Old Legend Shows Way to the Future

Last updated : 22 February 2002 By Richard Oldroyd

Jack Hixon and below three of his Burnley discoveries
As a rule, fans tend to identify with players, rather than with backroom staff. They see players run out in the club colours, week in week out –whilst the staff, with the exception of the manager, remain firmly in the shadows. When that member of staff does all his work for the club over a hundred miles away, he fades completely from the mind of the average fan. Scouts in general receive little attention from the public.

But Jack Hixon should be a legend in Burnley. When the definitive club history is written, his name should be written in gold letters. Now into his 80's, and back at Burnley after over 30 years away, he is finally receiving the plaudits his success – both at Burnley and elsewhere – deserves.

Burnley's phenomenal youth policy in the 1960's – which produced footballers almost on a weekly basis – would not have been anywhere near as successful as it became without the influx of young talent from the North East. And as head of North East scouting, Hixon can take much of the credit for that.

Ralph Coates
As a modest and self-effacing gentleman, Hixon would not expect such recognition. There is a famous occasion on which Burnley took to Newcastle a reserve team made up entirely of North Easterners – but rather than talk about his role in the development of that team, he would rather wax-lyrical about the players themselves: the strengths, weaknesses and personalities of every discovery he has made during his career are ingrained on his mind. His enthusiasm for his job remains undimmed despite his advancing years.

It is no coincidence that the steady stream of talent crossing the Pennines to Burnley dried up after Hixon left, and that before too long, Burnley's once proud youth system became an embarrassment to the club. Since the dark days of the 1980's, the number of players to graduate from the youth to senior team at Turf Moor can almost be counted on one hand.

Dave Thomas
Of the present first team, only Paul Weller has come through the ranks. Brad Maylett hovers around the fringes of the squad, and the club have high hopes for a couple more. John Mullin, Chris Brass and Paul Smith are the only other players to establish themselves at the club over recent years – and of those, only Mullin netted the club any cash on his departure. Given the investment required in both time and effort to produce young players, the scheme looks to have been unprofitable at best over recent years.

Yet if Burnley are ever to re-emerge as a credible member of the Premiership, nurturing young talent will be vital. Burnley will never be able to compete with even the likes of West Ham and Middlesborough in financial terms – the club will never pull in the necessary gates, or become attractive enough to TV broadcasters, to pay out vast sums on either transfer fees or wages. In addition, as Blackburn have regularly found, East Lancashire is not necessarily the most attractive of destinations for potential signings.

Brian O'Neil
There are signs that the situation is improving. Stan has shown a commitment to the policy; as a graduate of it nearly forty years ago, he knows better than most the potential value of it. A couple of current members of the Centre of Excellence have been key members of the successful reserve team, this season – Earl Davis and Joel Pilkington spring to mind. Anthony Shandran is currently on loan in Ireland in order to gain some first team experience. And, of course, Jack is back with the club which is perhaps his spiritual home.

There is, however, still work to be done. The club needs to invest further in the centre of excellence, and in the scouting network to ensure the centre receives the raw materials – young players of potential – with which to work. If a club like Crewe can do it, then Burnley certainly can. And if the enthusiasm and passion for both the game and Burnley Football Club that Jack Hixon displays is a feature of everyone involved, then the club has a very good chance of recreating the legendary youth successes of the past.