Tales From Beneath The Pennines

Burnley vs. Chelsea : 30 January 2010.

This was a classic trip north to support my team. So many things to shoe-horn into this match report.

This has been a strange week for me at work as I begin with a new company on Monday and there are the usual worries and concerns. But, I tried to put all non-Chelsea thoughts to one side. With football the focus, nothing else matters.

The kick-off at Turf Moor was 5.30pm, thus allowing me a little lie-in, for once. This would be my first ever visit to Burnley and made it two new grounds in eight days, after last Saturday’s foray to Preston. To say I was looking forward to my solo mission to Lancashire would be a big understatement.

But first, a quick shopping expedition to Bath. I set off at 9.30am. My goodness, the weather was spectacular. A heavy frost and bright sunlight greeted me. No clouds. I spent about 45 minutes in Bath and I made a bee-line for “John Anthony.” I have been visiting this well-known menswear shop for about 15 years as it has always sold a great selection of “football clobber.” There was a post-Xmas sale on and I picked up a couple of half-price bargains…a muted blue Lacoste rain jacket and a deep red Victorinox baseball cap. I had a bit of banter with the Arsenal-supporting sales assistant. He was surprised to hear I was going to Burnley. It’s always fascinating, for me, to note how the clothes at football change and develop over the years. It’s a shame we no longer have the regional differences in terrace fashion that we had in the ‘eighties – it’s a homogenised look these days. For a while, the usual brands such as Lacoste, CP, Paul & Shark, Henri Lloyd, Armani, Boss and Hackett have held sway, with only the occasional new brand, such as Victorinox, coming to the fore. I wondered what the Burnley lot would be wearing. I was wearing a warm Schott jacket, which I bought at “John Anthony” many years back. I well remember the look on my mate Glenn’s face when I showed up at his house to take him to football and he came to the door wearing the exact same coat. Oh boy – we were known as the Schott Brothers. I have to say, he “won” the bragging rights on that as he bought his first, but I got it cheaper. Happy days. For my mates and me, who have been brought up in terrace culture since we were in our youth, we feel happy eschewing replica kits and the associated garb. We know who we are. If we’re in that away end, we are Chelsea. Maybe a little in badge here or there. That’s enough for us.

JT was being discussed on the radio and so I turned it off. As I headed north, with the Malvern Hills dusted with snow to my west, I listened to Everything But the Girl, that under-appreciated band from my ‘twenties.

“Wherever You Go I Will Follow You.”

Alan and Gary were coming up on the official Chelsea coach. As I hit the outskirts of Manchester, I was listening to “The World Of Morrissey” and I was bouncing. I don’t listen to him much these days, but when I do, it always pleases me. I was chuckling along to the lyrics of “You’re The One For Me, Fatty.” Who else writes such fruity lyrics?

I was now in my element. In my search for new footballing experiences, I had planned to travel around Manchester on the eastern ring-road, simply because I hadn’t ever driven it before. With the two Manchester clubs located in the inner-city area, Manchester is ringed by five “satellite” teams, from Bolton in the NW, via Bury, Rochdale and Oldham, to Stockport in the SE. This greater Manchester area, so important in the industrial revolution and the formation of the professional game, has played a simply massive role in Chelsea Football Club’s history. Our first ever game at Stockport in 1905, the Khaki Cup Final at Old Trafford in 1915, our first FA Cup win at Old Trafford in 1970, Clive Walker’s goal at Bolton in 1983, the tragedy of Matthew Harding at Bolton in 1996 and our first championship in 50 years at Bolton in 2005.

