Burnley-ing Down The House

One of my favourite TV shows ever was the late 90’s comedy drama Due South. The story of Constable Benton Fraser, a strait-laced Canadian Mountie, sent to the big city of Chicago to team up with Detective Ray Vecchio, a wise-cracking US cop. It was a quirky, sometime hilarious, sometimes incredibly moving drama show which survived four series largely due to its success in the UK and Canada rather than the US.

Constable Benton Fraser
Yeah, that show with that guy

The show actually was cancelled a couple of times before being revived for a third series. Unfortunately, David Marciano, the actor who played Ray Vecchio was unavailable to continue his role, so had to be replaced.

Faced with replacing such a crucial cog in the wheel, the writers cleverly wrote the absence into the script. Vecchio was sent undercover, with a replacement Fake Ray to cover for the day job much to the confusion of Fraser. As our heroic Mountie tried to prove that Fake Ray was actually, well, fake, he would go to the places established over the previous two series and find them removed, demolished or destroyed. Ray’s house.. gone, Rays prized car, on fire and sent to the bottom of the Chicago River. A character fused into the very fabric of the series is removed swiftly, without reference and very, very deliberately.

OK Landers, I vaguely remember this show, but what does this have to do with Burnley FC?

This time last year, the prospect of Sean Dyche not being Burnley manager seemed inconceivable. Not only was he a fixture in the dugout, his fingerprints were all over every part of the club, from the squad, the training ground to the media approach. Dyche was entwined not just on the pitch, but throughout every aspect of the club.

Yet here we are, less than a week out from a new season and Burnley FC has changed, monumentally and irrecoverably from twelve or even six months ago. What traces there were of the past – Garlick, Dyche and all – seem to have been removed by ALK, swiftly, without reference and very, very deliberately.

(See! Despite appearances to the contrary, I don’t just throw this stuff together.)

The period since Dyches sacking – and as I type this, barely three months have passed – has seen a tornado pass through the club on and off the pitch. I said on the No Nay Never podcast immediately after the sacking that the club was always heading towards a summer of reset, with or without Dyche, with an aging squad largely out of contract and new(ish) owners looking to finally put their plans into place.

I expect that the vast majority of people expected small, incremental changes. Evolution not revolution. Yet, it absolutely feels like, sometime shortly after Dyche was told to clear out his office, a safe was opened up in a building in New York, a white gloved butler pulled out a thick sheaf of papers entitled “Burnley FC: The Plan” and put it on a large oak desk. Alan Pace put down his white cat, leafed through it one final time, leaned into an intercom and said “Execute Project Aurora”.

(OK, so it was likely sitting on a server somewhere and thanks to the magic of the internet, transmitted electronically across several thousand miles, but let me enjoy the image.)

It is obvious in hindsight that the transformation ALK have been making has been the one that they were waiting to pull the trigger on from the moment they took the reins of the club. Burnley FC is to be reshaped from the small town, inward facing club into… I don’t know what, but definitely not what Burnley have been for the last 140 years.

Of course, that invites the obvious question of whether Dyche knew when he signed up in October, but we’ll leave Oliver Stone to bid for the movie rights on that one.

The failure to avoid relegation back to the Championship didn’t even seem to muddy the waters. In fact, it feels like dropping down a level has helped hasten the transformation. Since ALK took over in January 2021, the changes have mostly been off the pitch, sorting out the behind-the-scenes things like the commercial stuff (which was much needed, by the way). Perhaps the most visible transformation was the video screens, and it felt that ALK’s influence was largely restricted to off field matters.

Yet the summer has seen a new manager with a new focus, a new philosophy and a host of incoming transfers. The old guard that served the club so well for so many years – and Dale Stephens – have largely gone. Only JayRod, Jack Cork and Ashley Barnes remain to tell tales to the newcomers of the Before Times and even they had to sign new contracts in order to stay.

An old man telling a story around a campfire to kids
Let me tell you kids about the Legend of Burnley. Once upon a time, in a forest, there lived a gruff ogre called Sean…

One Good Man

I have always thought that in the event of Dyche going the club should not try to find a similar type but embrace proper change and go for someone in the mould of Daniel Farke or David Wagner, both of whom had success in the Championship. Much as I loved Dyche for achieving success precisely by using methods that hipsters considered outdated (after all, David felled Goliath with a slingshot, not a laser beam), I felt that trying to continue to plough that lonely furrow would only lead to ever more diminishing returns.

Although there were no particular names that I had in mind, Vincent Kompany fit the bill. A great player in his career, a leader on the pitch. He fits my idea of what Dyche’s successor should – perhaps needed – to be. Young, progressive, modern, knowledgeable about football outside these shores.

It’s quite a media friendly appointment too, and that feels deliberate even if we are now officially “Vincent Kompany’s Burnley”. It will also be a blessed relief to no longer be told that the team is playing an outdated, outmoded, consigned to the dustbin of history 4-4-2 formation and embracing a modern, attacking *checks notes* 4-4-2 formation.

I have some doubts – Kompany wasn’t an outstanding success at Anderlecht but there were mitigating circumstances. He had a slow start but by all accounts used that slow start to identify his mistakes and correct them. Although the Purple & White did not win silverware under him, he did steer them to a Cup final (losing on penalties) and a third-place finish, which is about par for the course in their recent history.

Whatever his qualities as a manager, it is clear that Kompany as a person has a presence that simply demands respect. Forget his glittering career, every time I see the man speak in an informal occasion, he commands attention without demanding it. A room in which he is not the smartest person must contain some absolute geniuses.

Letting Go

For the last three or four seasons, Burnley trod water at best, the survival instinct topping all. This led to the paralysis at board level and subsequent stagnation of the squad, who gave their all time after time until it simply wasn’t enough. For far too long, the club’s transfer business was so entirely predictable that you could set your watch by it – we would be linked with two, maybe three players for a protracted length of time that we inevitably didn’t land because of “a difficult market”. This happened so many times that it was clear that the transfer strategy was a mixture of show combined with penny-pinching.

Not that those links were ever to anyone exciting. As other clubs explored foreign markets, or took on loans from other PL clubs and actually gave them a chance, we Clarets had become used to welcoming a succession of solid and dependable pros who had proven that they could do it on cold, rainy Tuesday nights in Stoke because well, they had regularly been doing it on cold, rainy Tuesday nights for Stoke.

Now most of them have been shipped out, their contracts not renewed due to being too old, too injured, too rubbish, or in the case of Dale Stephens, all three. (Which reminds me, Stephens going on TalkShite to talk to Ronseal Chairman about how he wasn’t officially informed that his contract would not be renewed showed an incredible lack of self awareness. I’m all for clubs being professional and courteous in saying goodbye to players, but Stephens was lucky his training gear wasn’t left in a binbag outside a Padiham bus stop.)

Despite the best efforts of people to make out a mountain out of a molehill (“Burnley release FOURTEEN players”, anyone?) the squad overhaul wasn’t a shock to anyone. Tarks was going anyway, most of the rest were old, injured or both. The disappointment was to see Ben Mee leave. The words “club legend” are bandied about far too easily, but he is very much up there with the greatest Clarets of all time. Maybe he wanted a fresh start or one final payday, but either way, he goes with nothing but gratitude.

It’s interesting that Nathan Collins went. The fee was disappointing but illuminating. Premier League clubs are buying players for £15-£30m yet we’ve reinvested in our new back line for around half of that lower figure. The gap between the two top divisions is not just in quality or budget, but market.

ALK have reshaped the squad with dizzying speed and the team squad photo no longer looks like a mixture of plumbers and WW1 fighter pilots. Hardly a day goes by without links to some young player that, based upon an entire 45 minutes of watching YouTube highlights is absolutely going to become a future Premier League star. Each player has been bought with a clear eye on future resale value – not a bad thing if you can pull it off.

Burnley FC Squad Photo 2021
Front Row L-R: plumber, WW1 fighter pilot, WW1 fighter pilot, plumber, plumber, plumber, WW1 fighter pilot, WW1 fighter pilot

After all, that is what we used to do. That successful little production line that we had going in the early-mid 2010s, selling Charlie Austin, Michael Keane, Kieren Trippier, Danny Ings and Andre Gray had ground to a complete halt. Somewhere along the line, the club stopped doing the thing that made it successful, and we began shopping for reclamation projects. It worked for a while, mind you, but still, not much in the way of long-term planning. Restarting the conveyor belt is an absolute requirement, presumably central to the ALK business plan and, quite frankly, the only way that the club is going to prosper.

The squad is a definite curate’s egg. A very young back line, with not a lot of experience, the exact opposite up front. In between looks like it has bags of promise, with Cork, Brownhill, Bastien and Cullen providing options even before Ashley Westwood gets to return. On the wing, Gudmundsson and McNeil seems like they could really do a job assuming fitness (and in the case of JBG, that’s a big if.)

And no, I haven’t included Maxwell Cornet because he’s bound to leave by the close of the transfer window and I just don’t want to think about that.

An Invitation to Romance

Let’s face it, since the Europa League run, when we didn’t have the enforced Covid break, we’ve had sludge. For four seasons, on and off the pitch, there was little to get the pulses racing.

Now I completely understand why the club had to approach things in the way that they did and I am not criticising the players or staff for doing what they had to do. It was fun to be the spoiler, the monkey in the wrench, to punch the big boys on the nose. I never minded this, because I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to annoy those who are above their station.

But even fixture release day was a cause for concern rather than anticipation.  Instead of eagerly scanning for matches to look forward to, often the first Premier League to be mentioned was the one where we were going to lose 5-0 away to Man City. Brows would be furrowed as we tried to work out the best chances of getting an unbeaten run long enough to ensure 17th place. The Premier League is a tilted table, designed to maximise predictability and certainty for the Big Rich Clubs. This is the league that saw the wonderful Leicester story of 2014 and decided, quietly, that that sort of thing cannot be allowed to happen again.

When the final whistle blew at home to Newcastle, the emotions surprised me. Disappointment, yes. Sadness, certainly. But the overwhelming feeling was one of relief. It was over. “It” being the seemingly endless pushing of water uphill, trying to continually beat the odds week in, week out.

So a trip back to the Championship feels a chance to step back from the endless hype machine that is the top flight and actually get back to what football really is about. I hated the performative anger and outrage and trolling that is fandom at the very top level. The mind-numbing crassness of Chelsea fans singing Roman Abramovich’s name as his mate rolled tanks into Ukraine, the cynical money-making of Arsenal and Man Utd fan channels on YouTube, the corporate soulessness that is Manchester City. The aggressively superior sentimentality of Liverpool and the delusion of Spurs.

After seven years of being in a division where we were constantly made to feel like we didn’t matter, now everything matters. On the pitch, off the pitch, there are real stakes.

Seeing is Believing

I was trying to work out why everyone was actually excited and looking forward to the season.  And I realised that the sheer amount and speed of change was the driving force behind that excitement.

We’re not supposed to be feeling this way right now. We’re supposed to be depressed at relegation, worried for the financial future of the club, afraid that we won’t bounce back at the first time of asking. But that feels like an outsider’s perspective, for Claret fandom seems almost giddy with excitement. Even the known naysayers, who after a 5-0 away win will moan about the quality of the half-time pie have decided to shut up for at least a few weeks.

What is very odd is that if you said to most fans that their relegated team would be going into a new season with a manager with no experience in the division, an almost entirely new squad that has taken players who were in, around or should have been near major international teams with and replaced them with League One or loan players barely old enough to be involved in a nightclub drinking incident then the reaction would likely be somewhere between concern and sheer abject terror.

It’s easy for other fans to read the comments under an article or skim a hashtag and see stuff that they can use as fuel. Stuff about walking the League and going 69 unbeaten (nice!). It could be taken for arrogance and cockiness but in truth, it’s giddiness and self-deprecation. What people don’t understand is that opening day of this season feels like the Christmas Day that we have missed for years. When was the last time you felt this excited about the first game of the season? I’m willing to bet that it was Aberdeen, and that was four years ago.

Even off the pitch, the right moves seem to be being made. The new kit has been received very positively and ALK have followed through on their promise to remove gambling sponsors. (Not an easy decision when there are a reported seven and a half million reasons a year to have one.) My fears about it being replaced by the scam that is cryptocurrency were also misplaced, which, of course, means I’m now going to buy one for the first time in over half a decade.

The new Burnley FC shirt
It will look awesome when it has finished downloading

The Duel

It’s not great that the final match before the break for the World Cup That Human Rights Forgot is against them. A resumption of hostilities in every sense of the phrase. For me, the derby games are matches to be endured not enjoyed. Leaving out the low quality on the pitch, the before, during and after bring out the absolute worst in both fanbases. It feels often that the game itself is irrelevant and even trying to get to the ground is to run the gauntlet of over-enthusiastic policing and tanked-up Ross Kemp lookalikes who are more interested in pretending to be as hard men than being fans of whichever team they claim to follow.

