Colin Randall wites: What a fabulous set of answers, from a proper supporter of a proper football club, brought to us by Pete Sixsmith, who met him on holiday in Italy and tried to lead him astray (ie by persuading him along to some some Under 23s reserve game Sixer had spotted in the local paper). As I read the first, long answer from Duncan Sutcliffe* I wondered whether the interview ought to be cut in two. I decided against, because a) it’s the sort of read I’d personally want to see in one go and b) because Salut! Sunderland readers generally warm to exchanges of this kind and this quality with people who essentially, share their outlook on football. Great stuff, if ultimately grim reading for us, Duncan – what a pleasure to have you back again ….
Salut! Sunderland: This is our clubs’ fourth meeting this season and the other three, even without looking at our respective positions, must be more than enough to make you feel confident about Saturday
Duncan Sutcliffe: yes, we’ve certainly not brought the best out of your team and I do recall Pete Sixsmith telling me that he rated the Sunderland performance in the league game at Turf Moor as the club’s worst this century. I remember it being a tight game until our first goal went in, and then Sunderland collapsed just after half time as Andre Gray ran riot with a hat trick.
I still think that Saturday will be a big test for Burnley though, as Sunderland urgently have to start winning and will see a home game against us as a real opportunity, much as we see a visit to the Stadium of Light as a good chance to break our duck and finally win an away game. I expect the crowd to be really up for it and it will be important not to give them any encouragement by conceding an early goal.
How do you explain your outstanding form this season, especially at home?
I think you could probably take the word “especially” out of that question [except that some of the defeats away have been close-run things, though the same thought did occur to me after I posed the question – Ed]. One of the things Sean Dyche preaches is to stay in the game as long as possible and we’ve managed to keep early goals against us to a minimum at home and developed a happy knack of finding a way to score a goal despite being behind most Premier teams in terms of creativity. I don’t think chasing a game is what our team are best suited to but when we have been beaten at home we have only lost unluckily to late goals and have never, so far, gone in behind at half time.
Secondly, the fixture list has helped in that we have played a lot of the bottom half teams at home in the first half of the season. You still have to beat them, I know, but managing to accumulate a few wins has helped confidence. The early season win against Liverpool was hugely significant too in terms of helping us to believe we could survive in the Premier League. Remember last time (two years ago) we didn’t win a game until November, and were playing “catch up” from then on.
Fans who travelled down to Turf Moor will have noticed that the away allocation only extends to two thirds of the Cricket Field Stand nowadays, with home fans making themselves heard in there in the section nearest the players’ tunnel. The move has helped the atmosphere at the ground and added to our home advantage.
Away from home has been a different story with no wins and only two draws in 14 games.
Again, the vagaries of the fixture list have taken us on some of the more difficult trips early in the season, and four of the five remaining fixtures pitch us against teams below us in the table, starting on Saturday. In our first seven away games we only scored one goal, and that a penalty, but in the seven subsequent games we have scored in every one but contrived six single goal defeats.
We seem to get pushed back too deep away from home and find it difficult to keep the ball to relieve pressure. I would imagine an effective target man would be high on our shopping list in the summer.
Name the players who have made the biggest contributions – I imagine Tom Heaton, Sam Vokes and Andre Gray now Robbie Brady and Joey Barton have played important parts
Burnley’s success has been very much a team effort, but one name missing from your list, Michael Keane, would be the one I expect will clean up at the Player of the Year night. He has developed into an excellent centre half, quite quick and good in the air, and coveted by at least four of the top seven clubs in the country if press reports are to be believed. So it seems certain that he will be moving on in the summer as we have not been able to persuade him to sign a new contract and his current deal has only a year to run. You are right, Heaton has had another excellent season, but nobody has let us down and we do seem as a collective to have learned lessons from our last season in the Prem.
Gray is being talked of as a possible pick in the next England squad, but while he is strong and quick and a good finisher, his link up play needs to improve. He is another player attracting interest from other clubs.
One brilliant free kick apart, though, we are yet to see the best of Robbie Brady and, in truth, he has struggled, so far, to adapt to our style of play. I would expect to see him start on the bench on Saturday.
