Are United ready to tackle Turf Moor?
A hostile welcome awaits the champions tonight at Burnley. Chris Brereton on the Clarets' secret weapon: their ground
Wednesday 19 August 2009
When the football fixtures for this season were announced in June, Burnley's chief executive Paul Fletcher was quick to point out that opposition teams, in as many words, could like the Turf Moor set-up or lump it. Not for Fletcher the subservient outlook of a small-town club that snuck its way into the world's most demanding top flight via the play-offs. Yes, Turf Moor would get a "lick of paint and probably a few new light bulbs" but change does not come fast in these parts, and that includes the dressing rooms which, Fletcher pointed out, had not been improved "since I played for Burnley 35 years ago".
A million pounds has been spent by the club in bringing the press box, gantry and corporate offerings up to a Premier League standard and although those infamous changing rooms have also had minor cosmetic improvements, they are still more suitable for The Damned United than the damned United.
It is a policy the club's players endorse and if striker Robbie Blake had his way, United would almost be forced to get changed for tonight's match in the club car park. "To be fair, they've spruced the dressing rooms up a bit," he said.
"I don't think the away dressing room here was up to standard for the Premier League, now they've put a couple more showers in. I've heard it's not much more than a lick of paint and a new light bulb though – although maybe that's what they've done to ours!
"But we can't make it too hospitable for them; we can't go putting sofas in and things like that."
On a serious note, Blake's sentiments do make some sense. The temptation for many sides must be to welcome the Premier League's larger sides to their clubs – and in Burnley's case their old-fashioned stadium which holds 22,546, the second smallest in the Premier League behind Portsmouth – as if they are a team of returning prodigal sons, running around with the spit and polish aiming to please. Yet Burnley are refusing to feel like the economy passengers who have talked their way into a spot in business class.
Merit alone got them to the Premier League and merit alone will keep them there. Or maybe not, depending on the next 37 matches. Either way, they'll like it or lump it.
Of those remaining 37 matches, tonight's visit of Manchester United is easily the most significant. The fact it is Burnley's first home match in England's highest division for 33 years, coupled with competitive Lancastrian pride, should ensure a fascinating evening of on-field action. But what happens off the pitch could be equally as fascinating.
It is no secret that Premier League players expect the very best treatment these days – there was nearly a riot at the DW Stadium 17 months ago when Wigan and Reading players found no hot water available – so if the off-the-pitch surroundings can alter on-field performances, however slightly, then Blake is all for it.
"Don't get me wrong – it's not the best place to come, but we like that," he added. "We want to make Turf Moor as difficult as we can for teams to come here. It might be an advantage for us if teams are walking down that cold tunnel thinking, 'This looks a bit dodgy'."
Blake's team-mate Graham Alexander agrees with his fellow 30-something that a hint of an advantage could be garnered from the gloomy surroundings at Turf Moor.
"It's a bit dark down there in the depths of Turf Moor," he said."If you haven't experienced it before it's definitely different from the big new grounds that you get in the Premier League, and even at Championship level. But that's down to the players' mentality when they come here and if that affects them, that's better for us.
"We're hopefully going to rely on what we've got in our changing room though and not the surroundings of the ground. We're relying on what we've got in our team, the ability and quality we've got through it, and hopefully, that will be enough to get the results that we need."
What it takes to stay in the Premier League in your first season is an inexact science. And what a story it would be if Burnley's much vaunted "12th man" – vocally intimidating at best and positively bloodthirsty at worst – this year turned out to be some dodgy plumbing? Only time will tell, but it adds another chapter to an already enchanting tale.
Damned United: Revenge on menu
* Burnley have not faced Manchester United in a league fixture since April 1976, when the Red Devils beat them 1-0 at Turf Moor. Lou Macari's winner condemned The Clarets to relegation.
* Since United sent them down 33 years ago, Burnley have only met the Red Devils in three League Cup ties, losing each time and without scoring a single goal.
* Of 118 occasions on which the two sides have met, Burnley have won 43.
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