A team newly promoted into the second tier of the league goes on to have a season which included home wins over four of the eventual top six; a 7-1 thumping of Charlton Athletic and runs deep into both cup competitions, featuring wins over Spurs and Liverpool. Sounds like a good season, right? Wrong; all this happened to Burnley in 1982-83 and they still got relegated.
Before the season began, there was a buzz around the town; the club held an open day at Turf Moor, the mood was optimistic; striker Paul McGee even suggested to me that a further promotion was very much, in his opinion, a distinct possibility.
Things began promisingly; a home draw with Bolton was followed by 4-1 wins away at Middlesbrough and at home to Carlisle United.
But a run of defeats followed; careless defeats at home to Rotherham and Shrewsbury for example, matches which Burnley were equipped to win and should have won and which caused the Clarets to slip down the table.
A brief revival which coincided with the arrival of former Manchester City and Scotland full-back, Willie Donachie, came to a shuddering halt with a further run of five losses, amongst which was the cardinal sin of losing the Boxing Day clash at home to Blackburn Rovers.
Things came to a head after a particularly moribund display at Bolton which ended in a 3-0 defeat and featured the indignity of the opposition goalkeeper scoring with a wind-assisted hoof the length of the field. Not the ideal preparation for a League Cup Quarter Final the following Wednesday evening away to one of the best teams in the country; Tottenham Hotspur.
There was an apocryphal story doing the rounds that Brian Miller had been sacked whilst on the bus to the Spurs tie; he wasn’t, he was sacked a couple of days previously in the wake of the Bolton debacle, but the timing was still unfortunate for Frank Casper, who took caretaker charge of the team ahead of this major fixture. Surely Burnley were a team in turmoil and hadn’t a hope against Spurs?
I was about a year into my relationship with my then girlfriend and future wife; she took exception (quite rightly) to me listening to the radio during our Wednesday evening together. She was further infuriated at my regular outbursts of celebratory joy whilst she was trying to administer the bollocking I so richly deserved.
My attempts to explain that Burnley – my team (and by extension, hers’) - were in the midst of causing the cup upset to end all cup upsets were not well received.
That isn’t hyperbole, by the way, if ever the normally accepted structure of football had its foundations rocked to a level which registered high on the Richter Scale; then Tottenham Hotspur 1, Burnley 4 was it.
Billy Hamlton enjoyed the game of his life, powering through a Spurs defence which were increasingly bewildered and frustrated by the torment he was inflicting. Officially, Hamilton scored two of the goals whilst Spurs’ Graham Roberts contributed two own goals, but in reality all four goals belonged to Hamilton.
Thankfully, my girlfriend forgave me sufficiently to join me at the home leg of the semi-final against Bob Paisley’s all-conquering Liverpool team of Dalglish, Rush, Hansen and Souness. Despite their best efforts, Burnley lost the first leg by three goals to nil, and we Clarets’ fans could console themselves with the notion that we had fared no worse than most of the teams in the top division when visiting Anfield.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that the tie was pretty much over as a contest, Burnley and their supporters were most definitely up for the contest when the second leg at Turf Moor came around; and the players responded with a resolute and purposeful performance in which they ran hard and harried and pressurised their illustrious opponents.
Derek Scott, who had missed Burnley’s best chance at Anfield, scored the only goal; and then had another disallowed, and although Burnley were outclassed, with just a tad more luck the tie could have been theirs.
These cup exploits against hallowed opposition had the effect of giving Burnley’s league form a lift, Frank Casper was doing a decent job in caretaker charge and it looked as though Burnley were hauling themselves out of trouble, plus they still had an FA Cup quarter final to look forward to. Things were looking up.
In that quarter final, Burnley were drawn at home to Jack Charlton’s Sheffield Wednesday, a decent team who were chasing promotion, but who Burnley had beaten 4-1 earlier in the season. This time, however, Wednesday were the better of the two teams and went a goal ahead, Tommy Cassidy headed an equaliser, but Wednesday were inspired in the replay and hammered Burnley 5-0.
That result seemed to knock the stuffing out of Burnley and a run of five consecutive league defeats followed including a shameful loss to Blackburn at Ewood Park in which a section of Burnley fans blighted the club with some disgraceful scenes of violence and wanton vandalism.
That run of defeats was to prove terminal and I have often pondered that had Cassidy not equalised and Burnley had not then suffered such a demoralising defeat at Hillsborough, whether they would have been able to shrug off the setback of losing 1-0 at home and gone onto save themselves from relegation?
A brief run of three wins and three draws however, meant that Burnley would go into their last game, away at Crystal Palace, knowing that a win would put them level on points with fourth bottom Grimsby Town and, by virtue of their big win over Charlton, their superior goal difference would see them safe.
But Burnley were unable to lift themselves on the night and a season which began with such promise petered out into a limp 1-0 defeat at Selhurst Park and relegation.
All these years later, I still cannot understand how Burnley contrived to get themselves relegated in 1983. On the face of it, they had a good team, proving themselves capable of summoning up improbable peaks of performance. But their inconsistency manifested itself in too many lacklustre performances and too many careless defeats.
Looking back, it was season which became a precursor to a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions.
Dave Thornley continues to scrape the barnacles off his brainbox and detail the highs and lows of being a Burnley supporter. More recollections to follow next week. (TEC).