Ray Deakin - an obituary

Ray Deakin
The-then 26 year-old had just completed three years at Bolton Wanderers, where he made over 100 appearances. If that sounds impressive, it's worth remembering that Bolton were nearly as bad as Burnley in those days. The two clubs had both been relegated to the third tier in 1983, and Bolton joined Burnley in the Fourth Division for the 1987-88 campaign. By this time, Deakin had established himself as a key first-team member at Turf Moor. He had the typical full-back's physique - not the tallest, but stocky and solid, able to compete in the rough and tumble of lower league football. At a time when severe financial restrictions saw Burnley operate with a skeletal squad, Deakin's consistency was a prime asset. He could also be relied upon to do his best in a range of positions. In his first season at the club, he turned out in central defence, left wing and left-sided midfield as well as his preferred left-back.

With the departure of Vince Overson and Kevin Hird in May 1986, Deakin was the obvious successor as club captain. One wonders if he knew what he was letting himself in for. This was, of course, the awful season that led to the traumatic denouement of the Orient game, a situation that saw Deakin facing the dreadful prospect of being the man remembered for skippering Burnley FC into oblivion. We should not under-estimate the burden this placed upon Deakin. We know that he was a good man who cared about the club and who took his role as captain seriously, particularly the need to keep intact the spirit of a desperately struggling squad, especially of those youngsters - Hoskin, Leebrook, Devaney - who found themselves in the thick of an historic fight for survival. Deakin did all he could to deflect the pressure away from the kids, and when the last battle of the campaign reached its emotional conclusion at 5pm on 9th May 1987, it was Deakin who emerged with the plaudits and the man-of-the-match trophy, awarded by his fellow full-back Alex Elder, who said: "He led by example and experience." Deakin himself typically deflected the praise onto the fans, who had turned out in their thousands to roar Burnley to victory:

"I've never known support like it. We have not done anything to deserve this sort of fanaticism that was shown out there by our fans today. We have given no-one any reason to come and watch us and yet, they kept us alive."

The following season saw manager Brian Miller given the resources to upgrade the squad, and the acquisition of centre-halves Steve Gardner and Steve Davis (the first) allowed Deakin to settle into the left-back position. It was from here that he enjoyed a much-improved campaign which ended with what must have been his proudest career moment when he led Burnley out at Wembley for the 1988 Sherpa Van Trophy Final. Few footballers can claim to have captained their club at the national stadium in front of 80,000 fans, but Ray Deakin did that for the Clarets, and both he and the team did themselves proud. The outcome was never really in doubt once opponents Wolves had established their lead, but Burnley dug in and fought back and never gave up, and the sight of Deakin and his men at the end, jaws jutted out defiantly, was enough to make the result immaterial. We once more had reason to be proud of our club.

Deakin began the following season at left-back, but an injury early on - together with a lengthy recovery - restricted him to just 14 league appearances, and it is perhaps instructive that by the end of this campaign, Deakin was already preparing himself for life outside the game. He plumped for the modest profession of the coach driver, and by the start of the 1989-90 season he was driving his team-mates to away games. Like the one before it, the 1989-90 campaign started brightly before fading badly, and Deakin was starting to bear the brunt of the fans' ire. With the sacking of Brian Miller the previous January, and the retirement of Leighton James in the summer, Deakin was now the only survivor at the club from the Orient game, and as such he seemed to represent the stagnation that had once more enveloped the club after the false dawn of the 1988 Wembley final. It is often said about fiercely partisan tribes that they can be the best friends and the worst enemies - and that was always true of the Longside. The Longside could make a player feel ten feet tall, but it could also turn viciously and without sentiment. Towards the end of his Burnley career, sadly, the Longside barracked Deakin more often than it encouraged him. The 'Whooshy' nickname that we remember him by is often stated with an affectionate humour, but at the time it was a relentlessly critical observation of his tendency to clear the ball long and down the line. This was unfair. Deakin was an elegant player and no amateurish hoofer, but he played in some poor teams where the emphasis was not on retaining possession out of defence but on simply clearing your lines. It is true that Deakin's confidence appeared fragile and that he could be clearly distressed by terrace abuse, but given this, ought we not to have done more to accommodate the fact that Deakin didn't possess the stereotypical thick-skinned resilience that we associate with lower-league professionals? He was wearing the shirt and doing his best, and it did the Longside no credit to continually poke ironic fun at this most honest of club servants.

In the close season of 1990, with Deakin just twelve months from the end of his contract, Burnley boss Frank Casper signed Ian Bray from Huddersfield Town, and it was Bray who started the season wearing the number 3 shirt. However, the season was to be Deakin's swansong. With Bray injured and the youngster Jason Hardy not deemed quite up to scratch, Deakin established himself again at left-back. Alongside him were Pender and Davis in the centre of defence, and John Deary scrapping in the engine-room. With Ron Futcher, John Francis and Roger Eli in harness up front, the outline of the promotion-winning side was emerging. Sure enough, a more potent, resilient Burnley challenged for a play-off place. Sadly for Deakin, injury robbed him of his first-team berth just before the run-in, and he watched from the sidelines as Torquay denied the Clarets in the home leg of the play-off semi-final. But it was fitting that Deakin was there to witness the first signs of genuine recovery, for he had served the club through its most difficult period of modern times.

In total, Ray Deakin played in 272 senior games for Burnley, 269 of which were starts, and 212 of which were league starts - all in the Fourth Division, easily the highest number of fourth tier appearances by any Burnley player. And this statistic reinforces the understated value of Deakin's contribution. At a time when playing for Burnley did not equal thousands of pounds a week or offer the prospect of glamorous Cup ties, Deakin put an honest shift in, week after week, season after season. In so doing he played no small part in seeing the club through the trauma of 1987 and helping it to recover its confidence and status. For that, we should quietly drop the 'Whooshy' thing and just remember Ray Deakin as an honest pro and a decent bloke who did his best for Burnley FC in the most trying of circumstances. Thanks for everything, Ray.