Burnley, Burnley, Give us a Song.

Last updated : 08 February 2002 By Richard Oldroyd

The Clarets fans in good voice
No, not on the pitch, although that was pretty ordinary. I'm talking about the performance of the pitch, in the stands, amongst the 14000 home fans inside Turf Moor last Sunday. Throughout the second half, the West Brom fans, who were generally more vocal, taunted us for the lack of atmosphere. They said it was like being at church; they were not far wrong.

Before kick-off, I had high hopes of a decent atmosphere. There was something of a buzz around the ground, and for the first fifteen minutes, as Burnley kept the visitors on the back foot, the crowd responded. But as the team began to lose their way a little, the crowd gave up. It took the late incident involving Jason Roberts to provoke any further reaction from the crowd – and it resulted in a late flurry from the players. Increasingly, it takes a perceived injustice or a spell of outstanding football to fire up the crowd.

On Sunday, I took a friend, a Liverpool fan, to Turf Moor for the first time. Earlier this season, he went to Ewood for the first time – so he can make the comparison between ourselves and the neighbours up the M65, whose loyalty and passion we take delight in ridiculing. His assessment was that there was little difference in the respective atmospheres, that Burnley fans were probably marginally louder - a damming statement to any Burnley supporter.

True, Burnley did not play well. True also, certain players hid, particularly in the first half – a cardinal sin for any footballer. But it was almost understandable given the reaction of some so-called supporters to every mistake. Every misplaced pass, every mistimed tackle or shaky clearance, was greeted with derision by from a minority in the crowd, whilst the rest remained silent. Without a win since early December, the players were inevitably low on confidence and self-belief – and this reaction can only damage this further.

A couple of weeks ago, Clarets-Mad reprinted an article by John Sadler, which first appeared in The Sun after an FA cup 3rd round replay at Derby County. It is an article that has, over the years, assumed legendary status amongst the clarets' faithful. Essentially, it lauds the passion and loyalty of Burnley fans - it acts as evidence to back up our long-standing claim that despite the quality of the team, the fans have remained stuck by the club throughout. Moreover, it substantiates the claim that Burnley fans are passionate, and create one of the noisiest atmospheres in the football league.

Thierry Henry - set for a Premiership appearance at the Turf?
In the same way I have always believed that a quality team – and make no mistake, we do now have a quality team – would bring the crowds flocking into Turf Moor, I believed that claim, and I still continue to believe that Burnley have some great supporters. Yet over the past months, whenever the team fail to hit top form, there is little encouragement, little concerted effort to lift the team, from the stands. Instead of intimidating away teams, we almost welcome them.

Some people blame all-seater stadiums, or the changing nature of football fans, for the lack of atmosphere. But this cannot be so, because the atmosphere is great away from home, and occasionally, every now and again, we produce the kind of passion at Turf Moor that makes the hairs on your neck stand on end. We did it last season against Fulham; the season before that, against Bristol Rovers. On those occasions, we drive the players on, give them the extra yard of pace to make that run, that tackle or that header. But for whatever reason, we do not do it often enough.

Maybe, these days, people are nervous in a way they weren't when we were facing the third division. Maybe mention of promotion to the Premiership makes people uncomfortable. I haven't ever seen Burnley play at the highest level, and I find it difficult to imagine the likes of Owen, Henry and Van Nistlerooy at Turf Moor for a league encounter, or seeing Nik the Greek dealing with David Beckham's crosses at Old Trafford. So perhaps the tension of what this season could mean is too much for people, or maybe they don't really believe we can do it. Perhaps, in a funny way, they liked the idea of us as the sleeping giant, always regarded as a club of great potential.

Whatever, some people have certainly forgotten how far we have come, and how quickly we have done it. Put this team in the second division tomorrow, and we would run away with it. That is a measure of our progress – so when Burnley are stifled at home, it is less a question of watching poor quality football from Burnley, and more an indictment on the quality of opposition we now face week in, week out. No-one ever pretended that Burnley would sustain their early season form throughout the season without a blip.

Of course, most fans are more tolerant of the occasional bad performance in what is already a memorable season. But the minority could be one of the biggest impediments to our promotion push. It's up to those of us who know better to drown the idiots out, but at present we are not doing so.

If we don't make the Premiership next season, it is not the end of the world. There is always next season, when the team will have had an extra year to develop. But if we don't make it this year, it would at least be nice to think we've given it our best shot. And as part of Stan Ternent's Claret and Blue army, that includes supporters.