In the weeks leading up to them, I’ll find it easy to get angry at the stupidity on display, depressed at the behaviour and I’ll find it difficult to care about anything other than the result. I’d happily not play the games at all, just write the result down as a 1-1 draw and be done with the damned things.

As for the other 44 games, I’m looking forward to all of them. Places not visited for a while, a variety of clubs on the rise or the fall. The games will come thick and fast and many of them will be available for streaming. Perhaps strangely, despite the media monster that is the Premier League, I’ll feel much more connected to the Clarets via audio and video this forthcoming season.

Seeing is Believing

So, what do I expect to happen?  I always say a good season in the Championship is getting into the playoffs, it is simply too unpredictable a division to rely on anything more.  Yes, Fulham immediately bounced back up but – whisper it quietly like everyone else – they have a billionaire backing them.  Bournemouth’s owner seems to have avoided the sanctions placed on every other Russian billionaire too.

It is noticeable that ALK haven’t been breaking the bank with incoming transfers. As I type this, it is likely that they will be making a profit on the overall transfer business. The major fear has always been that the drop in revenue between the top table and the Championship is very difficult for a club like Burnley to handle, but it seems like financially at least, ALK have managed to slash the wage bill and rebuild the squad for the loss of four key players and a loanee. The business side has been smart, and one would assume that the incoming players have been subjected to ALKs much mooted analytics strategy.

However, numbers in spreadsheets and databases only take you so far. Anyone expecting a raw manager with a raw team to catch lightning in a bottle and strike promotion gold straightaway is asking for trouble.  It’s going to take time, and by that I mean a few months at least to even begin to understand where Burnley are this season. Last time we were in this division, we had clearly spent a good chunk of the previous PL term preparing for the challenge. This time around, we don’t even have a normal length pre-season to get ready for the Championship grind.

There is, of course, the very real prospect that the Clarets don’t even start the first seven games of the season with the squad that they want. The early start means that 15% of the season will have been completed before the summer transfer window closes. Thankfully the ridiculous nature of the division, where a five-game winning run can catapult you up 10 places and a similar losing streak do the opposite means that it is possible to start slowly and catch up.

Oddly, the enforced November break may actually be a blessing.  A chance to take stock, review progress and reset for the long haul to the finish line. I fully expect a slow start, winning some, losing some, hovering around 10th until then.

I don’t demand success, or even promotion this season, what I do want is to see progress. Progress and player development, a building of a more attractive style of play, a clearer pattern to understand what the club will look like under the new regime and the direction it is heading.

Burnley are changing at a dizzying speed. The club is – on and off the pitch – completely different to what it was less than even 12 months ago. Is that pace of change (pun not intended, but I’m keeping it) too fast? How long will it take before we know whether it will gel? Can the club afford for it to take two, three seasons?

The Chinese proverb “May you live in interesting times” is meant to be a curse as well as a blessing. Burnley are certainly entering interesting times, but then interesting is something that we haven’t been for a while and right now, I’m excited at the prospect.

Want to speak Twitter Transfer Journalist?

Why not memorise this handy guide, set yourself up a Twitter account with the word “journo” in it and you to can pretend to run a worldwide network of football contacts from the comfort of your mums basement.

PhraseMeaning
My sourcesI’m about to copy from something that someone has posted on one of the 37 constantly refreshing browser tabs I have open on club hashtags
Reports say…Someone else tweeted it somewhere else first
Hearing reports that…Someone else tweeted it onto this hashtag first
Are determined to hold ontoFor some reason, me tweeting things doesn’t turn them into reality
Talks have openedI heard from a mate of a mate who has a cousin in the club store that our chairman sent a text saying “is X for sale” and their chairman said “Dunno, maybe.”
Talks are progressingI’m skulking around the window outside the club offices and saw that the chairmen of both clubs have progressed from pointing at a picture of a player and making a quizzical gesture to putting a number on a calculator and showing it to each other
Talks are continuing but no breakthroughI saw Denise from Finance in Tesco’s. She was taking her time over getting a Meal Deal so clearly she isn’t busy
Advanced talks are taking placeThe chairmen of both clubs are now conversing in long words of not less than three syllables, with no hesitation, deviation or repetition.

Either that or the chairman saw me loitering around the club car park last night and has given me the slip
Talks are at a very advanced stageI can’t find him, so I’m going to tweet this and make it sound like the chairmen of both clubs are now negotiating in a combination of Klingon and interpretative dance
Talks have broken downTalks never happened and my speculative guess/trolling didn’t work out
The player has become unsettledPlayer hasn’t posted on his Instagram that he “really loves the club” for at least 24 hours
Not part of the managers plansThe club has sent an email out to gauge interest except they accidentally CC’d the season ticket holders list
Alerted to the availabilityThe players agent sent an email out to anyone in his contact book to gauge interest
Alerted to the existence of a release clauseBoth the club and the agent have sent an email out to gauge interest and accidentally CC’d etc and so forth
Linked with a move awaySomeone replied to the email
Linked with a move away but signed a new contractNo-one replied to the email but the agent bluffed them into offering the player more money anyway
Likely to be confirmedI have no idea, I’m not a real journalist, I don’t get invited to any press conferences
A medical has been bookedNow I’m really making this up
Will be unveiledHaven’t a clue
Are not willing to meet the valuationNo-one fell for it
Reports in Belgium have surfacedI did a Google search, the player’s name came up but I don’t speak Dutch so I have no idea what it actually says but I’ll report it anyway
Reports from Belgium have been deniedWhoops.  Turns out he was attending the opening of a new bakery by one of the club sponsors. Look, they don’t teach foreign languages on my Uni course!
A deal has been doneNo deal has been done
Our Panel of expertsGarry, Barry and Phil in a Zoom call mentioned him in a desperate attempt to pad the YouTube video out to 30 minutes
Denied reportsI rang the club up, said would they sell the player for a tenner, they said no, I tweet this out and knock off early
Confident of securing a moveIt’s obvious that one club has the money available and the other really needs it, but it’s not moving fast enough for me to keep up the charade that I actually know anything
Remain keenNothing’s happening
Reluctant to sellNothing’s happening
Standing firmNothing’s happening
Personal terms may be an issueReally, nothing’s happening
Still working hard in training despite reports linking him with a move awayHe’s not moving
Discussing payment plansI am under the impression that you can buy Premier League players on Klarna
Club have strongly denied reportsThe chairman said in public that he’s never heard of me
I’m hearing thatBored and fancy trolling a couple of club hashtags
Have joined the raceThe agent DM’d me trying to get me to post on the club hashtags to rustle up some interest
Doesn’t want to move for family reasonsI’ve heard from a mate of a mate than he’s got another secret “family” in that town that no-one knows about.
Is his preferred destinationI’ve heard from a mate of a mate that the player hasn’t been barred from the nightclubs in this town.  Yet.
Moved quickly forDamn, missed the first reports of it in my timeline, must still sound like I’m ITK.
No progress to reportI didn’t notice that my browser had crashed
I broke the news first!I’m relying on you not working out how to use Twitter’s search facility or else this whole thing falls apart

Appreciating Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

It’s been a weird couple of months for me, certainly in terms of stress and mental health. One of the things most people do is to find comfort in the familiar and I am no exception.

One of my all time go-to TV shows is Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Now, reading that, I expect one of two reactions:

  • Oh My God! You also like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace?!

    or
  • What the hell is Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace?

If you fall into the first category, then you are probably heading straight off to YouTube to watch your favourite moments for the umpteenth time. For those who are in the second category, and don’t worry, you are in the majority, let me tell you why you missed out on one of the funniest, most creative British television comedies ever made.

Broadcast by Channel 4 in 2004, this six episode series sprang from an Edinburgh show starring Matt Holness as the title character. Garth Marenghi is a best-selling horror author, a man who, in his own words “is one of the few people to written more books than he’s read”. He’s a mix of Stephen King, James Herbert, Dennis Wheatley and Shaun Hutson, with an ego that is larger than all four of them put together, and then some.

You know, a lot of people say: ‘Garth Marenghi? Isn’t he the guy who writes all that horror crap?’ Well, good luck to you, you’re an idiot. Because my books always say something, even if it’s just something simple like: ‘Don’t genetically engineer crabs to be as big as men’,

Garth Marenghi

According to the show’s lore, Marenghi, together with his publisher Dean Learner (Richard Ayoade) took a break from writing horror novels which posed questions such as “can water die?” created a TV show in the 1980’s called Darkplace. The show, which Marenghi wrote, directed, starred in was “so radical, so risky, so dangerous, so goddamned crazy” that it was immediately shelved by everybody.

The six episodes that were made (“escaped”, maybe) starred Marenghi in the leading role (of course) of Dr Rick Dagless M.D, Ayoade/Learner as his boss Thornton Reed.

Joining the team were Matt Berry as Todd Rivers/Dr Lucien Sanchez and Alice Lowe as Madeleine Wool/Dr Liz Asher. The shows are presented as is, but with DVD extra like cutaways to Marenghi, Learner and Rivers, commenting on the making of the show within the show.

God, even trying to explain the setup is complicated. But the end result is absolutely hilarious.

I got a script, read it, it scared me senseless, I looked at Garth straight in the eyes – never been afraid of holding a mans gaze, it’s natural – I said; “This is going to be the most significant televisual event since Quantum Leap.”

I do not say that often.

Dean Learner

The thing is, because of the ignorance of Learner and the planet sized ego of Marenghi, the finished product is terribly written, poorly directed, edited with a chainsaw and contains more bad acting than a primary school Nativity play.

Basically, you’ve got the most amazingly detailed spoof of 1980’s horror novels, movies and TV, interspersed with links from the “actors” involved, putting layer upon layer upon joke upon joke.

Each of the episodes is set within Darkplace Hospital, a place that just so happens to have been built over a source of terrifying evil, just outside Romford. The stories take us through Marenghi’s insane imagination, involving stories about him adopting a child that is basically a big eye, fighting telekinetic powers or falling in love with a woman who is part of an evil scheme to turn everyone who works in the hospital into broccoli.

The auteur isn’t afraid to tackle the Big Themes either, with racism the target of the episode “Scotch Mist”. Other writers – some would call them “lesser” writers – might have tackled the subject using allegory or subtlety, but as the man himself explains:

A still of Garth Marenghi saying "I know writers who use subtext and they are all cowards."
A man who knows who to push the boundaries of horror fiction

What makes Darkplace so brilliant is that it takes a ton of carefully planned jokes and piles them on top of each other. The closest comparison that I can think of in terms of firehosing such an amount of comedy at the viewer is Police Squad!, the wonderful show from the makers of Airplane! that led to the Naked Gun movies.

Darkplace matches, possibly even exceeds even that program’s gag rate, not least because it throws in deliberately wonky camera angles, broken props, continuity errors and bizarre visuals. There is an excellent Rule of Three podcast featuring Nish Kumar that explores Darkplace and mentions the fact that the crew were so involved in making the show look “wrong” that they would chip in suggestions. “To make it wrong, you would do this, but to make it wrong and funny, you do this…”

As an example, the below clip is from a scene where Marenghi is running in slow motion “because we were up to eight minutes under”.

In this two minute clip, you get the terrible acting, special effects, the “slow motion” running set up and then the payoff, a couple of sight gags, several silly wordplay jokes worthy of delivery by Leslie Nielsen, Matt Berry attacked by a whisk and a bin and that’s before you realise what the hell kind of hospital has a room full of creepy church pillar candle stands for no discernible reason?

And Darkplace is absolutely rammed with that kind of thing. The jokes crammed into every conceivable moment is off the scale.

So many brilliant lines to die for…

So why wasn’t it more popular?

The moment Darkplace started and Marenghi appears on screen in his leather jacket, I knew exactly where it was coming from. Then the credits to the show within the show start and I see what it was trying to do. By the time the theme tune switched from hardcore action to floaty melody introducing “Madeleine Wool”, I’m was so in. It took me two and a half minutes to understand the entire thing completely.

However that is because I already have an awareness of everything that the show is spoofing. I was a teenager in the 80s who had spent half of his time in local video stores. When I wasn’t scanning the shelves for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension, I was either reading trashy pulp horror novels from James Herbert and Shaun Hutson or watching imported US TV shows like Airwolf or The A-Team. Not just those, even the forgotten stuff like Cover-Up or Bring ‘Em Back Alive. Seeing the opening of Darkplace transported me back to that time in an instant.

However Darkplace makes few concessions to people who don’t have that prior context. It demands that the uninitiated viewer picks it up as we hurtle along – and for the majority who don’t click with it, then Dagless and Reed chasing a man in a monkey suit on BMXs to a soundtrack of motocross bikes is just going to seem very, very weird.

Let’s say Darkplace had become a hit and a second series planned. The problem is by the fifth episode of the first series, some of the jokes were wearing thin. You can’t laugh at the bad acting or terrible photography any more because the gag has worn off. The number of jokes crammed in would still be the envy of just about every other show but they would be more dialogue or character based.

