Football: Heath hoping to add to his derby days: Burnley are back in the big time and their determined striker is full of optimism Shaw reports

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SOME people collect stamps, others records or antiques. Adrian Heath collects derby matches, and high among his remaining ambitions is to represent Burnley against Blackburn Rovers with Premiership points at stake.

Heath, who is about to launch his 18th League season by renewing acquaintance with Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough on Saturday, has played for Everton against Liverpool, Manchester City versus United and even Espanol against Barcelona. Once, when his game with Aston Villa was postponed, he dashed from snow-bound London in order to watch a rare local confrontation in his native Potteries.

Now 33, the striker-cum-midfielder known as 'Inchy' maintains he would 'feel cheated' if Burnley did not take on Blackburn during the two years of his new contract. Seven years ago, when Burnley had to win their final Fourth Division fixture to have a chance of staying in the competition they helped to found, their next derby looked more likely to be with Accrington Stanley. Instead, promotion to the re- vamped First has put them within touching distance of the nouveau riche from Ewood Park.

'The fact that we're only one step behind Blackburn will be the driving force for us this season,' Heath said. 'Burnley supporters believe we're a far bigger club and reckon that Blackburn have bought their success. In terms of tradition and potential, Burnley is more of a football town and I can't help thinking Jack Walker would have got more for his money if he'd put it into Turf Moor.'

Such statements owe less to idle bravado than to the discovery, which Heath admits surprised him, that Burnley people are unusually partisan about their club. 'This is the only place I've ever been where you never see kids wearing Man United or Liverpool replica shirts. It's always the claret and blue.

'Our crowds compare favourably with anyone's per head of population. And if you go to a newsagents, a pie shop or whatever, everyone knows exactly how we're doing. I've played for teams in four major footballing cities, but when it comes to depth of feeling for their club this place is a match for any of them.'

The point, underlined by an average attendance of 11,500 last season, was driven home in May before Burnley's victory over Stockport in the Second Division play-off final. Their opponents had finished three places above them, yet when Heath saw that three-quarters of the Wembley crowd were from Burnley, he sensed his team-mates feeling they could not lose.

This season, in a desperately competitive First Division from which only the champions will be promoted automatically, Burnley will need more than passion to prosper. Although their manager, Jimmy Mullen, has ventured around pounds 700,000 on three newcomers - Chris Vinnicombe from Rangers, Mark Winstanley from Bolton and Liam Robinson from Bristol City - that sum is dwarfed by the amounts Middlesbrough and Wolves have invested.

'I suppose it would be possible to go up on a shoestring, but you'd need to be very lucky with injuries and suspensions,' Heath said. 'If we can keep hold of our keeper, Marlon Beresford, who a lot of big clubs have been in for, we should be OK. We had the second-best home record in the four divisions last season, and it could be we'll need the same again.'

The club's followers, reared on League titles and forays into Europe, may have preferred gung-ho predictions. As an eternal enthusiast with almost 150 senior goals to his name (including 36 in two years with Burnley), Heath can hardly be accused of harbouring negative instincts. However, experience has taught him not to offer hostages to fortune.

It would have been different 20 years ago, when Burnley resembled a production line churning out top-class players. Heath recalled with a glow the likes of Dobson, Thomas, Flynn, Kindon, Coates, James and, latterly, his former Everton colleague Trevor Steven, but acknowledged that it may be impossible for a mill-town club ever again to produce so much talent simultaneously. Unless, that is, a Jack Walker figure finances the operation.

There again, he is convinced that the decline which took Burnley from the European Cup to the verge of the Vauxhall Conference is also firmly in the past. The climax of the 1986-87 season is enshrined in Turf Moor folklore as 'the Orient game', and although Heath was collecting a championship medal at Goodison that day, he has no doubt Burnley's brush with the abyss fostered a fierce desire to ensure they never approach it again.

'I vividly remember TV showing a tea-lady crying after Burnley scored a late winner. Brian Miller, who was manager that day and is now chief scout, has been at the club all his adult life, but when he talks about the Orient game his face takes on this incredible intensity.'

There will be no shortage of the latter at Middlesbrough. 'With Robbo making his debut it's going to be even noisier than usual, so we can't afford to let them get an early goal. Not many Premiership teams would relish starting the season there.'

Heath is keen to follow the former England captain into management, and has made a point of observing the methods of those under whom he has served. They include Terry Venables and Dave Sexton with the England Under- 21s; Howard Kendall, during seven hugely successful years at Everton; and Graham Taylor in a less auspicious stint with Villa.

'I've learned a lot from some and absolutely nothing from others,' he said. 'But right now I intend to play on. I'm doing the same running as apprentices who weren't even born when I started, and I'm enjoying it. The day I don't, I'll pack it in. I'm still scoring goals and looking forward to the first day as much as I've ever done.'

(Photograph omitted)