Tragedy overshadows fine Clarets win

Last updated : 10 December 2002 By Steve Cummings

It hardly seemed to matter that the Clarets had won 1-0, playing some of their best football in the process – someone had come to watch a football match and ended up losing their life.

For what it’s worth, this is what happened on the pitch.

The Clarets made no changes to the line-up which gave Manchester United a run for their money earlier in the week in the Worthington Cup game. Forest were forced to make one change with Jess coming in to replace the highly-rated David Prutton who was serving a suspension. The biggest pre-match cheer was reserved for the return of David Johnson who was afforded a very warm reception by the home crowd.

This had been billed as one of the matches of the day in the Nationwide League, and it didn’t disappoint. Burnley took the game to Forest from the off. As early as the second minute Glen Little bamboozled three Forest defenders and sent over the perfect cross. Gareth Taylor was in the right place at the right time and sent a powerful downwards header towards the visitors’ goal. Unfortunately, Darren Ward was the equal of it, producing a stunning save to deny the Welshman.

Sixty seconds later, Gareth Taylor was again dominant in the air, this time winning a knockdown to Paul Weller who nudged the ball past the floundering Ward. Most of Turf Moor was up on its feet. But not for long. The linesman had ruled the goal offside, much to everyone’s frustration.

Nottingham Forest had come to play a counter-attacking game, and on 7 minutes it very nearly paid rich dividends. David Johnson hared towards goal as we had seen him do so many times in a claret and blue shirt. Fortunately, Arthur Gnohere was quick enough to catch him. He conceded a corner, but it could have been much more costly.

Moments later, Marlon Harewood broke down the right in acres of space. He had built up a real head of steam and looked intent on causing damage. Fortunately for Burnley he made a complete prat of himself and fell over the ball, which gave Turf Moor the most fun it has had since Craig Hignett was sent off last month.

Just before the half hour mark, Burnley broke the stalemate. Robbie Blake was boxed in down our right. He rolled the ball back to Paul Cook. Level with the edge of the area. Cook delivered a superb centre. All Lee Briscoe needed to do was put his head on it, which he duly did. The ball fairly flew into the top corner. 1-0 Burnley. To be honest, it was no more than the Clarets deserved. They were knocking the ball around nicely and generally playing some of the best football seen at Turf Moor for quite some time.

The good stuff continued. At the end of what must have been a twenty pass move, Little turned superbly on halfway and fed Robbie Blake who shot narrowly wide. The half closed with another chance for Burnley. Glen, playing out of his skin, supplied another great cross for Briscoe. Brisser set off marginally too early on his run and his resultant header went over Ward’s bar much to the Forest fans’ relief.

At halftime, news began to filter through about an assault on a Forest fan. No-one had any idea of the tragedy which was about to unfold.

If the first half had seen Burnley in the ascendancy, the second period belonged predominantly to the visitors. On 55 minutes, only a tremendous last-ditch tackle from Graham Branch prevented Jack Lester from converting a Marlon Harewood centre. It wasn’t to be the last time that Branchy was to dig us out of a hole.

The pace of the game was all too much for the referee who appeared to be troubled by some kind of injury – possibly a hamstring. After what seemed like an eternity, the assistant took his place and we got underway again.

Ten minutes later and Burnley fans were treated to the sight they had been fearing – David Johnson bearing down one-on-one with Marlon Beresford. We needn’t have worried. Johnno hadn’t brought his shooting boots with him, and fired high and wide. "You’ll always be a Claret!" sung the home fans.

Two minutes later, Burnley had a glorious opportunity to double their advantage. Little dispossessed Des Walker on the edge of the Forest penalty box. Little slipped in Gareth Taylor for a one-on-one with Darren Ward. He fluffed it. One spectator said he should have headed it…

Forest hadn’t given up the ghost though, and continued to apply pressure. On 83 minutes, Scimeca unleashed a powerful drive from 20 yards, forcing Beresford to tip over, and moments later David Johnson came within inches of converting Andy Reid’s cross, but was unable to reach it.

In an effort to disrupt the flow, Stan Ternent had thrown on all three subs. Dimi, Alan Moore and Ian Moore replaced Blake, Taylor and Little respectively. Forest’s last assault on the Burnley goal, very nearly earned them a share of the spoils. Forest had a corner where the Harry Potts Longside meets the Jimmy McIlroy Stand. King Arthur almost flicked the resultant kick into his own net, but cometh the hour, cometh the man, and Graham Branch was able to negotiate a wonderful goal-line clearance from beneath his own crossbar.

It was Burnley who were playing on the counter-attack now, and they had the last chance of the game when Alan Moore played a good cross-field ball to Papadopoulos. The Greek international took a touch and fired his shot goalwards. Ward was down well to make another fine stop. Injury time saw the home side playing keep ball in the corner as they ran the clock down until the ref blew for time.

After the games against Norwich City and Manchester United, this was another cracking game of football, and Burnley are currently playing as well as they have for a number of seasons. It is a terrible shame that this game will not be remembered for this reason, but for what was quite simply a heart-breakingly tragic event.