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.


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.

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.

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.