball was hoofed and thwacked from the back four over the heads of midfield time and again in the hope that Vokes or Gray might do something. Kightly floated like a butterfly and stung like one. Vokes barely won a ball in the air. Gray was the one that showed promise when the ball was played to his feet. Sadly that was all too infrequent.

Meanwhile Wednesday were slick and pacy, neat and busy and their giant centre-forward gave Keane and Duff a torrid time. And yet oddly, Heaton had little to do except for a shot he saved that was fired straight at his midriff.

At half-time it was 1-1. Danny Blanchflower always used to say Northern Ireland tried to equalise first and early on that’s exactly what Burnley did with a superb Jones free kick from 25 yards that he floated around the wall and beat the goalkeeper. Wednesday got theirs when Keane was off the field, their beanpole centre-forward rising high above Mee to send a bullet header past Heaton from a pinpoint cross. You could have been forgiven for wondering just how would Burnley manage to score a second, they were by then so ineffective.

In the second half Kightly went off to be replaced by Matt Taylor. There just happened to be a free kick to take some 30 yards out. We all oohed and rubbed our hands. With his very first kick Taylor was on target but the ‘keeper collected easily.

Just12 minutes left and all of us thinking a draw would be a good point. But step up Mr Gray. He latched onto a ball and sped away veering to the right; then he sent a perfect ball across the area to the incoming Taylor. At speed and without altering his stride Taylor from about 12 yards out volleyed the ball home with his left instep. We were open mouthed and then ecstatic at the brazenness of this unexpected lead. The players went wild.

And then with a minute to go the best moment of the game as Gray nicked the ball from a careless defender and suddenly he was clear, still with work to do and slotting past the goalkeeper. The ground erupted. Gray who had battled all afternoon had the reward he deserved and we Burnley fans whilst acknowledging that this win was a tad fortuitous, also remembered the old creed, that the side that makes and takes chances is the one that will win the game.

Three wins and into the top six, thanks largely to Mr Andre Gray on his home debut. Step forward sir, arise, our new hero.