Time to Ride the Tide

Last updated : 23 December 2008 By Richard Oldroyd
If there is classic hit which most aptly applies to Burnley Football Club, it might be the Foundations number "Build Me Up, Buttercup". The song's classic lyric, "why do you build me up, just to let me down", neatly describes most of Burnley's recent Championship campaigns: an autumn of increasing expectations, dashed in the New Year. So many times, now, Burnley have found themselves just a couple of players short of converting flirtation with the top six into a real chance of securing a play-off place at the season's end.

But not this year. This year should be rather different.

It is different because reinforcements are not needed to give a chance of elevating this team into the play-off picture. They are needed to make damn sure it stays there. Hell, they might even give it a chance of breaking into the automatic promotion race.

The bell is tolling for Burnley Football Club right now. It did so last year too, but that was the result of a scrappy division from which the clubs who reacted quickest in January were always going to escape. This year, the opportunity exists because we are deserved contenders. It is our misfortune that our ascent has coincided with the presence of three other teams stronger than most of those to have won the Championship in the past few years, but that cannot be helped and it does not alter the fundamental point: we have a damn good team and a damn good chance of promotion.

Barry Kilby, Brendan Flood and Owen Coyle should each take a bow before the Boxing Day clash with Barnsley. They have delivered a Burnley side containing real panache and quality and which can claim to be the best Burnley team for 30 years. Having done so, and having puffed up the chests and the belief of Burnley supporters over the past four months, they must not allow hopes to be crushed.

Because at the moment, those hopes are entirely justified. 43 points from 24 games represents an excellent return and it has been achieved with real style. It has been satisfying to watch this team gel before our very eyes: the tentative, error-strewn outfit of August and the halting promise of September has evolved into the determined, eye-catching pass and move team of the past couple of months. It is a measure of progress that the failure to demolish Southampton by four or even five goals was a source of disappointment; watching Burnley has rarely been such a pleasure.

And the real joy is knowing that there should be more to come. The youthful quartet of McCann, McDonald, Paterson and Eagles is still maturing and is still learning the intimacies of their collective game. Should these four apprentices and the old sorcerer Robbie Blake be allowed to knit together until the end of the season, then the potential is mouth-watering.

Kevin McDonald
Kevin McDonald - one of the youthful quartet
Those five have caught the eye, but each of them has endured a spell on the sidelines as others have excelled and it is the presence of twenty players who can lay claim to a first team jersey which is one of the crucial differences this season. That the likes of Elliott, Thompson, Mahon and Gudjonsson arguably do not feature in our strongest side is testament to the quality at Owen Coyle's disposal.

In the first few months of the campaign, that squad has provided us with more highlights than the hair-dos at a Girls Aloud gig: the earth-shattering victory at Chelsea and the glorious dispatching of Arsenal in the Carling Cup of course, but there have been stirring wins in the league to savour too; against Norwich, Preston and Derby at Turf Moor, at QPR and Sheffield United on the road, to single out a few.

And yet there is the nagging, depressing sense that too many people believe that it will be ripped apart in January because that is when so many other campaigns have foundered.

We all know the realities which face Burnley Football Club. The books are not healthy; wages were running at over 110% of turnover even before the summer splurge which must surely have inflated that bill still further. Losses stood at over a million pounds last season despite selling players to balance the books.

Without sales, our losses in this financial year will almost certainly exceed 6 million pounds once again. A club which is already heavily dependent upon loans from its directors will need even more handouts - at a time when the prevailing economic climate may have reduced the ability of those directors to help.

But reality is a double-edged sword. If players are sold this January, it will break the heart of this club because that cynical undercurrent will have proved well judged.

Barry Kilby has said that players need not be sold, and he must stand by that promise. Having committed to a higher wage bill in the summer it would make no sense to prevent the experiment running its course. If it has failed to yield either promotion or higher attendances come the summer then it must inevitably be re-evaluated, but to abandon it half way through the cycle would leave more fans than the club can afford to lose questioning the point of buying a season ticket to watch a club which only seems to commit to half a season of entertainment.

Indeed, it is of huge importance that, by hook or by crook, a little bit extra is added to this squad, even if that has to be at the expense of one or two of the peripheral members of the squad. Without help, this squad is now an even bet to make the play-offs, but the lack of defensive cover leaves Owen Coyle a hostage to fortune. You might make us a 7/1 shout for promotion if you were setting odds right now, but with a loan addition or two those odds would tumble still further.

Say two loans cost £15,000 a week, a total of around £350,000 to the end of the season. Those additions would certainly leave the Clarets odds-on to extend the season, and a play-off semi-final alone is worth half a million pounds. With a couple of thousand on every gate for the last five or so home matches of the season netting another couple of hundred grand, is the temporary addition of a couple of wages such an unaffordable gamble?

It is of course easy to write these things without the responsibility and personal investment which comes with running the club. And no doubt, the club also needs those supporters who have yet to be stirred out of scepticism to make their way to Turf Moor to savour this side. But gates have not yet risen because expectations have not yet risen, and they will not do so until January has been successfully negotiated.

We must hold our nerve. 2008 has blossomed into something special and 2009 can be even more memorable. There is momentum behind this club at the moment and a tide of belief and expectation is just beginning to swell. If it is allowed to flourish beyond the first month of the year, the combination of quality players and that potent tide can carry us beyond cup semi-finals and play-off contention - all the way to cup finals and, perhaps, to the fortunes that are to be found in the Premier League.