Can Flood stem the Tide?

Last updated : 07 December 2006 By Richard Oldroyd
New director Brendan Flood
All investment is of course good news, but Burnley fans, like most football fans, have grown weary at heralding brave new worlds too early.

The good news is this: Mr Flood has credentials as a Burnley supporter, which means we can be optimistic that the stewardship of the club will remain in the hands of people who genuinely care about the club. And 500 grand is a considerable initial investment, whilst his initial noises give the impression there may be more to come – although whether they will be used to build a future or cover losses may remain a moot point.

I certainly hope it is the former, for as I have said previously, Burnley Football Club may never have a better opportunity to secure its long term future than that which it has this season. This is a club which is still, regardless of any new injection of cash, losing money at a hell of a rate. The current strategy for dealing with these losses is three fold: loans – gratefully received, but nevertheless, loans – from directors, injections of cash from new directors, and selling a player or two a year.

It is not a sustainable long-term strategy: at some point, directors will understandably reach a point at which they are reluctant to provide further loans, and the possibility of them calling in their existing funds casts a shadow over the club. Selling players is the fast track to disillusioned and ultimately disinterested supporters, whilst if we continue to elect new directors there will soon be more than there are government ministers running the country.

And so a new approach is needed. This is a club which is, increasingly, followed by supporters exiled from the town. I've said before, this is a club which gained an unusually large number of followers who were drawn in between 87 and 94, when gates began to rise post-Orient in an era in which we won two promotions, saved our skin, and went to Wembley twice. These are the kids who began going then with their dads, fuelled by stories of Europe, cup finals, international players and doing battle for the title. I know, because I am one of that generation.

Those waist-high fans of the early nineties have now-grown up, left town, embarked upon careers and gained other commitments. The stories can no longer be told by a father who witnessed the halcyon days, but have become the preserve of grandparents to the next generation.

As of this week, I leave the country for 3 months, to travel in the Southern Hemisphere. I'm looking forward immensely to the trip of a lifetime. But there are things I'm leaving behind, and which I will miss – family, friends and the like, but also Burnley as well. It is the longest period I suspect I'll have ever gone within a season without getting to a game – I will be a stay-away fan for these next months.

I'm intrigued to know how it feels. When I return, I have a career of my own to begin, with all that entails, and Burnley can no longer be an automatic priority. I'll have work commitments, bills to pay and maybe a mortgage, friends from the various stations along my life to date to keep up with, perhaps relationships to tend to, and a host of other matters to call upon my time and money. On any given weekend, the competition for both my time and money might be between a trip to the football and a meal out, or the odd jobs that need doing, or a few beers with the lads: it is a competition that Burnley is unlikely to win as of right.

And so, like many other Burnley supporters, I shall have to prioritise. I won't stop going, but the frequency of my visits may depend in part upon the extent to which I miss it over the forthcoming months. And if I do miss it, although I won't be able to do much about it in the short-term, then there must be other Burnley fans, other exiled, stay-away fans who are in closer proximity but who have chosen to allocate the resources away from the football club. Those are the fans whose heart-strings can be tugged, and who can be enticed to get to greater numbers of games.

How? The answer in part is as a result of success, for it lies in the buzz of being involved in the pack. The feeling which builds from a day or two before the game, which is there on matchday morning and which grows over the journey to the game and the pre-match pint. The emotional rollercoaster of the game itself, the keeping tabs on other scores and doing the maths so as to know the table before the radio or TV can provide the details. The endless post-mortem, the analysis of the results and next fixtures in the Sunday papers.

That is what I shall miss if we are successful whilst I'm away; just as in the early part of this year during our dismal run, whilst planning this trip, the prospect of missing matches didn't bother me so unduly. That, ultimately, is what will bring back those stay away fans: it is what drives us as fans through the desperate games which would attract and maintain the interest of no sane man. It is the missing link which people will recognise and which will make them once again make Burnley a priority, persuade them to sacrifice something in order to make it to a game that they wouldn't otherwise have bothered with.

These people are no less fans than those that can and do make the effort every week: everyone must order their lives, and it is naïve to expect everyone – or indeed most people – to put Burnley first. Most of these fans have done their time over the years, but now find themselves with too much to do, and too little money and too few hours to fit it all in.

It may be a catch-22 situation, but the investment must, as a matter of natural logic come first. And that is what the club must do, including Mr Flood if he is serious about taking Burnley forward. Barry Kilby has done a fine job at Burnley, and he and Ray Ingelby have talked about pushing the boat out if we are still in the shake up come January. Marvellous sentiments, but they must be acted upon. If that boat has not already set sail – and time will tell if it slipped its mooring as the loan window closed – it is perilously close to doing so.

And if Burnley are left behind on the shore, then it will continue to leak cash, continue to lose fans disappointed at the failure to try and take advantage of the position in which we found ourselves, and continue along the tortuous road to inevitable decline. Decline in gates, decline in financial standing, decline in prestige, decline in allure. The inexorable conclusion of that process is not one which bears thinking about too deeply.

That is why, for all the credit that careful stewardship of the club deserves, continued pragmatism is in truth the greater gamble: a gamble that we can sustain our league position, and thus our gates – or even improve on both – without investment to attract the punters and stem the losses. That is why this club must seize a tide which is, excuse the pun, still in flood. And if our new director can assist us along that road, then his arrival will prove a defining day in the annals of Burnley Football Club.