Ten Burnley games that brought a lump in your throat
By Dave Thomas
June 20 2017
WHY: How is it that some games reduce us to tears of despair and others raise us to tears of joy? There can be 46 games in a Championship season or just 38 in a Premier League season.
Some create excitement, others produce boredom. There is always the thrill of a win or the dejection of defeat. But in some games there is something else. Maybe something huge is at stake. Maybe it’s a game when a lesser team outplays a team full of galacticos and the win is so unexpected that the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Just sometimes there’s moistness in your eyes, even real tears, the lump in the throat moment. We’ve all known it at some time, some more than others maybe. At Burnley where there have been more ups and downs in recent years than a fiddlers elbow, the change from joy to despair has been present on so many occasions. Burnley fans have experienced several promotions and relegations. For two decades respected Burnley were a top team inasmuch as they were in the old top division, Division One. But for seven years there were the wilderness years in the old Fourth Division. Then, since 1991/92 the ups and downs eventually brought Burnley to the very top division again. Here are ten emotional games. There are many, many more.
Manchester City 1 Burnley 2 May 2, 1960:
I was just 15 when I had that first lump in throat moment when on the old grainy black and white TV the news came through that Burnley had won 2-1 at Maine Road and were the English champions. Some games elevate our emotions and others don’t. The 1962 Cup Final didn’t do anything. I was there and Burnley lost and you might think there’d be tears of dejection. But there was just a dull flatness. The players said it afterwards as well. They just weren’t up for it. But at Maine Road they were, Jimmy McIlroy, Jimmy Adamson et al. This was a small town that had seen off the city slickers. It was the very last game of the season on a Monday night. Win and they were champions and Brian Pilkington and Trevor Meredith, the latter brought up on a farm, scored the goals. Burnley fans walked to Manchester to see the game. Somehow extra thousands squeezed in and screamed for the final whistle. And even though it was near midnight when they drove back down the hill into Burnley the crowds lined the roads. Sometime around 10 o’ clock I leapt and jumped round our house like a screaming dervish. Champions of England… champions of bloody England…
1986/87 Burnley 2 the Orient 1:
The game when tears flowed like rivers was in 1986/87 and it should really be number 1 in any top-ten list such was its magnitude. It was a huge day, the emotion so palpable it deserves its own feature article. Had Burnley lost, the consequences were just too big to contemplate. It was the final game of the season against the Orient in the old Fourth Division and had Burnley lost they would have been kicked out of the Football League. The football world was in a state of disbelief; the once champions of England demoted to the Conference. But in a game that was so tense you could cut the air, they won, scraped a victory, hung on in a 2-1 win with whistles and screams for full time so loud they must have been heard miles away. As lumps go, it was the biggest ever; sheer relief, unbridled emotion, the ache of fear and apprehension turning to joy and triumph when that whistle finally went. People flew in from all over the world to see the last rites they thought. There were tears before the game never mind afterwards and I was there. It was an awful game but a unique and momentous sporting occasion.
1991/92 York City 1 Burnley 2:
Burnley had been in the old fourth division for seven painful years. Mocked and scorned at places like Rochdale and Hartlepool, home gates dwindled to fewer than 2,000. The hard core of faithfuls stuck by them through thick and thin. It’s a badge of honour to say today that you were one of them. For various reasons I wasn’tand I missed out on all the adversity and pain. I missed out too on the night at York on April 28 when Burnley won and were assured of promotion. For unbridled emotion and elation it was one of the great nights in Burnley history. Seven years in the dumps was over. Frank Casper had assembled the team. Jimmy Mullen got them over the line. Roger Eli was the cult hero of the season with his goals and haircuts. You could argue that where Burnley are now, currently in the Premier League had its origin in that tumultuous night at York. The tears flowed, the champagne corks popped. People danced and hugged strangers. Football does that. Years later when I actually got to Bootham Crescent it was like a pilgrimage.
1997/98 Burnley 2 Plymouth Argyle 1:
May 18 and another of those end-of-season games with a huge significance. Lose and Burnley were relegated. Win and it was Plymouth that would be relegated. Games don’t come any bigger. It was a Saturday when I was up in the north-east trying to tune in on an old transistor radio whilst wandering round one of the old Roman forts on Hadrian’s Wall. Chris Waddle was manager and at Christmas that season Burnley were marooned at the foot of the table several points adrift. He signed Andy Payton, put Glen Little back in the side and Burnley dragged themselves away from the bottom so that salvation was theirs if only they could win the very last game. They did. Other folk wandering round that Roman fort must have looked over at me in astonishment as they saw this madman jumping and shouting ‘we’ve done it, we’ve done it.’ Back at Turf Moor the second half had been one of hanging on to the 2-1 lead. Just like in the Orient game, nail-biting does not describe things adequately. With a fragile lead like that, a final whistle brings pure ecstasy.
1999/2000 Scunthorpe United 1 Burnley 2:
May 6 and another last game of the season. Win it and Burnley would be promoted to the Championship after manager Stan Ternent had turned things round and assembled a team of winners. We were in Birmingham at a wedding party but disappeared to our room in the hotel to sit glued to Ceefax. The Championship beckoned after years of grubbing about in the lower divisions. There was shock and horror for those who were there when Scunthorpe took the lead. That meant no promotion. But the Burnley side rallied and scored twice; so the game went to the final whistle with a fragile Burnley lead, beating hearts, chewed finger nails, every second a mini drama until frayed nerves were replaced by joyous fans streaming onto the pitch. This was exactly 40 years since the Maine Road title win. So much water had passed under the bridge during those years, so many heartaches, near disasters, tears and frustrations. And now the club was back in a proper division. We danced the night away saying over and again, ‘the championship, we’re up in the championship.’
