Chastened by the unhappy season under Chris Waddle, the Clarets Board of Directors decided that experimenting with untried coaches was no longer for them; so in response, they turned to the man they should have appointed all along. Enter Stan Ternent.
A former Burnley player in the sixties, Ternent had carved out for himself a coaching career spent largely in the bottom two divisions, the highlight of which had been managing a Bury team which had won promotion to the Championship, a remarkable achievement for a small town club like the Shakers.
He was everything Waddle was not: direct, forthright, uncompromising and a bluff old-school disciplinarian, not for him the light touch, laissez faire attitude that Waddle had allowed to develop, if you were going to play for Stan, you had to be prepared to work and work hard.
Ternent immediately began the process of separating the wheat from the chaff. After a particularly dismal home display early in the season, Ternent gathered the press together, sat them down, told them to shut up and listen, then advised them that six of his squad – mostly Waddle signings – would no longer play for the club.
He had laid down a marker, drawn a line in the sand and whilst many criticised him for breaking the covenant of dressing room sanctuary; most fans were in agreement with the stance he had taken and the names he had named. At the time it felt like – and would subsequently prove to be – a seminal moment in the club’s recent history.
Ternent had a rolodex full of contacts, and a Redknapp-like flair for wheeling and dealing, which he did within the confines of the club’s stretched finances. The churn of players in that 1998-99 season was utterly breath-taking; no fewer than twenty-two players left the club (including the six singled out) whilst fourteen arrived.
Most of these were free transfers or loanees, but significant sums were paid for Paul Crichton, a solid and undemonstrative goalkeeper from West Brom; Micky Mellon and Lenny Johnrose, who bolstered the centre of mid-field and –significantly- the return of Steve Davis from Luton.
Chris Waddle didn’t leave Ternent totally bereft of talent; he inherited the striking partnership of Andy Payton and Andy Cooke as well as the brilliant and mercurial winger (Super) Glen Little.
These three, plus Davis, would form the foundations upon which Ternent would build his successful promotion wining squad.
Things did not click into place immediately however, and Burnley toiled as Ternent sought to come up with a winning combination. Indeed, when Burnley shipped eleven goals in consecutive home games against Gillingham and Manchester City things looked bleak. But a thrilling 4-3 home win over Macclesfield Town began an unbeaten run of ten games to the end of the season, seeing Burnley to the safety of fifteenth place.
Readers, I invite you at this point to take a moment to reflect on the fact that Manchester City and Macclesfield Town were, not all that long ago, in the same division.
New arrivals at the start of the following season included Mitchell Thomas, formerly of Spurs and England; Paul Cook who added a veneer of polish to the midfield and John Mullin, a former youth team star who re-joined after a spell with Sunderland.
Things began well and a solid start saw the season pick up momentum and as the new Millennium dawned, Burnley were in amongst the contenders behind the runaway leaders, David Moyes’ Preston.
In early February, Burnley played another of the contenders, Bristol Rovers, at Turf Moor. Burnley won 1-0 thanks to a superb long-range strike from Glen Little. But the win came at a cost as Andy Payton picked up a red card and with Andy Cooke injured Burnley faced the prospect of going into a key home match against another of the leading pack, Wigan, without either of their main strikers.
Valentine’s Day in the year 2000 was a Monday, my wife had settled down in front of the tele to watch Delia Smith’s cooking show just as the phone rang. I returned into the living room punching the air with excitement. This was an unusual response to Delia’s revealing of perfectly turned out soufflé, so much so that my wife was moved to ask as to the cause of my euphoria.
“We’ve signed Wrighty!” was my exultant response.
Arsenal legend and sometime chat show host Ian Wright had chosen Burnley as his home for the twilight of a glittering career. Even my wife had heard of Ian Wright and even she was suitably impressed. Indeed, had she known, I imagine Delia herself – keen football fan as she is – would have smiled in appreciation.
The Wigan match would be Wright’s Burnley debut and overnight it became a much sought-after ticket, fortunately I was able to acquire them for myself and my two sons. The game was actually a little dull – ending goalless – but we had witnessed Ian Wright in a Burnley shirt and that was good enough.
The cold hard statistics of Wright’s time with Burnley are nothing remarkable; four goals in fifteen appearances, but dreary mathematics cannot begin to measure the galvanising effect his mere presence had on the squad and the fans. Moreover, two of those goals saved what turned out to be a vital point at Gillingham and produced an injury time winner against Notts County.
It is true that a little of the sharpness in front of goal and the liquid movement across the pitch of his heyday had diminished, but his competitive edge and his sheer enthusiasm for the game had not.
Even with Wright in the ranks however, Burnley were still being edged out of the promotion places by Gillingham and when the Gills won 3-0 at Turf Moor, it looked as though the Clarets would have to settle for the play-offs.
But Burnley reeled of three straight wins after that Gillingham loss and went into the final match – away to Scunthorpe –level on points and having done all they can to apply maximum pressure on Gillingham, who would be away to Wrexham.
Scunthorpe’s Glandford Park stadium could only house 2500 visiting fans, tickets which were hastily snapped up, so Burnley erected large screens at Turf Moor so that 7000 plus Burnley fans could watch their team come back from a goal behind to win 2-1, thanks to an equaliser from Micky Mellon and a wonder goal from Super Glen Little.
News from Wrexham was encouraging, the home team had taken the lead, but there was an agonising wait after Burnley’s match had finished before the confirmation of Wrexham’s 1-0 win came through and Burnley had secured the second automatic promotion place.
Ternent’s 1999-2000 promotion winning team did not always illuminate the firmament with flowing football, but the standards of fitness and the levels of commitment which Ternent insisted upon saw them win many matches after falling behind, or finding a wining goal late in the game. He had built a team moulded in his own resolute, fiercely competitive and bloody-minded image and they had done him and the club proud.
This is Dave's penultimate reflection of his time watching the Mighty Clarets. Thanks a million for bringing the memories come flooding back in Dave. The final piece next week will focus on almost every Burnley fan's favourite ratbag - Owen Coyle. (TEC).