And tell us more on how you see Barton – a semi-reformed hoodlum, a misunderstood man, a quality player if only he can stay out of trouble … take your pick and/or come up with your own snap judgement
He’s probably a bit of all three. I wasn’t too comfortable with signing him myself when the news came through but, like many Burnley fans, I have been completely won over by him. I’m convinced we wouldn’t have been promoted last year without him, and he proved to be a real talisman and leader on the field. He’s not the quickest, but seems good at sniffing out danger and generally managing the game for us. Obviously, he’s the pantomime villain that the opposition fans love to hate, and though his reputation precedes him, the worst three or four fouls I have seen in the last year or so have been on him rather than by him, as opponents try to wind him up and goad him into a reaction. The game against Lincoln apart, he’s managed to rise above any provocation.
Provided he avoids a lengthy ban for betting offences when his case is heard by the FA shortly, it should be a no-brainer to offer him a further 12-month contract.
Sean Dyche attracts a lot of praise. Are you resigned to losing him and how do think he’d fare at one of the top clubs?
Strangely, I feel more confident of keeping him now than I have previously, although that is dependent upon retaining our Premier League status. Whilst Dyche does, quite rightly, receive praise in the media, I sense he is on the way to being categorised as a pragmatist who is great at organising a team, playing percentages and being difficult to beat; to be filed alongside Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce.
If this is the common view and he can keep us up, the possible options for career progression might well be quite limited. The top clubs all look abroad, and, although he would undoubtedly improve his salary elsewhere, the bottom half PL clubs are all fighting for scraps just as we are.
I also feel that, as the media focus on our failure to win away from home, that Dyche is not going to be perceived as a “complete” Premier League manager until we have gathered a reasonable number of away points. Perhaps the defeat by Lincoln has also damaged his stock slightly.
Were we to go down, there are a whole host of big clubs in the Championship who might want to tempt him, but, fingers crossed, if that doesn’t happen, why would he want to give up managing in the top flight at a club where he is established and appreciated? And at a club where he has moulded a team in his own image and where there is money available to spend on strengthening the squad bit by bit. We might not throw money around by modern standards but we have supported him by breaking our transfer record three times in the last few months on Steven Defour, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady.
Dyche is a great fit for us and is continuing to do a wonderful job.
And do you believe Mike Garlick, your owner, is a perfect owner for Burnley? How far can he take you?
Yes, Mr Garlick is Burnley born and bred and a bona fide supporter of the club. I’m sure he’s a wealthy man but not by the standards of those who own other Premier League clubs. The way our team is performing at the moment gives us hope that we can stay up, though whether under current ownership it is feasible for us to reach the top half of the league on a regular basis I very much doubt. But how much would need to be invested to make such a dream reality? To guarantee finishing above, say, Stoke?
We are a small club that has a history of punching above its weight, never more so than it is doing now. The club represents a small town in a pretty disadvantaged area with much bigger city-based clubs relatively close by. It’s who we are, and I would worry that turning Burnley into a brand and, say, moving to an out of town stadium might take away the things that are most important to us and have served us well up to now.
Blackburn and Bolton both thought they were in a “no lose” situation when they accepted major investment from local businessmen, but look how things have turned out for them.
I’m happy to keep things as they are, thank you very much!
How has the town responded to your relatively comfortable return to the Premier or is the lure of Manchester/Merseyside still strong for too many locals?
I know it’s a cliché where Burnley are concerned that nowhere in the town will you see Manchester United or Liverpool shirts, but, while that is not quite true, I do feel that there is an intensity in the way our club is supported by the local population that few can match. The atmosphere on the Turf has been great all season (why wouldn’t it be?), as said above the home fans in the Cricket Field has been a real positive. I reckon that Sean Dyche is pretty good at working the crowd too, recognising the part they can play in getting right behind the team.
Any (perhaps handed-down) memories/anecdotes of the so-called Burnley “golden days” of 1946-1976, an era of Bob Lord, regular raids in the North East to find young players and some decent seasons at or near the top?
I attended my first match in 1968 and have been a season ticket holder since 1973 so came in very much at the back end of that era, though the autocratic Bob Lord, despite increasing unpopularity, hung on as chairman until a few months before his death in 1981. I remember in his final days he refused to recognise a supporters’ club as demonstrations against him took place under the banner of BLOB (Bob Lord Out Brigade).
Under his stewardship the club were at times visionaries, in setting up their own training ground and extensive scouting system, particularly in the North East, but, conversely, Lord could be seen to be stuck in the dark ages in his attitude to television, banning the cameras from Turf Moor for five years fearing that attendances would be adversely affected.
