Dave Thomas November 2008-11-14

     I tried to work it out how much it has cost us all over the last 7 days from the Wolves game to the QPR game. I did two of these games – Chelsea and QPR – and there was Mrs T as well. For the Chelsea game we did it the cheap way, staying with friends in Kent and driving up to London in the morning. Ironically the Kings Road underground car park cost us more than the tickets for the game. Who cares, I thought, as we collected the car after the game in a state of total disbelief at what we had seen and been part of.
    For the Chelsea game alone it’s reasonable to think that Burnley fans spent more than half a million pounds between them. Some people did all three games. I take my hat off to them.

     I know this is supposed to be a report about the QPR game and I’ll get to it but days later all I’m still thinking about is Wednesday night. We didn’t sit in the Burnley end and spent all the match afternoon wishing that we were. But if we had done so we would have missed one of the truly great spectacles – over 6,000 Burnley fans making a sight and sound that you could only appreciate as a display if you had been on the outside witnessing it. Words like awesome, stupendous, breath-taking and over-whelming come nowhere near doing it justice. The thunderous noise that rolled down and filled the ground was simply deafening and didn’t stop all night.

     We sat down near the touchline maybe just 20 yards away from the Burnley end. It was difficult to decide what to watch – the game or the Burnley supporters. My head and neck turned all night to take in the sight; and cliché that this may be, we were simply staggered and mesmerised by the power and noise that it generated. Astonishing, stunning, astounding – the words again don’t do it justice. All I can say is that I was there to witness the old mystical, legendary Longside transported for one night from Burnley to London.

     We sat surrounded by Chelsea fans of course. They were a decent lot and some of them were regulars, they’d been there since the 60s and could remember the old Burnley of McIlroy and Adamson and a 6 – 2 win we had there one year. It was a good job maybe that they were a reasonable bunch for when Akinbiyi scored Mrs T and me were on our feet, arms raised, roaring with triumph. The wise old lady sat next to us suggested we sat down in case the stewards led us out for our own safety. Suddenly we realised we were just two people in a sea of Chelsea. Those around us commented all night about the Burnley songs, the chants, the incessant noise, and the atmosphere it generated. As we slowly filed our way out afterwards all we heard were comments about the Burnley support. Chelsea fans won’t just talk about the defeat; they’ll talk about us and Burnley for a long, long time.

     I have to say (easy afterwards I know) that the day felt good from the minute we left Kent and we had the first bacon sandwich on the road. Traffic was amazingly light in London. Kings Road was near deserted, not a celebrity to be seen. Parking was easy. All we seemed to do was eat as we whiled away the afternoon. The wander to the ground was slow and leisurely and then we strolled round the stadium itself. It’s impressive. Say what you like about Ken Bates, he’s left a classy building behind.

      We bumped into no end of Clarets that we knew. Travelling support is like a huge family. The friend we had who travelled up with us was quite amazed at the way in which we all knew each other and the familiarity of the greetings. “Does everybody know each other up in Burnley?” he asked incredulously.

     We were there to see the coach come in and applauded its arrival (sad I know). We followed it to see the mostly serious-faced players disembark and head for the dressing rooms. “We are Burnley, super Burnley; we are Burnley from the North,” we all sang to greet them like kids. Football does funny things to grown people.

     The game itself and the odious Drogba has been well covered. But the fact that a few idiots from Burnley threw things at him was the provocation. But ignoring that, and Ian Wright’s equally idiotic comments the day after (Drogba could have been killed), all I can say is that from minute we saw that coach come in the occasion felt right for an upset. The Kings Road omens were good as well – an immaculately groomed Scottie put the one I have at home to shame, but I swear it winked at me. Every single player was a hero but you have to give mention to Akinbiyi who came on, ruffled feathers, scored, and changed the game. And then there was Jensen of course. He was a giant on the night. This is not to suggest that it was Chelsea versus him alone, it was far from that, but the man who saves two penalties has to be the man of the night.

     There were massive performances from them all; every other player gave everything with Caldwell and Duff immense at the back.

     At the game’s end we came down to the perimeter to be as close as possible to the Burnley end and to be part of it. We saw no end of Chelsea fans leaving their seats and turning to applaud the Burnley support. We didn’t want to leave, probably nobody did. And not only did we win but on the way home somewhere in London we saw a chip shop still open at midnight. They were the best chips I have ever tasted. It was one o clock when we got back. Our Chelsea chum was glum, Mrs T and me ecstatic.

