Fifty years separated Chelsea’s first League Championship from their second, and it’s hard not to notice that the half-century of Burnley’s last triumph is hard upon us. Stranger things have happened. But the strangest thing of all is that Burnley haven’t been back up since 1976 – they were a modern, progressive club with intelligent men on board in the sixties, and the loss of that momentum must have been painful to those who can remember it.
In ’59, Burnley began their campaign in barbecue weather against a Leeds side containing both a young and untamed Jack Charlton and a post Man. City Don Revie. But they weren’t up against John Charles, who had left for Italy eighteen months before and whose absence was increasingly impossible to compensate. The Burnley side had one man of supreme stature – that of Jimmy Adamson, who would shortly become the FA’s first choice to succeed Winterbottom as England manager. With him were some fine players – John Connelly, who’d later play with Best, Law and Charlton and Manchester United. The earlier, and arguably better, McIlroy.
2009’s Burnley also contains familiar names: Clark Carlisle, for instance. Or Chris Eagles, who failed, bewilderingly, to tie down a first team place at Old Trafford and who might well star this year. And club captain Stephen Caldwell (the injured Caldwell – not the dismissed one).
The new clarets were unfortunate in their opening fixture: an away game against Stoke is not, in recent terms, one that sounds much like a Premiership game at a time when it can take four seasons for a team to make a real transition from Championship to the top division. Better, surely, to launch at Anfield, or Arsenal’s beautiful new Emirates Stadium with the ball on the ground in true Owen Coyle style.
That’s all coming, and soon – they have the Champions, the runners-up and the FA Cup holders all before September is half over, and if they can weather that as well as Hull did a similar sequence early last year, then they will be set fair.
Nevertheless, those are easy words after a 2-0 defeat to Stoke, and set against the 59ers’ 3-2 win away against Charlton and Revie, things look less promising this time around. Tony Pulis has called on Burnley to make Turf Moor a “fortress.”
In the ’80s, all grounds had fences, and wires and men on horseback; how quickly we forget. No, don’t build a fortress: remember the cultured ’59 team, keep the ball down and play and see what happens. If the top of the table is unusually open this season, so is the bottom. In a mini-league containing Hull, Birmingham, Stoke, Wolves, Portsmouth and possibly Wigan, proper football might be good enough to stay up in some comfort and considerable pride. I can conceive of three of those sides imploding psychologically long before a Coyle side does.