Six episodes pretty much exhausted the concept, everything that could be done had been done and all of it to perfection. While Marenghi himself would have happily flogged that dead horse, then had it resurrected as a zombie to attack the Children’s Ward of the hospital, the So Called Powers That Be at Channel 4 didn’t think it was successful enough. Ah well, so we are left with just the three hours of perfection.

Obviously Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade moved onto much deserved comedy stardom and it is a shame that Matt Holness and Alice Lowe haven’t reached the same heights of fame and fortune. (Though maybe they didn’t want to, which is fair enough.) I’ll go to my recently freshly dug, mysteriously empty grave saying that Darkplace is one of the great comedy shows of all time, the attention to detail, the gags, the sheer love that went into its creation shines through. It manages to be endlessly quotable yet baffling outside the show itself but if I am in a crowd of people and ever say “you and he were… buddies” and someone else recognises it then we’re going to be talking and swapping quotes and moments for the rest of the evening.

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is available for free on All4 and you can find all six episodes on YouTube.

As a horror writer I don’t ask for much. I just hope I’ve changed the way you think about life.

Garth Marenghi

What a ride

It is the day after the night before. Yesterday, Burnley’s six year stay in the Premier League came to an end. Despite holding their fate in their hands, the 2-1 loss at home to Newcastle, the newly richest club in the world, combined with results elsewhere meant that the club will be playing Championship football next season.

The internet was full of hot takes last night and today.  Some people are criticising individual performances, maybe lashing out in frustration, maybe fulfilling their need to create and/or bash their favourite scapegoat.  There will undoubtedly be some post-mortem type articles, as “sources” get their preferred narrative out into the wild.

So, what’s another one, eh?

I’ve tried to put thoughts down, some of this might be wrong, but I figure it is a good time to write from the heart.  I’ve always taken the Danny Baker point of view “I treat football with the seriousness that it deserves” because that ambiguous statement sums up the whole thing perfectly.

And this one won’t get the attention that the last one did, but for anyone who wants to criticise the length or thinks that it should be passed through proper sub-editors before publication, it’s my blog, my world, my thoughts, I write for an audience of one and if anyone else even looks at it, that is a bonus.

The match

I guess the frustrating thing is that our fate was in our hands at kickoff.  We weren’t relying on others to get to safety.  Unfortunately, the team sheet showed that we were down to 14 recognised first team players and had to fill the bench out with kids.  Although I’m going to point out individuals, that doesn’t mean they are culpable – one game does not relegate you.

The team looked incredibly nervous from the opening minute.  The occasion got to them – and why wouldn’t it?  Three of the starting back five had a total of 88 Premier League appearances combined and 48 of those are over the last eight years of Kevin Long’s career.  Connor Roberts was far too anxious on that right side; it was no surprise to see him hooked as he was having an absolute nightmare of a game. It looked like he had spent most of the day knocking back Sunny D.

Jackson didn’t do a particularly brilliant job on the day but given that he had a tiny menu of options to choose from, I’m not sure what else he could have done.  With the players available, there was no perfect system, no ideal setup. But at least he tried, and there was some tactical flexibility and nous rather than the dogmatic rigidity of Dyche’s 4-4-2.

What didn’t help was that Nathan Collins had his worst ten minutes in a Burnley shirt.  From a terrible mix-up with Pope to the accidental handball for the penalty, a player who had been one of the few bright sparks of the last couple of months was a lightning rod for misfortune for a short while.  It was completely unfair on the lad and seeing Ben Mee consoling him at full time was a heartbreaker.

As for the penalty itself, from my spot in the JHL upper I saw Pope touch the ball, then it hit something on the way over the dead ball line.  When the ref didn’t signal for the goal kick, I simply thought “Oh no…”.  It was what I feared, and the Football Gods kick us in the teeth once more.  Small margins have killed us all season and we weren’t going to finish the final game without falling on the wrong side again.

From there it was an uphill battle against a confident Newcastle. From relegation certainties in December, Eddie Howe has brought teamwork, togetherness with only his acute managerial brain, staff who know what they are doing, oh and NINETY-THREE MILLION POUNDS WORTH OF NEW PLAYERS.  Newcastle have survived comfortably thanks to fluid football (played by NINETY-THREE MILLION POUNDS WORTH OF NEW PLAYERS), decent attacking intent (from NINETY-THREE MILLION POUNDS WORTH OF NEW PLAYERS) and NINETY-THREE MILLION POUNDS WORTH OF NEW PLAYERS getting themselves organised.

Perhaps this should really be a camel.
Don’t mind me over here.

Undoubtedly Newcastle fans will not like the bit about the 93 million quid. They will understandably think that Howe deserves more credit. Which is their right, and fair enough, no-one outside of Newcastle is going to be particularly inclined to give Eddie Howe a big hand, not least because his employers have got plenty of spares lying around in a bucket.

For clarity, this is not my joke, though I dearly wish to every diety you could think of that it was.

So, there was nothing left at the end, except to ponder the if’s and buts.  What if our striker was 6’7” instead of 6’6” and that deflection crossed the line instead of flashing by the post.  Would Jay Rod or Vydra up front have been more effective than Barnes?  Would having two wingers for more than 10 games this season have helped?  Should Dyche have been sacked earlier? Was Jackson the right choice or should we have got another manager in?

By the way, yes, yes, don’t know, yes and no.

Post-match

So what was left at the final whistle?

Not a lot. The players and fans had given everything and come up short. It wasn’t a good performance, but with the thick end of £100m on the line, it never will be. The tension was horrible enough as a fan in the stands, let alone to be one of the eleven on which so much relied.

It was not a night to be on social media – the TwitterClarets seemed to be taking it well.  I decided to spend the evening almost successfully ignoring the gloating from the most entitled fan base in the country.  They survived, we didn’t.  Congratulations to Leeds, a fanbase who would cut their own genitals off in their desperation to be in the Premier League and have a record of European success that isn’t as good as Ipswich.  Congratulations also to the fans of Everton, who spent half a billion pounds to finish four points ahead of relegation.  Last laugh is on you lads, you’ve still got Frank Lampard in charge.

He had school in the morning, too.
Truly, it’s like Oscar Wilde never died
#bantz #legend

What will you miss?

Being able to say that the small, Northern club that I hitched my emotional wagon to over 30 years ago is also a Premier League club. Burnley is now known worldwide as a top club because it appears on so many screens across the globe for so long.

I’ll miss seeing some of the best players in the world try to cope with Turf Moor. It was cool to see Ronaldo appear on the pitch and hilarious to see him do absolutely fuck all once he got there. 25 million quid a year they are paying for that.

What will you not miss?

I’ll not miss the bullshit that opposition managers will come up with to justify not getting all three points. The grass is too long or too short. The schedule was against them. Their opponents were too… Burnley. Being in the top six of the Premier League is far too often one long whinge.

I won’t miss the plastic fans who consume the Premier League entirely via internet narrative. The type who have Twitter handles like “MoSalahFan74” and will never come within 100 miles of the city that hosts the team that they support.

I won’t miss the tilted table that is the Premier League, where getting into the top half is increasingly a distant dream.  The Big Clubs have every advantage and squander most of them.

I’m not going to miss games against Man City, which are the absolute definition of a contractual obligation. They are a perfect robot, a gleaming, soulless machine. Damned easy to respect, admire in a certain way even, but impossible to like.

I’m not going to miss walking out of games against Arsenal and making my way past the lines of visiting fans setting up expensive equipment so that they can rant into their YouTube channels.

I’m not going to miss the feeling that out of 38 games a season, we’ve got a reasonable chance in around half of them.

At the top of the game, footballs finances are utterly fucked. Consider this, Chelsea were financed for two decades by Roman Abramovich, who is asking for his £1.6 billion back.  During his time, they won Premier League titles, Champions Leagues, Europa Leagues, FA Cups and a World Club Championship. In short, they won the vast majority of the prize money, took just about every penny they were entitled to in terms of TV revenue both at home and in Europe, won a significant amount of major silverware.

And they still needed subsidising, on average, to the tune of £80 million a season.

I’m not going to miss things like this:

Proof, if ever it was needed, that Roy Keane knows absolutely fuck all about football.

Don’t get me wrong.  Roy Keane was an excellent midfielder, collected a glut of medals and was a driving presence in a great Manchester United team. However, as his subsequent managerial and punditry career shows, being an all time great at one facet of football does not bestow an understanding of the game as a whole.

People may think that I’m being unfair, and perhaps Keane is hiding his brilliant incisive mind behind lazy, pathetic, uncaring, unthinking bollocks.  He might well be playing dumb to protect his pay cheque. But if he is, it kind of breaks the idea of him being a straight talking, no bullshit kind of guy. Ignorance or deception, either way is not a good look.

He’s not alone and I’m not picking on him specifically.  The vast, vast majority of the football media landscape is full of people who either don’t understand or don’t like football. Rio Ferdinand’s career should have ended after he demanded that the Man Utd board pay Ole Gunnar Solskjaer whatever the price needed to be.

Arguing that black is white, that up is down has been an immensely successful niche for Chris Sutton, even if it does make him kind of contrarian pub bore that people cross entire towns to avoid.

Twat
You can’t teach me anything about particle physics Mr so-called “Professor” Brian Cox, after all, how many Premier League medals have you won?

Fellow pox on the airwaves Robbie Savage might end up one day drowned in the vat of baked beans he will inevitably sit in for charity. Because he’s a character, right? The kind of character that fills entire rooms with dread as soon as he enters them, but a character nonetheless.

Maybe one day the entire Guardian football team will finally understand that snark, superiority and a certain aristocratic detachment might work wonders for Marina Hyde, but unlike the daughter of the 2nd Baronet of the City and County of the City of Exeter, Barry Glendenning quite simply doesn’t have the breeding, darling.

(Once you realise Hyde’s – or should I say Dudley-Williams’ – background, it is easy to imagine her dashing off her terribly, terribly witty musings between sips of the second sherry of the afternoon, standing in a drawing room and gazing wistfully out at the gardener tending the East Lawn. I mean, she’s really good at what she does, but now you know, her weekly columns will make even more sense.)

I’ll not miss the feeling when the Big Rich Clubs roll into town that the actual football match is secondary to the content producing machinery.  Perhaps that is why, when we upset the apple cart, everyone reacted so badly.  Didn’t you know that there was a carefully prepared script to follow?  The Premier League is far, far too close to being professional wrestling – and I say that as a fan of professional wrestling.  There are storylines and promos, a travelling circus moving from place to place hoovering up money and woe betide anyone who tries to deviate from the scripted product.

So yes, a season away from the hype machine would be nice, if only to be able to shut out the noise.

The future

Tarks is gone. Sometimes frustrating but never less than committed and an absolute rock this season. He goes with the full support of the fans, hopefully to a Leicester or Villa. His absence from the England squad has been a travesty. He clearly feels that his performances mean less to making the England squad than the shirt he makes them in, and it is to the FA’s shame that he’s absolutely right.

He may be followed by up to four from Pope, Cornet, McNeil and Weghorst.  I’d love to keep at least two, maybe three but all four seems unlikely.  I think that Weghorst has been badly served by the situation and can come good with a pre-season and an actual idea of who might be playing next to him on a weekly basis.

Cornet’s agent was leaking his release clause to all and sundry and to be honest, though I love him to bits and think he would take the Championship by storm, a £5m profit on a stop/start season isn’t the end of the world.

Pope needs to go to keep his England place, the only downside is to where, exactly? Looking at the best opportunities and they seem well set, Villa, Leicester, Everton, Arsenal, Spurs. Even West Ham seem to have the position sewn up. It’s a buyers market for goalies in the Premier League right now.

McNeil is an interesting one. It’s clear that the last two years under Dyche have flattened his confidence like a pancake. A fresh start under a new manager may well invigorate him. Equally, he and the club may feel like a change of scenery will do him as much good. I feel both sides of the argument have strengths and that’s a tough call for a young player.

Ben Mee is one of the players out of contract, and possibly the only one that it is vital that we keep.  I think we very might well do so, not least because our Captain may look on this as an opportunity to mentor Nathan Collins and build towards a managerial career. I dearly hope he is still in a claret and blue shirt next season.

As for the others, can Jack Cork get himself through a 46 game Championship season?  Will Vydra come back on reduced terms and finally become the forward we hoped that he would be?

We’ll say goodbye to others. Ashley Barnes will likely become a fond memory, even if I spent the last seven years yelling at him in exasperation. Such a Burnley player, a man whose entire existence seemed to be defined by getting up the noses of the opposition fans. Sure, I got annoyed at him, but I’ll still defend him, because We’ve Got Ashley Barnes And You Don’t.

Aaron Lennon never gave less than 100%.  Unfortunately, that’s all he has left. I will always remember Erik Pieters for ignoring me yelling at him to pass outside to JBG and deciding to simply blooter the ball into the Peterborough goal from 25 yards. Phil Bardsley retired from all but dressing room vibes a season ago. Dale Stephens never even provided that.