At Bury, I noted wind turbines on the snow-capped moors overlooking the town. Lots of red-brick mill buildings. Smoke stacks. Still no clouds – a perfect day. As I turned off the M60 – Manchester’s M25 – onto the M66, there were signposts for classic Northern towns such as Ramsbottom, Rawtenstall and Clitheroe. With those names came images of a by-gone era, of boyhood comics telling the stories of football-mad boys playing in the streets with tennis balls and of long-forgotten teams such as Glossop and Worksop. On the approach to my destination, I noted rows of small houses perched on the hillsides the colour of which, sombre grey, that I had never seen before. As I drove over the brow of a hill, Accrington was down below me to my left, an absolutely classic Northern town, rows upon rows of terraced houses, with chimneys puffing grey smoke. Then, ahead, a magnificent view of the moors above Burnley, devoid of trees, naked, ancient brown. It was – to be blunt – just what I had expected.

I remember watching Burnley many times on TV in my childhood. They were a good little team, managed by former player Jimmy Adamson…the names trip off my tongue. Frank Casper, Dave Thomas, Peter Noble, Bryan Flynn, Martin Dobson…and my favourite, the Welsh winger Leighton James. They won the league in 1960 and had a fantastic scouting network, especially in the North-East. Burnley is the smallest town – only 75,000 – to have sustained a top flight team for any length of time. I remember being entranced by the classic Turf Moor ground on TV – a terrace to the right with houses and moors behind, but a modern stand – with seats! – behind the goal to the left. You didn’t always get seats behind the goals in those days.

On the last roundabout before I entered Burnley, to my left, yet more slate grey houses. How bleak. I was getting a proper buzz about this. A real sense of place. There are certainly footballing cities further north in England, but I was strongly sensing that there are few that evoke such a strong sense of “northern-ness.” I had looked at Burnley on many maps and thought of it as “the end of the line for Lancashire” – beyond, only the Pennines and that foreign land, Yorkshire.

My mother, just after the war, had befriended a mill-worker from Burnley and had stayed with her one week. What my mother thought of it, in austere post-war Britain, one can only imagine.

I reached Burnley at 3.45pm and paid £5 for “secure match day parking” in the town centre. I popped my head inside one local pub, noted a few local “boys” and decided against it. I back-tracked and walked the half mile to the stadium, the chill wind biting at me from every direction. Police vans were parked on the approach to Turf Moor. There were about ten policemen outside “The Princess Royale” pub, another grey building. There were a few pubs on this main road, but I didn’t fancy it. Too risky. I noted several billboards promoting the club under the slogan “Together – We Are Burnley.” Outside the main stand, a montage of former Burnley players and I was s0 pleased to see a large photo of former Chelsea winger Ian Britton, arms outstretched, in ecstasy, having just scored one of the most decisive goals in their history. In May 1987, Burnley were facing relegation to non-league football in the first-ever year of automatic relegation. On the day, Burnley beat Orient 2-1 and Ian Britton scored the second. The look on his face, always cheeky, is a picture.

For the best part of an hour, I waited for mates to arrive. The weather was getting worse. Everyone was wearing hats and caps. I was wearing my trusted Yankee one. There were the inevitable gaggle of reporters and cameramen questioning us about JT. I was asked by a BBC bod to comment, but declined. We’ll close ranks and see what happens. Chelsea will stand by him, no issue. We have had bigger worries than his infidelity – bankruptcy, tragedy, hooliganism – but I still feel let down. I had to laugh at one Burnley fan who was being interviewed. He ended his piece to camera with a prolonged howl which I could only liken to a rebel yell, that Southern speciality, now evident Up North.

Nick and his son Robbie arrived. Nick’s sister now lives in Accrington and is a Burnley season-ticket holder. She was there with her husband .They wanted to arrange a family photo, but Robbie was having none of it! No inter-club friendliness in that family. The Nuneaton boys arrived – Andy, Jonesy, The Youth, his son Seb and Lovejoy. Andy was wearing a fantastic mid-brown Berghaus jacket which gets better every time I see it. I noted quite a few Chelsea arriving with Aquascutum scarves wrapped around their necks. These were so popular in the 1985-1989 period. Classics to this day. More faces arrived. A quick word with Cathy. A few people mentioned our last visit – a painful 0-3 defeat in the last few weeks of the 1982-83 season. After that, I was absolutely convinced that we would be relegated to the Third Division. Convinced! Dark days.

