Alastair Campbell is one of Burnley's most prominent supporters but it does not need the powers of persuasion of New Labour's most prominent former spin doctor to put a positive angle on this story. Burnley have returned to the top division of English football for the first time in 33 years, with the Premier League a very different place from the environment they inhabited when they were in what used to be called the First Division.
For a club that was one game away from relegation out of the Football League in 1987, this represents a barely imaginable dream. Some 36,000 fans – just under half the population of Burnley itself – were at Wembley to pinch themselves and remember that it was real.
Owen Coyle is the manager, in his first full season at Turf Moor, who has guided the Clarets to the top division. Such is his profile now, the Scot has already been linked with the vacant position at Celtic, after Gordon Strachan's departure, which happened during this game. His comment yesterday suggested he is keen at least to see through Burnley's debut season in the Premier League. He said: "I didn't know about Celtic. My only focus is on Burnley, it's flattering, all good and well, but I'm concentrating on the job here and long may that continue."
His chairman, Barry Kilby, the man who has bankrolled Burnley to this point, added: "Owen relishes the prospect of pitting his wits against the best and he is contracted to us," but Kilby may well have to pit his wits against Celtic's best to keep his inspirational manager. The choice of managing in the smallest town ever to have had a Premier League club or to be in the Champions League with Celtic may mean Kilby is on a losing wicket.
It was not a vintage play-off final, though the game was settled by a goal that deserved to win any game. If Burnley's tale, on a club level, is a romantic one for having been away from the top division for so long, then the goalscorer encapsulated the fairytale nature of their ascent. Wade Elliott, 30, who settled the outcome after only 13 minutes, was a free transfer four years ago from Bournemouth, having previously been in non-league football at Bashley.
The midfielder had in effect set up the goal himself with a break from the centre circle, although he then chose to pass to Chris McCann. The ball came back to him after Matt Kilgallon's tackle and Elliott did not hesitate to dispatch his shot, right-footed, high into the top corner from 25 yards.
Sheffield United did not create much and had Jamie Ward sent off 12 minutes from time for two yellow cards, both for handball. Substitute Lee Hendrie was also dismissed after the final whistle for foul and abusive language. The Yorkshire side had two penalty claims, both turned down by Mike Dean, the referee whose appointment had so upset the United manager Kevin Blackwell, after Dean had sent off Matthew Kilgallon earlier in the season.
Blackwell dodged questions on the penalties but was less opaque about his future. He said: "I don't know where I go. I have to talk about it. It might need someone else to take over. We've lost the parachute payments after relegation from the Premier League two years ago." For Blackwell the disappointment was all the greater for having lost the equivalent game three years ago with Leeds.
Their best chances came with those penalty appeals, firstly when Brian Howard after 15 minutes and Kyle Walker, after 68 minutes, appeared to be brought down. Burnley should have made those arguments obsolete lead 10 minutes into the second half but from three yards Joey Gudjonsson's shot hit Nick Montgomery's standing leg and deflected wide. Burnley's deserved victory will have left few people in the Lancashire town able to stand at all last night.
Burnley (4-5-1): Jensen; Duff, Carlisle, Caldwell, Kalvenes; Paterson, Elliott, Alexander, McCann (Gudjonsson, 28), Blake (Eagles, 69); Thompson (Rodriguez, 73) Substitutes not used: Penny (gk), McDonald.
Sheffield United (4-5-1): Kenny; Walker, Morgan, Kilgallon, Naughton; Halford, Howard (Lupoli, 82), Montgomery, Quinn (Hendrie, 85), Cotterill (Ward, 58); Beattie Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Bromby.
Referee: M Dean (Cheshire).
Cashing in: Promotion's pay day
The Championship play-off is the most lucrative single game in world club football, worth about £60m to the winner based on one season in the Premier League and then relegation.
* £30m minimum from Premier League central funds for a season, finishing bottom.
* £11m x 2 seasons Parachute money after relegation.
*About £8m comes from "uplift" in income from higher gates, more corporate ticket sales, improved sponsorship and commercial deals and charging more for perimeter advertising.
*Burnley's owners have lost about £2m because they promised their 7,000 2008-09 season-ticket holders free tickets for 2009-10 if the club reached the Premier League. They had average gates of 13,082 this season in a stadium that holds 22,500. Sheffield United's average gate this season was 26,000. Their stadium holds 32,600 and they could have expected it be nearly full in the Premier League.
Turf Moor or less? Burnley's chances in top flight
*Is their squad strong enough? Burnley had the smallest squad in the Championship: that is not a method for success in the Premier League these days. Having used only 23 players, they have also been remarkably injury-free, but their manager Owen Coyle said yesterday he would bring players in to keep legs fresh.
*Anyone in particular to look out for? Wade Elliott and Clarke Carlisle, the central midfielder and defender respectively. Carlisle was voted the official man of the match at Wembley and showed what he can do in the air and on the ground with a fierce but fair display that nullified Craig Beattie.
*Will they invest in the summer? Chairman Barry Kilby is a multimillionaire and now has an extra windfall. The conundrum is whether to spend to stay up or to take the West Bromwich path.
*What's the manager like? Coyle has emerged as one of the best young managers in the Championship. Calm and collected, he relishes the big occasion. The only doubt is if he will still be at the club or at Celtic next season.
*Will they succeed in the top flight? More West Bromwich than Stoke in their approach, they have a chance, but bookmakers already make them only 6-4 to stay up.Reuse content