There is no manager as yet – I have a feeling ALK had two lined up, one for the Premier League, one for the Championship.  I have no idea who it might be or could be or should be.

I’ve seen names, 80% of which fill me with dread. Thankfully the usual suspects seemed to have had their agents shoot their publicity bolt too early. No-one takes Allardyce seriously any more, and word will have got around every boardroom in the country about Rafa Benitez. Ex-Clarets have been mentioned, Michael Duff which fills me with doubt, Joey Barton which fills me with dread.

The drop to the Championship might have cost us Vincent Kompany, which would be a shame. I’m on record as thinking we need a European coach, progressive, ambitious and forward looking. A type rather than a name, a shape filled by the likes of Ralph Hassenhuttl, Daniel Farke, David Wagner. Another old school British manager feels not to be what the club needs, if we’re going to reset, do it properly.

Money, money, money

Hanging over the club is the question of the finances.

When the accounts were announced a couple of weeks ago, ALK were probably surprised how many qualified accountants there were that supported Burnley.  The loan taken out to buy the club comes with terms, not least that a chunk of it is paid back immediate upon relegation.  This will hamper the rebuild and affect the budget given to the new choice.

The same old people will say that the sky is falling. ALK are our Venky’s. We’re the next Sunderland/Portsmouth/Bolton. This time next year we’re going to be in administration.

To those people I say, and I mean it, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

Besides, seeing as I am an IT nerd, it was a piece of cake to hack into the ALK server.

P0wned!
Phear my l33t h@cking skillz!

When it comes down to it, given a choice between some moaners on Twitter and people with a track record of running major sporting franchises and sporting related companies, I’ll choose to hitch my wagon to the latter.

If ALK really don’t know what they are doing and have no idea what they are getting into then I have one simple question for Alan Pace.

“Can I have the phone number of the fella that you persuaded to give you the money?”

Because if it that easy to get that large an amount of money based on nothing but a persuasive meeting and a charming smile, well, I would quite like a new car and I reckon I could even manage to put on the charming smile for an hour.

That doesn’t mean that the next two seasons are not crucial for Burnley. Parachute payments become a ticking clock and although some will point to Fulham and Bournemouth bouncing straight back up, it’s been Carefully Not Noticed that one is backed by a billionaire and the other by a Russian multi-millionaire. We don’t have that kind of advantage.

But Burnley are a long way from going bust.

Looking forward

The future in unknown and scary.  Let’s end on a positive note.  We’re going to see new faces and go to grounds that we haven’t gone to in a while.  Football is going to feel like fun again, instead of a product.  We’re likely to have a more attractive style on the pitch and new heroes to cheer on.

I’m not looking forward to playing that lot down the road, for no other reason than it brings out the absolute worst in far, far too many people.  They are games to endure, to tolerate and not to enjoy.  A trip to the Turf for T’Classico (I won’t go to the away game) is an exercise in avoiding the attentions of anyone, up to and including the police.  Winning them becomes a fan exercise in aggression and boorishness.  The week or so before and after is just not fun, no matter what the result.

But we reacquaint ourselves with other, more local games.  I might be able to get to one of Preston, Wigan, Blackpool, Huddersfield, Hull or Sheffield United.  Further afield, I’d dearly love to see Kenilworth Road and that amazing set of turnstiles with my own eyes before it goes.  The games against Norwich are likely to turn from desperate battles at the wrong end of the table to more entertaining stuff at the top end.

It was a bloody good ride, though. The absolute best. So many memories and good times. Beating Klopp in one of his first games, the man bewildered by the fact that Burnley welcomed him to the Premier League by – and not for the only time – absolutely mugging him.

Watching the Holy Trinity of Mee, Tarkowski and Heaton (later Pope) repeatedly frustrating a string of expensive striking talent.

Watching highly expensive and mollycoddled footballers wilt on a December evening at the Turf, when the wind is up and the rain comes down sideways and Ashley Barnes quietly sits in the dugout sharpening his elbows and they frantically check the small print in their contracts as they Really Didn’t Sign Up For This At All.

Watching my small Northern town team give the richest clubs in the world a bloody nose or at the very least a difficult time.

Football doesn’t do happy endings; it just has happy chapters. I feel like this is a chance for a break. Hopefully, a 46-game break and then back to the biggest stage. Like last time, I hope that a season to forget is followed by a season to remember.

Can’t wait for next season.

Off Dyche and then?

On Friday, Burnley FC announced that they had sacked possibly the greatest manager in its history. American owners ALK, who had bought the club 15 months ago in a leveraged buyout, had relieved manager Sean Dyche of his duties after a nine year spell which included two promotions, seven years in the Premier League and qualification for the early stages of the Europa League.

There are the cold hard facts. Immediately the national news broke the story and followed up by comment and opinion. As is the way of football coverage, a lot of that coverage was ill-informed.

I’d probably have joined in, but I was on holiday for my wedding anniversary and determined to spend as little as possible of the time in front of a computer or phone. So I got to stand back and see the outpouring, the anger, the shit-stirring, all the while going processing what was happening at the football club I have supported for three decades.

This has been burning in my head because the mixture of lazy cliches, mendacious stirring and the general wrongness of the coverage just lit a fire in me. Maybe it’s because the last nine years have been the most incredible time for the football club that I follow.  Maybe it’s because I care too much. It definitely is because Twitter was not the place to process my thoughts.

So here are my thoughts, presented in the Socratic method.

Was this a business decision made by clueless American owners panicking at the loss of the Premier League revenue stream?

No.

Because it isn’t panicking.  If we are going to look at this as a business decision, then it is cold, hard logic.  The current management team was failing and the business was likely to be facing tough economic times.  In these circumstances, the Board decided that change was immediately needed at a senior level.  It’s business and if you don’t like it in football, you are welcome to return to, oh, at least the 1950’s.

That’s a dry way of looking at things

No, what it is is not ignoring what football, and especially Premier League football is. The events on the pitch are secondary – at the very least! – to the goals of the owners, which range from ego trips and basic profit making through to laundering money stolen from an entire country and sport washing a dictatorship.

You’re a cynic. Or an apologist.

Or pragmatic and realistic. I don’t fool myself that what I’m watching is a fair and even sporting contest. I don’t even delude myself that I’m watching two teams go at it, rather than a millionaires plaything vs a PLC.

Actually, that’s not quite true. For 90 minutes, I do do that. Because I love football and I love supporting my team. It’s just for the period between the final whistle of one game and the starting whistle of the next, I see what football really is.

The method of the takeover is cause for concern though?

Yes, but that is business for you, and all that has happened is a business transaction.

It loaded massive debt onto the club that it didn’t have!

It did indeed, and since it happened the main question I have always had is “If I, as a dumb IT nerd saw that coming, how come people whose job it is to look at such things didn’t?”

You see, the previous owners had built up £60m cash in the bank. Call it a Rainy Day Fund, or protection against relegation. That cash was in the bank and not given to the manager to improve the squad – more of which later.

ALK came in, took out a loan to buy the club and then loaded the loan onto the club, wiping out the Rainy Day Fund.

Alan Pace, Burnley Chairman
Alan Pace, Chairman of Burnley Football Club Ltd

Dodgy as all hell

No. Just business. Happens all the time. Businesses take over other businesses in a number of ways, and taking out a loan to purchase a business is just one of them. The idea is that the revenues are enough to keep ahead of the repayments. You do that by unlocking other lines of income to make profit and eventually sell the whole thing on for a profit.

But there were other ways of buying the club

Of course. But – and this is where I saw it coming – that Rainy Day Fund was the key. The more it stayed there and the more it grew, the more likely it was that this method of buyout was going to happen.

Was there any way the old Board could have prevented it?

They could have spent the money. But paradoxically, that probably would have made the club harder to sell. And they needed to sell, because the costs of staying in the Premier League were getting beyond them.

So if the old Board aren’t at fault and ALK aren’t at fault, whose fault is it?

Why does there always have to be someone at fault? Football loves to place blame. It’s business. ALK wanted to buy, Garlick and co were looking to sell. I can’t emphasise that enough, Burnley FC is a business turning over at least £100m a year. That business happens to centre around 11 men kicking a football about each week, but it is a business.

Morally it is wrong

Well, as a committed socialist at heart I am of course against capitalism in most of its forms.

Look, it would be nice if a billionaire suddenly rocked up and bought the club out of their own cash. But anyone who thinks that is ever going to happen is deluded and anyone who tells you it could happen is lying to you.

Let’s play a fun game. How much would it cost to buy and run Burnley FC in the Premier League for five years? I’ll start with £200m to buy the club, £100m in transfers and £50m a season to cover losses.

Sounds plausible

So you are looking at someone investing half a billion pounds into Burnley FC without the prospect of getting much of it back. I’d love to meet that person. (For laughs, I worked out how much I would have to be personally worth in net cash to consider buying the club and funding it without worrying about the losses – and I came in at £1.5bn.)

Billionaires don’t become billionaires by spending their own money and there seems to be this weird expectation that someone will come along and set fire to at least half their fortune.

Ask Mel Morris and Derby how well that works out.

Morris is still worth £50m so he’s not exactly got the wolf at the door

That’s not the point. He lost an estimated 80% of his worth by investing in a football club.

Look, total up your own net worth. House, cars, pension, income. Now work out what 10% of it is and go down to Turf Moor and spend it on the club.

What, all of it?

Yes.

You must be joking.

Why not. You can afford it, if you tighten your belt elsewhere. But you won’t, because suddenly it’s your money at risk.

That’s why I treat anyone demanding the club spend £10-20m on a player as an idiot. Ignoring everything involved in actually transferring players (wages, agents fees etc), the easiest thing in the world to do is spend someone else’s money.

Doesn’t the debt worry you?

Yes. Of course it does. But people take on debt all the time. Mortgages, cars, credit cards. If you run the business sensibly and minimise risk…

You mean take action to prevent loss of income which may affect your ability to pay back debt?

Yes. Like getting rid of the people who are partially responsible for steering you towards relegation and associated loss of TV revenue.

That’s cold, man. Real cold.

I never said I was the nicest person in the world. But unlike most people in football, I’m fully aware of what football is and because my income doesn’t revolve around working in the game, I also have the luxury of pointing that out.

If people want to wrap a nice comfortable blanket around themselves and avoid the harsh reality that the European champions are funded by a man close to a regime that is waging a war against Ukraine, that this years champions are owned by a country that discriminates against women, migrants and LGBT individuals then fair play to them. Just remember that pretty shortly that little gang will be joined by a club owned by a country that dismembers journalists it doesn’t like and the Premier League bent over backwards to enable it to happen.

I suppose we should be thankful we’re only owned by a Wall Street hedge fund

Aye, but before you climb too high on the moral high ground, you might want to think about the 15% of Clarets fans who have to regularly sit in a stand named after a raging anti-semite who gave condemned meat to his players.

OK, let’s forget business. Talking about business in football is no fun. Surely sacking Dyche is is a bad decision on a football level?

Gary Lineker tweeted out that it was a “terrible, shitty decision”.  Daniel Taylor in The Athletic described it as “lacking in gratitude”.  They were not alone, as plenty of Solid Football Men have been lamenting the sacking.  Sean Dyche is, after all, one of the few Solid Football Men in the Premier League.

They’re wrong, of course. But let’s run with it and concentrate on the Solid Football Facts.

Sacking a manager when under threat of relegation is a standard thing throughout football, except when it comes to Premier League clubs. In the Premier League, it isn’t poor performance that leads to the boot, it’s “potentially losing the TV millions” which is used by Solid Football Men to excuse underperformance on the pitch.  Find yourself staring at a drop into League One and that’s a difficult season, do the same at the top table and for some reason it is placing yourself at the mercy of cold-hearted business.

No matter, the point of such a statement is to avoid the key problem. At the time the managerial trigger was pulled, Burnley had won 14 out of Dyche’s last 68 Premier League games.  Fourteen.  A win percentage of 1 in 4.  For completeness, the full record is W14-D21-L33.

The second factor was that the team was clearly struggling to get themselves out of trouble.  Much has been made of Burnley’s “experience” in relegation battles. Experience gained by *checks notes* finishing at least six points clear of the drop every season, and as high as 10th just two seasons ago.

Tactically, the team were relying on the same old approach, keep disciplined, organised and make up for a lack of quality by outworking your opponent in 1 on 1 battles.  That’s a perfectly fine concept, except anyone is going to cotton on it by the sixth consecutive season.  There was no surprise element and clubs that had been previously upset by the Clarets were fully prepared to minimise their own problems this time around. Dyche had few answers, either in his toolbox or in the squad.

Anyone, even Solid Football Men, would agree that the statistics and the performances, such a record for a manager shows that a sacking is long overdue.  Indeed, Norwich, Leeds, Everton and Newcastle had removed managers with better recent records.

