FAN'S EYE VIEW : Time to sing praises

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Ave, Kenny, morituri te salutant!*

In spite of the pain and heartache of our plight, it's time for Burnley fans to grow up and pay tribute to the team just down the road. There was a common view among Burnley pessimists earlier in the season that we wouldn't mind going down as long as Blackburn Rovers didn't win the League. (The optimists said they wouldn't mind Rovers winning the League as long as we didn't go down). Last Saturday's home defeat by Portsmouth consigned Burnley to the Second Division. And Blackburn seem certain to clinch the title. On the scale of footballing calamities it couldn't be much worse.

The favourite cliche of the national press about the Premiership title race has been that it ain't over till the fat lady sings. So when you-know-who stumbled against Man City last week, we read phrases like: "The fat lady is still standing in the wings at Ewood Park...".

But Burnley fans know that nobody sings at Ewood, let alone the fat lady. We've listened to the live match commentaries on Radio Lancashire. The crowd is so quiet you can hear the players shouting at each other. We know that there's more atmosphere at Accrington Stanley than there is at Ewood.

What's the point of a magnificent new stadium is if they still can't fill it no matter what's on offer: European football, Kenny's boys at the top of the table. What would make the people of Blackburn to turn out in the numbers that their team deserves?

But griping aside, Burnley should be congratulating Rovers and rejoicing that the Premiership title is coming to our Lancashire neighbours. Our fates are inextricably linked and have been since we were founder members of the Football League. The last time Rovers were champions was 1914 - the year Burnley last lifted the FA Cup. And the last time Burnley were champions - 1960 - also saw Blackburn's last appearance in an FA Cup final.

After our play-off final win against Stockport's nine men at Wembley last season, the more romantic among the Turf Moor faithful were dreaming of promotion to the Premiership. Even in October, people were still saying that we were within a few points of the play-offs. But we were within even fewer points of the bottom four. And a record eight consecutive defeats at the start of the new year ensured that was where we would end up.

This season for Clarets fans has been like taking a murder mystery out of the library, reading the first chapter and realising that you've read the book before. And you know how it ends. The early clues included conceding 93rd and 94th-minute equalisers in home matches, red cards that even Eric Cantona would be proud of, and a bewildering series of team changes (at least 11 different strikers).

You know it's a bad season when the headlines of the "Clarets' blues" variety outnumber the "Vintage Clarets".

We've seen some good football played at Turf Moor this season; the trouble is that most of it was played by the visitors. But we have to be positive, even though last Saturday's rendition of "Always look on the bright side of life" was, to say the least, half-hearted. At least we won't have to visit Grimsby or Port Vale next season. And we're unlikely to be able to afford Paul Stewart on loan again.

On the downside there are a number of clubs in the Second Division, such as Stockport and Blackpool, for whom Burnley seem to be public enemy No 1. They always come to Turf Moor singing "We hate Burnley, we hate Burnley..." To which there is only one answer: "We only hate Blasted Rovers.." (Well it sounds like "Blasted Rovers", anyway).

Of course, at the moment, the Burnley manager Jimmy Mullen is also on the hate list. "We're going down 'cause of Mullen," the Longsiders sang last Saturday. Remarkably he has survived the season, in spite of a vote of confidence by the board. Maybe we'll bounce right back up next season. Thousands of die-hard Clarets certainly hope so. That really would be a story worthy of Roy of the R-word.

*(Hail, Kenny, we who are about to die, salute you!)

n Paulinus Barnes is news editor of The Universe, the national Catholic weekly.

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