The Final Hurdle

Last updated : 01 May 2009 By Richard Oldroyd
And, whatever, the outcome, this team will be able to look around Turf Moor on Sunday and take pride in knowing it has restored pride and belief in Burnley Football Club.

We now know that Sunday is a sell-out for home fans, and if messages posted on this website are anything to go by, there are a lot of disappointed people who desperately wish they were able to join those who have obtained a ticket.

There are going to be a lot of people frantically listening for news of goals for the Clarets on Sunday, in Burnley and beyond.

It is many, many years since there was such a frenetic rush for tickets for a home league fixture, such a burst of interest in the fortunes of the team. It is a long time since a capacity home crowd turned up for a league match because of Burnley: they have done so because of Ian Wright, and they have done so because of Blackburn, but not since Turf Moor became an all-seater stadium have the endeavours of a Burnley team alone fuelled such a surge in demand for tickets.

It is a shame, in the circumstances, that there will be more than 3,000 empty seats in the Cricket Field Stand, when there really need not be. Even if that stand is not suitable for segregation, there are plenty of other areas of Turf Moor could be safely segregated, even if on a temporary basis. There have been no instances of crowd disorder at Turf Moor for many years - the odd intruder on the pitch is an equally unacceptable but very different matter - and so it is hard to understand why there should be any philosophical objection from the authorities. Certainly, you would imagine the Turf Moor hierarchy would move hell and earth to achieve the colourful spectacle of four sides of claret and blue on Sunday.

But 15,000 home supporters made a noise to shake the dead ten days ago when Sheffield United were despatched, so the extra 3,000 ought to make a hell of a racket when the players enter the pitch on Sunday. It barely needs saying that a packed, passionate and vocal crowd can have an enormous influence on the team.

There is, however, a caveat. If Burnley do not have things all their own way - and Bristol City are a good team who are unlikely to obligingly stand aside - a big, expectant crowd can swiftly become nervous, and that unease can be swiftly transmitted to the pitch.

It must not happen. When Turf Moor is a noisy, passionate and positive place - as it has been against Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Sheffield United this season - it can be an enormous asset to the players on the pitch. And that is how it must remain on Sunday, regardless of the score, regardless of the nerves.

Inevitably, there are anxieties. It is several years since we found ourselves in this sort of position, and we aren't used to it. But we should relish it, because this is what being a football supporter is really about: a big crowd and something to aim for; a building sense of anticipation throughout the week before the game. There will be joy unconfined if we hold our nerve on Sunday, followed by the knowledge that we will be doing it all again within the week.

Gone is the drudgery of previous seasons; no-one is going through the motions this season. And that is why the players deserve all the support they will receive on Sunday: they have exceeded all reasonable targets set at the beginning of the season. In doing so, they have relocated a sense of direction which has been lacking from the club in recent seasons and refuelled passions which were in danger of fizzling out.

But this team has achieved more than that. For years, the reputation of Burnley outside the town has been based on negative images of the BNP and race-riots. Now, those perceptions have been upstaged by the deeds of a football team which has won the goodwill of football supporters everywhere by upsetting the odds whilst playing an upbeat brand of football. This season, the town has once again become inextricably linked in the national consciousness to its football team and that representation has been unremittingly positive.

If you want proof of that, it is worth checking Paul Fletcher's article on Owen Coyle on the BBC Sport website. Below it appears a remarkable array of comments paying tribute to both Coyle and to Burnley Football Club.

Coyle and his players will know that this will be a season of bittersweet memories without victory on Sunday. But their focus and will to win has never been in question. Nor is their collective talent. Above all, nor is their accomplishment in rebuilding bridges between Burnley Football Club and its supporters.

We are into knockout football now - win on Sunday and we will progress to a semi-final, one stage away from Wembley. The last time we had a quarter-final at the Turf, it went OK. A similar result on Sunday would be just the job.