AFTER THE BALL IS OVER


Promotion May 2009

     I’m not going to say it’s only just sinking in. It sank in immediately I saw Steve Caldwell lift up that trophy and then it was reinforced when they all doused themselves with champagne down on the pitch. 


     But it’s today (Tuesday) that I’ve got this lump in my throat and I keep filling up every time I see things on SKY. For sure I filled up when I watched the recording we made and saw the scenes of joy again at the end.


     And before that early this morning there was a highlight programme on SKY that whizzed through the key moments and then ended with that incredibly moving interview on the pitch with Clarke Carlisle. God we’ve had some heroes this season but in my book none more so than this guy who has had his own personal demons to battle with and overcome. I love the way he openly acknowledges them and pays tribute too to the Sporting Chance Clinic and the people there who have helped him.


     Not content with buying seven newspapers this morning (I can also get the Daily Mail from my neighbour), I phoned the Burnley Express to get this week’s copies sent over to Leeds.
     “Oh are you the Dave Thomas who wrote on Claretsmad that lovely tribute to his friend,” she asked. Well that set me off again I can tell you. “Get a grip,” I told myself, “you can’t be doing this all day.”


     SKY Sports News was on continuously. I didn’t want to miss one scrap of news. If I keep both doors open I can see it while I’m working in the office across the hallway. Mike Townend was on from Towneley Museum. I can put a face to a name I have corresponded with several times. He was talking about what a place Burnley is. It’s not all cobbled streets and derelict mills. Far from it and we all know that.


      Being able to watch the news all day and read the papers is the great plus of retirement. I couldn’t imagine having to go in to work. Around 6.30 my pal Pete called in on his way home. Like all of us he wasn’t home until the early hours and was then up to go to work. When he called in he looked ashen and bleary eyed.


     Burnley is a Premier Town now and the benefits to trade; industry and tourism can be immense as the name spreads around all those countries where Premier games are shown. It could actually bring several £million into the area’s economy if the town’s businessmen grasp the nettle and the opportunities that will present themselves. I know I’ve done my own small bit in some of the writing I’ve done to spread the word that around the town is some of the most beautiful countryside imaginable, with villages and hamlets that, if they were in the Cotswolds or the Yorkshire Dales, would be in the supplements every Sunday. 

  
     Supporters lined the streets to watch the three open-top coaches make the journey from club the Town hall. The crowds there were huge. The affection for the players and club was clear; the pride in the achievement was palpable. The feel-good factor is immeasurable. It’s like the warm sun on your face after a long, long winter.


     I devoured the newspapers, read them over and again, looked at all the pictures and re-lived the day. There may not be many more like this, or at least if there are, they won’t come every week.


     A compilation from them of the best lines and comments provides good reading.    

G-OWEN UP (Sun headline)


     The world’s worst losers slumped away nursing their grievances yet again. And although this time Sheffield United’s case had some substance, there can be precious little sympathy for the serial complainers… the reason they remain in the Football League is that they were not as good as Burnley… neutrals sighed with relief at not seeing them playing Stoke in the Premier League next season… Instead Burnley will grace the top division, 33 years after they left it and 22 after they almost slipped into the Conference. It gladdens the heart and makes you feel good about the old game when one of its pioneer clubs can clamber back into the top after decades of attrition… Daily Express

     It was not a vintage play-off final, though the game was settled by a goal that deserved to win any game. If Burnley’s tale, on a club level, is a romantic one for having been away from the top division for so long, then the goalscorer encapsulated the fairy-tale nature of their ascent. Wade Elliot, 30, who settled the outcome after only 13 minutes, was a free transfer from Bournemouth having previously been in non-league football at Bashley… Independent

     Grown men cried, strangers embraced and, under a shower of ticker tape, Wembley saw an emotional outpouring that brought an end of 33 years of hurt. More than a generation has passed since there was top-flight football in Burnley, but the textile town at the foot of the Pennines will play host to the giants of the Premier League next season and nobody, at the end of a marathon campaign, can say they do not deserve it… it takes a special kind of hysteria to move Burnley men to tears… even if their adventure proves to be short-lived, it was hard to avoid being consumed by the euphoria that greeted the minor miracle overseen by Owen Coyle… Emotions inevitably run high in play-off finals, but, as Blackwell and his players contemplated an uncertain future at Bramall Lane, the party was already under way among the claret and blue hordes, few of whom, from the pensioners to the youngest children, ever imagined they would see this day come to pass…  Times

     A party 33 years in the planning began in style last night, with Wembley awash with Claret and Champagne corks flying upwards towards the famous arch. The party will be loud and long, sweeping Burnley and their wonderful supporters through the summer months… And for those graceless bookmakers, who immediately installed Owen Coyle’s play-off winners as favourites for relegation, think again… Burnley boast a savvy manager, intelligent and hard-working players and a track record of troubling celebrated opponents… For all ages of Burnley fans, yesterday was special… For the older supporters, it was all about the restoration of the natural order, a return to a time when Burnley were an established force in the land and, adding to the sense of historic occasion, club legends like Jimmy McIlroy were present to witness it… The painful truth for Blackwell and his men is that they were out-thought and out-played… 
     And so the party began, Duff launched into a dance that one of Beyonce’s bodyguards would have been proud of. Coyle cradled the play-off trophy gently, as if emerging from a maternity ward… Wembley’s excellent new pitch received the ultimate test when Jensen, Burnley’s burly keeper, leapt high in the air and landed with a thud on the grass. It survived… Telegraph

