The journey began in mid December when we challenged the Preston North End fans team to a friendly at Towneley prior to the meeting of the two clubs in the Coca-Cola Championship. We went on to fall to defeat in both games- the supporters game finished with a 6-1 drubbing, but there were encouraging signs and everyone enjoyed the experience. But now, at the start of February, there were anxious faces all around as we debated whether the Burnley FC Supporters Team's first ever league game would be able to go ahead.
I finally received the call yesterday. Richard Eades, manager of the West Brom fans team- otherwise known as Boing FC- was to say the words I feared. "The pitch is looking unplayable." I can't tell you what went through my mind at that point. I had got myself so fired up for the game, and I know that the other lads were also buzzing with anticipation. I didn't want to let them down. Fortunately, what Richard said next did a lot to calm my fears. He explained how he had booked an Astroturf pitch for us to play on instead. Not ideal, of course, but it meant that we could play.
This change in venue meant a drastic rush to ensure everybody was aware of the change- especially those travelling down by car. But with the snow still falling we felt it necessary to make yet more alterations to our plans. With the roads not expected to be in top condition, we let everyone travelling down in our hired out minibus that we were looking to leave the Turf at half seven- half an hour earlier than the eight am that we had arranged.
As the day arrived yet more obstacles would stand in our way. I got a text from Ben, whose Dad was driving the bus, to inform me that it was stuck. They could not get the minibus out of the drive. They did, eventually, and after being waved off by BigDave, we were on our way.
The journey down to Halesowen, where our pitch was located, was filled with jokes from marv, and a cracking set of songs from the beautiful voice of Tom 'hendy' Henderson. Hendy gave us mind-blowing renditions of New York - originally performed by Frank Sinatra, followed by a version of Your Beautiful that James Blunt would have been proud of.
When we reached our location we noticed that the pitch was rather… white- and not the largest ever either. But it would have to do. After a short discussion, we made the treck upto the changing rooms- located in the local Gymnasts centre, where the young girls and boys who had come to dance must have been disappointed to see the likes of Andrew Greaves intruding in their beautiful halls. There the team was revealed. It was pretty much as expected. The only surprise was Martyn Robinson starting in the left-back position. With his natural positions already filled, I decided to start with Robbo in defence as I trusted him to do a job there. Our natural left-back Alan Porter was meeting his team-mates for the first time today and as Martyn had attended all the training sessions I only felt it fair to start him. He didn't last long though, obviously out of position he was replaced by Alan half way through the opening half.
By that point there had already been a fair bit of goal action. The home team took the lead on just one minute and eight seconds (sorry Will, I had to tell them). It was a cleanly struck effort from distance that crept into the bottom corner. After taking the lead, West Brom looked full of confidence and were running the show, having plenty of shots and even hitting the crossbar. But as time went on we gained momentum and Ben and Ste both had chances to equalise before Hendy exhibited that he not only has a wonderful voice, but can score goals too. It was a real poacher's goal but they all count. We were back on level terms.
And we could, and probably should, have taken the lead soon after. Ben received the ball in the penalty area and stuck at an almost open goal but somehow managed to pull wide. West Brom had their chances too - but we were forcing them to shoot from distance. And within minutes of equalising, Ben made up for his earlier missed sitter by giving us a shock lead with a goal not all too dissimilar to Hendy's.
No sooner than we missed yet another chance, West Brom had gone down the other end and scored two. The second of those two- the goal to give them a 3-2 lead- was certainly controversial. The linesman's flag went up for offside, but the referee decided to ignore it (or maybe we didn't shout enough- it seemed that the decision usually went to the team that was loudest).
We came in at half time 3-2 down but we could, and happen should, still be in the lead. We certainly were not being disgraced though, and we could take plenty of positives from the opening 45. Although we had one big negative. Our Captain Marvellous - marv - had picked up an injury and would be forced to miss the second half. It was certainly a major blow, for he had been superb at the back. But we had a reshuffle and carried on. Ben dropped back from midfield into defence, and Martyn came back on in the midfield role.
But with Marv missing at the back and two attack-minded players in central midfield we were very vulnerable at the back and it was the Baggies who scored the next goal to make it 4-2. But we were not going to give up the fight easy, after winning a penalty Hendy slotted home his second from the spot in as many games to bring the home team's lead back to just one.
It was downhill from thereon, though. The next 4 goals were all from the team in blue and white stripes, one thanks in part to a 'Titus Bramble' from Greavsy. I think that once the fifth went in we were out of it, more mentally than anything. From then on we probably pushed forward too much and so conceded a few more then we would have hoped. They were certainly not 5 goals better than us, though.
I was even persuaded to change my position from manager to player/manager for the final 5 minutes. The game finished 8-3 to the Baggies but, all things considered, we walked away proud of our performance- especially in the first half where it could be argued that we were the better team.
The one sour point for me, was the awful abuse my little brother received from the Boing players. He is only twelve but very knowledgeable about the game and he kindly volunteered to run the line for us. After giving a correct offside decision, one of two of the home players felt it acceptable to throw insults his way which I was very disappointing. These games are played in a great spirit and I just thought that one moment spoilt it. Other than that, though, the West Brom lot were amazing. They are a great bunch and lads, and have built up a very strong team and were simply too good for us in the end.
The announcement of the result in the Hawthorns was received by boos from the travelling Burnley fans, and despite an early strike, the Clarets went on to lose that game too - although again, we certainly were not disgraced. The journey home was just as enjoyable as that there and we had an all-round great day out. I'd like to thank everyone involved today. All the players of Burnley and West Brom, and the non-players on the minibus, especially the driver.
I can't really name a man-of-the-match. Everybody played well and it would be unfair to single people out. Alan Porter was absolutely superb at left-back despite not meeting any of the players until the game. Martyn Robinson and Ben Murphy both performed admirably out of position and, of course, hendy bagged two. Every single one of you did yourselves proud.
The team was…
Will O'Neill (Padiham_Road), Andrew Greaves (claret_in_spain), Darren Stephen (dazza27), Martin Heys (marvbfc)Martyn Robinson (MartynRobbo), Pete Davis (petedavis),Gerrard Stephenson (oghani_88), Ben Murphy (jordan23), Phil Berry (bezwick), Tom Henderson (hendybfc), Ste Wynne (BobbyDazzler).Subs: Alan Porter (alpo), Joe Shilling, KeirOn Duxbury (claretducky), Kev Robinson - player/manager (razo)