Burnley v Leeds United, Saturday October 15th, 2005

     Even after all these years there’s still something special about a game against Leeds United. It’s a game that carries a sharp edge; it’s a game I always want us to win just a little bit more than several other games I can think of. Maybe one reason is because I live in Leeds and my neighbour is one of ‘them’ and tends to smirk a lot when we lose. My other neighbour is Bradford, so I smirk at him. I’m a heavy smirker but I’m finding it hard to give up. But maybe another reason is because those of us who are a bit long in the tooth can remember those crunching games we played against them in the sixties and seventies, when Hunter, Charlton and Bremner et al reigned supreme. They had little Bobby Collins as well not much more than 5’ tall in his slippers but hard as nails, then Johnny Giles and Lorimer and Cooper and their list of class players went on and on and as we all well know under the tutelage of Don Revie they were pretty much the first team who played to win at all costs and didn’t mind how many bruises they left along the way. From their early crudeness they then matured to become at their peak one of the most superb footballing sides I ever saw. 

     Sixties games against Burnley generally fell under the heading of X certificate. We had, believe me, our own set of hardmen, Lochhead, Angus, O Neil and Harris. They were rough, tough, hard games. One of them was decided by a freak own goal by Alex Elder with a back pass come lob from the corner flag (caught by the wind he said). One was dubbed the battle of Turf Moor. All 22 players were brought to the middle of the field by the ref for a dressing down. It continued into the seventies, who’ll not forget the marvellous 4 – 1 win at Elland Road, Casper was crippled, the Burnley dressing room was like a St John’s first aid room.

     Lochhead versus Hunter, progressed to Waldron versus Clarke which progressed to Hankin versus McQueen as the years went by. And then as added value there was always Garry Sprake in the Leeds goal. Think David James but worse and you’ll get the picture: brilliant one minute, classic howlers the next. Sprake holds the world record for shots going through his legs, or throwing the ball into his own net. Willie Irvine was a regular beneficiary of Sprake’s generosity.

     And then there was last season, that delicious 2 – 1 away win after Leeds scored in the first minutes. How satisfying: a drink in a Leeds fans’ pub before the game keeping dead quiet about where we were from: the satisfying walk away from the ground afterwards listening to the muttering and mumblings of miserable Leeds supporters. Buying every newspaper I could find the day after.

     Yes, there’s a definite history to Burnley v Leeds games. We go back a long way. And here’s something else. Harry Potts, our own great man, was offered a coaching post at Leeds United when he left Everton in the fifties. Just think if he’d taken it, who’s to say he wouldn’t have become manager there one day and the history of two clubs would have been so different: the ifs and buts of football: fascinating. Harry, that most Christian of men, who never had an unkind word to say about anyone had one exception – Don Revie.

     Ah well, on to the game. 12.30 kick off. Bloody nuisance but the consolation is Mrs T allows me my annual pie and peas because of the disruption to our usual lunch routine. It’s a game against Leeds so I bring three extra people over with us: another £60 for the till. I’m a good boy and bought the extra tickets before matchday which DE wants us to do, thus avoiding the dreaded, ridiculous surcharge. DE reportedly wants a cashless matchday culture at the club. Sorry but I thought we’d been cashless and skint for quite a few years now. Blair has his New Labour, are we heading towards Dave’s New Burnley? Sorry some of us are a bit traditional, still wear cloth caps, waistcoats, (wesscut my granddad called them) raise pigeons, have allotments, grow rhubarb, drink tea from a saucer, mutter ‘by thi ‘eck’, though we don’t wear clogs any more. But we still like to turn up at 5 to 3 and pay cash after a last minute decision, that we fancy coming to a game today, but without having to pay an extra £3 for the dubious privilege. Remember, this is Burnley not Barcelona. Pay the extra £3 or feed the whippets. The whippets come first.

     Ah well, the match report, I will get there soon…
     I woke in the middle of the night recently thinking is it exactly 12 0 clock that is the cut off point on a matchday for avoiding the surcharge? One minute to 12 and you’re OK. What about one minute past 12? How flexible is it? Will somebody ring a big bell; bang a gong, blow a whistle at exactly 12? Memo to club: you could have a gong banger sponsored by GM Fitted Furniture. Will the doors shut, lights flash? Could you go in covered in spots and say sorry but I had a doctor’s appointment, all the traffic lights were at red, I really tried to get here at five to, but parking on Mizpah Street is a bloody nightmare. If I run in panting will they take pity? How human will BFC be in these circumstances?  Will someone have to ring DE and the directors for a Johnny on the spot decision? 12.15 is a definite “sorry you’ve missed your chance so clear off”, but what about this grey area between 12 and 12.10 with your little seven year old, nostrils resting on the counter, looking tearful, sad eyed and appealingly at the ticket ladies. Tricky.

     Will the directors or whoever made this strange decision think they did a good day’s work, or will some of them cotton on to it defying all the laws of common sense? Questions, questions, questions. And by supporting the new cashless culture, does this mean I am now cultured? Mrs T would probably say not. I’m the sort of bloke who can’t help laughing hysterically when somebody loudly passes wind accidentally in a moment of hushissimo during a classical concert. Me – cultured – gerraway.

     But a new big worry, if one day we are to be cashless on a matchday, how on earth will we pay for our pies? Of course – pay for them before 12 o clock or get a season pie ticket. How silly of me. The club talks about enhancing The Matchday Experience’. Brilliant, they’ve done it in a stroke and it ain’t cost them a penny; it starts now at 5 to 12. Memo – please reopen the Café Claret then we can have a cuppa or get enough merchandise into the club shop so that we can happily browse in there for longer, double the size of the programme, get the performing dogs out, a brass band, Status Quo…  we’ve three hours to kill. Bertie Bee will be knackered.

