Football: Fan's Eye view No. 10: Beating Clarets' blues: Burnley

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The Independent Online
YOU normally get two reactions when people discover you're a Burnley fan. 'Used to be a great club, Burnley,' they say, throwing in a few well-worn names from the illustrious past: Ralph Coates, Jimmy McIlroy, Leighton James - it depends on the generation. (If you're unlucky enough to meet a Luton fan they always mention Alan West, no matter what their age).

'Turf Moor, great ground,' is the second reaction. 'Too good for the Fourth Division,' they used to say. Now we're in the Second Division but 'Too good for the Second Division' doesn't have quite the same ring. It will, when it finally sinks in that the Second Division is really the Third Division.

We agree with both sentiments, of course. Well, we would, wouldn't we? Except that we know that Burnley still is a great club.

We throw around a few statistics. Like the fact that the last time the Clarets graced the hallowed turf of Wembley, the attendance - 80,841 - was higher than it had been the week previously when England took on Scotland.

'Wasn't that against Tottenham in the 1962 FA Cup final?' people ask. (No it wasn't. It was against Wolves. Sherpa Van Whatsitsname Final, 1988, actually. Highest recorded gate for a match between two Fourth Division clubs.)

We share with Wolves the distinction of having won all four divisional championships. And we still cherish a memorable 4-1 win at White Hart Lane in the Milk Cup quarter-final in 1983.

But it isn't winning that makes Burnley a great club. We can't really understand why anyone should want to support a club that's always up among the honours. Being a fan is no fun if you don't have the occasional battle against relegation.

Which is why so many Clarets look on a home match against Orient, the last match of the 1986-87 season, as their greatest moment. The match was previewed on the Friday night Nine O'Clock news. The national press was, unusually, out in force. The game was given live second-half commentary on Radio Two. The kick-off had to be delayed 15 minutes as more than 17,000 came to witness what many feared would be Burnley's last match after a century in the Football League.

It was the first season in which there was automatic relegation from the Fourth - and Burnley were bottom as they went into their last match. They needed a win - and they needed another team to lose. Lincoln lost at Swansea and went down, Burnley won and stayed up. And what celebrations we enjoyed that night.

We enjoy taking non-Clarets to Turf Moor. It's a good afternoon out, even if Burnley lose. We like hearing their compliments on our ground. And they enjoy the pies. But we do have to explain the songs, a mystery to the uninitiated. Last season fans on the Longside terraces used to sing: 'Bob Lord, Bob Lord, start the wave, Bob Lord, start the wave.'

This was not a cry to beyond the grave to the late chairman Bob Lord, but a demand on the fans, seated in the eponymous stand, to begin the Mexican Wave, a luxurious distraction from matches we knew we didn't have to win. We were going to win the League anyway.

Most surprisingly of all we still sing, to the tune of the Wild Rover, 'And it's no, nay, never. No nay never, no more, will we play Bastard Rovers, no, never, no more.'

Leaving aside the intricacies of the carefully constructed five double negatives, there is a basic problem with this song. It dates back to the days when Burnley graced the First Division, and lowly Lancashire neighbours, the hated Blackburn Rovers, languished in the Second and Third.

It signified two things: they'll never be good enough to get into the First Division. And we'll never be bad enough to drop out of it. Both predictions have been proved wrong by history and Jack Walker's millions. But still we sing it, except that now it seems to signify the opposite: either we'll never be good enough to be back up there with the big boys, or they'll never drop back down.

But now Rovers are riding high, it doesn't make sense. Maybe we should adopt Accrington Stanley as our 'most hated neighbours'. Except that those of us with long memories are wary of laughing at non-Leaguers. We recall Burnley, then First Division high fliers, being humbled by non-Leaguers in the FA Cup third round - a Southern League team called Wimbledon or something like that.

Paulinus Barnes Chief Reporter for 'The Universe', the national Catholic weekly newspaper

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