Burnley revive old glories

Burnley are back

Alistair Campbell's Burnley can stand proudly alongside Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and, much, much more importantly, Blackburn. Back where they used to belong.

The days of Jimmy McIlroy and Leighton James. When football was different. Europe had barely been invented, let alone the Premier League.

Who could imagine Burnley would muscle their way in among the big city boys, following the example set by Bolton, Wigan and Rovers?

Wade Elliott might not have known it when he curled his 13th-minute winner into the top corner. And it might be a bit harsh on Sheffield United. But English football should welcome the revival of a once-great club.

The Championship play-off final itself is what the FA Cup used to be before top level football became a corporate plaything.

That dreaded C word is still in evidence due to the swathes of empty seats that ring Wembley for a day those who invest such vast sums to guarantee access on every other occasion deem not worthy of their presence.

Let them stay away if they must. They are missing a treat.

Supporters of both clubs basked in the sunshine, baiting each other in good-natured fashion, voicing their backing for the Blades or the Clarets, setting aside the £60million cheque that makes it the most lucrative game of club football anywhere on the planet in favour of more personal reasons to hope for a win.

Sheffield United of course will always be known as the fall guys in the Carlos Tevez saga, their manager Kevin Blackwell the man who could not rescue Leeds from the hell they eventually collapsed into.

All Burnley's baggage comes from much further back. Champions in 1960, established members of England's elite, relegated in 1976. They know how Newcastle feel.

It was the year of Rocky, Jimmy Carter was elected president, Jim Callaghan replaced Harold Wilson as Prime Minister, the start of Labour's slide from power, evoking more present-day thoughts of yesteryear.

Up in the small Lancashire mill town, nestling in the hills that divide their county from the white rose of Yorkshire, it was the start of a decline that almost ended in oblivion, only a last-day victory over Leyton Orient in 1987 keeping them in the Football League at all.

The climb back has been painfully slow at times, hanging around in the second tier so long it is easy to forget that flirtation with disaster.

That static existence came to an end with the arrival of Coyle from St Johnstone in November 2007, such a short time in the life of a football club, yet a space in which so much can be achieved.

A Carling Cup semi-final for a start, incorporating victories over Fulham, Chelsea - at Stamford Bridge of all places, and Arsenal before a Wembley place was cruelly snatched away thanks to two extra-time goals from Tottenham.

A decent FA Cup run, a place in the play-offs. All achieved through neat football. Not Arsene Wenger maybe but definitely no Tony Pulis.

Little wonder Coyle has been elevated to the ranks of potential Celtic manager now Gordon Strachan's first season without the title has triggered his departure from Parkhead.

All those supporters who came down the M6, not far off half the town's population, got their reward after 13 minutes.

The missing corporates may get to see greater finery when Chelsea meet Everton at the weekend. But will they get a story like Elliott's? A former non-league player with Bashley and an honest professional with Bournemouth before heading north for fame if not, by the standards of football's over-inflated wages, fortune.

Elliott's goal was good enough to grace any showpiece occasion. An energetic dart from midfield, a quick look up as the ball broke back to him off Chris McCann, and then a sublime finish, curled into the top corner with Paddy Kenny completely helpless.

Burnley had two chances to seal victory only for that old sweat Robbie Blake to be denied on both occasions.

Yet somehow, despite a succession of penalty appeals that grew louder and the reaction more frustrated, the Blades never looked like cutting through Brian Jensen's guard.

The stupid dismissal of Jamie Ward merely compounded the misery.