The problem is the Solid Football Men, as usual, didn’t even bother to check their facts before firing out their cliches. But that’s OK, because their job is to look, but not to see.

There is a Twitter account that compiles club results in a calendar year.  In 2021, out of the 92 Premier League and Football League clubs, Burnley were 92nd.  Dead last.  Below everybody.

I don’t have the numbers, but I’m willing to guess that you must go a long way above 92nd place to find a club that hadn’t changed manager.  The fact that Dyche hadn’t been sacked was the exception, not the rule.

I’d argue that it wasn’t a lack of sentiment that saw Dyche sacked, compared to his record and his peers, it was an excess of it that was keeping him in the job.

Oh, so this means you wanted Dyche Out?

Oh Jesus Christ, No.  I was fully behind him and dearly wish he was still the manager. What I am saying is that on a football level, it hasn’t been working for the past 18 months.  Those pundits claiming it is a bad football decision are talking bollocks.

This is where the emotional part of the game comes in.  I wanted Dyche to stay and felt that his achievements meant that he had earned the right to a reset. If the club continued to struggle in the Championship – and even then, I am realistic enough to understand that automatic promotion in such a tough division is no sure thing – then perhaps, perhaps a change was due.

It looks likely that we will get relegated.  Do you blame Dyche for that?

No.  The old phrase goes that “Success has many fathers, yet failure is an orphan”.  It’s a cynical one, because usually the opposite is true.

The club have let Dyche down over the past four seasons.  The squad is stale, old and tired.  They’ve been asked to give over and above their maximum for far too long.  I said the other week, that I can be disappointed and frustrated at individual performances in individual games, but I can’t criticise the squad as a whole.  Their tanks are empty.

The lack of investment has been absolutely chronic over the last few years.  Dyche had made several silk purses out of a sows ear, but you can’t expect a miracle every single season. The fact that he was being asked to keep doing so, and succeeding only to be rewarded with less and less support from above was maddening.

Was relegation this season inevitable anyway?

Probably.  It definitely has been coming.  The first warning sign was the home draw to Norwich, when the Clarets looks absolutely bereft of ideas against a team that was so dedicated to getting a 0-0 draw that the goalkeeper got his first warning for timewasting with 5.22 on the clock.  In the first half.

By the time we lost to Newcastle, the overriding feeling was “this is not good”.

I’m not disappointed that relegation is coming, because – as mentioned – it’s a struggle for a club of this size to even compete in the Premier League. Where I’m bitterly disappointed that this relegation is largely self-inflicted.  I’ve always taken the view that Burnley even being in the Premier League is a case of us – as always – punching above our weight.  A thousand things must go right for the club to stay at the top table, and more importantly, things must go wrong for other clubs.  The bottom half of the table all live in fear of an accidental relegation and take steps not to succeed, but to avoid failure.

It didn’t help that unlike previous seasons, there was no basket case club or two near the bottom.  Clarets have taken advantage of others ineptitude to secure their own status.  With the Saudi takeover of Newcastle, that removed at least one poorly run club from the equation.

There is a lot of talk about the Championship being inherently unbalanced.  A lot of that talk comes from people whose job relies on Very Carefully Not Noticing that the Premier League is even more unbalanced and not only is that the case, but it is deliberately set up to be that way.  Man Utd, Spurs and Arsenal are staggeringly mediocre teams and have been for several seasons, yet they are still squabbling over a fourth-place finish that seems beyond Leicester, Wolves or West Ham sides that are having exceptional seasons.  No-one seems to be asking why because their jobs rely on it.

And Dyche was blameless?

No.  He had his fair share of responsibility and there were a lot of bitten lips over the last couple of months.

A word about the fans.  Despite the long slow march to the drop unfolding on a regular basis, the crowd at the Turf have not turned on the manager or Board in any significant way.  There has been an acceptance that trying to defy gravity season after season is impossible.  The dam did indeed break after half time at home to Chelsea, but that felt like a 45-minute outpouring of cumulative frustration, a year and a bit of consciously not having a go at the team being rewarded by an utterly abject collapse. Don’t forget that despite missing chance after chance in that first half, the team were applauded off the pitch at half-time. Normal service was resumed for the next match.

The problem was that Dyche was steadfastly repeating the same mistakes.  I’m all for letting a player play himself back into form, but both Ashley Westwood and Dwight McNeil got an enormous amount of leeway. No matter how badly it wasn’t working, and it didn’t take much to see that it the Burnley midfield had massive great holes in it where some semblance of creativity should have been, change was not coming.

I’m not singling him out for particular criticism, not least because I have been a great fan of his, but the brief period where Burnley sparked into life coincided with Ashley Westwood picking up a suspension.  When partnered with Jack Cork, Josh Brownhill stopped looking like a decent Championship player and became an absolute force in the middle of the pitch.  In the second half against Manchester United, he looked like the second coming of Paul Scholes, taking the much-vaunted midfield of Pogba and Fernandes and simply chewing them up and spitting them out.  It coincided with the best run of the season for the club in terms of points and form and when Westwood’s suspension was up… he walked straight back into the side.  Momentum slammed into a brick wall of managerial stubbornness.

Yeah, anyone who was writing down Westwood and Brownhill on the team sheet for the West Ham game needed sack… oh

Maybe that was the reason he was sacked on a Friday and not immediately after the Norwich game.  Maybe Pace looked at his team sheet and thought “For fuck’s sake”.

That was a joke, by the way.

I get why Cork can’t play every game – there are a lot of miles on those legs – but with every misplaced pass, the need for a change in midfield became more and more apparent.  Especially when there was clearly nothing to lose.

What happened to McNeil?

It’s a curious one.  Our most creative player on paper has contributed 0 goals and 0 assists this season.  To be honest, he hasn’t looked like changing that for the past couple of months.  Is that on Dyche?  I don’t know, but I do know that he and Charlie Taylor continue to play like complete strangers on that left hand side, not only going forward but also it is the area from which we have conceded the most this season.

But McNeil is an excellent case when it comes to loyalty from the management. He has played pretty much every minute for the last couple of seasons, despite rarely producing. But what is forgotten is that he made his debut at home to Olympiakos, where he completely ran the show. He announced himself with a 30 yard screamer that forced the Greek goalkeeper into a magnificent finger tip save. The kid was taking apart perennial Champions League regulars without fear.

And then he was dropped until the famous West Ham game where Dyche changed everything to reset a struggling side.

A settled side is a good side

Agreed.  But don’t you think that it is curious that Connor Roberts got the hook so quickly against Everton? He was not having a good game, but in his defence, he was up against Richarlison.  Now, the Brazilian is a prick, but he’s a prick who can be an excellent player and Roberts has less than a dozen Premier League games under his young belt.  Yet Roberts sits for the next game, and other players get to keep their place.  Is the fact that Roberts was an ALK buy a factor?

You can’t blame the squad on Dyche

To an extent, no. On the other hand, that right wing would look a hell of a lot better with Harry Wilson on it, wouldn’t it?  And who, exactly, blocked that particular move?

But ask yourself this.  Is Burnley an attractive place to come to or send a player on loan?

The answer is clearly no, as they will be sat warming the bench and if lucky given five minutes at the end of a lost cause.

Forget players who joined and never saw game time. The prime example is Matej Vydra.  An outcast for almost four seasons, despite scoring at a fairly regular clip.  Now I’m not the biggest fan of Vydra, but the fact is that he finished last season looking like we had finally found a partner for Chris Wood, only to start this on the bench behind Ashley Barnes.  What the hell?  As things got more desperate, he started getting half hour cameos.  A man outcast for the majority of his time is suddenly relied on to be an impact sub.

Which reminds me.  Dyche wouldn’t even start Vydra in an FA Cup game at home to Peterborough.  And when the crowd ironically cheered him on (more in a “my God, you are actually finally going to give him a chance to play?” type way) Dyche was especially snippy about it in the post-match press conference.

At the beginning of the season, Ashley Barnes was the starting striker.  A player more interested in fighting his own battle than winning the team’s war. A player whose less than subtle bag of tricks was worked out by defenders and referees several seasons go.  You’ve heard of a striker with a 50p head, Barnes was the first Premier League striker with 50p feet.

(Seriously, whenever I see that famous last-minute winner against Palace, I marvel at just how badly Barnes screws up the pass to Gudmundsson. Seriously, go back and watch it. Five years later, through on goal he managed to put an eight-foot pass three feet too far forward and six feet too high.

Christ, it’s just occurred to me.  What if one of the bones of contention between Dyche and Pace was that Dyche wanted to keep him?

Weghorst has been a failure

Wout Weghorst
Chris Wood’s replacement, the 6’6″ Dutch Chris Wood

Bollocks.  The problem is that Chris Wood has gone and tactically, we’re treating his replacement as a taller, Dutch Chris Wood.  This is despite him clearly being far, far more effective with the ball passed to his feet.  Dyche’s insistence on lumping it up to the Big Guy was absolutely detrimental to the team.  It’s all well and good to moan about a lack of goals from Weghorst, but he has had absolutely no quality service from anywhere in the midfield.

To be fair, we haven’t had the breaks

I absolutely agree. Dyche continually preached about “small margins” and there is no denying that Burnley have been on the wrong side of those small margins.

  • Tim Krul punching Matej Vydra in the head
  • Charlie Taylor slipping for Leeds’s equaliser
  • Vydra missing last minute winners at Chelsea and home to Palace
  • Cornet missing away to Norwich and rolling the first penalty we were awarded since the invention of the motor car the wrong side of the post

That’s arguably 11 points right there.  And the Krul one still infuriates me, not least because it leant weight to my feeling that VAR was implemented by someone who hates the idea of VAR.  Exhibit Fucking A being it wasn’t used to review someone clearly getting punched in the head. I fucking saw it from the other end of the ground, and I don’t have the benefit of replays.

The last Board wouldn’t have got rid of Dyche

No, they wouldn’t.

At least we agree on that

He’d probably be gone already.

What?!

It’s interesting that the comments about “clueless American owners” – and isn’t the use of the descriptive noun there telling – sacking the most successful manager in the club history ignore a couple of key facts.

Dyche went into this season with under 12 months left on his contract. He put pen to paper on a four-year deal last September, which I believe was reported as making him the highest paid employee of the club.  The reason his contract was in its final year was because he wasn’t going to sign a new one under the old Board.

Dyche and Mike Garlick had a massive falling out over the lack of investment in the squad and were reportedly not on speaking terms. Isn’t it surprising how quickly this has been conveniently memory holed?

You mentioned lack of investment.  The net spend

Can I stop you there?

Why?

Because “net spend” as a metric is *checks for correct descriptive term* fucking bullshit.

That’s a bit harsh. I’ve seen plenty of people using it to highlight the lack of spending by the club.

You think that is harsh.  Here’s harsh.

Anyone using net spend as an argument either doesn’t understand what it does and does not measure, or they do understand and are being deliberately mendacious and trolling.

It’s an either/or, pick one.

All I was going to say is that ALK have a net spend of about £6m

Yes, correct.

Which shows that the new owners aren’t pumping money into the club

Bollocks.

ALK have spent £41.3m since they took over the club.

Yes, but £35m has gone out

Indeed it has.  How?

Chris Wood, Ben Gibson and Jimmy Dunne

First up, Dunne wanted first team football and judged – correctly, IMO – that he was unlikely to become a regular starter.  I think that he is a loss and will at the very least, be an excellent Championship level centre back for a long time.

Now, let’s move to the bullshit ones.

Chris Wood was not sold with the blessing of the club.  He wanted out and he had his release clause paid by Newcastle. The Board turned down offers until the release clause came into effect.

I’ll say it again for the hard of thinking, the only reason Chris Wood is in the “incoming money” column was because the Board and manager were powerless to prevent it.

Incidentally, that was a prominent case of Journalists Not Noticing, as there was absolutely no footballing rationale for Newcastle to do that, but there very, very, definitely was a business case for them doing it.  After all, a well-resourced business took the opportunity to deal damage to a close competitor.  I hold no apathy or dislike for Wood or Newcastle over it because that’s business.

But it was funny how those Solid Football Men didn’t want to talk about it, because clearly parity and fairness in football stops at the point when Big Clubs can just take players from smaller clubs for no reason other than to damage them, and we should all suck it up because that’s Just How Football Works.

And Gibson?

The transfer fee kicked in when Norwich were promoted last summer.  It was an automatic clause put into Gibson’s loan agreement at the start of the previous season and the £8m fee payable last August contingent on the Canaries being promoted.

It was all arranged before the takeover.

So the number is allocated to ALK but the income was negotiated by the previous Board.  If you want to blame Alan Pace for that one, that’s either mental gymnastics or some amazing 4D chess.

Does that mean net spend is completely useless?

Oh no.  If you want to skew something for your audience for clicks and giggles, then “net spend” is exactly the sort of stat you are going to like.  It’s a number that is quickly and easily stripped of context and nuance in order to support a bad faith argument.  There are plenty of others floating around and if you like that sort of thing, you’re going to love forums and Twitter.

