Fifty Shades of Frustration

But I still think of the Ings diving header at Old Trafford and Arfield’s magical weaving run and goal against QPR. Goal of the season is going to be a tough one to choose. Sordell’s at Spurs in the Cup was a bit special.

Does Gordon Strachan actually know where Burnley is? The omission of Arfield and Boyd from his latest Scotland squad was baffling. Scotland must have some cracking players to keep them out. I looked at some of the names in his midfield and thought ‘who the hell is that?’ It’s embarrassing. Arfield against City was a revelation absolutely bossing the midfield and surging forward time and again. Did any of us think he would have run the show like he did? Boyd was just Boyd, the Running Man, his second half was sensational. In his struggling days he used to work in a sweet shop to help make ends meet. Who says sweets are bad for you?

At Southampton they were the two best Burnley players yet again.

Baffling that George Boyd is not in the Scotland squad

What strikes you after a game like the win over City was how the news and the impact flash around the world in not just minutes but seconds. From the USA to China, from Indonesia to India; from the Gulf States to Australia; NewsNow was filled with reports in newspapers in just about every country you could find on the globe.  Twitter is astonishing, with a photograph of the Indonesia Clarets holding up a huge banner. And these weren’t English expats out there, these were Indonesian guys beaming away holding it up.

Friday morning at 10 the coach departed for Bournemouth, the stopping off place for the Southampton game. On the way over from Leeds, the hilltops were lined with people waiting for the eclipse. Cloud spoiled it save for an occasional glimpse.

The feeling was great on the journey down, optimism high, but realistic. If City had come and thumped us 6-1 again we’d have been thinking what on earth are we doing, why are we bothering. But this was the opposite feeling, especially as we’d seen the horrendous final 9 games that Hull face, seen that Sunderland are imploding and Villa are by no means out of the fight just yet.  All of us were saying a prayer that Poyet would stay and continue to preside over the downward slide. Sadly it wasn’t to be. He was sacked after the 4-0 win by Villa. We could only hope they would re-appoint di Canio. They didn’t and appointed Dick Advocaat which used to be a favourite drink in the seventies when we were young and sophisticated. Advocaat and Babycham, Berni Inns, that was the way to live back then, in our flared hipster trousers and kipper ties out dancing on a Saturday Night like John Travolta.

It was a special trip because it was the possible swansong for Joyce and Stefan Haluk who have run these Supporters Club trips for an age. I’ve maybe been on ten and loved them all, win or lose, and there have been some memorable moments including staying in the same hotel as the team twice and won both those games. The win at Plymouth in hot sun in the 2008/09 season was the beginning of the run-in to promotion and a stunning Blake strike settled the game. A win at West Ham against all the odds one year sticks in the mind.  Pre-season trips to Scotland and Austria were highlights. The most depressing was a defeat at Bristol City. The saddest thing is that it is a dwindling band of people who now make these weekend trips as several have passed away. We miss them still.

Claret Gunnar Lorgen and his wife Grethe emailed from Aalesund. They have known Fredrik Ulvestad, born and bred in Aalesund and his father for many years. Gunnar was sports editor of the local newspaper until he retired. Now freelance he wrote a piece for the local paper about Burnley and Ulvestad that was published on the day of the win over City. His interest in Burnley goes back to when he was a boy and he wanted to follow an English team when results began to appear in the paper. I liked this bit of his letter:

‘I have been to Burnley only three times, first in 1974, watching Burnley play two home games in two days during Easter. First beating Birmingham City, and then drawing v Leicester. Then in 1978 I took my wife Grethe to Burnley, we watched Burnley beat Cardiff 4-2. The Burnley Express newspaper made a story of our visit with a picture of us together with the great manager Harry Potts and the player Billy Rodaway. Unfortunately I never saw this newspaper myself. On this visit we also met Steve Kindon and Peter Noble, great guys. Especially Steve who took us into the inner circles of Turf Moor and served us strong drinks, what a rascal! Many years went by until in 2010 we went to Burnley again when they were in the Premier League. We attended the home game v Wolves on March 13th and lost 1-2. Unbelievably Robbie Blake was a reserve! The team was bad, no spirit, and the atmosphere so low. I guess it had something to do with the manager Mr Laws. It was more interesting watching the squirrels in Thompson Park. It was a sad story for the football back then.’

Gunnar’s recollections are a reminder of the difference between then and now. The 2009 team, deflated and dispirited had given up the ghost. Their team spirit left with Coyle, said Jensen. The season petered out with a final win coming on the last day when it didn’t matter. But this season with nine games to go the spirit is intact, the will to win as strong as ever, the players still growing and improving, their belief strong again.

Belief was tested to the limit at Southampton. Frustrations grew. After a superb first half that could easily have seen Burnley go in two or three goals ahead, the second half was a damp squib. This became a day of frustration as a substitute goalkeeper who hadn’t played for a year in the first team took centre stage, kept Southampton in the game with three huge saves, whilst at the other end Southampton scored as a ball ping ponged around, took two deflections and was then lashed into the net.

The frustrations piled up. Saints manager Koeman made a half-time change in personnel and formation that strengthened his midfield and took the sting out of all Burnley’s attacking play in the second half. How frustrating that Burnley can never do this because they just don’t have the players on the bench.