Alan and Gary eventually arrived at about 5pm. Seems all the Chelsea coaches had been parked in a holding area out of town after rumours of trouble involving Chelsea and the Burnley mob, the wonderfully blunt “Suicide Squad.” I met Ajax again and sold him a spare for Arsenal.

Inside, we had superb seats, in the second row, to the right of the far post. Gill from Kent was ten seats away. Since redevelopment, the TV cameras swapped sides, like at The Bridge. Turf Moor holds 22,000 and this represents one-third of the town’s population. Putting club loyalty to one side, that’s an amazing achievement. However, my mate Mark, from eight miles up the road in Darwen, is a Blackburn fan and loathes Burnley. He calls them The Bastards, or The Dingles, after a family of low life ne’er do-wells in the UK soap opera “Emmerdale.”

Burnley, ably supported by a noisy home support, gave us a tough game. This was one we had to win, though. Burnley made life hard for us and I kept thinking of the old adage “there are no easy games in The Premiership.” We scored after good work from Malouda and a simple tap-in from Anelka right in front of us. Eagles seemed to be a threat on their left, but it was a first-half which simmered without producing many chances. We seemed to be unable to stretch the home defence. Cech didn’t really have to make a save. I was snapping away like a fool and half-expected a steward to ask me to put my camera away. Thankfully this never happened. I took a lovely shot of Malouda, our best player in the first-half, whipping a ball in. I noted a full moon appear in the gap between north and east stands, just above the scoreboard. It seemed to add to the drama…

Ian Britton made the half-time draw and he waved over to us, with that endearing cheeky smile of his. We responded with a chant from the ‘seventies –

“Ian – Ian Britton – Ian Britton on the wing.”

I also had a – sadly – great view of the mess which lead to their equaliser. Not Alex’ finest moment. All of a sudden, we became more urgent and the second-half was all ours really. Branislav Ivanovic had a great game and caused more of a threat than the poor Joe Cole. Lamps and Ballack seemed to be labouring. JT was having a stormer, though, and was ignoring the boos from the home support. We peppered Jensen in their goal and a Joe Cole was disallowed for offside. Our support found it hard to battle the vociferous locals. Alan, Gary and myself kept singing. We stood the entire game. After a typically robust piece of defensive play by our captain, I commented to Gary

“JT will score the winner tonight.”

As the game continued, I was still confident we’d get a goal. With five minutes left, Frank swung in a corner, JT leaped and the ball bounced in.

We went ballistic. I grabbed Gary – looking back, quite violently! – and we bounced up and down with me yelling “I told you! I told you! I told you!” After the build-up to the day, it just had to be. Some things are just meant to be.

The away end was now bouncing. My mate Glenn texted me to say he saw us on TV. The players made a quick getaway – clearly under orders. JT kissed the badge and a stern Frank gave us a thumbs up. We sang a few songs beneath the stand. We were all happy. I said to a few friends “that is a defining game in our season.” It reminded me of that tough night just up the road at Ewood in early 2005. Five years on, the same feeling. This will be our year. This was not a great Chelsea performance. Hell, at times, it wasn’t even good. But we look the likeliest team to win the league. So, let’s enjoy it.

I left Burnley at 8pm and wondered if I would ever be back. I retraced my steps, stopping off for a filling Chinese buffet in Ashton-Under-Lyme, the place full of Mancs of both hues no doubt. There was heavy snow near Stafford and I feared the worst. However, it didn’t follow me south. Japan were now on the CD player. More memories of those tough Chelsea winters of my youth. Then a tiring detour through Wolverhampton, with Molyneux sleeping in the distance, followed by a couple of Red Bull pit stops, resulted in me not getting home until 2.15am.

Another long day, but a magical day of childhood memories, of new experiences, of music, of terrace culture, of laughter, of friendship and of football.

Hull and Arsenal next. Let the Chelsea roll continue.

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