Team of the Seventies

Last updated : 05 April 2020 By Dave Thornley

“Team of the Seventies”. 

Relegation in 1971 after a long and glorious run in the first division was a shock; but Burnley fans could take solace from two things: first off Blackburn Rovers had also been relegated to the third tier in the same season and with the significant exceptions of Ralph Coates, Steve Kindon and the blond Arian Adonis goalkeeper Peter Mellor, the club had managed to hold onto their talented crop of youngsters. 

There was therefore no need for major surgery, merely a nip and tuck here and there. The loss of Kindon was ably compensated by the emergence of Leighton James, the wonderful left winger who was the Dwight McNeill of his day, and would later become one of Burnley’s most legendary and venerated players. 

Coates’ position was a tougher one to replenish; Arthur Bellamy and Alan West both featured, but couldn’t nail down a regular place and so the midfield workload eventually on the trio of Doug Collins, Geoff Nulty and Martin Dobson. 

The vacancy left between the posts by Mellor saw Burnley pull off one of their greatest ever transfer coups, when they splashed out £50,000 for Chesterfield’s Alan Stevenson. 

The other significant arrival was that of former England full-back Keith Newton, who was deemed to be surplus to requirements by Everton. Newton was a Rolls-Royce of a footballer, composed under pressure, diligent in attending to his defensive duties and possessing a threat going forward. 

At the beginning of the 1972-73 season, Burnley’s second in the second division, a solid looking squad therefore appeared to be in place.  

Unlike nowadays, when every minute of every match is televised, back then we had to rely on the two games per week that were shown on Match of the Day and their ITV equivalent, The Big Match. For Burnley fans this was doubly difficult because Bob Lord vehemently disapproved of televised football and would not welcome the cameras to Turf Moor. 

So with little footage to go on, I have to rely on my increasingly hazy memory and the relevant entry in that year’s Rothmans Football Yearbook, which in itself harkens back to a bygone era when nobody bothered about tobacco sponsorship.  

What the book and my recollections reveal is that Burnley led the division pretty much from gun to tape, they hit the top as early as September 2nd  and remained there for all but five weeks , never slipping out of the top three at any stage. It was November before Burnley were defeated for the first of only four occasions. 

The second such defeat was in January at the hands of the Clarets’ closest rivals, Queens Park Rangers; to whom Burnley had earlier sold one of their star players, Dave Thomas, and who were to win 2-0 at Loftus Road.  

The game was featured on Match of the Day and was memorable too for the maiden voyage of the “League Liner” a specially fitted out football-themed  train designed to transport supporters from one end of the country  to the other for away matches and which included bars and a discotheque (remember this was the 70’s). It was a ridiculous notion and in those days of football hooliganism, one that was always doomed to be short-lived. 

Other prominent memories include the Clarets coming out on top of a seven goal thriller at home to Blackpool; a thundering long-range winner by Leighton James against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough (also on the telly); rescuing a late point at Middlesbrough after being 3-1 down a thumping 3-0 win at Villa Park and a 4-0 midweek hammering of a hapless Portsmouth team at Turf Moor. 

Promotion was secured on a balmy April evening at Turf Moor, when almost twenty three thousand fans saw Paul Fletcher score both goals in a 2-0 win over Sunderland, that season’s shock FA Cup winners. 

QPR, to their credit, never faltered in their pursuit, and coming into the final day of the season, Burnley still required a point to secure the Championship. Their concluding fixture was away to Preston, who themselves needed a point to be sure of avoiding relegation.  

Alex Bruce put Preston ahead and with QPR building a convincing lead at Sunderland, we were getting nervous until Colin Waldron’s emphatic strike from an adjacent post code restored parity and settled our nerves.  

It was the first Burnley away game I had ever attended, although with what seemed like most of the town in attendance, it barely felt like it. The sense of triumph at the final whistle was a wondrous sensation. 

There were striking similarities between this triumph and the other two more recent second-tier promotion seasons under Sean Dyche: on each occasion the Burnley team consisted of a strong defence in front of a high quality goalkeeper; each team had a hard-working and fluid midfield and a complimenting pair of strikers.  

In addition; both Adamson’s team and Dyche’s were able to achieve consistency in team selection, enjoying good fortune with injuries; Adamson selected from a mere seventeen players, two of whom, Hankin and Probert, made only one substitute appearance each and no fewer than six players played every one of the 42 matches. 

Which of those promotion teams was the best I cannot say, but my memories of the 72-73 team are perhaps the more cherished because it was my first experience of Burnley winning a trophy. 

Dave continues to beat the "Lockdown Blues", while simultaneously scouring his brainbox to think about happier times when we could actually watch live football. (TEC).