At the beginning of Sean Dyche’s first full season in charge of Burnley Football Club, Lee Grant who had served the club well in previous seasons had departed. His replacement was a goalkeeper who had just been released by newly relegated Bristol City.
Early in the new season, the Clarets were playing at home to Yeovil Town. It was a sunny day and the atmosphere at Turf Moor was mellow as Burnley eased their way to a routine 2-0 victory against a non-too- demanding opposition.
Watching from my seat in the stand, my concentration was alerted by our new goalkeeper barking orders to his team mates. It struck me there and then that here was something different; here was an increase in intensity, an insistence upon raised standards; Tom Heaton was announcing his arrival.
As that season progressed, Tom Heaton’s presence in the Burnley goal confirmed that early impression. Burnley went on to win promotion, the increased security offered by Heaton being a major factor.
As his career at Burnley progressed, those standards never wavered; indeed his level of performance and his consistency improved in tandem with the quality of the opposition that he and his Clarets team mates faced.
Along with Ben Mee, Heaton remained a mainstay of what have proved to be successive seasons of high achievement for Burnley under the gravelled voiced manager Sean Dyche.
Tom received subsequent call-ups for England and throughout his stay at Turf Moor Heaton has remained a model professional, even when a shoulder injury prevented his participation for most of Burnley’s superb seventh place finish.
At Christmas last season, the Clarets were struggling to retain their place at the top table of English football. England colleague Joe Hart had replaced him, but Heaton’s re-introduction to the starting line-up with relegation looming large, was pivotal in turning Burnley’s season around.
Tom unarguably helped the Clarets to maintain their position in the Premier League and his efforts saw him brought back into the England fold.
At the present time, it was practically impossible for Burnley gaffer Sean Dyche to keep all three of their England goalkeepers at the club. Nick Pope (now fit again after missing last season with – ironically – a similar injury to the one suffered by Heaton) represents the future and the club are right to invest in him.
Nevertheless, the decision to sell Tom Heaton to Aston Villa remains a sorrowful and poignant one. Admittedly, there can be no room for sentiment amongst football players and managers, but we fans are allowed to be sentimental: we are allowed moments of reflection and fond farewells.
Along with Alan Stevenson, Tom Heaton has been Burnley’s finest goalkeeping custodian of the last half-century. He leaves with our grateful thanks for all the thrilling saves, all the blocks at the feet of marauding forwards and more than anything else, for the feeling of comfort and security his very presence in the Burnley goal engendered. We wish him well.
This apprecition of a Burnley legend was written by Dave Thornley, who contributes regularly for Clarets Mad. (TEC).