Playing for Glory

By Richard Oldroyd
Last updated : 10 April 2014

It was Danny Blanchflower who spoke those words, half a century ago. In truth he didn’t have the modern game in his sights when he said it. The false god to which he objected was functional, win-at-all costs football, the antithesis of his creed of entertainment. And yet, if Jimmy Mac's old pal was alive today, he'd probably reflect that his old mantra could be applied differently in the modern era when football is as much about setting up the next pay-cheque as anything else.

Despite the money, the game is still fundamentally about glory: about achievements, deeds that are etched into history and which create legends which are passed down through the generations, moments and afternoons and evenings which live forever. This season, Sean Dyche's side is about that sort of glory. Before April is out - and perhaps as soon as this Saturday - they will surely add another line to the roll of honours which appears on the inside of Burnley's matchday programme.

I remember that, as a kid, it always looked neat. Champions of England twice; Second Division champions twice. First Division runners up twice; Second Division runners up twice. A roll of honour which outlined the depth of the history of the club, an outline made vivid by the stories of books like 'Burnley: A Complete Record'. Those honours lists are currently unchanged in 40 years, but there should shortly be a third entry against either 'Second Division runners-up' or - still possible - 'Second Division Champions', even if the competitions have changed a little.

It is hard to underestimate what a feat that would be. Arguably it would be the greatest since the club won the old First Division in 1960, during Blanchflower's heyday and in a completely different football epoch. There have been fine achievements since. There was a cup final shortly afterwards, and then the second division title winning side of 1973 which those of my father's generation who were just a bit too young to truly appraise the class of 1960 have until now talked about as the greatest Burnley side they've seen. And then of course there was Owen Coyle's cup semi-finalists and promotion winners of 5 years ago.

But Coyle's team won promotion via the backdoor through the play-offs. There is nothing wrong in that but it will always be a promotion won thanks to a device designed to prolong the interest of mid-table teams, rather than won on pure merit.

Adamson's team won a second-tier title and went onto fleeting success in the top flight but it did in an era when it was still possible - just - for town clubs like Burnley to compete on an equal footing.

To finish in the top 2 over a 46 game season at a time when even the second tier is awash with money from all over the globe to my mind puts both of those in the shade. Wigan's relegation last season could - perhaps should - have signalled the last hurrah of the Lancashire town football scene at English football's top table. Burnley, Blackburn, Preston and Bolton may have been integral to the development of football in this country, but all common sense suggested that the economics of the game had overtaken the limit of what these towns could achieve. Sean Dyche's homespun team has been busily - perhaps he would say relentlessly - waving two fingers to such logic all season.

It is a story which has made the whole country sit up and take notice. And it does not just involve Sean Dyche, or even 30 people in the shape of him, his players and his staff. That manager, don’t forget, was appointed by directors who are not only supporters of the club, but who were born and shaped in and around the town. That is the most visible example of the nexus between club and town which is an easily underestimated source of strength and stability. That nexus also defines the dynamic which so often creates an irresistible momentum whenever Burnley reach Spring in contention and on an even keel – witness the snowballing away followings to places like Charlton, Watford and Barnsley. Since 1991 that momentum has always ended in promotion.

Promotion, assuming it comes, will be a triumph first and foremost for the players and staff who have grafted so hard and shown such skill in getting us to this promotion. But it will also be an endorsement of the tight-knit, community cooperative model that Burnley, almost uniquely in the top two divisions, still sticks to.  It is the combination of all that which has beaten Harry Redknapp and his bottomless resources down the stretch.

It is that very real achievement in defying the odds that is the real story of this season and the greatest reason to delight at promotion if and when it arrives. Of course, there are other reasons. Not least among them is the chance to once again compete on equal terms with the aristocrats of English football. And yes, the financial rewards could re-tool Burnley to stubbornly fight football's prevailing economics for a few more years, perhaps even indefinitely if survival can be achieved. The exposure and glamour could hook another generation of supporters. And there will be the delicious irony of being a division above Blackburn, and a more convenient highlights slot on Match of the Day.

But promotion isn't, or shouldn't be, a means to an end, or a simple cash-cow. It’s an end in itself - a tangible recognition of a season which has provided so many memorable moments and terrific performances. It has been one of those seasons when you want to savour every moment, to bottle the feeling of sheer pleasure and pride which has accompanied the watching the Clarets this season.  

It is not yet done. There are a handful more points to grind out to make it mathematically certain. But irrespective, the players and staff deserve our acclaim and Burnley deserves to pat itself on the back. Moments like these don’t come along very often. You have to enjoy them as much as possible. The indelible mark in history that is the honour of finishing as runner-up or Champions should soon become the crowning glory of a season of deliciously unexpected joy. For now, it is about enjoying it – and being able to say, ‘I was there, I was part of that’. 

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