Ten Burnley defeats that really hurt
By Dave Thomas
September 5 2017
Funny how some defeats we can walk away from and not care. Others, however, leave us so disappointed, so dejected, that it takes days to forget them.
Some in fact we never forget. A performance might have been so abject, a result might have been so undeserved, the consequences might have been so huge, that the images stay in our heads and the emotion lingers for an age.
The game at Burnley that might have resulted in a defeat with enormous consequences was the final game of the season against the Orient. Even today, years later, the consequences are too enormous to contemplate. Defeat would have more than hurtful; it would have possibly terminated a proud and historic club. It was the first season of the rule that the bottom club would be demoted to non-league football. But Burnley won. There was euphoria not heartbreak.
Burnley, like every club, has suffered defeats that have left people utterly deflated, maybe wondering how and why it happened if it has been unfair or undeserved. Maybe wondering if there is any justice in the football heavens if it has been the kind of result that leaves you scratching your head thinking just how on earth did that happen.
The first one I remember is the 1962 Cup Final when Burnley played Tottenham Hotspurs. The last one was a home defeat to Tottenham in the Carling Cup semi-final in 2009. There’s even a third one involving Spurs when there was an FA Cup semi-final defeat at Villa Park in 1961.
I never saw any of the defeats in the dark days when Burnley wallowed in the old Fourth Division. Those who did, still remember the pain and ignominy. Those were the days of humiliation and real hurt, they say.
1961 versus Spurs FA Cup semi-final: It was an all-conquering Burnley side that season until it all became too much playing in 4 competitions. They had won the title the season before, and in 1960/61 were playing in the European Cup. The FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park was a travesty of a result and people still wonder how on earth Spurs won 3-0. Even the Spurs players in that game remain astonished all these years later.
It was the year that Tottenham first won the double when everything went right for them. In that semi-final everything went wrong for Burnley. Spurs were wary of them, Blanchflower full of admiration. Burnley had McIlroy and Adamson playing at their peak. They had John Connelly, Ray Pointer and Jimmy Robson. They were a team to be feared. But a Burnley win was not to be. A perfectly good Robson goal was disallowed and the Spurs players were astonished. To this day Jimmy says it was a perfectly good goal. The usually immaculate Jimmy Adamson slipped to gift Spurs one of their goals.
Burnley players were disbelieving at the final result. Supporters made their way home baffled at the disallowed goal, a Robson header the result of a perfect and climb and timing. It set the scene for a disappointing season when Burnley faded in all four competitions. It was a season of what might have been. (Read Harry Potts Margaret’s Story)
1962 Cup Final Tottenham 3 Burnley 1: This was the season when Burnley were on track for the Double. And then it all faded away as wins became hard to come by and over the final games Ipswich caught them up and pipped them for the title. By the time of the Cup Final it was as though they were mentally drained and it was enough just to be there. Jimmy McIlroy was patched up and had a poor game as Tottenham fired three goals past them. A Robson equaliser gave faint hopes of a win but then a penalty knocked the stuffing out of them. Many of the players spoke in the years afterwards and revealed that they were just not up for it. Today Jimmy Robson still says another goal he scored was not offside.
I was there, aged just 15, after a train journey down on the Friday with a pal called Edward Cockroft. I can remember it still, the feeling of anti-climax afterwards. We had queued for tickets at the ground in lines that stretched three sides of the ground.
It was as if that Cup Final was when Burnley peaked. The great years ended with it and in the following season McIlroy was sold and hundreds of fans swore they’d never enter the ground again.
Ed and I returned home on the Sunday by train again, thoroughly miserable and silent most of the way. The Double had been a real possibility but they won absolutely nothing that year. (Read Harry Potts Margaret’s Story)
1974 FA Cup semi-final, Newcastle United 2 Burnley 0: Jimmy Adamson had created a team that played football of a level that had other teams envious. We could never get the ball off them, said Bobby Moore. The previous season they had won promotion back to the top division. The good times were back, or so we thought. The forecast was for a comprehensive Burnley win in the semi-final with their brand of football that would sweep Newcastle away.
Alas in the previous game key player and striker Frank Casper had been badly injured in a wonderful 4-1 win at Elland Road against the swaggering Leeds United. They patched him up but it was to no avail.
Burnley bombarded Newcastle for the entire game and their players later admitted they never thought they’d win. But they had Malcolm MacDonald who bulldozed his way the length of the field not once but twice to score twice and win the game. He shrugged off the defenders as if they weren’t there with his strength and power.
Burnley hearts were broken, both players and supporters, tears were shed. It seemed unreal and ridiculous that Burnley could lose a game they had dominated, had so many shots, and in which the Newcastle goalkeeper was the official man of the match.
