Living The Dream

Posted on May 26, 2009

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It isn’t so much ‘hallowed turf’ anymore, given the well-known state of the Wembley pitch and the farce that surrounded getting the stadium built in the first place, but a trip to the national stadium is special for any football fan. Not least for the followers of Burnley, who have sampled the delights of Walsall and Plymouth more than they have Wembley over the last few years.

With several London pubs behind us, we joined the throngs of people walking up Wembley Way for what was bound to be one of the most nervous, intriguing games of football many of us had seen in a long time. This Roses battle, between the Clarets and Yorkshire’s Sheffield United, would not only decide who would grace the Premiership next year but was also worth a significant monetary reward, around £60 million.

As it was, we needn’t have worried. Wade Elliott curled home a beauty of a goal early on and Burnley were so comfortable that they proceeded to squander several great chances. United never looked like scoring, and the final whistle confirmed Burnley’s return to the top flight of English football for the first time in 33 years. As the Sheffield United supporters ebbed away in disappointment, Burnley’s 36,000 fans stayed behind to watch the team lift the play-off trophy and celebrate their return to the elite of English football.

A little over twenty years ago, Burnley won a vital game at Leyton Orient that meant they retaind their football league status. The finances of the club were so dire that had they dropped out of the league that year they probably would never have returned. A founder member of the football league, this would have been a catastrophe for the town and the fans. The climb back to the top has been slow, but that it has been completed is remarkable. In their 61st game of the season (only Manchester United have played more), Burnley’s players put in a tremendous effort in sealing the vital win. All the more impressive is that the club have used a mere 23 players this campaign, less than any other Championship side, with five of those playing no more than once. Overpaid Premier League players complaining about the strains of a long season, take heed. For players like Graham Alexander (38) and Robbie Blake (33), this achievement is all the more amazing, and they more than deserve such success near the end of their careers.

A word about the fans. Burnley’s average home attendance this season has been around 12,000, not impressive in itself, but when one considers the competition for fans’ allegiances in the area, not at all bad. With Blackburn, Preston, Bolton, Wigan, Rochdale, Accrington Stanley and Bury, not to mention the two Manchester clubs, all within easy reach, Burnley are always going to have to work hard to persuade people to come. The town, however, only has a population of 73,000, and with this brought into the equation, only Middlesbrough can consider themselves better supported. Yesterday, Burnley must have been a ghost town, as 36,000 Clarets converged on London. After years of only being associated with race riots and the BNP, Burnley is now back on the map for the right reasons.

The money is crucial, it secures Burnley’s future and puts less pressure on the wallets of benefactors Barry Kilby and Brendan Flood. But from a football point of view, Burnley’s elevation is tremendous. A club steeped in history, with a great fan base and who play the game in the right manner, the Premier League will be a better place for Burnley being there. They will be written off right from the start but, mark my words, this little club will cause some big surprises next year. Up The Clarets.

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Posted in: Sport