The year certainly ended with the club looking down the barrel. In freefall on the pitch and with the AGM confirming that we are haemorrhaging money off it, times look gloomy. The squad has been culled, and the replacements are adequate at best. Meanwhile, those players are being watched by a diminishing number of spectators.
I wish I could predict that next year would be any better. Sadly, that would involve a rather large white lie – so apologies to those Burnley fans who need a cause to hang on to before they can be tempted onto the Turf regularly. Yours truly remains confident that the team will not go down this season – although a few more defeats on the bounce could shake that – but there is simply no way of knowing what shape the squad will be in come the next big kick off in August.
So it’s difficult to get too excited about the year ahead. There is certainly no ambition for the next twelve months, other than keeping our head above the parapet and staying precisely where we are. Star players may well have to be sold, for the cash and to free up wages to enable the squad to be remodelled for the purpose of fighting to survive.
That means Robbie Blake may go. Now Robbie is a cracking player, but the irony is that he has yet to play in a successful Burnley team. And now, I would advocate selling him at the right price.
This is controversial. Most supporters regard him as fundamental to the future. But the problem is that at the moment, we are not planning for a future. We are in limbo, hoping to tread water and stay in this division until we’re back on an even keel and able to make plans – and by the time that occurs, Robbie will be long gone, whether we sell him or he leaves when his contract expires.
In business terms, then, it makes perfect sense. Yet it also makes footballing sense. Robbie is a player signed for a very different purpose to that which we now encounter. He was signed with promotion in mind, and we now find ourselves trying to avoid relegation. You do not need a Robbie Blake to achieve that, and indeed to have a player of his ilk taking up two or possibly three wages which could help create a more solid, fighting unit does not make any sort of sense. That self same argument applies to Alan Moore and Glen Little – but the difference is that we can get rid of Robbie now, whereas those two are less likely to leave immediately.
What we do not need – and what the club cannot legislate for – is fans holding them over a barrel and refusing to buy a season ticket next year if Blake is sold. That is tantamount to the fans making the operational decisions, which is absolutely untenable.
I have a little theory I’d like to put forward here. I believe there are two types of football club – those which have been opened up to outsiders, and those which haven’t.
Burnley are very much in the latter category. Essentially, all our Directors and all our shareholders are fans. The only people who have any interest in the success or failure of the club, therefore, are the supporters of the club. Think of it as a private club of which all Burnley Supporters are members – the directors and shareholders being those who have the biggest amount of money to stake in the club, and the expertise to take the club forward.
This means that the board have a responsibility to listen to fans, a responsibility they would probably admit to having failed to accept in the past. It also means that those fans have a responsibility when decisions are made about team affairs or other such matters. By all means make your opinion clear – but don’t do anything which would actually damage the club.
If the board decide to sell Robbie Blake, then refusing to buy a season ticket next year is basically cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s a strange conundrum: you want to make the protest because you care, yet that protest in itself will help destroy the very thing you care about.
The point I am making here is that nobody is seeking to do Burnley Football Club down; we are in trouble and everyone involved in this club wants to put that right. Getting all the members of our club to put their own hand in their pocket to help balance the books – at least by attending home matches – would be a start. Oh, and by the way, demanding that Ray Ingelby put more money into the club is not just misguided (he has already invested heavily in order to buy into the club in the first place) it is futile – he has the shareholding and he will keep it until such time as someone buys him out, and as that individual is not looming large on the horizon just at the minute, we might as well accept it.
And when we’ve paid to get in, please lets make some noise. We can pat ourselves on the back for being tolerant in not getting on the player’s backs during poor performances for as long as we like, but the truth is that there was very little attempt made to lift the flagging confidence of the players at any time during the ninety minutes last Sunday. It’s not a new problem, but if we’re going to have our backs to the wall over the next few months, we could do with rousing the team from the sides.
This remains whether we are successful or not. At the moment, particularly at the Turf, teams have worked out that if they sit deep, prevent Blake finding space early and force Burnley to cross the ball from wide and deep, then we will find it difficult to score. They also know there is every chance of a defensive error to give them the chance of all three points, giving them an added incentive to employ these tactics. Stoke did it last weekend perfectly.
It makes us look bad as an attacking force – but that is not the fault of Ian Moore, whose goalscoring record as the lead striker is pretty reasonable. It is simply because for all our flair as an attacking unit, we do not have enough variety in our play just now to break down teams who set about negating our obvious strengths. The priority in the new year is to shore up a desperate defence, and bring in another goalkeeper, but there are problems both in attack and midfield to be looked at as well.
Righting those faults will cost money. Player sales may be a necessary evil. But we desperately need everyone behind us, to hang in and endure the frustrations. That is, after all, what supporting Burnley has been about for over a hundred years. There is no reason to think that the next one will be any different.