Monday 11 May ~

Reading fans might now want to hear it but I'm prepared to bet that a lot of viewers, especially those above a certain age, will want Burnley to prevail in tonight's Championship play-off semi-final. Football fans aged over 40 will remember Burnley as First Division regulars and I still tend to regard them, as whimsical as this may sound, as a top-level club fallen on hard times rather than the habitués of the bottom two divisions that they have been for most of the past 30 years. If either Burnley or Preston were to be promoted this season, there would be eight clubs from the north-west in the top level, the most there has been since 1960-61. At that time, Liverpool were in the seventh of their eight years as a Second Division club – and Burnley were reigning League champions.

In a football annual published that year, Burnley were compared to Stade de Reims, the French team that had been in two European Cup finals over the preceding five years. It wasn't a fanciful suggestion. Both clubs were from small towns with consequently modest home gates, and had built their success on a steady supply of talent from a well organised youth system – when Burnley acquired striker Frank Casper from Rotherham in 1967 it was the first time in seven years that they had paid a fee for a player. Not that their squad was staffed with locals – for a while the majority came from the north-east via Jack Hixon, the scout who later spotted Alan Shearer.

Reims' era ended with relegation in 1963-64. They returned to the first level subsequently but their only achievement of note since that time was to be runners-up in the French Cup in 1976. Like the other Lancashire town teams, Burnley were badly hit by the abolition of the maximum wage which led to players gravitating to the region's four biggest clubs in Liverpool and Manchester. They hung on longer than the others – after a brief spell in the Second, they finished in the top half of Division One in successive seasons between 1973 and 1975. But like Bolton, Preston and Blackpool they eventually spent time in the fourth level.

Now in a wholly different age for football, Preston and Burnley might meet at Wembley to contest a place in the First Division, from which Preston have been absent since going down in 1961. Some people, and not just Blackburn fans, would be wholly unimpressed with the notion of someone feeling a sentimental attachment to either of these clubs. But football's history can't simply be brushed away, however much effort is put into divorcing the modern game from its past, with regular talk of records set "since the Premier League began". Anyhow, this is as much about the present as the past. Forza Lancashire. Carl Hawkins

Comments (4)
Comment by salamander 2009-05-12 00:37:16

Alas, I fear that Burnley will go the same way as all the other play-off teams from Lancashire have done so far this season. However, one can but hope!!

Comment by luxuryplayer 2009-05-12 09:33:09

Despite having no affiliation to Burnley whatsoever, and being far too young to remember the heady days of the 60s, I think football fans need to hope Burnley come up this season.

This is a team that plays football the right way, a team that beat Fulham, Chelsea, Arsenal and not for a 15 minute spell over two legs would have beaten Tottenham aswell (though I suppose that could have been no great shakes at that time).

People should admire Owen Coyle for how he has managed a tiny squad through not only the gruelling Championship season, but more cup games than many a Championship team will play over the next 5.

If you dont support Burnley for any of these reasons, I'd support them merely to prevent the mass suicide that could occur at the Madjeski stadium tonight, as Burnley get so close, but so far away again.

Comment by Nurse Duckett 2009-05-12 20:56:26

"Football fans aged over 40 will remember Burnley as First Division regulars..."

That definitely struck a chord with me, in every way!

One of my friends at school in Wiltshire (so not exactly local) in the mid 1970s supported Burnley; I don't think there was any regional affiliation on his part, and while they weren't exactly a glamour club, there must have been some attraction there for him.

Comment by salamander 2009-05-13 01:15:55

Wrong again!
Well done Burnley!
I wonder, though, what is now to become of Reading.

Related articles

Massively Violent & Decidedly Average by Lee Howey
Biteback Publishing, £12.99Reviewed by Ed UprightFrom WSC 375, April 2018Buy the book One of Lee Howey’s most cherished memories is...
How "they won" became "we won" – the rise of the partisan football fanatic
In the game's early days matches were mostly watched by curious observers but, as crowds increased, clubs started to provide their followers with a...
The best and worst moments of 2017 ~ part two
Embed from Getty Images // From Lincoln’s triumphant season to Huddersfield’s heart-warming promotion, via Chelsea’s return to...

More... Burnley