We have Pete Sixsmith to thank for this week’s guest, Duncan Sutcliffe, who hails from a town at the forefront of a food revolution. To find which town it is you can either click this link or read his excellent article, at the end of which all will be revealed:
M Salut: So, a relegation six-pointer if ever there was one. Our own Pete Sixsmith wrote that a “quick, lively and uninhibited Burnley side must fancy their chances against a plodding, out of touch Sunderland”. Your assessment?
First of all I would replace the word ‘quick’ with ‘fit’. I think the essence of our team is that we must make up for a lack of quality at this level by working harder than the opposition, and, according to the stats I’ve seen, which show 3 Burnley players (Boyd, Arfield and Jones) in the top 7 Premier League players in terms of distance covered throughout league matches this season, this is being achieved. Last Saturday’s defeat at home to Crystal Palace burst our bubble a little bit (we were 2-0 up and a win would have seen us climb to 12 in the Premier League, for goodness sake!).
The media will see it as a game too far for the team which has been unchanged for a record 8 games, including the chaotic Christmas programme. Certainly we were ‘out-Burnleyed’ by motivated opposition which were first to every ball but, also, Palace are the sort of team, with lots of pace in forward areas, working off an awkward centre forward in Sanogo, who can exploit our rigid 442. Sunderland will pose a different threat: we will obviously be wary of Defoe’s impact and I am concerned about Adam Johnson attacking the left side of our defence. It will be interesting to see how we bounce back, and whether there will be any reinforcements on show when we arrive at the Stadium of Light or, after a free weekend, we stay with the tried and trusted for a 9th consecutive game.
Have you been surprised by any aspect of the renewed Premier experience so far or has it gone more or less as expected?
We have a better team than last time, so the failure to win any of the opening ten league games was taken by many to be evidence that the standard is higher than 2009/10 when we were last here. Results over the last couple of months are suggesting that this is not the case. The club were certainly caught out in the summer by transfer prices spiralling out of our reach and Burnley fans seem to fall into one of two categories; those who think we shouldn’t pay silly money, and those who think we should show ambition and speculate to accumulate. I belong in the former group.
The media circus surrounding the Premier League has probably grown even in the 4 years we’ve been away. Lazy and inaccurate reporting on Burnley always irritates me, even more than the patronising coverage you always knew was coming our way, and there has been plenty of that. It annoys me more than I thought it would that people whose football knowledge I have never previously taken that seriously now have an opinion on my team, some now clamouring to be the first to say ‘I always thought you’d stay up’ at the sight of a couple of good results.
And here’s one you don’t normally hear – I think the refereeing of our games has been better than in 2009/10 (touching wood!).
I’m enjoying it better than last time, which left a nasty taste after Coyle jumped ship. Then we won our first five home games but we’ve arrived at the same number of points after 22 games in hopefully better shape. There are apparently only 12 towns smaller than Burnley hosting league football at present, so for us to be in the Premier League for a second time without major financial backing in such a money-dominated sport is nothing short of fantastic and I’m determined to keep enjoying it as long as it lasts.
Mike Garlick and John Banaszkiewicz are perhaps among the less known of club owners. How do you rate them and manager Sean Dyche?
I wouldn’t say I know a great deal about the joint chairmen myself. Both are, I think, London based, but the fact that they are Burnley supporters is a great comfort. I would rather support the club in the lower leagues under this type of ownership than risk everything by taking on big money foreign owners. We have seen what has happened to our good friends just down the M65 and there are other, less hilarious instances, that everyone can point to too, of what can happen if the wrong people buy into a club. What is clear to me is that if we made the wrong choice, there may be no way the club could ever compete at this level again.
Sean Dyche has been with us for just over two years but must already lay claim to being the best manager we’ve ever had. His achievements simply cannot be overstated, taking a team that was widely tipped to struggle in the Championship to, at the time of writing, just about holding its own in the Premier League with only 2 or 3 modest additions, through a high octane pressing game allied to organisation and with a reasonable amount of skill thrown in. I’m expecting him to be on other clubs’ radars in the summer, sadly. I’ve been very impressed with the way he has carried himself before the media this season. There have been times when pundits have openly mocked us (Sky Soccer Saturday the week after we lost at West Brom, admittedly the worst performance of the season) but he has stayed calm, not panicked, and instilled belief in everyone, culminating in the encouraging recent form after winning none of the opening 10 games.
I suppose question marks remain in some eyes –
Can he have success with a multi-national team of super stars at a big club? Can he manage a larger squad? Can he drill a team to play in formations other than 442 with similar success? Can he change a game through substitutions (our squad’s not big enough to know the answer to this one) or change tactics mid-game? Can he prove himself an effective operator in the transfer market if backed by serious money?
I expect we’ll find out before too long.
Who has been good for you and where are you in desperate need of strengthening?
