MATCH REPORT 

TOP SIX?
January 24th 2007
BURNLEY 0 STOKE CITY 1

This piece is dedicated to my great friend John Fielden who died just after Christmas. We were at school together, sat together in the JH, and went to all Burnley functions together. He’d followed the Clarets since the late fifties. With both of us brought up on the glorious stuff of the sixties and seventies sometimes we’d find the modern game slightly dull (to put it mildly). His favourite expression was a long protracted, frustrated, sigh, errrrrgh or sometimes it was just errrrrrr He’d have had a ball tonight and I missed him.  God bless you John.

     With snow billowing down like a thin-laced, delicate shroud, the flickering ghost of the last faint hope of any eventual top six place was finally laid to rest tonight at Turf Morgue. We shivered, we shuddered, and we shrugged our shoulders at a team that was given a lesson in the simple things by a routine, efficient and organised Stoke City.


    Talk about anti climax, it was exactly that. A crowd of over 12k was clearly swelled by a few hundred extra walk ons, coming to see new signings and the resumption of winning ways. But this is Burnley, and this is lack of pace, size, muscular strength, lack of penetrating runs, the finding of open spaces, and the absence of any finishing ability. And that’s not to mention corners. There were another 14 tonight, and not one had any end product. At least there seemed a little more variety, long and short, far post and near post, a diagonal ball to an incoming full back… dare I ask… did some eagle eyed coach see my Claretsmad report on the Southampton game. But yet again, an opposing defence swats away our corners like we would swat flies off the kitchen table, as if they are just an irritating momentary inconvenience.


     Us in the top six by the end of the season… that’s just about as ridiculous a thought now as Gordon Brown being today voted Scottish man of the year, or Jade Goody’s proposed visit to India to embrace Islam and ask for forgiveness for her BB bloopers. Apparently her perfume factory is based out there and is currently in some unexpected local difficulty… I wonder why?


     The woman leaving the game down the stairs near me ten minutes from the end muttered angrily… “125 miles to see that load of ****” a tad harsh perhaps I thought… you didn’t go to Hull I wondered… or maybe she did.


     “Football Rest in Peace” wrote one scribe in an email to me. “Bloody rubbish,” muttered my companions John, Dom, Joe and Nick. Mrs T continued to cheer… she always does… the eternal optimist. 

  
     For twenty minutes we were in the game, all the good things centred around Gifton, winning the ball, laying it off, shooting on target. And then it just fell apart. But Stoke didn’t play fair; they had two strikers better than ours. Now I call that underhand. Their two, Sidibe and Fuller, had height, pace, power and that rare commodity ball control at speed and a good first touch. They ran rings round our defenders all night. When you say ‘the plod’ you usually think of the police. In Burnley, tonight, you think of our defence.


     This morning I listened to a radio discussion about what is ‘class’, you know the sort of thing, middle class have a shower before work; working class have a bath after work on a Friday, sometimes in the back yard. Middle class have dinner in the evening, working class at midday. Working class… sliced bread… middle class… granary loaves… upper class… wafer thin bread slices in diagonal quarters with the crusts cut off. You could go on. Working and middle class do actually work, whereas upper classes have shower in morning, dinner in the evening but don’t do any work in between other than playing polo.


     How does this translate to football? Well, there’s an upper class that can control a ball effortlessly whilst lolling on the couch, a middle class that can control a ball with one touch and pass to their team, and the artisan class that can’t control it with a shovel and to make matters worse frequently pass the ball to the opposition when they do get a sniff of it. Guess which group we belong to. I hear most of them are on £3k a week. £3k or not, at the moment we are the thick sliced bread of the football world.


     Ah well, the game: The anticipation, the build-up, and the expectancy. Ade was given a rapturous welcome and then he might as well have gone home… Pollit saved us a few times my motm… Djemba Djemba, so good they named him twice, (there’s a new chant by the way, there’s only two Djemba Djembas) started well, faded, and was replaced. At half time we were 1 – 0 down courtesy of a Sidibe goal from a Fuller run along the by line after he had skinned our defenders so easily he could have read a comic while he was doing it.


