Soapbox: Turf Moor travails

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A trip to Burnley brings memories of past outings flooding back into Pete Sixsmith‘s mind. The amount of ale he supped on some of them, it’s a wonder he can remember a thing. Early kickoff on Saturday means no beer, and Pete would settle for a boring 1-0 win …


The last time
I saw Sunderland play at Turf Moor in the top division was 40 years ago. I had just left school, to the delight of Messrs McConnell, Reed , Kilminster and Weatherley and was waiting to go to college. I had been working at Aycliffe Hospital as an orderly and the money I earned was all wasted on football, football and more football.

The game was a disaster; we ended up losing 3-0 and on the way back, the first thoughts of relegation began to stir in what was then an optimistic brain.

A few months earlier, in April, we had won 2-1 at the Turf in a game that was the replay of one that was abandoned in March because of a blizzard that covered the lines in about 30 seconds flat and in conditions that were even colder than Bob Lord’s heart. I saw both those games, missing school with a “dental appointment”, having picked up a couple of blank cards while Mr Nelson, Shildon’s Horse Dentist, was distracted.

Over the years I have had a bit of a soft spot for the Clarets, partly because in the early 60s most of their team came from the North East. Of the team that won the League in 1960, Angus, Adamson, Cummings, Pointer, and Robson were all from the Durham and Northumberland coalfield. Later, Coates, Noble and David Thomas (who I once unsuccessfully marked in a game between Timothy Hackworth School and West Auckland Juniors) made their names as Burnley players before two of them went on to greater things (poor Noble could only sign for Newcastle).

That conveyor belt of talent has long since dried up, and nowadays, Burnley take their players from all points of the compass. They went for years without paying money for a player, partly because they preferred to rear their own, partly because Chairman Bob was reluctant to spend the cash that his sausage and pie empire pumped into the club. When they signed a workhorse midfield player called Jim Thompson from Chelsea, it was the end of an era, akin to ravens leaving the Tower, or apes leaving the Rock of Gibraltar.

I have had some good days out pre and post match, but never a session in the town itself. Its best friends would be reluctant to call it an attractive town. Built on coal, canals and cotton, it has never really filled those gaps created when the staple industries went and there are areas of deprivation that are as bad as any in England. Not even the filming of Juliet Bravo could in the Burnley, Colne and Nelson conurbation could bring back the (relatively) good times.

But it is a town with a spirit and a great love of football.. They nearly lost their league status in the 80s and only stayed up by scoring a late goal to defeat Orient and send Lincoln down.. George Courtney was referee that day and he said that it was probably the most emotional games he had ever officiated. Had they lost, he said, he feared seeing mass suicides all the way back to Skipton.

The best day out was 31 years ago this weekend, when a humdrum Second Division game became the stuff of Sunderland legends. Trailing to a Tony Morley goal, we managed to have Joe Bolton and Micky Henderson sent off in quick succession. Burnley sat back, and allowed a storming Sunderland fight back, culminating in Gary Rowell netting twice and a couple of thousand Sunderland fans going absolutely bonkers . My mate Bob Miller drove us that day, and we ended up in Blackpool, perusing the lights and getting absolutely slaughtered, watching Sunderland fans dancing on the tables in Yates’s Wine Lodge.

In 1995, virtually safe from relegation, thanks to Reidy’s inspiration and Craig Russell’s goals, we took 5,000 across the Pennines. The driver this time was Ms Emma Horan, delivering me and her dad straight to Moorhouses Brewery Tap, where too many pints of Pendle Witch were quaffed. For the return journey, the landlady filled up several plastic containers with aforementioned ale. Emma parked in the town centre multi story and looked on horrified as her dad and his mate began to drink the Pendle Witch in full view of two of the Lancs Constabulary’s finest. We lurched into the ground, roared when Martin Smith equalised, got back in the car and finished the beer before Skipton and stopped for fish and chips and three more pints at The Craven Heifer at Barrowford. When she wants to make us squirm, she reminds us of this trip.

Unfortunately, no drinkies on Saturday due to an early kick off. It should be a decent game; our last three visits to this part of North East Lancashire have brought two wins and a draw, plus a nightmare for Dwight Yorke, a hilarious sending off for Ade Akinbiyi and the best headed goal that Kevin Kyle scored for us. Hopefully the winning run will continue; I would settle for a dull 1-0 win.

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