Captain and centre half Jason Shackell has been the most consistent performer in my opinion though just about the entire squad has adapted perfectly well to the Premier League. Danny Ings has been in good form recently and it is difficult to see us staying up without him making a big contribution. He works hard, has good feet, control and a turn of pace. He’s out of contract in the summer having turned down terms offered, so we are resigned to losing him for next to nothing at the end of the season. If we could sell during this transfer window to a club who might loan him back for the rest of the season, that might represent the best outcome open to us. Whoever signs him will get a bargain. He needs to ‘get his head up’ a bit more, and be a little less selfish at times but I’m sure these faults will be ironed out as he matures. The cynic in me expects him to be named in the first England squad chosen after he’s left Burnley!
We desperately need to make at least one signing in central midfield. Marney and Jones complement each other well and form a good partnership but we have no cover on the bench, and if we ever tried to stray from 442 to, say, play an extra man in midfield, we just don’t have the personnel to do it. Ideally, a forward thinking, goal scoring midfielder should be brought in. I also think a pacey winger, to affect games from the bench, is an option we could use. At the moment we don’t have credible alternatives to change a game which is getting away from us or to nullify tactical changes made by the opposition manager and so must stick rigidly to our 442. I worry that opposition managers playing us for the second time between now and the end of the season might have worked out these limitations, as Pardew did successfully last weekend.
If the worst did come to the worst, would you bounce back pretty quickly or have to settle for a spell down below?
I think that, modern football as it is, relegation would mean we would probably lose our best players and manager, and be faced with a rebuilding job. So I’m inclined to say that it would take some time to come back.
Who are the greatest players you’ve seen – or wish you were old enough to have seen in claret and blue?
I’d love to have seen Jimmy McIlroy who is by common consent the best player ever to play for Burnley. He was a hero of my father’s to such an extent that dad, who was a regular at that time, didn’t go on the Turf at all after they sold him to Stoke in 1963 until I started showing an interest and he took me to my first game five years later. My first hero was Ralph Coates, and I remember being devastated when, if relegation to the 2nd Division in 1971 was not enough for a 10 year old to cope with, he was sold to Spurs before the quest to regain our status could even begin.
The best teams I saw play for Burnley were those of about 1972 to 1975. They included elegant midfielder Martin Dobson and goal keeper Alan Stevenson who were both regulars in the England squad back then, and Welsh winger Leighton James, who was the poster boy of the time, or the nearest thing you get to that in Burnley. I remember them clinching promotion to the First Division by beating Sunderland at the Turf in a Monday night game in April 1973 (not live on Sky, but Sunderland had a backlog of fixtures having won through to the FA Cup Final and would presumably be called on to play again on the Thursday).
I would probably pick Robbie Blake as my favourite recent Claret. He lacked pace and was often considered a luxury player at some of his other clubs, but he had magical ability on the ball and found his spiritual home at Burnley. His performance against Spurs when we all but overcame a three goal deficit in the League Cup Semi Final of 2009 (but lost in extra time having won 3-0 in normal time) and his winning goal against Manchester Utd later in the same year, (our first ever PL win) being particular highlights for me. The best players we have brought through the ranks during the time I have been watching are probably Trevor Steven and Jay Rodriguez.
And who should have been allowed nowhere near the colours?
The worst player I ever saw wear the colours is probably David Jones, not the bloke who currently plays centre midfield for us, but a big target man who played a handful of games back in the 4th Division days of the late eighties. He couldn’t control the ball, struggled to jump to his full height, and honestly looked for all the world as though he’d never played before. In fairness though, he did move to Doncaster where he enjoyed a decent goals to games ratio for a couple of seasons. For the biggest disappointment, I would nominate Mark Ford who was signed by Chris Waddle from Leeds United within a week or so of Waddle’s appointment as Burnley manager. Ford was a tough tackling midfielder, still only 22, who had captained England U21’s and was supposedly heir-apparent to David Batty until George Graham took over at Elland Road and plainly didn’t rate him. Even so, the chance for a Division 1 club to snap up someone of that pedigree had to be jumped at but sadly Graham was right, though it beggared belief that Ford could be so ineffectual in a much lower standard of football. After Burnley he played in Belgium and later played league football for Torquay and Darlington.
Financially, the biggest disaster would have to be a player I never even saw play, Dutch midfielder Remco Van Der Schaaf whom we signed from Vitesse Arnhem in 2008 on a three year contract. He made his debut in a 4-1 defeat in the opening game at Sheffield Wednesday, was substituted, and never played for the club again. There was talk of mystery illnesses but he never again made the team and was loaned out to Brondby for the final two years of his contract. That included our first Premier League season and it was later confirmed that, as his contract included increments in the event of promotion, he was the highest paid player at the club for that season.
Best and worst moments as a Burnley fan?
The best moment, by a distance, would have to be the final whistle at Wembley in 2009 when the 1-0 victory over Sheffield United confirmed our
place in the Premier League, something I thought I would never live to see.
For the worst, you would probably have to go back to the mid 80’s – a 6-0 home defeat to Hereford United in the season we nearly dropped out of the league. (Dis)Honorable mentions to the 1974 FA Cup Semi Final defeat against Newcastle ( I thought there would be always next year but a home defeat to non league Wimbledon threw cold water over that theory), a 5-0 defeat at Blackburn during Stan Ternent’s reign, and hearing the news that we had appointed Brian Laws as manager during our last PL season. It merely confirmed to the rest of football that we were small time and was hardly going to attract the new signings we so obviously needed after the defection of Owen Coyle to Bolton.