We trudged away crestfallen. A won might have kept the team together for another season with the income it would have brought. But one by one the top players were sold and once again Burnley entered the doldrums. (Read Magical Paul Fletcher)
1975 FA Cup, Burnley 0 Wimbledon 1: The team of the Seventies, as Adamson called it was being broken up to pay the bills. Martin Dobson had been sold at the beginning of the season. Nevertheless there was still fine football and a high position in Division One not far from the top. The FA Cup came round once more and when Burnley were drawn against non-league opponents, Wimbledon, it was assumed Burnley would progress into the next round easily and without much effort.
What happened, however, was one of the biggest ever Cup upsets of all time. Wimbledon came and played a superb game and had done their homework. They worked out that if they shackled Leighton James Burnley’s provider would in actual fact provide very little. The plan worked a treat.
Burnley did not play badly but they were outthought and outfought by a team that looked their equal on the day. I remember going home back to Leeds and telling people that they had deservedly won with football not brawn. It was just astonishing to think that this was a non-league team back then. It could be argued that the consequences were enormous. FA Cup revenue that season ended. Leighton James would be sold soon.
This was a defeat that is still remembered; the shock waves bounced around the East Lancashire towns and hills. Even by the end of March Burnley were still in the top three but the Cup defeat was an embarrassment and a stain on the season. Wimbledon were good and in the next round almost disposed of Leeds United. In that there was perhaps just a little consolation.
1987 Crewe 1 Burnley 0: the penultimate game of the season and Burnley FC was dying a lingering death, facing expulsion from the league if they finished bottom, a position that looked certain. The defeat at Crewe followed a dreadful performance bereft of hope. It looked like curtains for the club, shame, ignominy and humiliation. A win was essential for survival.
The referee had blown early at the end shortening the game by several minutes said some, four in actual fact. The football Gods seemed to have consigned Burnley to non-league football if not oblivion. Fans were incensed. Chairman Frank Teasdale requested that the game be replayed. The club’s very survival might have hinged on this game. Just one last fixture remained. The club wrote to the Football League asking for the new demotion ruling to be changed, that it was never intended to punish a club with a history such as Burnley’s.
Fans had never felt as despondent as they made their way home. As far as they were concerned this was surely the end. People drove home in their cars and never spoke they were so distraught. 25 years earlier the club had been in the Cup Final with a team of thoroughbreds. Just 12 years earlier they had won promotion back to the top division. People now spoke of the worst feelings imaginable, the club was doomed and heading for extinction.
People still talk of this game. Those who were there have the feelings of desolation imprinted in their psyche. The next seven days until the next and final game were purgatory. They were safe only if they won and others lost. They did win. Lincoln lost. Tears of utter relief were shed. But no-one has ever forgotten the Crewe result.
1991 Scarborough 3 Burnley 1: It was Frank Casper’s last game as manager. Burnley were in Division Four, the Wilderness Years as they are now known. This was the seventh of them and fans were in despair at where this great club was. Absolute rock bottom came at Scarborough in conditions that were wild, wet and windy. Frank Casper described the whole thing as horrible, fans said it was appalling.
Scarborough even had a man sent off and were down to ten men, yet still won. Howls of abuse were hurled at the Burnley team. The louder it got the worse they played. The players just wanted to get off the pitch and into the dressing room. It was abject, dire, and belittling. Boos and jeers rang round the ground and afterwards too. Even in the dressing room the players could hear it as they sat there numbed by the scoreline. ‘Scarborough, bloody Scarborough,’ was all they and supporters could think. The fans had angrily banged on the dressing room walls and door as they went by. The players thought they would barge their way in.
This was worse than all the awful defeats in 1986/87 that led to the final Orient game that Burnley had to win. Fans went away from the seaside wondering if they would ever get away from Division Four. The club’s situation seemed hopeless. But Frank left. Jimmy Mullen took over. To everyone’s amazement a run of wins began immediately. Astonishingly, they went on to win promotion that same season. It was as if after Scarborough things could only get better. And they did. (Read Thanks for the Memories, Roger Eli)
2003 FA Cup Watford 2 Burnley 0: Stan Ternent was manager and it was a weird and whacky season of huge defeats with ridiculous scorelines. But, in the FA Cup, Burnley made solid progress to the quarter-finals at Watford. Even though it was a televised game, thousands of fans made their way there confident of a decent result against a poor Watford, a draw at the very least was a fair expectation. Win the return and it was the semi-finals next – a big payday and who knows what could happen in a one-off Cup game.
Burnley had two match-winners in Robbie Blake and Glen Little yet to our surprise both were left on the bench for the game. What followed was as abject and miserable a performance as you could imagine with the ball in the air most of the game and commentator Mark Lawrenson saying the game should have been stopped because of cruelty to the football.
On live TV these two teams put on a diabolical show of football at its worst. Burnley fans were left shaking their heads at the display. So much hope, so much anticipation and then so much anti-climax. It was a game played in a swirling wind on a poor pitch but it was no excuse for the tame surrender to the two Watford goals. With so much at stake, this was a heartless, gutless performance that mystified the travelling fans.
