My club, your club

Last updated : 22 January 2004 By Richard Oldroyd

The chief executive and the chairman have spelt it out explicitly. We are in trouble. We’re firing up every possible cylinder in order to get ourselves out of one almighty mess.

Like the Titanic, there has always been a notion that Burnley are unsinkable. It’s borne of the number of crises we’ve lurched through. But let’s knock that one on the head straight away. We are heading for our iceberg, and this ship can sink.

Not since Orient have we faced such a crisis. In that 16 and a bit years we’ve faced a few dodgy moments, but we have never been as close to administration as we are now. Make no mistake, incidentally, of the repercussions of that for our club. We have realisable assets, and the relative debts of Burnley Football Club are sufficiently small for creditors to believe they can realise their credit in full. That could spell the end.

I’ve felt a lot of things when I’ve thought about this. I’ve felt anger, towards big clubs, for whom the money we need to raise is small change; towards those who have stopped going to the Turf because of the performances, and towards those who are responsible for getting the club into this position. I’ve felt a sense of frustration when the club has said it is not responsible for the state it finds itself in: mistakes made by the club have contributed to the problem, and the sooner it realises that the better.

But most of all, I’ve felt a sense of determination. A determination not to let my club die.

Stop there for a second. Read that again. Earlier this week, when a friend said to me, ‘your club has problems’, there was something deeply personal about it. I don’t know about you, but I tend to talk about Burnley as ‘my’ club, and friends do refer to Burnley as ‘your club’. Somehow, we all talk about Burnley in the possessive, as if it is a club that we, in some small and indefinable way, have a stake in.

When I first went on the Turf, aged seven with my Dad, I became a Burnley supporter for so many different reasons. They were my Dad’s team, the first team I went to watch, a team with a story behind them which appealed to me. But above all else was noise, the fact that people yelled and swore and showed the emotions people weren’t supposed to in the real world. And through that emotion, there was a bond, a sense of belonging which appealed to me at an age when all kids need a gang.

In that tribalism, the raw emotion which football can inspire, lies the essence of being a football fan. It’s why we support teams, rather than just watching the game as a neutral. Once you’ve been bitten by it, you can never shake it off. It might dull a bit over the years, but you will never lose it. Even if you stop going, you cannot completely shake it off; if you do venture on to a game again, you will find yourself caring passionately about the result. The truth of that lies in Orient.

It’s a concept I talked about last time I wrote, when I talked about us all being members of some sort of group of Burnley fans. And it is more important now than it has ever been before. Maybe through the idea of a supporters’ trust, it can gain a sense of legitimacy, and we can truly become members of this club of ours.

Burnley football club is my club, and it is your club. We are the only ones who will miss it if it dies. We can hope for outsiders to invest as much as we want, but if we want it to survive, then ultimately it is us who must rally round.

The club has launched a number of ideas to help raise money. Although I support them all, I have reservations about a few of them. Bucket collections run the risk of alienating people by implicitly compelling them to give. The idea of a bike ride is somewhat paradoxical: it is the kind of thing a small community club (like my local cricket club) might do; but for all the community spirit attached, whether it will work on the desired scale at a club like Burnley, who have left the community and are searching to regain a place in it, is an entirely different matter.

Likewise, the ‘500 miles’ club of fans who are prepared to give £1,000 apiece is bold, but optimistic. If I had a grand spare, I would invest it in something more permanent, rather than in this elite club. Perhaps it would be appropriate to make anyone prepared to make this investment a life member of the proposed supporters trust, as well as a member of this exclusive club.

For all the good work that the likes of Dave Edmundson are belatedly doing to rectify the funding gap, and for all the initiatives to have been launched recently, it is in the idea of a supporters trust that the best hopes should lie. I want to say now that this is a personal opinion. I genuinely believe that the sooner this scheme is up and running, then the nearer we are to a permanent solution to the problems that we face.

The supporters trust offers a chance for Burnley football club to become our club in a more permanent way than it has ever been before. The reality is that at no point in the past have the mass of supporters really had a say in the running of the club. We can buy shares though the trust, get a seat on the board as a result, and give ourselves a real say. It really is too good an opportunity to miss.

I genuinely hope there is no recriminations amongst different fans over this. This is not the time for that. There maybe legitimate questions about how the club has been run, but this is not the time for that either. This is a time for finding answers which have one mutually inclusive objective: a future for Burnley Football Club. Let’s cut the crap. Let bygones be bygones.

Think on this. Burnley could be remembered as the biggest casualty of the ITV digital saga, as the founder member of the Football League who fell on its sword in trying to recapture the past. Or we could survive, and perhaps learn the lessons of these last few months. They are alternatives. There is no doubting which is more attractive.

This is our club - mine and yours. That is all there is to it.