Your honest thoughts on Sunderland: the club, the fans, the city, the region, Poyet?
I’ve a bit of a soft spot for Sunderland. I see it as a traditional club, a proper club, with passionate support. A bit like us but on a bigger scale. No doubt the bond is strengthened by the number of North Easterners who have played for Burnley and the fact that you beat Leeds in that Cup Final long ago. Oh, and my favourite teacher at school, Pete Cummings, was a big Sunderland fan, and he once took me up to Roker after school one Tuesday night to see Sunderland play Burnley. Jimmy Adamson was your manager and we lost 3-0. Could you imagine that happening these days (teacher alone with pupil on a long car journey, not beating us 3-0)? He taught French and I’ve not seen him since I left school, I don’t suppose anyone knows his whereabouts?
I’d be less positive about Poyet. We had incidents with him when he was Brighton manager, including him being sent to the stands for dissent after Brighton had had two players sent off early on (one being Ashley Barnes, who is likely to be playing for us at the SOL) and then orchestrating crowd abuse of the referee from his position on high. In the return game at the Turf he stormed off down the tunnel before the end of the game in protest at supposedly heavy handed tactics from the home team. Sorry, but he’s also been Dennis Wise’s assistant, which forfeits any right to a benefit of the doubt.
And do you have any sense of the historic links between our clubs – Jimmy Adamson among individuals, of course, but also that old tradition of Burnley nicking talent from the North East?
Yes, that was very much a feature of our club when I started watching, though I wouldn’t know whether our scouting bore more fruit in the Newcastle or Sunderland heartlands. I’ve just looked at the ‘Played for Both’ section on Clarets Mad web site (there will doubtless be some interesting views on their message board after the game) which shows that 32 players have played for both Sunderland and Burnley, but only 10 for Newcastle and Burnley. And of those 10, 3 have played for all three clubs (Chris Waddle, Steve Caldwell and Andy Cole). So there does seem to be more of a Sunderland bias. Allied to that I can think of several Burnley managers in my time with Sunderland connections (ex player, ex management or supporter) – Harry Potts, Jimmy Adamson, Chris Waddle, Jimmy Mullen, Stan Ternent and Steve Cotterill.
What will be the top four and, hand on heart, bottom three?
Sadly, and with apologies to Southampton, I expect the top 4 to be Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd and Arsenal. I will take QPR and Hull to go down plus one other. The last place is probably between us, Leicester and Aston Villa. I might have tipped Villa to go down, but as we travel there for the last game of the season, to do so might be tempting fate too much. So I won’t.
Where will our clubs finish if not mentioned?
We will be 17th or 18th. You will be one or two places higher, 15th or 16th.
Diving: so prevalent that it is time to give up caring? If not, how do we stamp it out?
It would be very difficult to stamp out entirely. Players are so proficient at it, these days, they must practice the art of anticipating contact and ‘going down’. If I were appointed dictator of all footballing matters I would try these steps to try to move things in the right direction: 1) Introduce a panel or panels to review TV replays of each match, both PL and Football League if possible, within 48 hours of the final whistle to look for instances of simulation and administer immediate bans to players who were seen to fall over looking for fouls where no contact had been made. 2) Instruct referees to give what they see and be big enough to award penalties and free kicks when an impeded player does not go down. One reason for players diving is that they have next to no chance of a free kick, or even less a penalty, being given if they stay on their feet. 3) Appoint more journalists and fewer ex-players in punditry roles. The ex-players just end up as apologists for cheating and gamesmanship and will never risk general opprobrium by condemning actions which they themselves have got away with in the past. It is through this type of punditry that phrases such as ‘there was contact, he was entitled to go down’ permeate the language of the game and become acceptable.
Name one thing the FA or clubs should do to improve the lot of ordinary fans
I’m sure I won’t be the first to say bring back safe standing areas and cheaper ticketing prices. If standing areas aren’t possible, just reduce prices.
Will you be at our match and what will be the score?
I hope to be there. We haven’t managed to close out a lot of wins between us so perhaps everything points to a draw. I’ll say 1-1 and personally I’d regard that as a decent result for us.
Finally: a little on who you are, what you do and your history of supporting Burnley. And don’t forget a photo of yourself, Burnley related if possible
I’m from Todmorden, nine miles from Burnley. You hear a few shouts for Man Utd and possibly Leeds but in the main it’s a Burnley stronghold. I went to my first game in 1968 and have been a season ticket holder since 1973. My first season ticket, a junior standing ticket, cost the princely sum of £3! I go to all home games and, though I used to be a regular at away games in my younger days, I now go to probably a couple per season. I would think I’ve experienced more ups and downs than most fans – I’ve watched Burnley teams occupying both top and 92nd positions in the league.
I worked in banking in Bradford and Leeds for 36 years before taking voluntary redundancy in the summer and I’m currently in the jobs market looking for something to keep me ticking over until I can draw my pension.
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