Undetectable Injections?

Meanwhile it was being suggested in the Times that QPR were ready to replace Harry Redknapp with Laudrup; that Harry was ready to quit anyway after their third consecutive defeat. On the Football League Show after the Forest game (the usual 2 minutes coverage) Claridge still seemed bemused that Burnley could still be up there. There seemed to be this universal view that at some stage it would all implode and Burnley would fade away.

One Forest blogger however, Steve Wright, was worth reading on the 'Seat Pitch' site. He clearly loves all things Burnley:

The drive from Nottinghamshire is a pleasure. I have a soft spot for the Calder Valley which bristles with subversive creativity and the dramatic geography as you wind through Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden is a beautiful distraction from the pressure of a promotion-seeking campaign in the Championship. Our hosts whisked us up to the Crooked Billet pub in nearby Worsthorne. The Billet is a free house and Burnley's CAMRA Pub of the Year in 2013, serving an excellent range of ales including those from the nearby Worsthorne Brewery from whom Billet Gold is a tasty session beer. They also provide impressive value with their match-day offer of pie, mushy peas and a taxi to the ground for £4. No wonder landlords Alison Leigh and Paul Miller have turned the pub's fortunes round since buying it from Punch Taverns. An away trip to Burnley has a lot going for it and if you haven't made the trip before I do recommend it.

Sometimes you pick up a good bargain on eBay. Just such a one was the August 1973 Observer Sunday Supplement I snaffled up for just a few quid. It surprised me that I was the only bidder. Other avid Burnley collectors must have been snoozing. This is the supplement that has the big feature on the 1973 team that had just won promotion back to the top division. One page out of the four was devoted to the irascible Bob Lord. There were the usual paragraphs about Burnley the town and the cobbled streets, plus honourable mentions for several players but the best and longest was devoted to Leighton James. But the one thing that provided the most intrigue was the mention for a non-players. 

Carol Sparks photographed at Turf Moor

It was Carol Sparks, a leggy beauty who besported herself on the old terrace steps in one photograph in a claret and blue bikini. It clearly wasn't just London that had the hot babes of the day. Apparently claret and blue bikinis were on sale in the club shop. Did Hilda Lord wear one? But I set to thinking about this fascinating look at yesteryear. Who was Carol Sparks? Who is she today? Where is she today? Does she still live in the town? Today she will be in her late 50s or very early 60s.  Does anyone remember Carol Sparks or know her today? Could we manage to trace her?

Derby arrived at Burnley with just one win against any of the top six sides. Burnley hadn't lost any of the previous 9 games against them.  Opta statistics showed that Burnley had the highest proportion of goals scored in open play in the Championship. You could interpret that in two ways; one that they were brilliant at moving the ball around sweetly and then smacking it home, or two, they just weren't very good at set-pieces and corners. There is some truth in both of them.

Over 3,000 Derby fans descended on Turf Moor creating a true big-game feel. Football Focus had turned up in the week to feature the build-up. The game was the main feature on the Football League Show. Now there's a novelty. At last there was an attendance of over 17,000.  Meanwhile a number of championship clubs were involved in a legal challenge to the Financial Fair Play rules; no surprise there then, especially when they were thought to be Leicester City, QPR and Blackburn Rovers. Vince Cable had been in town speaking and said that if the rest of the country was on the up as much as Burnley, there'd be no recession. In the pubs, clubs and messageboards the consensus was Burnley needed four points from the upcoming Derby and Blackburn games.

There was apprehension amongst fans in the build-up. Win it and a five point gap would open up. For the sixth game in a row, very unusual in today's football world, Burnley fielded the same team with senior-citizen Duff at centre-back but playing like a 20-year old. It was good to see the Mirror featuring him in a special article. The Duffs of the football world receive little publicity. They've been around the block a hundred times, but they are at the non-glamour end of the game. Solid, reliable, loyal, dependable, professional, well-spoken with the wisdom of 20 years in the game at his beck and call; nobody would merit another crack at the big-time more than Duffo. A £30,000 snip from Cheltenham ten years ago, he's been one of the best investments of the decade. It's thought that he is the only player ever to win promotions through EIGHT divisions of football in the correct ascending order, starting with non-league and then up to the Premier League.

They were still digging the road up in Luddenden Foot. I'd driven through on Thursday as well and that time there was a double whammy. They were lopping trees AND digging holes. The queue went back almost to Halifax. On Derby day it was just the one hole. March 1st and a beautiful Spring-like day with stretches of the grass verges along the roads filled with crocuses.

Outside the ground the crowds walking in were vibrant and excited, albeit nervous too. Inside when the teams came out Derby looked ominously good in their white shirts and black shorts. I've always liked seeing Burnley in a black and white away kit. And Derby were indeed ominous in the first 20 minutes or so of the game, crisp, full of movement, neat with their passing. They looked a good side. But admiration and respect slowly turned to dislike and annoyance at their petulant and sly tactics. Over and again a Burnley player would find himself on the floor more often than not clutching his head. Three or four times crafty elbows went in. And Martin, their centre-forward displayed a petulance and niggliness that would cost him and Derby dear.