         If Wolves was an afternoon to forget, the Chelsea night was an occasion to remember for years – and we will. I bought five newspapers the next day. Well you’ve got to haven’t you. Some of the pictures were the best I’ve seen. We talked all day about it, it was never off SKY (some coverage at last), and then within 24 hours of getting back home it was time to go over to Burnley for the weekend coach to London again.

         Win again at QPR? Surely not, they’ll be exhausted; this will be the traditional let-down, a limp anti-climax, after the greatest night for decades. That’s exactly how it felt after the opening minutes and QPR had taken a 1 – 0 lead. Oh dear we muttered, just what we thought would happen. The team spluttered, looked aimless, slow, disjointed; Eagles nearly crippled by a horrible tackle in the early minutes. The day was ripe for disappointment. Only Carlisle stopped a rout in those early stages. And then just as I’d given the blessed Robbie a barrage of get yer finger out, suddenly he’s slammed in a vicious pile-driver of a shot, quite out of the blue, and the game is turned on its head. Forgive me Robbie, I should have known better.

     From that point on, a rejuvenated Burnley took the game to QPR with Carlisle gigantic, Eagles rampant, Jensen commanding, Blake beguiling, Gudjonnson marauding, McCann loping, Thompson leaping, Duff imperious, Alexander wise, Jordan cool, and Elliot our resident tricky dicky. We are, in short, quite a team at the moment and as someone so rightly pointed out in the QPR programme, by reason of our win at Chelsea we are currently one of the best teams in the world. I’ll say that again – “currently one of the best teams in the world.”

     From the moment that goal was slammed in we were vibrant and alive, all energy, pace and lovely passing movements. Eagles was almost unstoppable and Blake quite simply a little magician. How lucky we are that Duff can slot into the back four so effortlessly. Carlisle at the moment seems unbeatable. Jensen is having the season of his life. McCann surging forward is so powerful and strong. One day he’ll go from one end of the field to the other and score with a pile driver. Gudjonnson beside him was everywhere – to such an extent that at the game’s end he lay exhausted on the pitch.

     From the moment that equaliser came you felt this game could be won. And so it was. Mahon came on as a substitute for the crocked Eagles. You felt the team might be weakened, but no, the injury-free Mahon too is having a renaissance and capped a brilliant week for him with a rasping goal which left one corner of the penalty area and flew diagonally into the opposite corner of the goal.

     QPR stepped up their game but our solid defence repelled all boarders. From the away end we got only distant views of the QPR penalty claims. One of them may well have been legitimate but a team on a roll survives such moments. At the moment the gods are with us and it’s about time they were. For far too long our little club has never had its fair share of any luck going.

     We could have added three more goals but their goalkeeper made excellent saves. Going forward we were organised, slick, neat, and incisive. They had no answer to Blake and when Eagles went off, Elliot stepped up a gear and the torment of QPR continued. This is a team that when on form like this is worth travelling to see. They are entertainers, and give value for money. After the game the QPR website commentators were envious. “This is how I want my team to play,” said one of them.

     Make no mistake this was a great win. None of us wanted the anti climax of a defeat after the magic of Wednesday and Chelsea. We are now in the unexpected position of arriving for a game expecting them to win. We have a manager who, when in the lead, doesn’t change attackers for defenders. On come more attackers. At Chelsea the local supporters behind us were astounded that here was a team that came to attack them. “Look how they’re forcing us back into our own half,” said one as the game wore on. “They play such a high up game.”

     Three away games in seven games and two wins; but at Wolves a more than pro Wolves referee made it an impossible game for Burnley to win.

     So it’s Arsenal at home in the next round of the Cup. There is absolutely no reason why Burnley cannot win this game. At the moment it’s not so much It’s Burnley not Barcelona, it’s more a case of It’s Burnley but could be Barcelona. There was a magic moment in the QPR game when we were running rings round QPR and they were totally outplayed. Are you Chelsea in disguise sang the Burnley end?

     After the game it was back to the hotel on the Supporters’ Club coach. Me and Mrs T had a double gin and tonic each. Silly me forgot they’d be London hotel prices. Over £19 they came to. I nearly passed out. But by gum they never tasted so good.

      Credit crunch, what credit crunch? I’d hazard a guess that in the space of a week and these three away games, taking everything into account, Burnley fans have spent up to a million pounds. But if there’s a chance of a tin pot at the end of it or a place in the play-offs, we won’t care.

Dave Thomas November 2008