     Half time: the DJ (what a sense of humour the cheeky man) played I’m Sending Out an SOS by Sting and the Police). Honest you couldn’t make it up. Gudjonnson came on and was quickly booked for upending a Stoke player about to disappear into the open prairies of our defence… nothing new there then. He was booked 23 times in a two season spell at Leicester. Their fans voted him player of the year. They must like it rough down there. Personally I prefer something a little bit more cultured and creative. Like Jimmy McIlroy in fact who came on to do the half time draw and was applauded by all fans from Burnley and Stoke alike. What did Jimmy make of it all? I know exactly what he thinks of the modern game. I’m sure you can guess.


     Needless to say the airwaves and telephone lines crackled with fedupness, and disbelief at such a rank performance. There is this thing on one website which gives players marks out of ten, and some of them a brief comment. The average mark per player this time was something like 3.5.


     The comments were enlightening… I’d lost the will to live by half time… it doesn’t seem to matter who plays where, we just don’t have a single player who can take a man on and beat him… we didn’t even deserve the 0… I’ve seen better athletes in Tesco… is we have do have lads who are better than this… trouble is they both work in the club shop…


     Before the game the manager was saying the lads were raring to go and desperate to play… didn’t quite seem that way on the night when his comments became… “We started the game a little ring rusty and the tempo was too slow (actually Steve, the first 20 minutes was our best period)... we just had too many off colour (that’s ‘crap’ in fan-speak) and we looked as if we hadn’t played for a while… we need players who need football (we have supporters who need football)… Ade looks as though he has spent 12 months in a gymnasium and not running…


     And so four or five hundred joyous Stokies left the stadium exultant, and 11,600 or so BFC addicts left shrammed and headshaking. The boos whilst not reaching a deafening crescendo were loud enough though.


     But how can you be despondent? It’s a funny game innit? We trekkies will be there again. Whilst top six is now a distant dream, four wins for safety seems reasonable. Ever the eternal optimist you can only say we can’t play as badly again… can we… although we said that after Hull… and a win must come soon simply by the law of averages.
    So chin up, I leave you with this story to cheer you up which I pinched from a Claretsmad contributor…
    
Retired people often try to make their days interesting.
For example, the other day, Bob and I went into town and into a shop.
When we came out there was a warden writing out a parking ticket.
We went up to him and said, “How about giving a senior citizen a break?”
He ignored us and wrote out the ticket.
I called him a Nazi turd.
He glared and wrote out a ticket for having worn tires.
So, Bob called him a dickhead.
He did that ticket and put it on the windscreen.
The he started to write a third ticket.
The more we abused him the more he wrote out.
This went on for about twenty minutes.
The more we abused him, the more he wrote.
Personally we don’t care.
We came into town on the bus.
We try to have a little fun each day now that we are retired.
It’s important at our age.

AND do a google on Ade Akinbiyi. Up will come lots and lots of things. Go to the Wikipedia one. Scroll down the page to where it says If it’s January it must be time to send for Ade Akinbiyi. Have a chuckle at Ron Liddle’s piece from The Sunday Times, in which he is quite affectionate about Ade. It’s all about the daftness of the January transfer window. I leave you with a snippet to cheer you up.

Mark Viduka may well be on the move from Middlesbrough, or for example, to any club that will honour the clause in his contract that stipulates he will play only when he can be arsed and that running is totally out of the question… The wheeling and dealing of January rarely has a real impact upon the comparative fortunes of the teams in question, much as we supporters might lick our lips in anticipation. Poor players go to poor clubs; average players to average clubs. The best players end up at Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. And somebody; somewhere gets Ade Akinbiyi.

     And to further cheer you up even more, think of this my loyal Claret friends. We could be Leeds, or Barnsley, or Southend or QPR or Coventry. I had the radio on after Coventry played Plymouth the other night and lost. One of their fans was really pleased about their tackling, but the only trouble was, he said, “we kept tackling each other.” I nearly fell off the sofa. At least we are not as bad as that… yet… and never will be… will we?


     Ah well John, you didn’t miss much of a game but it’s clear that ambition burns bright at Turf Moor with all these signings, and cash injections and there’s talk of more to come. When my time comes, I’ll be scattered at my folks’ plot at Mankinholes high up on the moors above    Todmorden and you are just round a few hundred yards round the corner at Lumbutts Chapel. So, if after a poor game, anyone is passing by, and wants to stop and tell us about it, you might just hear a long, loud, errrrrgh.

Dave Thomas January 25th 2007