A Fans Right to Worry

Last updated : 07 December 2004 By Richard Oldroyd

Whoever it was, he was absolutely right: we spend our time worrying about all types of things concerning the game. Many of them are important, like the future of the game, ticket prices, relegation fights and the financial security of our club; some – like the price of pies, the beer on the concourse – more trivial. And that worry is an essential part of being a football fan, since like everything to do with the sport, it occupies the brain when it should probably be dealing with far more important things about which we’d rather forget.

The last week or so has been an ideal time to worry about Burnley, what with the news about the ground and a succession of offers for our club captain. The prospect of the sale of a star play like Blake inevitably raises heckles, and instinct tells us that selling the ground isn’t done in a perfect world.

Yet despite the highly understandable and necessary concerns expressed by fans about either possibility, that predisposal to anxiety doesn’t necessarily make for an objective viewpoint. In fact, it can lead to a rather unreasoned approach – particularly when not in possession of the full facts.

Selling Robbie to Wigan – or to anyone else, for that matter – isn’t as simple as saying that we want to keep our best players. He might be, alongside Glen, the most talented player to turn out for the club in twenty years, but he’s also on a very handy pay packet. And although he’s our top – virtually only – goalscorer, the 4-5-1 system favoured by Steve Cotterill doesn’t entirely suit him. It might be heresy to say it, but if this is the formation we plan on using indefinitely, there may be other players out there capable of doing the job. Whether such players are available, how much they will cost in wages, etc, etc, are all factors to be borne in mind as the club decides whether to accept any future and improved bid. Then of course there is the small matter of whether we can afford to offer him a new deal, and when, if he is to go, we should sell him to avoid us losing out altogether. His value will begin to drop fairly soon.

The point is, of course, that Burnley have scored goals at this level without Robbie before. One day, we will have to do so again. And if he doesn’t re-sign, then in all probability any Burnley side wishing to challenge at the top of this division will have to do so without Blake. If Steve Cotterill has a replacement in mind, and concludes that he can keep Burnley in this division without the further efforts of Blake, then a sale may be the most prudent option.

Likewise, the issue of the ground must be dealt with in the harsh light of reality. Obviously, ideally, we’d have no debts at all, own the ground, whilst having money left over to buy Thierry Henry and Paddy Viera. Of course, in actual fact, we’re skint, owe a problematic amount of money to Banks and other financial institutions and are due to begin making capital repayments in the near future.

So, forgetting the rights and wrongs of the stewarding of the club which has led us to this predicament – it’s been debated endlessly before and one unequivocal conclusion is that Barry Kilby has the best interests of the club at heart – we must look for the least worst solution.

At the outset, it’s important to note that, whatever the emotive issues surrounding relinquishing control of the ground, that argument is, in fact, largely illusory. Barry Kilby has admitted that the banks do hold charges over the ground – which means that, should the club fall behind in the repayments which are due to start, then we could find ourselves losing Turf Moor in any event, without any right to play there and up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Secondly, nobody actually knows how the deal has been financed, and whether there was any alternative plan put forward. Wherever the money has come from, Barry Kilby is wealthy, but not wealthy enough to keep pouring money down a black hole. At some point, he is perfectly entitled to put together an investment package which gives him some return, and only the most cold-hearted and demanding Burnley fan could begrudge him this.

There are, though, some unanswered questions, and the club have dropped yet another PR clanger in the way they have packaged the deal. You would have thought that such a bombshell would be dealt with sensitively, in a manner designed to assuage the fears of the fans. Sadly, the glib, faintly patronising way in which the club released the news and backed it up to the press was only rectified inadequately and belatedly when Kilby himself gave an interview to local radio. One day, the club must learn that spin and corporate presentation are not always the way to deal with battle hardened fans who want real answers to the issues posed.

But that doesn’t deflect away from the fact that this may very well be the best deal the club could get. Not a good deal, perhaps, but that is a different thing entirely. Likewise, selling Robbie Blake may prove the best deal for the club. Not the perfect solution, but the most practical in our current circumstances.

One day within ten years, the club will hopefully be able to buy back Turf Moor. It is to be hoped that the club will ring fence certain monies that it receives over that time in order to go towards achieving that goal. The Clarets Trust may well have a role to play in giving the campaign momentum.

Not that we will stop worrying about the implications of the deal for the football club. Or about Robbie’s future. Or about whether we will beat PNE on Saturday, or whether we can fill out the Turf for Liverpool’s impending visit. Nor should we. But neither should we allow that emotional concern to tarnish judgements on the big decisions – the ones which are necessarily taken by those in high places within the club.