     All over the pitch there were Burnley heroes… Carlisle didn’t put a foot wrong. Then there was Elliot who can dine out for life on his brilliant winner… His club last dined at the top when the team included Ralph Coates sporting a Bobby Charlton comb-over… Sheffield United we can deal with in short measure… their game plan appeared around multiple penalty appeals to referee Mike Dean… the Blades were a blunt instrument… all that is left for the Blades is to count the millions they have won through the courts from the Tevez affair – and hope that Barnsley don’t relieve them of the spare change for skipper Chris Morgan’s awful challenge on Iain Hume earlier this season… Even if this wasn’t a Wembley classic, make no mistake the better side won and their celebrity fans will have a spring in their step today… John Kettley will forecast typhoons and floods with a twinkle in his eye… Alastair Campbell can sex up his match programme notes to his heart’s content… Make sure you sample the local cuisine Fergie – Burnley’s pies are the best in the country… Mirror

     Burnley are back in the big-time and ready to bring a touch of much needed romance to the billionaire world of top-flight football… They are the smallest town to ever boast a Premier league club and their entire population could fit inside Old Trafford… What Owen Coyle and his players have achieved this season is little short of a miracle… Now boss Owen Coyle’s collection of cast-offs, hand me downs and loyal journeymen are ready to reap the £60million reward…. And no-one could begrudge brilliant Burnley their long-awaited return to the big time… United can bleat all they like. It will not change the fact they were outplayed and outwitted… Sun

     The masses that migrated south were still pinching themselves as they drifted, delirious in their exhilaration, back to the north-west. “When Manchester United play at Old Trafford there are more people there than in the whole of Burnley,” reflected Owen Coyle in the giddy aftermath…. It will be 50 years next season since Burnley won the title and the anniversary will be celebrated among the elite. A Lancashire town will beam as one… A Lancashire town has burst into the limelight, their elevation back among the elite constituting a staggering achievement by one of the Championship’s thinnest squads…  Guardian

     In striking a blow for the little man, Barry Kilby feels that Burnley can offer a reminder of what football used to be like before it became a plaything of the mega-rich… We won’t change… we are what we are… A proper football club… There are not many Arabs floating around on a night out in Burnley… The club is part of the old system, it represents the town. The directors are local people…. It punches above its weight as it is. This is the type of club coming up… Champions twice, most recently in 1960, the 50th anniversary will be spent as a Premier League club, and Burnley will certainly offer something different… 
     “I would like to think we have a different angle to the other clubs in there,” reflected Kilby, who has kept Burnley on an even keel despite a shoestring budget Newcastle would be laughing at if they had not discovered they are the ones who must swap places with Owen Coyle’s men… Football365.com

     Suddenly people are realising that Burnley is a great place to live and a great place to work… People always refer to the dark old days in Burnley. Now the football club had given everyone something new to say about Burnley. This is the fresh start for the club and the town…. Crime has gone down in the last couple of years since we have been doing well… And there’s far fewer people going to the doctor’s on Monday morning with complaints… A lot of employers will consider re-locating to Burnley because people like to be associated with winners. And we’re certainly winners now… The financial advantages that premier League football can bring can not be underestimated… an absolutely fantastic achievement for the town… Lancashire Telegraph

     And so the euphoria remains even though the win was on Monday and today Tuesday has been replaced by Wednesday… It will be a long, long time before it is not the last thing we think about before we drift off to sleep, or the first thing we think about when we wake in the morning. For the minute I cannot get enough of re-runs on TV and reports in the newspapers.


     Lives have been touched all over the world and it is no exaggeration to say that for those of us who live, eat and breathe Burnley Football Club, our lives have been changed dramatically by this achievement.


     The debt to Owen Coyle is immense. In my other life as a headteacher I used to ponder sometimes on the satisfaction that comes from touching peoples’ lives. If I made a difference to a few hundred people over the years, then Owen Coyle has touched thousands. That’s not something that many people can say.


     And just to think but for a last minute phone call… it could so easily have been Peter Reid. Life works in mysterious ways.


     As I write though. The worrying newspaper words coming from Glasgow are that Celtic will open negotiations with Burnley and Coyle to install him as their new manager by the weekend. The word is that the post is Coyle’s if he wants it. Immediately after Monday’s game and on Tuesday before and after the team’s town parade, he deftly avoided any kind of definitive one-word, yes or no answer when probed by reporters as to his intentions. The team of his boyhood dreams and a place in Europe already, or the chance to play against the biggest teams in the land, week in and week out at Turf Moor? Does he replace adulation in little Burnley with the uncertainty of starting all over again in the hugeness of Glasgow?


     However: “Coyle will not go,” emailed a chum, who has his ear in high places and occasionally walks in the corridors of the decision makers. At the final count-up he was correct; Coyle eventually announced he would not be going and the town of Burnley let out a collective sigh of relief.    

Dave Thomas May 27th 2009