    Ah well, on to the game (at the third attempt). We’ve just had four unbeaten games, only one defeat in September. The win agin Wolves I watched in a bar in Greece on SKY with the rain hammering down outside. I sat and watched Burnley playing so well and thought why can’t we play like that and then realised after the Retsina wore off, it was us. Football is all about unpredictability and we’re good at that.

     The blessed Robbie was in for Leeds from the start. Ian Moore sat on the bench. Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall. Whoever would have predicted Blake and Moore would finish up in Batesland? The Incredible Hulse is injured or so it is claimed. Cresswell is out; now he’s Cressfallen. Things are not good at Elland Road, attendances down; half of one stand closed as an economy measure, the tropical fish gone, the 80 company cars returned, and they’re down to their last 45 players: Blackwell still there but surely the clock is ticking on his career at Leeds with Bates looking on ominously at average results: Revie & Co but a faded memory. Could it be Stan to take over, there are rumours that Master Bates is an admirer.

     We, as ever the underdog, punching above our weight, little fish in a big pond an’ all that, small gates, cheap prices, stick to the now trusty 4 – 5 – 1. But Akinbyi hasn’t scored in a league game for quite a while. Gifton-Williams is on the bench again. Big Dave will have walked to this game no doubt. Since the Plymouth aeroplane trip with the stars, has he come back down to earth yet? All of us keep our wits about us and keep our eye on the ball. We don’t want to get hit in the mush by a stray Akinbyi shot. And nobody ever says sorry at the Turf if you do get a black eye.

        Can we do another Wolves? The answer was (at last the report)…
     No we couldn’t and only two gin and tonics and two large helpings of stew and dumplings numbed the disappointment of this result, losing 2 – 1 to a side that is now 4th in the table, thereby showing how mediocre the division must be. For in truth we played them off the park in the first half with lovely, one touch football, busy, industrious, eager, with Hyde a joy to watch with his deft touches, instant control, measured passes, and so difficult to dispossess. Akinbyi covering every blade of grass, Spicer all energy, the O Connors controlling the middle and breaking through, Branch soaring like an eagle – until he was taken out by a savage, atrocious tackle that went right through him and should have seen a red card. Leeds were nothing, other than one Blake chance when suddenly he appeared unmarked out of nowhere, shot, and Jensen tipped the ball and all of us watched it roll just wide agonisingly just inches from the post.

     And yet in spite of this dominance, nothing quite came off, the final pass; the long ball into the box, a Leeds head in the way, and above all, no class wide player who can get good crosses over; no instinctive goal poacher, someone who just knows how to be in the right spot at the right time, who can ghost in unnoticed, who can sniff out the half chances. What we had instead was a procession of wild shots from outside the box from various players high over the bar, or midfield players who yes do burst through but just can’t quite get there first. All approach work thus wasted.

     The inevitable then happened. Second half and Leeds were far more in the game, but in spite of that suddenly Akinbyi breaks clear, powers into the area, and is brought down by the line. G. O Connor fires home with a lovely low penalty into the bottom corner. Euphoria.

     But we lost. At some point I can’t remember when, I said to Mrs T  “this referee will give this game to Leeds”. Slowly but surely he becomes increasingly fussy and is giving all the free kicks to Leeds, some of them ridiculous and sure as apples is apples in a chase for the ball after yet another big hoof from the Leeds defence, Harley and Healey in a six of one and half a dozen of the other, pull and tug and shove each other and down goes the forward. In such cases the referee will give the foul to the forward. And so he does, and Leeds from the direct free kick predictably score.

     From a team that were so poor in the first half, all huff, puff, hoofing and simple errors, ugly wild clearances up in the air their speciality, in the second half with their gift of an equaliser, they become dominant. Burnley struggle but even then it takes one moment of neglect from the defence who have kept their finger on the Hulse all afternoon, to gift them the winning goal. It comes from Lewis who leaves Duff for dead, over comes the perfect cross, Hulse is free, the ball in the back of the net: A simple, classic five-second goal out of nothing. A Sullivan super save from G O Connor keeps out the deserved equaliser.

     I know by now that my neighbour will be watching through the curtains for our return. Prior to that, both O Connors had again burst through but their little legs are not quite long and fast enough to convert their chances. Then an Elliot cross and an Ade header deflected wide.

      Can we say that Leeds did to us what we did to Wolves? Was it our turn to be mugged? I think I’ll say yes. We did not play badly. There was the whole of the first half we controlled, there was another spell in the second half when Sullivan kept Leeds in the game, we did not drop any heads, but then maybe Leeds could say Jensen saved a near certain third Leeds goal.

     The talking points: Hulse’s petulance at the end of the first half when a disdainful referee refused to be conned by his feigned fall at the feet of Jensen, and so Hulse sat on the deck on strike, throwing his boot and socks around: The appalling tackle on Branch who we then certainly missed: The booing of Blake all afternoon who did precious little other than his one strike on goal saved by Jensen: Our vulnerability at right back the cause of their winning goal: The poor refereeing in the second half gifting Leeds the equaliser: The appearance of Ian Moore Moore Moore who now seems to do even less less less than ever: and our desperate need for a proven poacher and sniffer of chances.

     My man of the match; G O Connor grows in stature every game but today Hyde, for he was a joy to watch in the first half in a display that was worth your £20 or £23 if you fell foul of the three hour rule.

     My Leeds neighbour pulled back his curtains, then rushed to the door and simply said, “we soaked up the pressure, came back from the penalty, Harley should have been sent off for his pulling back of Healey, the goal from the free kick was superb, our winning goal was class, we were never in trouble”.

     Hmmmm, he’s a nice bloke but came desperately close to being given a smack.

Dave Thomas