“The Butcher of Burnley” also picked several fights along the way; among the adversaries I can recall are Louis Edwards, chairman of Manchester United, whose companies apparently vied to provide meat for school meals throughout Lancashire, Leeds United chairman Manny Cussins, Newcastle chairman Lord Westwood, whom he lost out to in the race to become president of the Football League, and Fulham chairman Ernie Clay.
Our scouting network seemed to break down around the time of Bob Lord’s demise (don’t think the two were connected) and I remember reading that Jack Hixon, who worked for Burnley for many years, was taken on by Southampton and was responsible for Alan Shearer signing for them.
My early memories were of the team which won promotion to the top tier in 1973 and had two good seasons around the top end of the table before relegation in 1976. Captain Martin Dobson and goalkeeper Alan Stevenson were in and around the England reckoning in those days and Welsh winger Leighton James was making a name for himself. The sale of Dobson and James, particularly, hit the team hard. It was said that Dobson was sold to cover the cost of building the Bob Lord Stand and some cynics insisted on referring to the new construction as The Martin Dobson Stand.
Tell us a little about your friendship with our own Pete Sixsmith. Is it a groundhopping acquaintance?
I met Pete whilst on a family holiday at Lake Garda about 15 years ago and we spent most nights chatting in the bar. Pete had spotted that Fiorentina, who had just been relegated to the fourth tier of Italian league football due to financial difficulties, were playing a pre-season friendly in the vicinity and invited me to go along with him but I declined, fearing a loss of “brownie points” at home could not be risked with a new season about to start!
Sunderland: are we done for this time or do you see some lingering reason to believe in another great escape?
Sorry but you have been the poorest team I’ve seen this season and there doesn’t seem to have been money available to gamble in the January transfer window. I have some sympathy for Moyes who it seems hasn’t been given the transfer funds he thought were going to be made available and he must reflect on how his career trajectory has declined since he was on a nice little number at Everton (Sean Dyche, take note!)
Anyone in our team you’d take at Burnley?
Jermain Defoe, although it’s a bit fanciful to think we could fit him into our wage structure, and Jordan Pickford definitely. Lamine Kone possibly, given Keane’s likely departure.
What will be the bottom three and where will our clubs finish if not in it?
I’ll say Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace. Palace are assumed to be recovering after a couple of wins and, with Allardyce in charge, nobody seems to be tipping them to go down. However they still have to visit Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United so I’ll buck the trend and say that Hull will stay up by the skin of their teeth at Palace’s expense and we’ll be one place higher in 16th.
Less important, the top four?
Chelsea, Man City, Spurs, Arsenal
Are you bothered about the Chinese takeaway (snapping up so many of Europe’s top stars)?
No……er, should I be?
Best ref, worst ref?
Best – Michael Oliver and for us, Martin Atkinson. We have won only four away games ever in the Premier League and Atkinson has refereed three of them. Worst – with apologies because he’s fresh in my mind having taken charge of our game at Anfield – Craig Pawson. I’m not accusing him of inconsistency particularly, but his style seems to be to give fouls for the slightest physical contact so removing any flow from the game.
Will you be at the game and what will be the score?
Yes I will be there. Sunderland are into must–win territory, so I think Burnley will have to play well to take anything from the game. I’ll say 1-1.which would be a good result for us. I know the league table looks fine for us at the moment, but I sense that there will be one or two of our number getting a little twitchy if we lose this one.
Duncan Sutcliffe on himself:
I live in Todmorden, nine miles from Burnley, where most with an interest in football support the Clarets. I worked in banking in Bradford and Leeds for 36 years but these days I work in a local school office on a part time basis. I’m not too far away from 50 years of going to the Turf and seen some real ups and downs in that time, eight promotions, eight relegations and I’ve watched Burnley teams in 1st and 92nd place in the League. The best cup wins I’ve seen were the 4-1 win at Tottenham in the League Cup Quarter Final of 1983, and at home to Tottenham in the 2009 League Cup Semi Final when we won 3-0 after 90 minutes only to go out on the away goals rule after extra time. Against that I’ve now seen us lose FA Cup ties twice as a top tier club at home to non league opposition, Wimbledon in 1975 and Lincoln in 2017.
Interview: Colin Randall
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