In summary, net spend is bullshit and do not trust it as a metric, not least because you should never trust something invented by Rafa Benitez.

Ooh, that’s a shout. Rafa for manager?

As a manager?  Why not?  It represents some kind of similarity with the current setup.  But considering that the first thing that Benitez does after he gets his feet under the desk is to start undermining his own Board, then any Chairman who decides to appoint Benitez is insane.

Anyway, net spend…

Doesn’t tell you that of the players who started against Norwich, four came in under ALK and another was on the bench, does it?

No. Look, all I’m trying to say is that ALK should have spent much more than they have

They’ve spent more in 12 months than the previous Board did in three years and those concerns about the club having too much debt seem to have lasted less than 2000 words.

What will you miss about Dyche at Burnley?

One of the best things about being a Claret was seeing the furious reactions of the opposition fans as they dropped points.  The continual responses posting the Cryarse Bingo Card to Internet whiners is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in ages.

Cryarse Bingo Card

I absolutely loved seeing the moaning of fans of the Big Clubs, who flocked to their YouTube channels in droves to complain that Little Old Burnley simply refused to Know Their Place.  Are the fans at Turf Moor unaware that the primary job of their club is provide cannon fodder as entertainment for the official noodle sellers of Thailand?  That, when faced with opponents who are heading off to midweek Champions League games the Clarets have a primary duty to not actually try too hard in case they get too tired?  How many Instagram followers does Nick Pope have anyway?

Years ago, when writing about the Storm and the Phoenix, I formulated a theory.  The louder the voice, especially when it was complaining or actively shit-stirring (which it was 90% of the time), the more likely it was that that person did everything they could to avoid paying to watch the team.  I’ve found that to be proven in more modern times, except instead of begging comp tickets from players, journalists or mates not attending, the screaming comes largely from YouTube channels watching dodgy live streams serving up relentless anger and negativity for the numbers.

Anyway, the great Sir Terry Pratchett said that an elemental force of the Universe is narrative.  In the case of Dyche’s tactical approach, it was forever battling against the unstoppable force that was the received wisdom.  Burnley are negative.  Dyche plays long ball percentage football.  What they lack in skill, they make up for by kicking the opposition into the air.  It was largely untrue but it didn’t matter because the narrative was set.

“There has been too much violence, too much pain. Give me the three points and I will spare your lives. Just walk away. I will give you safe passage. Walk away and there will be an end to the horror.” – Sean Dyche’s pre-match advice to the opposition, according to their fans

Sometimes the club could turn that to its advantage – there were a couple of seasons where several opposition clubs weren’t playing Burnley, they were setup to play the idea of Burnley and subsequently got beat when Dyche outfoxed them with such surprising concepts as “passing it on the ground, actually”.  West Ham and Bournemouth spring immediately to mind.

None of this was better illustrated than this seasons draw against Chelsea.  1-0 down after an hour at the home of the European champions, Dyche puts Rodriguez and Vydra on.  Two strikers, who then combined for the equaliser and could have had a winner.  The allegedly outmoded 4-4-2 who always park the bus… came from behind at the home of the European champions.

Did you hear about it?  No, because it didn’t fit the narrative.

But 4-4-2 is outdated

Says who?

The idea that 4-4-2 is outdated has taken flight thanks to the kind of hipster football writing that has become tediously fashionable to present as intellectual credentials.  Include key words such as “philosophy” and “control”, surround them with meaningless statistics such as “progressive forward passes in the middle third” and liberally sprinkle in references to 60s Soviet doctrine or 1980s South American exotica and you can practically cash that cheque from The Guardian.

Besides, it’s going to blow your mind when you find out that other teams that play 4-4-2 include the current La Liga champions and the winners of Euro 2020(1).

Oh, and Manchester United. Probably others.

Sounds like you don’t like analytics

I’m not saying I don’t like in-depth analysis, just that a lot of people have been given an intellectual heft they don’t deserve.  I think that the use of analytics to analyse a game in the past is fine, but anyone using them as a predictor of the future is peddling bullshit. I hate the fact their predictive models are never called to account; I hate the fact that xG has become something taken seriously and I hate the fact that some conversations about football are reduced to discussing spreadsheets.  It’s the Football Managerisation of the game and the overriding feeling that I used to get from reading stats filled articles is that the people involved don’t actually like football and anything out of their expectations is something to be clamped down on instead of celebrated.

A lot of beards will be stroked in celebration at the news of Dyche leaving Burnley, not least because the holes in their spreadsheets won’t be so glaringly obvious on a weekly basis.

Also Michael Cox is so far up Marcelo Bielsa’s arse, he can see Jonathan Wilsons feet.

Remember, Dycheball is thuggery, bus parking, physical effort and eating gravel.  Whereas Bielsaball is attractive, attacking, free-flowing and exciting.

These are the stats since the start of the 2020/21 Premier League season.

TeamFoulsYellow cardsRed cards
Burnley3781041
Leeds5181522

When people say Burnley should play more like Leeds, my response was usually “What? Fouling people all the time?”

That’s as maybe.  It would be nice to see some more aesthetically pleasing football.

Lots of pundits say so, and I agree with them.

It would be nice to wake up and find a shiny new Kylian Mbappe under the Christmas tree but that’s just not the way things are.  The club must find diamonds in the rough, that is just the way it is.  Any good player is snapped up by the Big Clubs to sit in their reserves.

What makes it even harder is they are on wages that make coming to Burnley on loan almost impossible, either because they would be taking a huge pay cut, or the Clarets simply can’t afford the wages and loan fees.  That’s the football business these days, loans are not just for developing players, but an important revenue stream.

Besides, as mentioned, who is going to look at previous loan players and decide that a place on the bench is for them?

So, who’s next?

You tell me.

A lot of pundits are putting forward Sam Allardyce

Wow, that commitment to more progressive football sure lasted long, didn’t it?  Reminds me of the Leeds fans who, when faced with successive thrashings suddenly felt that they needed to be more Burnley.  I suspect the A&E departments in Yorkshire were wondering where all those cases of whiplash came from.

OK then, Michael Duff

Much as I like Duff, he’s barely two seasons into his managerial career.  Plus it smacks of old school, backward thinking.  The chief reason seems to be “he knows the club”.

No he doesn’t.  The Burnley of today is not the Burnley of nine, five or even three years ago.  It has changed, for better or for ill, and the main reason for that change has been Sean Dyche.  The club is continuing to change under new management and it would seem odd to suddenly slam that into reverse.

Buggins’ Turn is a shit way to run a multi-million-pound business.

Well, the Americans will probably appoint Ted Lasso or something

At least he managed a decent FA Cup run.

Chris Wilder? Steve Cooper?

What possible planet are you on?  Why would a manager on the up with a Forest or Boro want to leave all that for a rebuild job at Burnley?  This is blatantly obvious to anyone who thinks about it for, oh, five seconds but yeah, throw the names out there, keep the clicks coming.

Who then?

I have absolutely no idea.  My main worry is whoever it is, they are going to be The Guy Who Follows The Guy.  David Moyes couldn’t fill Alex Ferguson’s shoes at Old Trafford. But it was OK, that clearly obvious mistake was rectified by a proper Football Brain in Louis Van Gaal.  No, wait, what they really needed was Jose Mourinho.  Actually, we meant Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.  He knew the club inside out.  Hang on, what about someone who was successful in Germany like, er Ralf Rangnick?

If I have one piece of advice for Alan Pace, it is to listen very carefully to the pundits and Solid Football Men, write their suggestions down on a piece of paper and when they are finished, crumple it up and launch it into the nearest bin.  And then set fire to it, just to be sure.

I know that I’d like a more progressive style and a coach willing to adapt his tactics more.  I’d like him to keep the defensive solidity and add some more creative flair.  Someone willing to work with younger players and give them the chance to fail as well as shine. Oh, and I’d also like a pony and a plastic rocket.

Whoever it is must provide all that, replace the greatest manager in the club’s history and deal with a thorough squad overhaul which gets us promoted, all while dealing with a fanbase that is in the mood to turn on the players, manager and Board the instant things go wrong.

So yeah, good luck with that.

What now for Sean Dyche and his staff

I have no idea.  Probably sitting back and waiting for the right opportunity to come his way – he’ll not be short of offers.

I wish him absolutely every possible success.

I hope to see him in the dugout at the Turf.  It will be hard to see him in the away side, but it would be good to stand and applaud him as he marches across the pitch.

I hope that he gets the job that he so thoroughly deserves.  A club that has the budget to match his capabilities.  Realistically, we are talking a Leicester, an Aston Villa.  Maybe at Goodison Park, where Everton have so obviously needed Sean Dyche for the last half decade.

I hope that, in time, he gets a stand at Turf Moor named after him.

I hope that he meets us fans on the beach at Zihuatanejo to reminisce about that European season.

The last eight years have been the absolute best fucking ride in my three decades as a supporter.  There are no happy endings in football and this is no exception. But I’ve had memories to last a lifetime thanks to Sean Dyche and his team and for that I will be forever grateful.

But football never stays static and we are into a new chapter.

UTC.

Well, this is new

Being a Burnley fan in a transfer window in recent seasons has been an exercise in frustration.  In a league where it is a miracle to merely survive for another season, to see the club hamstring itself in recent seasons by repeated failures in the transfer market was verging on anger-inducing.

I’m not saying I’m an expert in this, but I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be pointing at the other side

As Burnley fans we can never expect to be showered with glitter by a sugar daddy and there is no way that we will ever be in the position of the top clubs, who get all the TV money, all the PL money and all the Champions League and still manage to piss it all away secure in the knowledge that the bills will never come due.

No-one who attends Turf Moor expects to have a gold-plated Rolls Royce delivered every deadline day.  But after spending several summers looking at positive balance sheets and nodding approvingly at the careful saving of the pennies for the transfer kitty, we had grown thoroughly sick of throwing open the curtains on the morning of September 1st to see waiting for us on the drive a beaming Chairman next to a perfectly functional, second hand low-mileage Vauxhall Vectra.  “Thank you, Mr Chairman”, we would say through gritted teeth, “Yes. We are pleased that you managed to at least persuade the dealer to give it a thorough valeting beforehand.”

Clarets fans had long grown accustomed to missing out on transfer targets.  It had become a joke, a running gag involving long, protracted negotiations which broke down when Burnley refused to make a proper bid, or wouldn’t pay the wages, or took offence at the colour of the selling clubs shoes.  It reached ridiculous proportions when with four seasons of PL money and profits in the bank the club cheaped out on a million quid on a desperately needed new winger, leaving the bench filled with academy players.

I’ve never been one for demanding that the club spend money. Not just because we don’t have as much as the others but because it often is wasted to appease a fan base who demand expensive new toys every single time. It is for this reason that I generally imagine Arsenal fans getting into taxis and responding to the question “Where to, guv?” with “ANYWHERE! QUICKLY! HERE’S A FIFTY QUID NOTE! KEEP THE CHANGE!”

I’ve often criticised clubs for bringing in players from France or Holland on big-ish money moves who never pan out.  A lot of the time, the clubs have sunk a decent sum of money in fees and wages to players guy who look amazing until it is time for the clocks to go back.  The next you hear of them is eighteen months later when they are a two sentence line at the bottom of a roundup article noting that they have loaned out to a Turkish club.  Even those who do stick around to never quite justify the hype end up being invisible.  (My favourite example of this is Felipe Anderson of West Ham who was so put off by getting kicked a couple of times by Phil Bardsley that not only did he disappear from that match but clearly wanted off the pitch from the start of the same fixture an entire year later.)

Yet now Burnley have finally dipped their toes in foreign waters by signing Maxwel Cornet from Olympique Lyonnais.  The £15m fee is around standard fare for this sort of transfer from Ligue Un to a Premier League club, the startling thing is that Burnley are the ones making it.  It is now clear that the tech knowledge of our new owners at the very least extends to setting up an international dialling plan on Microsoft Teams.

The transfer is a significant statement from the clubs new owners.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Alan Pace et al have talked a decent talk but words never count as much as actions.  I think that he has inherited quite a few messes from the previous board who – after years of being lauded for running the club sensibly – seemed to stop being prudent and started being cheap.[1]  However, he has walked into a situation where not only the squad needs at least the beginnings of a thorough overhaul but also he needs to appease a restless fan base.

(I said this time last year that the previous board was bloody lucky that fans weren’t in the stadiums when the summer transfer window closed, as the atmosphere in the stadium would have been downright poisonous.  This time around, I would have gone for low level disquiet. We know that it isn’t the Americans fault but new owners generally means new money.)

Pace needed to make signings not just for footballing reasons but to reassure the fans.  The problem he seemed to have was the requirement to still make the “right” signing – we can’t afford to gamble and lose more than once – but as previously mentioning inheriting a structure that was pretty much designed to fail at the last few hurdles.

The signing of Cornet also reignites something that the fanbase has been missing for a couple of years now.  Something foreign, something… exotic.

