At the end of the 1978 Scottish League season, Celtic somehow managed to finish fifth in what is traditionally a two horse race and thus did not qualify for the following season’s European competitions. So instead of fixtures in Munich or Madrid; Celtic fans found themselves travelling to Burnley for the Anglo Scottish Cup, a short-lived competition of little relevance.
And travel they did; thousands of them descending on Turf Moor on a balmy September evening, many – a great many – in an advanced state of lubrication before the kick off after establishing dominion over Burnley’s pubs and off licences throughout the day.
Arriving at the ground, one was immediately aware of an uneasy, combustible atmosphere; a powder keg awaiting the arrival of a spark.
It was provided by Steve Kindon who had the effrontery to put Burnley a goal up in the second half and all hell broke loose.
A pitch invasion duly followed, which quickly accelerated into a full-blown riot; missiles in the form of bottles or cans; even the metal fences which notionally separated the two sets of supporters were being uprooted and hurled. The players scampered for the sanctuary of the changing rooms and for peace-loving fans such as myself, it was truly terrifying for a while.
When some semblance of order was restored, the players re-emerged and Burnley held on to the 1-0 lead which had caused all the trouble.
Burnley would win the second leg at Celtic Park too, and went on to win the Anglo Scottish Cup, defeating Mansfield Town and Oldham Athletic. What a strange little tournament it was!
That – along with completing a league double over Blackburn Rovers – was the highlight of an otherwise drab season in which Burnley finished 13th. With the Clarets losing six of their last seven matches, the writing was clearly on the wall. The following season Burnley slipped into the third tier for the first time.
The seventies had promised so much, but ended with the club at what was at that time its lowest ebb. An ageing, and ailing, Bob Lord had stepped down as Chairman and would pass away in 1981. His influence over Burnley was immense, and remains evident in the core values he put in place and in the unique identity that he, above anyone else, established for the club he led for so long.
He was a reactionary curmudgeon, and his parsimony, suspicion of the media and tendency to bear grudges would drive me and other supporters to despair. But he kept the club solvent, competitive and, apart from at the very end of his tenure, in the top two divisions.
Lord’s successor was John Jackson; a barrister who was pretty much everything Lord was not; urbane, articulate and keen on consensus. His arrival was greeted by fans as a breath of fresh air, the start of a new era; we had his rock bottom and the only way was up. If only we knew.
The winds of change swept through the team too; Harry Potts’ second spell in charge had run out of steam and he was replaced by Brian Miller; a tough central defender in Burnley’s 1960 Championship team and the very epitome of a one club man. Miller was Burnley to the very core of his being.
Of the players who had formed the successful team of the mid-seventies under Jimmy Adamson, only Alan Stevenson in goal and the returning Martin Dobson remained. Leighton James had moved to Swansea, Kindon to Huddersfield and Noble and Fletcher both to Blackpool.
But Burnley’s famed youth policy promised to come to the clubs rescue; as in 1968, the club had a magnificent crop of gifted youngsters to call upon; Trevor Steven, Micheal Phelan and Lee Dixon would all go on to win major club honours and play for England; whist Brian Laws and Vince Overson would have long and successful careers in the top two divisions.
Tommy Cassidy would provide ballast and solidity in midfield and in attack there was Billy Hamilton, who was picked up for minimal outlay from Queens Park Rangers and would become one of the club’s most celebrated strikers.
In many ways, Hamilton was similar in style to a Clarets striker of recent vintage, Sam Vokes . Both were good in the air; powerful runners; physically strong, but athletic rather than muscle-bound; and generous in their willingness to hold the ball up and run the channels for the benefit of their strike partners.
Miller dutifully set about assembling these pieces into a finished puzzle; it would take a while. The first season in the third tier offered some moments of promise, but lacked consistency and the following season began sluggishly; with Burnley losing six of their first eight games.
But a 2-1 away win over Portsmouth sparked the Clarets into life and they would go on an unbeaten run stretching twenty games and encompassing six consecutive wins.
The impetus for this dramatic turnaround was provided by a tactical switch which moved Martin Dobson into a sweeper role in between the two centre backs, Phelan and Overson. The move allowed full rein to Dobson’s creative vision and his impeccable reading of the game would snuff out potential trouble.
This defensive solidity allowed the full backs, Laws and Andy Wharton to push forward and supplement attacks. Trevor Steven displayed his precautious gifts in the midfield along with the dependable Cassidy and the feisty Kevin Young. Hamilton along with his alternating strike partners, Steve Taylor and Paul McGee would provide most of the goals.
Burnley played some excellent football that season; but it was their tenacity, their blend of youth and quality experience, their resilience and their streamlined tactics which gave them the edge.
Promotion was achieved on a Friday night in Southend; when Burnley romped to a 4-1 win over a team who a few weeks previously had won 5-3 at Turf Moor.
Going into the last match of the season, at home to Chesterfield, Burnley needed a point to secure the title and see off challenges from Carlisle United and Fulham. The match was on a Tuesday night, the night I was due to attend Blackburn College to study for my impending accountancy exams.
I therefore had a decision to make; do I bunk off college and watch the game; or put my fledgling career first and go to college. It was a no-brainer, I could take the exams anytime, but how often would I get to see Burnley lift silverware?
The kick off was delayed due to a torrential downpour which caused puddles to form on the pitch and the game itself was pretty much ruined as a spectacle. Chesterfield took the lead in the first half, and (as at Preston a decade earlier) the nerves set in. But Kevin Young equalised after the break, the game finished a draw and Burnley were third division champions. We were on our way back.
For the record, Dave passed his exams and continues to crank up his old memory box to recall the ups and downs of being a Claret (TEC.)