A Sloppy Operation

Last updated : 19 August 2008 By Richard Oldroyd
The front row of the Longside Upper
At ten to three on Saturday, I walked up the steps from the concourse to take my seat on that row for the first time this season. Unfortunately, I couldn't get there. To have done so, I'd have had to wade through the lake - over an inch deep - which had formed on the concrete floor during the months since May.

I do not ask for much when I turn up for the football. I can accept the frustrations and tribulations of a performance such as Saturday's because the vagaries of human nature mean that, when you pay to watch sport, you know full well nothing is guaranteed. I can live with pies running out, because there is inevitable guess work in calculating demand for any given match. And I can accept the pushing and shoving of the concourse facilities, because that's somehow a part of the experience.

But for £400 a season, I expect certain things as a minimum. I expect to be able to turn up at between quarter to and ten to three, to enter the ground with a minimum of hassle and to be able to sit in my seat for which I have forked out in a basic level of comfort.

Burnley have played at home twice this season. On one occasion, supporters - customers, the lifeblood of the club - have come away with absurd stories about being unable to gain access to the ground for a friendly, despite 18,000 empty seats inside the ground. And on the second - well, we endured a farce to give Peter Kay sufficient material for a further series of Phoenix Nights.

But back to the Longside Lake. The problem was first reported at half past two, twenty minutes before I arrived and about twenty five before Eddie the Eagle made his unscheduled landing atop the Cricket Field Stand. When I arrived, I reported it again to the steward who, bless her, was unable to leave her post to do anything about it on grounds of safety. So instead, about twenty of us hung around blocking the gangway.

Eventually, someone did turn up. With a mop and bucket. To deal with a stretch of water half a metre wide and about forty metres long.

It was agreed that this was probably inadequate to deal with the problem, and so at half past three - theoretically half an hour into the game - a suction machine was rustled up to finally make a passable attempt at dealing with the problem. We were eventually able to take our seats just as the players finally emerged for kick off - albeit with residual water, sodden litter and the slippery green algae on the surface making life somewhat tricky.

Apparently, this problem arose because somebody had forgotten to come round during the morning with the suction pump to remove the water. Perhaps they were busy making arrangements for the Red Devils' arrival. But why would such an exercise be necessary in the first place? Well, the drains from the upper tier aren't very advanced and the inhabitants of the lower tier have been getting wet as a result. So, astonishingly, the agreed solution has been to simply block up those drains completely and leave the water with nowhere to go.

In the meantime, we, along with everyone else, had plenty of time to witness the absurd theatre being played out above the heads of the travelling Ipswich fans about which plenty has already been written.

I watched it unfold in the company of a supporter up for the match from London. He'd paid twenty odd quid for the seat next to mine. Quite what he made of the whole experience is anyone's guess. Whether he'll think twice about coming next time only he knows. But I wouldn't blame him if he does.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, a bit of water preventing you from taking the precise seat for which you have paid is a relatively trivial matter. Had the game kicked off on time, no doubt we could have been relocated elsewhere, and the inconvenience would have been minimal. And I should say that, once they'd finally got to grips with it, staff worked hard to sort the problem out.

But the fact is, these unsatisfactory lapses occur too often at Turf Moor and blot the entire 'match day experience', to borrow a phrase from the Turf Moor marketing department. And when such minor nuisances continue to occur - I reported the self-same problem of water logging twice last season, without ever receiving a response - you begin to wonder how much attention is being paid to getting the basics right and how much is being diverted to eye-catching but ultimately shallow and peripheral show-pieces which have nothing to do with football.

I don't mind the cheerleaders, the Z-list celebrity entertainment or even the stunt artists, as long as they can land without causing the best part of an hour delay in proceedings. But if they cannot be executed effectively, then they will backfire, as yesterday's fiasco amply demonstrated. The thing is, they really aren't necessary. It is the football for which people come.

And the simple fact is we are not, as a club, capable of organising Turf Moor on a match day, and until such time as we are, we ought to focus on the nuts and bolts of the operation and leave the gimmicks - there is no other word - for another day. Walk before you try to run, Burnley Football Club. Cut out the crass errors and ensure we visit a fully functioning stadium for the next home match because Saturday, in absolutely every respect, was simply not good enough.