Alastair Campbell on the Burnley legend who shocked even him


In the first part of Alastair Campbell‘s “Who Are You?” questionnaire ahead of Sunderland v Burnley this weekend, we heard of his unwavering commitment to the club, to the extent that the No 10 switchboard was under instructions not to bother him at games. The operators will have needed no further discouragement, if the film satire In The Loop was right in portraying him as a scary, foul-mouthed bully. “Oh, his swearing is much, much worse than that,” John Prescott said after seeing the film. But Alastair would say both – film and Two Jags – got him wrong; indeed, his sensitive side is revealed today as he recalls the day Gordon Harris left him flabbergasted. He recovers in time to predict an away win he can’t be there to see …

Salut! Sunderland: Are you conscious of the long history of rivalry between Sunderland and Burnley for the capture of North-eastern footballing talent (Burnley usually getting their way!), and of the links between the clubs (Jimmy Adamson being the obvious one)?

Yes absolutely. Gordon Harris was one of my earliest heroes. He was also the cause of one of my most shocking early memories. He came to take a throw in right in front of us and as he let the ball out of his hands, he let out a loud fart, and I turned to my brother and said I couldn’t believe Gordon Harris farted. Some of our greatest players came from the North East for one of the most obvious reasons – some of our greatest scouts were from there.

Gordon Harris:gordon harris: pictured with thanks to the Clarets Mad fan site**..

Have you been to the Stadium of Light, or did you go to Roker Park before it? Any thoughts on ground/s, city, fans, club?

Both are terrific grounds in very different ways. I had a mate at university who was a big Sunderland fan, and I went to a couple of games with him in London. I could not believe how many Sunderland fans there were. Burnley have a terrific away support these days but it wasn’t always so and I was genuinely amazed at the Sunderland turnout. You’ve always had good fans and it is sad sometimes to see the empty seats at the new stadium, but I know there are a lot of seats to fill. I love Turf Moor because it has a mix of the old and the new. Of all the grounds we have visited this year I liked Everton the best, because it really was like going back in time. I mean that in the nicest possible way.

How aware were you as a boy of the Burnley glory days and do you think younger supporters fully realise how big the club once was? Are there players you dearly wish you’d been old enough to have seen in action?

I did see Jimmy McIlroy but I was only four and don’t remember it. I have got to know him a bit in recent years and I spoke at a testimonial for him recently. Lovely man. I was very conscious and always have been of the glory days. My sons’ mates tend to be amazed when I tell them we were League champions, played in Europe, all that. The one game I would like to go back in time for is the 1914 Cup Final, the only one we won.

The Eduardo question: everyone above you collapses and you need only to win the last game to stay up. In the dying seconds, at 1-1, Steven Fletcher goes down theatrically in the box. With due apologies if Mr Fletcher is a model of fair play, everyone knows he dived except the ref, who awards the penalty. Burnley score, win and avoid relegation. Take it gladly, take it guiltily or feel so ashamed you almost wish it was Doncaster, Barnsley and Scunthorpe again next season?

I will suddenly become Arsene Wenger. I didn’t see the incident but I am pleased Graham Alexander tucked it home.

Club vs country: who wins for you? Rooting for England in S Africa or too concerned about Burnley to care?

It is even more complicated than that. I support Scotland when it comes to international football. But I do want England to do well because it is good for Britain if they do.

Name one thing the club or authorities should do to improve the lot of ordinary fans?

Award Burnley 12 points for the next four games.

And now name this season’s top four in order, and the bottom three.

Chelsea, Man U, Arsenal, Spurs … Bolton, Hull, Portsmouth … what do you mean wishful thinking???

Tell us your hard luck story about missing our game. What will be the score?

We will win 1-0, and I will not be there to see it. I am chairman of fundraising for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research*. This is our 50th anniversary and I agreed ages ago, thinking it was a weekday, to host a special event to celebrate the event. It is on the day we play you. I can’t get out of it. Sick as a proverbial.

More to come: one more dip into the Campbell soup sees Alastair helping us lay to rest a delicious Tony Blair story. For part one of the questionnaire, see Who Are You? We’re Burnley – by the champion of spin .

* Alastair – his own site is here – has personally raised a seven-figure sum for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research through sport and other events. He chose to support leukaemia research because his best friend, a former Mirror colleague John Merritt, died from the disease in 1992. Leukaemia then claimed the life of John’s daughter Ellie, at the age of nine, six years later. He ran the 2003 London Marathon for the charity, while still working in Downing Street and raised £370,000. He has since switched to triathlon and is now captain of the Leukaemia Research triathlon team, the biggest in the country.

** The editor of Clarets Mad is Tony Scholes and his Who Are You?, published ahead of our 3-1 defeat at Burnley earlier this season, can be seen here.

Interview by Colin Randall

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6 thoughts on “Alastair Campbell on the Burnley legend who shocked even him”

  1. I loved Gordon Harris and my favorite memory of him was as a Burnley player shortly before he signed for us. 1967?

    Home game v Burnley, Monty went off injured and Calvin Palmer went in goal. Harris 1 on 1 with him in front of the Fulwell and he nutmegged him. It was so slow Calvin turned around and picked it up. Oh how we larfed

    He had a barge-arse as well.

    Why isn’t football funny anymore?

  2. Ah, the Orient 0-3. Not until Jacky Ashurst at Ashoton Gate in ’75 had I seen a man so out of position as Banger Harris against Orient. A game memorable for several second-half punch-ups. Banger could strike a ball, mind, and I remember a perfect cross on the run onto Billy Hughes’s head for a goal in the clarts (somewhere or other, I forget where). Past his best when he arrived at Roker

  3. Gordon Harris was a quality player who never really cut it at Sunderland.Not a Geordie, though. I think he came from Worksop. He seemed to have short legs and an arse that trailed on the floor. Scored some good goals,including two in the game after the humiliation at West Ham when we beat Coventry City
    I will always remember him being selected at centre half for a F.A.Cup tie at home to Orient in 1971,. He was coming towards the end of his career and he had an absolute stinker as we were dumped out of the cup by a speedy forward called Mark Lazarus. Gordon spent much of the second half shaking his head as the players whizzed round him. It wasn’t one of Alan Browns finer moments.

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