Looking Back

Last updated : 28 March 2020 By Dave Thornley

In hoping to beat the "Lockdown Blues," I continue to reflect on times gone by at Turf Moor. In the spring of 1970 all seemed set fair; Burnley, despite a couple of moderate seasons, seemed securely lodged in the First Division and England reigned supreme as World Champions.  

The eleven year old me naturally expected that this situation would continue in perpetuity. I was wrong. The summer and autumn of 1970 was when football revealed its dark side. 

It began in the small Mexican city of Leon; where England contrived to squander a 2-0 lead in their World Cup quarter final against those pesky Germans. Chelsea’s Peter Bonetti, standing in goal for an ill Gordon Banks, had a “mare”, and Everton’s Brian Labone stood statuesque whilst Gerd Muller volleyed in the winning goal. 

Many years later, I brought up in conversation England’s defeat on penalties (by those lovable Germans again) in the 1990 World Cup. “Have you not got over that yet?” asked my wife rolling her eyes. “I haven’t got over getting knocked out of the 1970 World Cup yet” was my reply; and I still haven’t. 

But amidst the heartache there was beauty in the form of the wonderful Brazilian team which ended up winning the tournament. They displayed a level of footballing skill and craft which I had not previously thought possible and had at its hub, the finest player of all, Pele. 

Rewind briefly to 1968, Burnley had won the FA Youth Cup, and the following season, players from that squad were slung, virtually en masse, into the first team by manager Harry Potts. There then followed a run of eight consecutive victories in all competitions, leading Burnley to be dubbed “The Team of the Seventies” by some giddy pundits. 

So the seventies dawned with Burnley looking forward optimistically; Jimmy Adamson had taken over from Potts as manager and players from that youth team such as Mick Docherty, Alan West, Steve Kindon and Dave Thomas had made the transition into first team regulars and were supplemented by shrewd acquisitions such as Colin Waldron, Frank Casper and Martin Dobson; plus there was always Ralph Coates. 

Coates remains the best player I ever saw in a Burnley shirt; a muscular powerhouse driving forward from midfield, but also blessed with touch, vision and an eye for goal. He had almost made Alf Ramsey’s squad for that ill-fated World Cup campaign, but was cut when the squad was reduced from the initial 26 to the final 22. He would have won many more international caps had he not suffered the misfortune of playing in the same position as Bobby Charlton. 

It is fair to say that Burnley began the 1970-71 season slowly, slumped in the middle before tailing off at the end. I have experienced a number of relegation seasons in my time as a Burnley fan, but few as depressingly lacklustre as this. 

By the new year, Burnley had won only twice in the league and were soon to crash embarrassingly out of the FA Cup, thumped 3-0 by Oxford United – yes, Oxford United! 

Lack of goals, compounded by injuries to key players were the major problems; plus a lack of leadership, experience in vital areas and a general lethargy which was allowed to fester and spread unchecked throughout the team. 

Bob Lord, out of sheer desperation, and against every parsimonious instinct in his body, splashed out a club record fee of £60,000 (a modest outlay even by the standards of the time) on Paul Fletcher a striker from Bolton, brought in to arrest the goal drought, but his arrival was too little far too late. 

The Clarets slithered shamefacedly out of the first division, along with Blackpool, and miles behind third bottom West Ham. They managed to win a mere seven games all season, three of which came after their relegation fate had been sealed. 

Ralph Coates was sold to Spurs at the end of the season; there he enjoyed a decent career, but never really recaptured the potent form of his time as a Claret.  

There was to be light at the end of the tunnel; Burnley would spend two seasons in the second division before returning in triumph, as we shall re-live in my next instalment. (Dave Thornley reflections). (TEC).