Slowly but surely Burnley weathered the pressure and got themselves into the game once their passing game emerged. Jones and Marney became the fulcrum; Jones' display in particular that of a master craftsman. Who knows if Derby had been told to rough Burnley up, shove them out of their neat stride, give them a few bruises and a few banged heads. But that's what they proceeded to do; but to no avail as Burnley dominated. The Burnley opening goal was a Barcelona goal. Forget the old book title It's Burnley Not Barcelona, a new book might be called Burnley just about Barcelona. There was the same pressing game, the same high tempo hustling and hassling; the forcing back of opposition with pressure exerted on any opposition player with the ball, and all of them as fit as a butcher's dog. Then the strike of a cobra, blink and you miss it. Kightly fed Ings, Ings inside the box, Ings flicks the ball up in the air to Jones who controls it on his knee and then as the ball comes down volleys it, and it loops in a perfect parabola into the roof of the net leaving Grant clutching at thin air. The ground erupted. The noise was heard in Bacup.

By this time Derby forward Martin had been booked, and could have been booked several times over for other niggly indiscretions. Maybe the ref had had enough of him but when he fell in the penalty area he was carded again and then given the red. It was contentious. Film showed he slipped. Was there contact with Trippier? But then he appealed for the penalty. So did the referee card him for thinking the slip was a dive? Or did he know full well it was just a slip, so he carded him for appealing for the penalty. Whatever the reason, Martin got his just comeuppance.

In for halftime 1-0 up and Derby one man down; Easy Street we might have thought in the second half but Easy Street it was not. With nothing to lose Derby came out all guns blazing. McClaren sat up in the Bob Lord with a large file opened on his knee. Whatever he had said to them they were better with ten men than they had been with eleven. That's how it goes sometimes. Heaton made three smart saves one of them pouncing on the ball just 6 inches away from the line. But then Burnley got the clincher and again it was Ings who made the goal with a sweet shot from the edge of the box from the corner that Duff the decoy let run by him. The shot was heading in but somehow bounced back then back again to Marney lurking just inside the 6-yard box. He slotted home. Delirium and delight in equal measure round three sides of the ground. Deflation at the other, the Rams now put out to grass tails between their legs.

McClaren must have got to the page in his ring binder that had the picture of Conor Sammon and the caption 'Don't forget Steve this is a striker'. He brought him on in a move that put real pressure on Duff and Shackell. More than a few of us decided that had he been on from the start instead of the irksome Martin, then things might have been a lot different. From the stifling 4-5-1 employed in the first half it became 4 at the back and the rest of them all over Burnley.

Derby fans were by now thoroughly miffed with the referee. 'Burnley's a sh*t hole I wanna go home' they sang. They duly did at the end of the game venting their spleen at the referee for ruining their afternoon. Neither Ings nor Vokes scored but they were magnificent again. Ings was a thorn in their side all afternoon with darting runs and made the two goals. Vokes gave a peerless performance leading the line and covering the width of the pitch. Arfield and Kightly each had another gigantic game.  The whistle went. Grinning Burnley folk exited the stands. QPR were held to a draw, Forest were thumped. Redknapp's post match quote was: 'name me a team that wouldn't miss Charlie Austin and his goals?' Well, erm, Burnley for starters I suppose.

The pie on offer in the Queen Hotel, Cliviger, was sausage in cider and potato pie, a new-to-me, taste sensation. The pastry might be the same, light, golden and with a crispy rim to the lid, but this was a new inside. This was the Vanessa Feltz of the pie world - big, brassy, a real mouthful - with the body bursting at the seams. Then: the chips to die for, mushy peas and extra gravy and for an added treat Frank Casper to chat to at the bar.  

What a day; and it had started well. Cheques had started coming in early for the Charles Buchan book, jumping the gun. One was from Mick Carswell, born in Cliviger, now in Stockport, but once of Tod Grammar School in the year below me. I phoned him up and we reminisced about headmaster Albert Greenough less than affectionately known as Crun after one of the Goon Show characters, and deputy head Jimmy Large. We talked about our hair that we were forever combing in those days. The Goon Show was compulsory listening and Henry Crun and Minnie Bannister were two prime characters.  Anyway apparently I had a trendy haircut back in the day and we're talking early 60s here. For a while I had the 'Tony Curtis' that was the rage for a while. This was a style where it was combed at the back of the head so that it resembled a duck's arse. Thus it was also fondly known as a DA. Today it's more mature; in other words it's thinning.

Alas, as this astonishing and totally unexpected and now nerve-wracking season has progressed, I have a suspicion that it has thinned even more.