2008/09 Burnley 3 Spurs 0 Carling Cup:
Owen Coyle was manager and had rejuvenated the players Steve Cotterill had assembled. Already Championship Burnley had beaten Arsenal and Chelsea in the competition. These were Cup games that were reminiscent of the old magical night games in 1960/61 when Burnley played pulsating European Cup games. Burnley had lost the first game at Spurs 4-1 and nobody gave them a prayer in the return game. But Spurs were fragile and Burnley played like warriors, Robbie Blake magical, twisting and turning here there and everywhere. The ground was packed, the support deafening and one by one the goals went in to level the scores 4-4 at full time. We shrieked and screamed and willed them on, the prize was Wembley; this was a semi-final. We could not believe what they had done; hold on in extra time and Wembley was the prize. But disaster: with only minutes remaining in extra-time Spurs scored. They had been abysmal all night and went on to score a second in a breakaway. There was total desolation. The players wept with us. Spurs fans were embarrassed to have won but what consolation was that? We drove home that night, speechless, disbelieving and numbed by the cruelty of football.
2008/09 Burnley 1 Sheffield United 0 Wembley Play-off Final:
In May of 2009 we were speechless and disbelieving for the opposite reasons. At Wembley Burnley improbably won promotion to the Premier League after an absence of over 30 years since relegation from the old First Division. Inspired by Owen Coyle’s motivation the Play-off Final was a dream and was settled by a Wade Elliott wonder goal. Burnley never looked like losing but we still sat there on the edge of our seats counting the minutes and seconds with just that solitary goal. Years of hurt and pain were erased. The euphoria was like nothing we could remember. At a stroke the debts could be paid off and there was so much to look forward to. These were the tears of sheer jubilation and delight; these were the tears that came from the unexpectedness of it all. We ran out of words on the way home on the supporters coach, couldn’t take it in; couldn’t absorb the enormity of it, from near extinction in ’87 to this. What a journey, what a reward, what relief, little Burnley, the small-town team with no money, now up there with the big boys.
2009/10 Burnley 1 Man United 0, August 19:
It was the roar that thundered up to the heavens and reverberated around the hills and moors that surround the town that had the hairs on the back of our necks standing up on end, had us shaking our heads in utter astonishment, and at the final whistle produced another of those lump in throat moments. The previous Saturday at Stoke Burnley had lost, made to look ordinary and bereft of ideas in the first ever Premier League game. It was quite chastening. We viewed the coming Man United game with apprehension. The giants of the game coming to give Burnley a lesson; how many would they score? None as it turned out. Robbie Blake scored a volleyed goal that would have graced the greatest grounds in the world. The roar lifted the roof off the stand nearly. The passion and support that rolled down to the pitch was a tidal wave of raw and tribal madness. A goal up, Brian Jensen then saved a Man United penalty and the game was set for end to end stuff until finally at the end an even bigger victory roar filled the skies, shook the ground, produced tears, and memories that will never fade.
2013/14 Blackburn Rovers 1 Burnley 2, Sunday 9 March:
Coyle in mid-season left Burnley controversially. In came Laws and then Howe. But it was Sean Dyche who achieved something no-one had done for 35 years. He inspired a win over rivals Blackburn Rovers. In the previous two games Burnley had come so close but there had been Blackburn equalisers, in one game when three players were a yard offside. It rankled more and more. But this time in the game at Ewood Park the long awaited win came. Blackburn-Burnley rivalry is up there with any of the derby games anywhere in the world. There is a deep dislike and Burnley fans mock the way that benefactor Jack Walker had bought a title for Blackburn.
Now they mocked ownership by the Indian Venkys. Burnley were heading upwards when the two teams met and when Ings scored the Burnley second, 7,000 Burnley fans went mad. Then they went totally ballistic at the final whistle, years of frustration and waiting over. What made it all the sweeter was that Blackburn had taken the lead in the first half. But Burnley’s goals both came in the second, the first a brave header from Jason Shackell. Legendary status was bestowed upon every Burnley player. Danny Ings and Shackell were awarded immortality. But even better was to come by the season’s end 2013/14 Burnley 2 Wigan 0, Monday 21 April:
It was an improbable promotion, unpredicted and unexpected. In fact at the start of the season Burnley were one of the favourites for relegation. And yet, as players, Dyche, staff and families paraded round the pitch after the final whistle it finally sank in. Burnley against all the odds, with a tiny squad and no money, were promoted with two games to spare. We stood and watched in awe. How could this possibly have happened? Where had it come from, the sheer consistency, the resilience, the sparkling strike partnership, the dogged defence all coming together to win the £120million prize. These were not tears of dejection but the tears of accomplishment and hard-earned success, the tears of disbelief. For days afterwards supporters looked at the league table to see if it had really happened. And of course it had and still the party continued with another home win and then the final draw at Reading. They were the tears of astonishment and admiration and gratitude.
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Have to agree that Wade Elliot's goal at Wembley was something - I brought my son over for that game and met my brother and Dad. We had a great weekend culminating in getting into the Prem. The full backs from Sheffield United that day have done well for themselves.