The Orient Game - Dedication
Feature by Tony Scholes
Updated Wednesday, 9th May 2012
This section of Clarets Mad, devoted to the most important game in the club's history, is dedicated to Keith McNee the former sportswriter of the Burnley Express, Lancashire Evening Telegraph and Burnley Evening Star.
The Orient Game was to be the last league game Keith ever attended. He fell ill during the game and was away from work for much of the summer. He returned just in time for the pre-season games and was well enough to attend and cover our Lancashire Cup win against Blackburn Rovers. Shortly afterwards he was taken more seriously ill and sadly died just as the following (1987/88) season was getting underway.
The Orient game had proved to be his last league game and the win against the local enemy (and how Keith would have loved that) was to be his last ever game.
When he was working at the Burnley Express, Granville Shackleton was covering the Clarets for the Telegraph and Star. When Keith followed Granville at the Telegraph his counterpart at the Express was initially Peter Higgs and finally Granville again.
Granville sadly is no longer with us after passing away in the autumn of 1991. Peter left the Burnley Express at the end of 1983 and moved to the Mail on Sunday where he remained until recently retiring.
We are delighted that Peter Higgs accepted our offer to pay the following tribute to Keith.
A tribute to Keith McNee
by Peter Higgs of the Mail on Sunday
Over a period of more than 30 years in journalism I have worked alongside and against a wide range of people, most of whom have been pleasant and engaging and some I would never wish to meet again as long as I live.
The profession does tend to throw up some unusual, quirky characters – but none quite like Keith McNee.
Keith was truly a one off. Once met never forgotten . A man whose passion for Burnley Football Club left its mark on everyone who came into contact with him.
To say that Keith was Burnley FC daft would be like describing Mount Everest as a rather large hill. He had the habit of turning every conversation back to the Clarets. You could be discussing world politics (something us hacks are always apt to do) and Keith would immediately compare Kruschev or Richard Nixon .. or anybody .. to Bob Lord.
If sex was to rear its ugly head Keith would find some way to liken Burnley's most recent performance to the art of love-making. Even during the cricket season there was no respite as Keith toured the Lancashire League grounds telling anyone who would listen why Burnley was a bigger, better, more important, more significant and better-supported club than Blackburn Rovers.
The job he did for the Evening Star and Lancashire Evening Telegraph could never be underestimated. Nobody could have been more dedicated and for all the hours he put in they paid him only a fraction of what he was worth.
The national newspapermen, who regularly trooped across to Turf Moor from Manchester, used to call him 'The Prince of Darkness' for his fierce defence of Burnley and refusal to listen to any other argument. During a game he found it impossible to remain impartial and was forever berating the opposition and referee.
There was a famous occasion during a Burnley-Leeds match when Keith became incandescant with rage over a tackle from Billy Bremner, leaping to his feet to to yell at the top of his voice : 'You dirty bastard, Bremner.' Not the type of behaviour you normally expect from Her Majesty's Press Corps . But people knew it was just Keith.
Did he like an argument ? Keith was never happier than when disputing the odds , as long as the subject was Burnley. But, then again, it always would be if Keith was around. His powers of logic were not always reliable but he would never relent, repeating his viewpoint louder and more often than anyone else until the opposition simply gave up.
As I look back 20 years I can still see that tall, slightly-dishevelled figure, with the jet-black hair and receding hairline, forever rushing about chasing something or other. Usually it was a story. He rarely seemed to relax and when he did it was with a pint and a cigarette - and an argument. But he certainly had a sense of humour, a loud hysterical laugh and, when in the mood, was great company.
Keith took some getting to know and, because of his outspoken nature, could rub people up the wrong way. But having spent more than a decade travelling with him to places like Ipswich, Plymouth and Southend the hours in his company taught me that he was a good-hearted soul. Slightly potty, perhaps( but then aren't most of us) - but a good lad and a good friend. He taught me a lot about journalism and life, for which I'll always be grateful.
Memories are scattered and diverse. Do you remember the three-day week of the Seventies, when Burnley had to play a match on a Saturday evening (I'm pretty sure it was against Sheffield United)? I recall it so well because Keith turned up late having knocked over a policeman in his car outside Turf Moor. Fortunately the officer recovered, probably quicker than the Evening Star's football correspondent who had to endure a fair amount of ribbing.
He always used to play 'The Carpenters' in the car going to away matches. It was enough to put me off them for life (but actually it didn't). And then there was the time that Keith turned up for a match wearing dark glasses, having, for once, picked on the wrong person to start a forceful argument with. He claimed he had banged his head on the car windscreen but the true story eventually came out.
There is no doubt in my opinion that Keith McNee, could and should have worked for a national newspaper. His talent, energy and dedication to the job deserved nothing less. He would have been very good at it and I think it slightly annoyed him that he did not do so.
But Keith could never leave Burnley. He could never give up following the Clarets. It was his passion, and along with his family, his whole life. In any history of Burnley Football Club there should always be a chapter on the man who was as big a fan as anyone who ever stood on the Longside.
The Orient game will always arouse strong emotions among Burnley supporters. But they should always recall with sadness, that it was Keith's last game. Honour him and remember him. There was only one Keith McNee.