If one individual game of football can be held responsible for signalling Burnley’s decline from 6th place in the top division to almost dropping out of the league altogether, it would be the 3rd Round FA Cup tie in 1975 against the then non-league Wimbledon.
Readers may recall that “The Wombles of Wimbledon Common” was a popular children’s television show at the time;this, and the annual tennis tournament, represented the sum total of my knowledge of that part of South West London. So it was that I, in common with most Burnley fans, did not consider that a match against these “Wombles” would cause too much difficulty.
But the Wimbledon goalkeeper, one Dickie Guy, chose the occasion to have the game of his life, repelling all Burnley’s efforts to score past him. Meanwhile, on a rare sortie into Burnley’s half, Wimbledon nicked a goal. Embarrassment and humiliation was to follow and I remain convinced that this match, above any other, marked an ominous pre-curser of what was to follow.
A mere thirteen years later, Burnley were scrambling around in the fourth division, whilst Wimbledon were lifting the FA Cup. It’s a funny old game.
The following season, Burnley slithered out of the top division; Jimmy Adamson left the club he had served for so long and with such loyalty as player, coach and manager, and his number two, Joe Brown, took over.
Brown’s tenure however was a brief one as Burnley found life in the second tier to be far more of a struggle than it had been when they last spent time there earlier in the decade.
The team was being dismantled: James, Dobson, Flynn (these three subsequently to return), Waldron, Collins, Hankin, Docherty and Nulty – all quality players – had been sold; whilst Frank Casper had succumbed to injury and Keith Newton to the passage of time.
In their place came Terry Cochrane, an impish, mercurial winger from Ireland; Tony Morley, a sizable investment from Preston and Malcolm Smith, a journeyman striker who had been prolific whilst on loan from Middlesbrough, but who promptly stopped scoring once the move became permanent.
Burnley thus began the 1977-78 season poorly, and by November were staring relegation firmly in the face. Something needed to be done.
Harry Potts had replaced Brown, beginning his second spell as manager. He was definitely the steady hand on the tiller that the club needed, bringing experience and knowledge to both the training ground and the dugout (it didn’t become the “Technical Area” until much later).
Potts moved into the transfer market (no transfer window in those days) to recruit Brian Hall, a hard-working midfielder who had won league and cup medals under Bill Shankly at Liverpool, and to bring Steve Kindon back to the club from Wolves.
“Skippy’s” return in particular was a breath of fresh air, exciting the fans with his pace, power and his sheer personality.
Results gradually improved, but by Boxing Day the Clarets were still in trouble. Pundit and ex-Liverpool legend Ian St John declared on television that he could see no way out, and Burnley were doomed; this coming ahead of a fixture against near neighbours and bitter rivals, Blackburn Rovers.
Rovers were playing well and were serious promotion contenders, with David Wagstaffe and Noel Brotherston on the wings; Stuart Metcalf and Tony Parkes in midfield and former Arsenal striker John Radford up front.
In the first half of that Turf Moor clash, they simply tore Burnley to shreds, romping into a 3-0 lead and threatening many more. To make matters worse, Steve Kindon had sustained a broken nose, courtesy of a flailing elbow from Blackburn defender John Waddington.
Against all medical advice, and basic common sense, an enraged Kindon reappeared in the second half and his gung-ho spirit and furious passion inspired the Clarets. Tony Morley pulled a goal back and Peter Noble added a second from a penalty (Noble never missed from the spot); suddenly Blackburn were hanging on grimly for a win which had seemed secure at the interval.
Hang on they did, but the match marked a change in fortunes for both clubs that season; Burnley hauled their way out of trouble, losing only four more games during the remainder of the season; whilst Rovers’ promotion challenge faded and when the teams met again at Ewood Park during Easter, Burnley won thanks to Terry Cochrane’s early goal.
That victory came amidst a run of seven wins and one draw during which Potts had Burnley playing some of the most thrillingly cavalier attacking football I have witnessed as a Burnley supporter.
Kindon would use his sheer pace to bludgeon defences; whilst Cochrane and Morley (who was to become a League and European Cup winner with Aston Villa) added skill on the wings. Paul Fletcher remained an aerial threat at centre forward; and Peter Noble in tandem with the industrious Billy Ingham would prompt and drive from midfield.
And whilst the Ewood win was an obvious source of satisfaction, the pinnacle of that sequence of results came on April Fools’ Day; when Burnley and Tottenham (who had been relegated the previous season) played out one of the finest matches I have ever seen at Turf Moor. Burnley coming from a goal behind to win 2-1 and Billy Ingham playing a blinder in midfield, holding sway over the divine skills of a young Glen Hoddle.
Sadly, Burnley’s recovery from seemingly certain peril that season did not mark the springboard to success we had hoped for. Instead it merely postponed relegation to the third tier for a couple of seasons; a slide which even the return of Leighton James and Martin Dobson could halt.
More of that to follow in my next series of reminiscences, along with the night when the Scots invaded Burnley and laid siege to Turf Moor.
Uber Claret Dave Thornley continues to attempt to beat those "Lockdown Blues", more to follow next week. (TEC.)