Twenty years ago today…

This happened.

I was working at Microcheck, a small company in Trawden dealing with motor insurance for clients.  My boss, Mark, was a Claret and we had travelled to many games in that memorable season.  The Clarets travelled for the game in York and the tailback must have started in Colne.  It was crazy, as 7,500 people headed to Bootham Crescent for the match, hoping to see the Clarets get the one point needed for promotion, or the three points to become only the second club to win all four divisions of the League

Burnley fans took over three sides of the ground.  You could see the party atmosphere forming, an evening of jubiliation and relief even though not a single ball had been kicked.  In the traffic jam, I remember a Mexican Wave passing down the lines of traffic.  One van full of fans got out for a roadside pee on against the rear wheel of a Transit, some bloke running sideways trying to hit the wheel with piss as it moved forward in the jam. More Mexican Waves in the queues to enter the ground and then once inside, it was utterly packed.  And when John Francis scored the injury time winner, mayhem was unleashed.

A pitch invasion started early.  There was no fence in front of where we were – only a short policewoman assigned crowd control. I know she was short because I was barely five and a half foot at the time and I was taller than her.  She held us back when the goal went in.  A minute later, the final whistle and we once again streamed onto the pitch.  I ran by her, as she squeaked “Stay back, stay back! Ah, fuck it, just watch yerselves.”

It was a night that gave fresh impetus to the club, having survived the Orient Game four years earlier, this was the moment when the club finally managed to get itself into gear and begin the climb up through the Divisions.  I hate the idea that a club is “too big for its Division”, having long believed that until you accept the reality of your situation, you will continue to fall.  Ask Leeds, Manchester City, either Sheffield club.  Burnley had done the same thing until the day when it could have gone out of existence.  Since that moment, it accepted that history, a big stadium and big crowds didn’t give you any additional points in the League table.

Things could have stalled – nearly did in fact – but that season the club and fans got fresh impetus.  Two years later we were in Division 1 (or the old Two) having beaten Stockport in a playoff final.  But that was too far, too fast and the club dropped down after only one season.  Only in 2000, under the helm of Stan Ternent and chairman Barry Kilby did the Clarets make it into the second tier of English football.  And there they have stayed, aside from one season in the money pit that is the Premier League.  Clarets have punched above their weight, watching teams like Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Leicester, Sheffields United and Wednesday and all manner of so-called bigger clubs swing up and down past them.

Kilby today stepped down as Chairman to concentrate on his own personal fight against cancer.  I wish him all the best.  He brought a quiet dignity to the role of Chairman, never getting too down, never getting too carried away.  Burnley were hanging by a thread when he took over, and he leaves the club debt free and safe for a few years at least.  Every other club in the League would want a Chairman like him, a fan who funded his team but didn’t jeopardise its future.

But I’ve just looked at the clock.  As I type, at this exact moment, precisely two decades ago, I was dancing and smiling and jumping and crying in the middle of a football pitch in York.  I remember it like it was yesterday, and I always will.

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