It is for this reason that Steven Defour will forever have a place in Burnley fans hearts.  Especially mine, as his all too brief appearances on the pitch for the team brought a level of skill and vision that brought me out of my seat with gasps, shouts and cries of “what the hell are you doing here?”

He scored three goals for Burnley, each of which could have been a Goal of the Season winner. Seeing Defour in a Claret and Blue shirt was like seeing Scarlett Johansson sat at the bar in the Royal Dyche giving you the come hither eyes.  It was scarcely believable, clearly destined never to be long term but the ride was going to be fun while it lasted.

We’ve missed Defour terribly and it is one of the great “What ifs” to see where we could have gone with him pulling such elegant strings in the midfield.  But simply by dint of being a purchase from a foreign league, Maxwel Cornet arrives from Lyon with the expectation that he can fill that Defour shaped creativity hole that the Clarets have sorely lacked.  Dycheball is necessarily efficient and I have little time for the concept of playing football the “right” way[2] but it would be nice to have a piece of skill or speed get me out of my seat once every… month.

My worry is that Cornet will go the way of previous players brought in that the manager didn’t like the look of.  Ben Gibson.  Nathaniel Chalobah.  Georges Kevin N’Koudou. Patrick Bamford. Nakhi Wells. Danny Drinkwater. Chris Long.

Oh, when you write it down, that’s a long list.

And that’s before you get to the lesser spotted Michael Kightly or Matej Vydra.

It doesn’t help that the alarm bells rang faintly when, after the transfer was finally made official, Dyche said that he hadn’t talked to the player.  This seems a little… off.  Dyche is, shall we say, comfortably pragmatic around player culture – and we’ve got a 24 year old French winger who drives a Lamborghini on a five year contract coming in to strengthen a left side that is already in a good place.

Time will tell.  It would be lovely to see Dyche evolving his playing style further (we’re never as basic as other people suggest).  We’re not going to be playing Bielsa-ball.[3]   But a switch to a 4-5-1, with a midfield of JBG, Westwood, Brownhill, Cornet and an advanced and more central Dwight McNeil has a beautifully tempting allure to it.

It’s an odd feeling to exit a transfer window with positivity.  I genuinely felt that this potentially was the season where the trapdoor finally opens, where the gravity of realism finally asserts itself.  The frustrating thing was it seemed that the decline was going to be self-inflicted.  At least with the arrival of Cornet, it is a sign that Burnley FC is finally acting like an actual Premier League club.



[1] As said by a very wise man on the No Nay Never podcast last year. Well, me.

[2] I mean, it’s downright bloody hilarious to receive lectures from fans of other clubs about “how football should be played” when their own footballing principles extend to selling their entire club out at the first opportunity to a succession of spivs who promise them the earth.  (Hello, Leeds fans!)

After all, Manchester City play amazing football. Watching Kevin De Bruyne is often a privilege. However, seeing them regularly demolish teams 5-0 with 70%+ possession like watching a NFL team go through its play book but with less pre-planned throwing of the opponent to the ground.  Unless Fernandinho is playing, obviously.

[3] Can you imagine the effort required to crowbar the entire Guardian footballing department out of the Chilean’s arse?

Appreciating Ted Lasso

By any measure, 2020 has been a shitty year. I don’t mind admitting that the stress of the year, combined with the lockdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of the usual ways of releasing stress and tension have taken their toll on my mental health.

In a year of relentless bad news, I never thought that one of the shining lights in some dark days would be a comedy about an American Football coach taking the reigns of a Premier League team.

I’ve not watched a lot of TV in the past year really, and what I have watched hasn’t really stuck. I’ve not really clicked with much in the way of comedy either, finding what is out there to be based on humour that is gross-out, cringing or just damned hyperactive to concentrate on, let alone enjoy. Maybe it is a sign of getting old, maybe not.

So the only thing that has really stuck has been Ted Lasso, the lead offering from the new Apple TV+ service. I must confess, I couldn’t be bothered with Apple TV+ even though I had a free twelve month subscription simply because I wasn’t going to watch it on my iPhone. But when the app was released for the XBox, I finally could play the damn thing through my TV.

The concept started with an advert on NBC Sports to advertise their coverage of the Premier League. In the ads, an American American Football coach, Ted Lasso, was appointed manager of “The Tottenham Hotspurs”. Cue plenty of fish out of water jokes.

Very popular, the Ted Lasso character stayed in the background of Jason Sudeikis’ mind until a couple of years ago where he and Brendan Hurt managed to develop a series. The Lasso in that ad would never work across an entire series, but the basic principle – fleshed out by Brett Goldstein and Scrubs writer Bill Lawrence was made into ten episodes by the newly launched Apple TV+.

The basic setup is that Premier League club AFC Richmond have new ownership in the form of Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham). She is in charge because she got the club as part of a bitter divorce from her husband. And she has a reason for appointing a new manager who has no clue about the game.

My ex-husband truly loved only one thing his entire life: this club. And Ted Lasso is gonna help me burn it to the ground.

Unknowingly into the hot seat steps our title character, assisted by his sidekick, the laconic Coach Beard (Hurt). Joining the club, they meet kitman Nate (Nick Mohammed), aging captain Roy Kent (Goldstein), star talent Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) and his WAG Keeley Jones (Juno Temple). Can our hero actually become a success in a sport that he barely understands?

With that being the setup, saying that Ted Lasso is about football is like saying Star Trek is about a spaceship. There is little football action and the struggle against relegation is a subplot. The standard “gee, ain’t things different here in England” stuff is largely dispensed with by the end of episode two. Instead Ted Lasso is about characters you invest in and begin to care deeply about.

While being a very funny comedy, Ted Lasso is also an uplifting and positive story. I’m not going to go into details as I don’t want to spoil things but from cliched beginnings, each character is given depth and motivation which rounds them out and explains their situation. It also is smart enough to play the fish out of water stuff both ways.

Lasso: I mean, he must be from England, yeah?
Coach Beard: Wales.
Lasso: Is that another country?
Beard: Yes and no.
Lasso: How many countries are in this country?
Beard: Four.

Central to this – and perhaps uniquely for a show set in the world of football – are the two female characters, Rebecca and Keeley. It would have been very easy for them to have been peripheral or stereotypical but I found them to be crucial to the drama as well as getting some of the funniest lines. Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple are brilliant in rounding out their roles – Waddingham in particularly can convey Rebecca’s emotions with a single face twitch.

I’ve rewatched the series a couple of times now and for me, one of the pleasures is seeing the foreshadowing of future events. It’s clear that this show is written and crafted to within an inch of its life. Considering where it came from, Ted Lasso simply should not be this good.

Anyone who knows me knows of my deep and abiding love for Firefly, the short-lived Joss Whedon sci-fi Western. I’ve never really got the fandom for Star Wars or Doctor Who (though I appreciate their qualities) but the adventures of the crew of the Serenity were something that I completely fell in love with and will watch over and over, reciting the lines from memory and cheering and crying at what happens in those 13 precious episodes and one movie. I even did that fan thing of evangelising the show to all and sundry, demanding that they watch it and hoping that they fell in love with as I did.

I didn’t expect to feel that way about a second show but I really do have that engagement with Ted Lasso. It is a show with heart and care and love. It has a positive message and moments where you quietly cheer when a character gets something nice happening to them. There is one scene – again spoilers – which I’ve watched over and over, sometimes when I’m down, sometimes when I just want to smile. It takes you to heights, sometimes through comedy, sometimes through drama.

Barbecue sauce!

The show is streaming on Apple TV+. If you have bought an iThing in the last nine months or so, you have a year subscription included. The app is also available on PC, Xbox and Playstation. You can get a 30 day trial and binge the series quickly – it is 10 half hour episodes. I really, completely and throughly recommend that you do.

Appreciating The Crow

I have no idea how to review films – as will shortly become very obvious. However, in an effort to start writing again, I’m going to put down some thoughts. And why not start with something about why I just absolutely love The Crow? So here are 2000 words, probably rambling, largely unstructured, mainly stream of consciousness

(Oh, and if you think that I’m worrying about spoilers for a movie that has been out for 26 years… I’d look away now if I was you. In fact, I’m assuming that you have seen the film – if not, go and buy the thing on DVD, Blu-Ray, Prime Video or whatever. Then come back.)

In the beginning

The premise is adapted from the late 80’s comic of the same name. Every October 30 – Devils Night – the city is ablaze, set on fire by hoodlums, ruffians and various ne’er-do-wells. Four of those, T-Bird, Skank, Tin Tin and Funboy are in the employ of Top Dollar (Michael Wincott), the local crime boss and, um, property developer.

One particular Devils Night, the four break into the home of Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiancee, Shelley Webster, who have been organising for better treatment from their landlord – the aforementioned Top Dollar. As a result of their community spirited action, Eric is thrown out of a six storey window and Shelley beaten and raped. Shelley dies in hospital, watched over by Sargeant Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) who was hoping he would get some lead as to who did it.

One year later, Eric returns from the dead. Seemingly invincible and accompanied by a crow, with whom he has some sort of supernatural link, he begins to take revenge upon those who killed him and his fiancee.

Comic Store Guy

I often have to remind myself that this is adapted from a comic. Now, I really don’t like comics all that much. Or rather, the sort of Marvel / DC superhero rubbish. I’ve read the odd comic – mainly some Alan Moore stuff – but I really can’t be arsed. Thankfully the film comes from a time where comic book adaptations generally were to be avoided – or at least downplayed – as opposed to firehosed across every part of the media.

Because it doesn’t take its audience for granted, The Crow has to do old fashioned basic stuff like introducing characters and back story. I tried watching Avengers Assemble and the sheer amount of knowledge that you are supposed to take in to the film is ridiculous. There are something like twenty-three of those bloody things and the expectation is that you have to have sat through most of them just to understand what is going on, let alone give a damn.

The Crow has none of that, which means it has to explain and introduce and build. Thankfully it does this largely by showing, not telling, with Eric slowly discovering why he has returned, what he is capable of and what he has to do. Good old fashioned story telling in lieu of using reams of previous background material.

What The Crow is is a good old fashioned love story. Strip away the goth elements, the gun play set pieces – this is a tale about love. About how it can affect those around you, about how it can power you even from beyond the grave. Instead of our Indestructible Heroes defending the planet Thraxxx from the threat of Garfnagle, The Crow is small scale, personal, relatable. I think this is why struck a chord with so many at the time and continues to do so.

The Elephant Crow in the Emergency Room

Obviously no discussion of the film is going to avoid the tragic events surrounding the death of its star in a horrible on-set accident. For such a dark film about loss, such an event proves that if He exists, God really does have a bastard sense of irony. It isn’t heretical to say that Brandon Lee probably wasn’t ever going to win an Oscar, I don’t find him that charismatic or that outstanding an actor but was he the guy for this role?

Absolutely.

He looks right, he had the right amount of physical presence and he carries the emotional core of the film all the way through. He isn’t super cool, skating above everything as if it doesn’t matter in the manner of a Roger Moore Bond. He can’t deliver a joke. He brings anger, passion and vulnerability. Rewatching it recently, I especially liked the bits where he had to tell Sarah that he wasn’t hanging around, that he didn’t know what was going to happen when he fulfilled his purpose, but he knew that it meant leaving his friend for good, for a second time. You can see the sadness, but the resolution that this is what had to be done. Had Lee survived, I’m not sure that he would have bettered this role.

Everyman Ernie

On the Good Guy side of the coin, Ernie Hudson has to do a lot of heavy lifting. I always felt he got the shitty end of the stick as the Ghostbuster Nobody Remembers (never even getting on the poster). He’s a great actor of the everyman, in this instance being the main relatable character for the audience, guiding without too much exposition. Plus he gets to set up the ending by providing the method to dispatch the villain – I always thought that was a nice touch rather than a simple “we’ll say he hung around the hospital at Shelley’s death bed because we need to shows that this character is good”.

Hudson gets most of the memorable lines. It’s funny that The Crow has plenty of great dialogue, but isn’t particularly quotable. This is because the lines are in service of the story and the characters and fit like a glove, which means they don’t really work out of context. You can probably extract “Victims. Aren’t we all?” out of the script and use it at a pinch. “Can’t rain all the time” was clearly intended to be a tag line but “Well, at least he didn’t do that walking against the wind shit, I hate that.”?

Always have decent Bad Guys

Where The Crow really shines is in the way that the bad guys are fleshed out. They aren’t stereotypical violent psychopaths or street hoodlums who have no depth beyond the weaponry that they wield. It is clear that Top Dollar, Myca (Bai Ling) and Grange (Tony Todd, being quietly awesome) are Very Bad People, but they are intelligent and cunning with it. You can see them thinking about the situation, investigating, considering, planning. Grange discovers Draven upstairs at the bar but he’s leading with his brain, not pointing a weapon. Top Dollar borrows a gun to finish Gideon off and then hands it back with a very professional, very polite, “Thanks”. It might be a darkly amusing aside, but it fits the situation of them being partners.

