Owen Coyle's Claret and Blue Armada

Last updated : 22 May 2009 By Richard Oldroyd
On Monday, it will reconvene in the hope that Owen Coyle's Burnley side can complete the journey which every Burnley supporter has shared since Orient were beaten in 1987.

Burnley stood at the bottom of a mountain then - and the dream of conquering it has underpinned the passions of supporters ever since.

I remember the first time I went to Burnley: 14 April, 1991. My Dad woke me up on a sunny Saturday morning in spring to tell me I was going somewhere I'd been asking him to take me for months, somewhere 60 miles south and east of home. That day, I stepped upon this bandwagon which has provided a backdrop to my life ever since.

They beat Peterborough 4-1 on that first day, when I was wide-eyed with wonderment. I remember my first night match, a famous 3-1 win against Cardiff roughly a year later, then watching the television footage of Jimmy Mullen's champions at York. I sealed my deal with Burnley at Wembley in 1994, surrounded by the colourful cacophany of 38,000 supporters sharing the joy of a second promotion in three years.

There have been rites of passage: I stood for the first time in '95, on the old Bee Hole End with my father. The Longside was rubble before I was deemed old enough. And at 16, five years later, I was allowed to make the trip on my own, with friends. One of my best and most enduring school friends was the only other Burnley fan in the year: an alliance against supporters of the fashionable elite and Preston North End, sustained in part by regular pints in the pubs of Burnley before the football.

I started travelling to the odd away match, again at first with my dad and then with my mates. Then I went south to university, lived down there for a few years, and became one of those exiled supporters who gets to Turf Moor rarely but hangs around the away ends of the south of England before I moved north again.

Throughout these past 18 years of growing up, changing, meeting people and drifting away from them, Burnley Football Club has been a constant thread weaving in and out of my life. Its importance has diminished at times, but it has always been there. And at the heart of that affair has been the burning ambition to see Burnley in the top flight of English football.

I knew all about the illustrious past, even as a kid. Not long after I started going to games, "Burnley FC: A Complete Record" was published, and I was given it as a birthday present. I read it voraciously: absorbing its stories of highs and lows and its descriptions of departed heroes.

It was easy to imagine Burnley as a big club in the early 1990s, when major stadia were still denoted by banks of terracing and not by glossy plastic or gleaming glass. With the sweep of the Longside and Bee Hole End, Turf Moor felt like the home of a major club: outside the town, newspapers still talked seriously of Burnley as a sleeping giant; possible contenders to join the elite league.

That was a different era, before satellite television and the Premier League transformed the game and diminished the prospects for clubs like Burnley. But, back then, the club had a momentum and a sense of expectation and crowds which were preposterous for a small town or a team languishing in English football's fourth division. And few of the 10,000 who regularly comprised that crowd would have believed, if you had told them, that it would be 18 years before Burnley stood on the threshold of top-flight football.

But this weekend, we will stand on that threshold, a few paces below the summit of that mountain.

That is why supporters have emerged from wherever they have been hiding over the past three weeks as the prize has inched closer, match by agonising match. It is why there will be a reunion of worldwide clarets in North London on Monday to follow similar jamborees in 1994 and 1988. Burnley Football Club is a calling card for many, many people across the British Isles and the world: people whose connection with the town may have thinned over the years, if it ever existed at all - but who identify themselves inextricably with the Clarets.

Some will have barely missed a game in the last 20-odd years; some like me will have drifted in and away without ever tuning out. Others will have watched their football in the early 90s but lost the habit after growing up and away and having children of their own.

Whatever happens on Monday, passions have surely been refuelled by this remarkable season. This team is good enough to beat Sheffield United in a finely poised play-off final, but even if it should fall short, it can go one better next season should it be kept together.

It has already reminded the national media of Burnley's place as one of the traditional hotbeds of the game, and guaranteed the Clarets the support of neutrals everywhere this weekend.

And somewhere near Warwick on the way back from Reading last Tuesday night, it occurred to me that the if "Burnley FC: A complete record" was to be updated 25 years from now, with those black and white photos and a column of prose taking a quarter page apiece, then the class of 2009 would deserve to rank with the representatives of any team since the one which lifted the first division championship 49 years ago.

The classic front five of Eagles, Elliott, Paterson, McCann and Blake already trips of the tongue, with Steven Thompson hastily added to the list as the indispensible 6th member of the attacking unit. Alexander, Caldwell, Carlisle is a classic unit in itself. Brian Jensen has already written himself into folklore and Jay Rodriguez will surely do so.

Yet in truth, no-one deserves to be ignored. Burnley Football Club made its name as a club which played good, skilful football but which always produced teams worth more than the sum of their parts; Owen Coyle has produced a team which echoes the finest of those traditions.

And so enjoy the spectacle at 2.55 on Monday, if you can. There will be nerves, but there should also be pride at what this small town club still means to so many people in an age in which it ought to have gone out of fashion.

With the ultimate prize so close we can almost reach out and touch it, we could easily lose sight of what we've already achieved this season. But whatever happens, remember this: the club no longer stands in the shadows cast by the past. It is back in the spotlight for its present day deeds. Now, we must hope the heroes of 2009 can produce one last stirring performance - and reap the crowning reward that their achievements so richly deserve.