When chaps of a certain vintage, that is to say elderly gents like yours truly, hear the name of Burnley FC a deluge of images at once swamp the imagination. Muddy, potholed turf, balding players, comb-overs streaming in the wind behind them, leather case balls, concrete terraces and, invariably, a dog on the pitch.
Burnley is one of a list of names once synonymous with top flight football, now faded and trying to plough a new furrow. Huddersfield, Preston North End, Leeds United, the two Sheffield Clubs, Coventry City all enjoyed their time in the limelight, all slipped quietly away. It is a salutary lesson for the dreadful, entitled fans of today who believe their club owes them trophies and continual success, who seem to regard it as a birthright. Clubs rise, build empires and those empires fall.
Sometimes the fallen can rise again. I clearly remember watching Manchester United at Eastville stadium, home then of Bristol Rovers, in a second division fixture. Nobody imagined for a moment they, Manchester not Bristol that is, might climb to the summit, dislodge the mighty Liverpool and dominate English football for years. It can happen but it is the exception and not the rule. Nowadays the only likelihood of seeing the likes of Huddersfield or Leeds challenging those at the business end of the league comes in the cup competitions.
Such is the case today as Burnley travel down from Lancashire to face an Arsenal side who, they might feel, could be ripe for the taking. How, you may well cry, can I inflict such jibber-jabber upon you? ‘Ripe’ forsooth? ‘For the taking’ egad? Well, I only say they might think this, not they do or they should. Taking into account the fact that we’ve failed to win in our previous three games it is conceivable that they could be forgiven for thinking this is as good a time as any to visit the Emirates. We shall see.
The dog eared Soccer Stars cards of Colin Waldron and Freddie Smith may have faded from all but the most nostalgic of memories, but Burnley FC hasn’t gone, far from it. In fact the mention of their name has garnered a more recent connotation. I for one cannot hear it without seeing this, one of my all time favourite Arsenal goals.
Set up by intelligent, urgent movement from Alex Song, physical battling by Diaby and tireless off the ball running from Arshavin before a mercurial assist by the man who started the move, the goal isn’t just splendid for its finish. It is also a beautiful snapshot of how utterly wrong the cliché racked moron brigade always have been about players’ abilities, strengths and fitness to wear the shirt. Always have been and sadly I suspect always will be. Imagine, for example, if Andre Arshavin really had been lazy and unwilling to chase down every lost cause. That wonderful goal would never have happened.
Of course the finish was sublime. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I watch it. That such a player with such composure, such class should have been cut down by a man with no right to walk on the same grass is heartbreaking, but at least we saw some flashes of what Arsène saw in him. I sincerely believe he could have gone on to be one of the very best.
These days Burnley are building again and are very strongly in contention for promotion to the Premier League. I don’t see today’s visitors as a team from a lower division goggle eyed and weak kneed in the house of the mighty. There is very little difference in this fixture than playing against a side in the Premier League relegation zone. Consider that we will have to rest players and possibly blood our new boy as well and the gap closes a little more. In short I don’t expect it to be easy.
However. Having said all of that I seriously believe that someone is in for a spanking soon. The manager and players will be hurting after the recent run of poor results and we all know that there are more goals in this team than we’ve seen lately. Will this cup tie provide the cathartic blood letting which restores the humours and puts us back on track? Or will we squeak through today and vent against Southampton on Tuesday? I don’t know but I feel it’s coming.
Even as I toy with ideas of a sudden goal rush reversing the recent trend of snatched, missed chances I have to be honest and say I’d settle for a calm professional performance of control, a carefully managed victory with no alarms and no surprises. But then – where would be the fun in that? This the FA Cup, our FA Cup and such a tournament demands excitement, drama, spirited resistance from the plucky underdogs, near misses and of course a glorious outcome for the worthy winners. Oh, and a goal or two to match the superlative effort of Eduardo da Silva’s wouldn’t go amiss either.