It is a tragedy to me that Michael Wincott hasn’t had the career he deserves – or maybe he didn’t want to be pinned down playing bad guys. He’s charismatic, with a voice to die for and as I said, he bring intelligence to any role. He elevates a generic Head of Criminal Organisation role to become a believable Man with a Plan. It’s not a very nice Plan, it’s just business and he’s very good at doing business.

Even the hoodlums are given a depth, none more so than T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly). In the scene where he tells Top Dollar that Tin Tin “got himself perished”, Kelly brings a gutter level cunning to the conversation. You know that he knows he’s no match for the higher ups in the organisation, he knows his place and he’s happy with it. But you can tell why Top Dollar is happy to have him as the leader of that deadly gang of four. T-Bird is a rat bastard but a smart little rat bastard. He knows something isn’t right. Standard Hollywood cliche is for the character to go blundering in to some kind of situation for the hero to beat him but instead we get that little exchange between him and his boss, not of equals, but of respect and intelligence. And quoting Milton while strapped into a speeding car (on fire! Which explodes!) is definitely showing off, in a good way.

Even Skank gets a decent characterisation. Off his face most of the time, Angel David plays him as a hyperactive idiot. Not necessarily a bad person (though not a particularly good one) he’s just easily led by bad people and wants to be accepted. He gets to be relatable – when in front of Top Dollar and all the bigwigs, “I feel like a little worm on a big fuckin’ hook.” Who hasn’t ever been in that situation? Skank is fully aware of his role, of his limitations and that he’s fully deserved what is coming to him because he can’t think more than two minutes ahead.

Homage

It’s surprising how influential the film has been. For a start, the biggest wrestling character outside the WWE lifted his gimmick lock, stock and feathered friend from the film.

There is the argument that without The Crow you don’t get Heath Ledger’s Joker. I’m open to it.

This is the End

After Draven makes his way through the gang of four, I’d love to see the meeting where the end came up. “So, how do you kill off the bad guy? Shoot him? Toss him off a building? Blow him up?”

“Actually, I think I should do some kind of mental transfer.”

But that “30 hours of pain” moment is just perfect. Because like I said, this film, despite it’s dark trimmings, the shootouts, the explosions, is a tragic love story. It’s about a man who finds himself coming back from the dead and filled with anger and vengeance because of the pain of his loss. So no final quip, shocked freefall or huge explosion, the bad guy is going to die because he gets to feel the loss that the good guy has to live with. It’s about the power of emotion. That’s clever and – that word again – intelligent.

Then we get the coda, where Eric crawls to the grave of his dead wife to die for a second time. And she comes as an angel to take him to the afterlife. Call me an incurable romantic, but that’s the right ending. For Eric to simply disappear, having avenged his death but without being reunited… that feels off. Even as a fan of unhappy – or rather uncliched – endings, The Crow needed that moment where Shelley reappears. Otherwise, it’s a vital piece missing, like the end of The Shawshank Redemption without Zihuatanejo.

This is where The Crow differs so much from modern comic book movies. I’ve tried watching the Marvel Universe or whatever the hell it is called and I find it so gorramed hollow. An endless series of invulnerable characters having big long stupid fights featuring little more than CGI ping pong balls which only end because the plot demands it moves to the next big expositionary set piece. And because no-one can die in the MCU – heaven forfend that they aren’t around to appear as accompanying Funko Pops for the next sixteen movies of this crap – there is no peril. Shiny, loud, empty calories. Style over substance.

Not with The Crow. Smallish budget, a central cast of three, maybe four characters. Set over two nights, three or four locations. Very little fat – not that there was a chance for excess, obviously. Story starts, story continues, story ends.

(Apparently there are sequels. That can go right into a bin.)

End Credits

The Crow is by no means perfect. Bits of the acting are ropey, there is some judicious editing to cover up the loss of its star, the effects can be a little low rent.

I haven’t even mentioned the soundtrack yet, which still sounds reasonably fresh for an early 90s film. Nine Inch Nails covering Joy Division and the only song from The Cure I really like.

Ultimately I love the film because it is smart and clever and a lot of thought and love has gone into it. Thought into the writing, thought into the characterisation, thought into the staging. I’d love to have been in the room at the moment when everyone involved realised “We’ve got something here” because you can feel that in every frame.

It’s a deeply personal story. Having done a little bit of research, apparently the original comic was written after the author lost his fiance to a drunk driver. You can tell that the loss depicted on screen is rooted in a real experience – it isn’t something that you see that often.

For me The Crow is lightning in a bottle. Individual cast and crew may do better work, but they’ll not do better work together. Every component fits precisely as it needs to and the result is something that I adored from the moment I saw it in the cinema.

TLDR; The Crow. Brilliant, innit?

The Labour Party election – a guide

There is currently an election for the new leader of the Labour Party. There are four candidates.

Jeremy Corbyn – The favourite, who will prove that his views are totally unappealing to the ordinary members of the public electorate by getting the most votes from ordinary members of the electorate.  According to his rivals, and the newspapers, his policies of social inclusion, anti-austerity and most controversially of all “um, maybe talking to people” are possibly the most dangerously Left-leaning policies of any Labour politician since Ed Miliband.

Liz Kendall – Who believes that if the Labour Party is more like the Conservatives, then the electorate will vote for the Labour Party and not the Conservatives.  She plans on standing on a platform at the next election of being George Osborne, but in a dress.

Yvette Cooper – a former Minister in the Labour Government of 2005-2010 and the wife of the former Shadow Chancellor who represents a complete break from the past.

Andy Burnham – another former Minister who considers some issues so important and worth fighting for that he will do anything to stop them, up to and including abstaining from any vote.

There has been an influx of new members into the Party. This influx of new members has reinvigorated the debate and brought much needed money into the coffers of the Party.  Obviously, as a democratic Party who are pro-business, these new customers are the wrong sort of people.

These members look like they will be deciding the vote, therefore the new rules brought in because the Other Wrong Man won last time need changing because it seems that the Wrong Man will win again, showing that the process is flawed and has twice been not democratic enough.  The Right Man who should have won the last election left Labour politics after defeat.  Helpfully, he has thrown his opinion into the ring and conclusively proved that he was the Right Man by expressing his preference for the candidate who has performed completely disastrously and has no chance of winning.

Obviously, being a democratic and free and fair election, carried out using a voting system that the Party put in a place and also recently refused to support being extended to General Elections, various people have been weighing in with their views.  (Though none of the new members, obviously.)

We had Tony Blair, telling members how to win elections and reminding him that he managed to win three in a row by losing 4 million votes behind the sofa in 8 years.  He pointed out that the members should not vote for Corbyn but for one of the other three candidates.  He didn’t express an actual preference why you should vote for any one of them, because they are all different from each other but it doesn’t matter which because he approves of them all because they are different and you should take your pick based on those differences.

Gordon Brown, the former Chancellor and Prime Minister has appeared to ask members to consider the economic policies of the candidates.  He did not express a preference, but indicated that he felt people should support three of the candidates who have never tried to refute the notion that the global financial crisis is his fault.  What Gordon Brown says members definitely shouldn’t do is vote for the one guy who says “the global financial crisis wasn’t Gordon Browns fault”.

Peter Mandelson, renowned throughout the Party as a political strategist so incredibly astute that he only had to resign twice, has cleverly suggested that the only way to prevent the Wrong Man winning is to twist the rules of the election in such a way that he wins anyway.

But what must not happen is that Labour should not be a) a party of protest and b) adopt a more Left-leaning, publicly anti-austerity policy.  After all, being a party of protest hurt UKIP so much that they grew their vote by nearly 3 million.  And the anti-austerity, Left-leaning policies of the SNP are a disaster because they failed to win every single seat in Scotland.

Members should vote for one of three candidates who can instil the discipline needed and the only ones who can unite the party.  They are the candidates of the broad church, who, if they lose, will openly refuse to serve the new Leader and will plot against him in the name of uniting the Party.  Should they successfully unite the party by splitting it in two, they will go off and form a new Party, called New Golgafrincham Ark B.

Something wicked this way comes…

OK, so there was some interesting news in the Mancunian ice hockey world this week. And the fact that I’m roused enough to write some thoughts about it gives you an idea of much I am surprised about how passionately I feel about it.

Some very simplified background: From 1995-2002 there was an ice hockey team called the Manchester Storm. They played in the MEN Arena in front of crowds of anything from 12,000 (at the start) to 3,000 at the end. They won the league title and the B&H Cup. I was a season ticket holder, wrote a website about them, travelled all over the country to watch their games, had some behind the scenes discussions about working with them and then they went bust.

From that formed the Manchester Phoenix. The club was well named because it was largely run by volunteers and fans like me. Initially playing out of the Arena, then when that wasn’t financially viable, they went off and got a rink built in Altrincham. I worked behind the scenes again, building the first iterations of the website, and also took a more visible role including being the Match Night Announcer. That stopped in 2008 for many reasons, the biggest by a long way was that I simply didn’t have the time required to dedicate to it. As is my way, I’ve not been back since. I’m not over-emphasising my role in the history of the Phoenix, I was a very tiny cog in a very big wheel.

In the very simplest of terms, the Storm was being a fan and the Phoenix was a job. Equally enjoyable for very different reasons and I wouldn’t have swapped either for the world.

In the last few weeks, the owners of the Phoenix have fallen out with the owners of the Altrincham rink and been kicked out. The rink has now announced a new club to play from next season and called them the… Manchester Storm.

Now, right up until that last word I didn’t really care all that much. Hockey politics is a hornets nest, clubs come and go while the faces stay the same. (Another reason I quit, to be honest.) Indeed, only the day before the announcement of the Storm, the Hull Stingrays finally gave up the battle to keep playing.

But the fact that the new club is called the Storm irked me much more than I thought possible, and I’ve been wondering why. Initially, I thought it was because the name was so clearly a land grab and claiming to be the Storm “reborn”. If there is one thing guaranteed to annoy me, it is someone pissing on my back and telling me that it is raining.

Because let me be clear. Anyone who is thinks that this new club has the slightest thing in common with the Storm apart from the name is being fooled. It has no more in common with the ISL club than if I formed a band and called it The Beatles. There are people out there who know this, yet are willing to go along with the fiction. If you are one of those people, then you are, frankly, a deluded moron. To be unwillingly duped is unfortunate, to happily enter into a con and take others along with you in the pretence makes you culpable. The bell has rung and like Pavlovs dog, you’ve come salivating.

(It is telling that the new club themselves have not made this link – instead leaving it to some fans to fool themselves. So maybe they aren’t a successful Pavlovian experiment, but perhaps one of his earlier goes at it, where the dog heard the bell, got confused and started humping the gramophone.)

Calling the new club the Storm is a cheap, ill-thought through and crass stunt. If, in a few years time, someone says “The Storm. Oh, they were in Altrincham for a couple of years”. I’ll have to sigh and explain that they aren’t the same thing at all. It is ironic that the Phoenix were so named because the new organisation really didn’t want to be associated with the Storm name, it was pretty toxic at the time.

But that isn’t why I’ve been so roused about this new club. I think it is because the Storm were such an important part of my life. When you are young, everything is cool and shiny and you fall in love with the experiences you had. As you get older, you stick to those experiences. Looking back on it, the Storm were one of the major things that shaped most of my life and – selfish and odd as it may seem to anyone else – that is why this gets to me.

That seven years of the Storm were amazing and didn’t just give me sporting highs and lows I can never forget, but it gave me many other things. I wrote my first web site, teaching myself HTML on the way and that is now my career. The contents were my first proper attempts at writing, and the popularity and success of it still surprises me. It taught me I’m quite decent at writing for fun, can’t draw and badly need an editor. It also encouraged me to turn my hand to other writing which led to me doing standup for a while – which gave me the confidence to do my dream job of Match Night Announcer. Even more importantly, I made long and continuing friendships with people all over the world. And most important of all, it was the place where I fell in love with a girl.

So that is why I’m annoyed at the revival of the Storm name. It takes an amazing roller coaster ride – not just mine, but in many peoples lives – and takes a huge great dump over it

The nuStorm is just a marketing stunt by people who understand little about what happened then and care even less. Not content with alienating a fan base that has built a rink and kept hockey going for a decade, not content with urinating all over the corpse of the Hull Stingrays without even letting it get cold (the Storm was announced the very next day) , above all else they had to take those people who had a great time back then and screw around with them too.

Not bad for a first day at the office, chaps, can’t wait to see what you manage by the end of the week.

So, yeah. Thanks for that, Manchester Storm 2: Storm Harder. Thanks for trying to feed off my memories and nostalgia for fun and profit like a vampiric Peter Kay. For being clueless about the “iconic” thing you are attempt to piggyback on. And for sidling up to some of the best memories I ever had and gone “hey, they look pretty good – I’ll take them.”

Sorry, but you’ll never be my Storm.