Many of us sat at the end after the final whistle just numbed by what we had seen as if by sitting there we imagined the game hadn’t ended and they’d come out again to resume playing. We drove home in a kind of vacuum. The disappointment was there with the worst we had ever felt having seen the game handed to an equally poor Watford, on a plate. (Read It’s Burnley Not Barcelona)
2009 Burnley Spurs Carling Cup semi-final: 2008/09 had been a wonderful season and would be capped with promotion although we were not to know that when Burnley played Tottenham at Turf Moor. Burnley had already beaten Chelsea and Arsenal but had lost 4-1 at White Hart Lane. How on earth could they pull it back?
Turf Moor was packed and the Spurs fans we met in the pub before the game were adamant. If Burnley scored, Tottenham would panic and fold. That is exactly what happened. Before half-time Robbie Blake pulled one back with a stunning free kick. In the second half, more Blake magic led to Burnley’s second. Live in TV it looked like the impossible would happen. Score a third and then hold on in extra time and Wembley was next. Incredibly they went on to score a third. The roof nearly came off the stand and the roar was heard all over Burnley. Wembley was so close, so close.
The rules were daft. Extra time gave Spurs the opportunity to score and win the game but only minutes remained with fans blowing for the whistle in a crescendo of noise. But football is cruel. Burnley were by now exhausted and Spurs broke and scored in their first real attack of the whole game. And then a second came in the dying embers of the game; hearts were broken and tears were shed. Those feelings have never gone away.
Burnley had climbed a mountain to level the scores in normal time only to be pushed from the peak by a Spurs side that even their fans said were underserving of the win. Harry Redknapp to this day has no idea how Spurs managed it. (Read Entertainment, Heroes and Villains)
2010 Bolton 1 Burnley 0: The following season manager Owen Coyle left the club in mid-season. It was controversial and left club, fans and players in limbo. He took most of the backroom staff with him. He had achieved promotion the season before to the Premier League, an astonishing accomplishment, but admiration for him turned to condemnation and utter dislike.
Fans were stunned and looking back on the affair few if any Burnley fans believe that there was no clandestine prior contact between Bolton and Coyle. To this day Burnley fans believe he was tapped up. The club tried desperately hard to hang on to him but Coyle saw the grass on the other side as being much greener. Players were stunned. Fans were aghast. Coyle had made various statements to make them believe he was loyal to the club.
Admiration and respect turned to downright disgust and loathing so that when the two teams met very shortly afterwards in the league game at Bolton the away end was absolutely sold out with supporters who were determined to show their dislike and contempt with banners and chants and catcalls. The derision and abuse that rained down on him all game was incessant. Every Burnley fan prayed for the win that would give Burnley three points and put Coyle in his place.
But it was not to be and Bolton won by a single goal that helped Bolton along the way to Premier League safety at Burnley’s expense. If there was any fairness and justice in football Burnley would have won. The football Gods decided otherwise and rubbed salt in the wound. Burnley fans went home simultaneously angry and dejected. To this day many fans remain disgusted by the mention of his name. (Read Entertainment Heroes and Villains)
2010 Burnley 1 Man City 6: Following Coyle’s untimely departure Brian Laws had been appointed manager in a move that to this day still baffles supporters. The players shook their heads at it. Several had felt let down by Coyle’s departure and now were underwhelmed by his replacement. It was as if the air had suddenly been let of a balloon. The will to win just evaporated.
It showed in performances on the field and games that were seen as very winnable ended as home defeats as Laws was unable to motivate and inspire them. Fans saw the writing on the wall and then along came Manchester City with all their stars and big names. What followed was humiliating for everyone.
On a night of pouring torrential rain Manchester City astonishingly went 3-0 up within the first SIX minutes. One fan stormed out and punched the concreate wall breaking several bones in his hand. The rain teemed down and fans could only hope that the game would be abandoned. A goal for Burnley was of no consolation whatsoever and the final score of 6-1 was both chastening and embarrassing. To add to the story there were rumours of halftime dressing room bust-ups. What certainly did happen was that one player Kevin MacDonald, left the dressing room and marched out of the ground to join family and friends in nearby drinking club.
Of course no-one knew about that until afterwards. It simply added to the shambles of the evening. Hurtful yes, but in a strange kind of way in hindsight this result was almost funny. It’s not often that a player leaves the ground to go for a drink at half-time. (Read Entertainment Heroes and Villains).
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Much much more than it would mean to me these days.
That 73/74 season might have been seen as quite a successful return to the first division but in the cold light of day for me it was heartbreaking not just once but twice.It's not only a defeat that can really hurt;We needed a win in our last game at home that season to guarantee A UEFA Cup spot.
Who was it we drew 1-1 against..?
Them fkin magpies..
Yes the Crewe defeat left us distraught,inconsolable..but the dark clouds drifted away and the sun shone down on us on that beautiful 9th May..
Lest We Forget: