Claret and blues

Being a Burnley supporter isn't easy at the moment. Tony Dawber discusses the club's descent to the bottom of the Second Division

Imagine being as depressed as a Manchester City fan. Then double it and you are somewhere near. Burnley are languishing at the foot of the Second Division and on a downward spiral back to obscurity despite being arguably the best supported team in the division. Our plight has earned even more attention because the slide is being presided over by legendary former sausage seasoner Chris Waddle, who turned down other offers in order to grab Burnley by the scruff of the neck and hurl it towards the Premiership and whatever else came into our sights. 

This season’s trauma is not a sudden calamity, however, but the culmination of 21 years of misery since the club slipped down from the top division in 1976. The famous Orient game which clinched our League survival on the last day of 1986-87 should have been the springboard for a revival but the potential was wasted.

There were a few stirrings last season as Adrian Heath’s side, containing the first talented youngsters to emerge from the once famous Turf Moor academy since Trevor Steven in the early 1980s, made a late bid for promotion. Unfortunately the promise evaporated when John Ward was tempted to Bristol City to be followed by Heath who bailed out in the summer to join his old mentor Howard Kendall at Everton.

Enter Chris Waddle. Six months on, and our old friend the crisis is firmly entrenched at Turf Moor. There is a host of reasons why everything has gone wrong and they start on the field. From day one Waddle never seems to have made up his mind as to his best team, has played too many players out of position, and persisted in a wing back system when not one player at the club was equipped for that role.

Burnley went six games without scoring, not because we were unlucky, or that we got hammered, but simply because we created nothing, and opponents quickly realised they only needed to score once and three points were as safe a bet as Glasgow Rangers staying up.

Much of the fans’ anger centred on coach Glenn Roeder, who many saw as aloof and abrasive and the saintly Waddle escaped their fury until an extraordinary radio outburst when he slammed the supporters for catcalling when Lee Howey’s name was read out on the team sheet prior to a recent home game.

The reaction of the crowd was not really a personal attack on Howey, a big centre half who is seen as an honest trier but an expression of frustration that he should be preferred to the more cultured Chris Brass or Steve Blatherwick. Reaction to Waddle’s rant was predictably furious, however, abruptly ending his extended honeymoon period, and the situation has worsened since then as results have failed to improve.

It doesn’t help, either, that Waddle and the three lieutenants he brought with him – Roeder, Chris Woods and Gordon Cowans – are known to be on long and lucrative contracts that the club could not currently afford to pay off.

However, even Waddle’s severest critics acknowledge his efforts have been undermined by problems off the field. Supporters are unanimous in bemoaning the board’s lack of ambition, a feeling summed up by Dave Burnley, who has not missed a game home or away for 23 years and even changed his name out of loyalty to the team: “Supporting a club through hard times in the face of adversity is difficult, but supporting a club with a visible lack of concern for its future is downright hurtful. We have the resources and potential most clubs would die for and it has all been wasted”.

His argument is vividly illustrated by the fact that both Burnley players selected for last season’s PFA divisional team, David Eyres and Gary Parkinson, were allowed, amazingly, to join former leading scorer Kurt Nogan at local rivals Preston.

At the recent AGM shareholders gave under-fire chairman Frank Teasdale a torrid time. “The club is in a mess from top to bottom and action is desperately needed,” said Dave Wyne of the club’s Independent Supporters Association who explained that many fans’ fury stemmed from the belief that the current board are determined to hang on to power whatever the consequences.

But there may be a light ahead. Teasdale has at last admitted that agents acting for New York based former Lancashire businessman Ray Ingleby, said to be worth £200 million, were in talks with the club with a view to large scale investment.

But even if developments lead to a desperately needed shake up behind the scenes, a change may now be too late to save the floundering Waddle regime.

From WSC 132 February 1998. What was happening this month