After the game you could feel and hear Sean Dyche’s frustrations. Another penalty, a good penalty claim, not given when Boyd was felled in the area. That’s three in the last three games, said Dyche. It’s as if referee’s make an assumption now that 50% of penalties will be dives so it’s pot luck if you get one awarded or not. All you could surmise was that Boyd’s genuine fall looked theatrical to the referee; but it was no dive.

Poor finishing cost us the game, said Dyche. That’s debateable. From where we were they looked more like damned good saves. Kelvin Davies, on for the injured Forster, must be 55 if he’s a day he’s been around that long; he was even a team-mate of Sean Dyche years ago, and on he came and gave a masterclass. You just knew he would when he came on; one save from Ings and two from Vokes all in the first half when Burnley looked good, had us beating the air with exasperation.

Nothing goes right for Ings so his frustrations mount up and sadly a core of supporters find Ings himself frustrating. He needs a goal and soon, and supporters who grumble need to get off his back. It won’t help in the slightest. An on-form Ings took Man United apart just a few weeks ago. The talent is there. There was a suggestion of a penalty on him too when he was dragged down.

You might have thought the game was set up for him and Vokes to score as they returned to their old club. But Koeman was too wily and his changes saw Vokes and Ings slowly disappear from the game. At this level there are managers that can analyse the game while it goes on; their tweaks and decisions change games. Pardew was another at Turf Moor.

What could Burnley do? Bring on Wallace and the Jut for cameo appearances and Sordell for just two minutes. When the strength of the bench is Wallace, the Jut and Sordell for a Premier League game then you know you’re not really going to dramatically alter anything. Willing, good championship players the three of them, but Premier League, I think not. Southampton coasted to the win barely troubled in the second half.

Frustrating: course it is when you see that Southampton were not that brilliant a side. Good, organised, neat, always had a man wide, passed the ball around, but decidedly average in the first half. This was a winnable game until half-time.

The game in fact was gifted to them. There were chances to clear the ball in the build-up to the first goal. And the second was Shackell helplessly knocking the ball into his own net when a hard cross cannoned of his knee. It could have ricocheted anywhere but when your luck is out, it goes in the net. His face had frustration writ large, all over it.

We came away well miffed and the sense of frustration was doubled when MOTD pointed out how unlucky Burnley had been, that they did deserve something from the game, that the tackle on Boyd was most certainly a penalty and that Davis had made those  blinding saves in the first half. And this wasn’t the rambling Savage garbling his opinions; these were the senior first-team squad, Lineker, Shearer and Neville.

Frustrating too, as all the other results came in by Sunday teatime. As we lost, so did Villa and Leicester. Pearson was at it again when he described referee Mike Dean as an arrogant man.  Pot, kettle, black, call, re-arrange these words.

Sunderland lost at West Ham as we had a few snifters in the hotel bar before dinner once we found a bit of space. There was a rugby group in, there was a 30-strong stag night and for good measure there was a hen party. One or two of the rugby group got slowly more and more intoxicated. One of them tried to get us involved in a singalong. The resistance was stiff; Barry (a born leader) and Harry (a former headteacher and therefore a man of some clout) were having none of it. The senior OAPs of the Supporters Club were firm but friendly. But these rugby guys were big; the Burnley Suicide Squad we were not.

The hen group tottered about on heels that could have doubled as stepladders and disappeared down to a basement disco. Every now and then they re-surfaced to fill up their glasses and staggered back down again. The word ‘rough’ would not go amiss. We waited expectantly for stag party to meet hen party with a view to mingling, but it never happened. The stag-men were more interested in going out on a pub crawl. An opportunity for high jinks and wasted.

Until this I always thought Bournemouth was a place of quiet gentility, retired folk and not much to do of an evening. Apparently not so.

Hull and QPR lost as we had dinner in Stratford on the way home. All six bottom teams lost. How frustrating then that Burnley couldn’t pick up the point they so thoroughly deserved at St Mary’s for that first-half performance.  

Just eight games to go, this is one hell of a finale that is building up, we all agreed on the coach back to the hotel. How frustrating that Burnley couldn’t build on the precious three points won in the City game; but how grateful we were that all those other teams around us lost.

A weekend then of bright sun but chilly air; me and Mrs T sat on a bench in the sun down by the beach on Saturday morning before the game like Dick and Liddy (apparently a Yorkshire-ism but the origin is unclear) thinking of what to do in Bournemouth when yer 70. Sitting on a bench in the sun by the beach seemed to be the only option.

The journey home via Bicester and one of those utterly hell-on-earth shopping retail outlets: it was filled with vacant-eyed zombie like shoppers from the Far East, the Middle East and from Middle Europe, coachloads of them. English voices were hard to find. We headed for the old village High Street ten minutes’ walk away and sat in warm sun outside a café making a slice of carrot cake last an hour and reading the papers. That’s something else to do when yer 70 and from Yorkshire. And the cake and coffee was a special offer – result.

Others headed to the pubs like us unable to face the retail outlet rugby scrums though I did notice one of the ladies came back to the coach with a Pandora jewellery bag. I’d banned Mrs T from going in there. Hell: I’d already paid £4 for a programme at Southampton the day before. Four quid, I felt quite faint. And yet more frustration carrying this great thing around all afternoon – a programme so ridiculously big it needed a seat of its own.

Frustration the word of the day but a great weekend, they always are, thanks Joyce, thanks Stefan. My Mother Shipton prediction remains and I’m sure Nostradamus said it as well. This will go to the last day of the season so our Villa tickets are booked. Unquestionably it’s still all to play for. If we pull this off, what a party there’ll be.