It was a certain Mr T. Henry who, whilst sitting in a completely white studio in his finest suit, spoke in his smooth French accent (accentuated by throbbing 90s techno) that he could not talk about his career, without mentioning Sky Sports. Whilst of course it was obvious PR-guff, as I expect Henry could talk about his Arsenal years for hours without once mentioning the duo Andy Gray and Richard Keys as it was during his pomp, the Frenchman perhaps has a point.
Whenever we think of English football now, we think of The World’s Best (™ ) wearing the colours of Arsenal, Manchester United etc, playing at a time dictated by the armchair viewer. The game has completely changed, and there’s nothing really we can do about it. Indeed, pop on Twitter and search the #AMF hashtag, and you’ll see more than your fair share of thirty-somethings moaning about how much better football was in their day, and how foreigners and money have ruined the game.
Whether that is strictly true is up for debate, but it makes me think; has English football lost that nostalgic soul that many speak of: the old stadiums, the traditions and the hardcore Britishness that surrounded clubs in the 80s, before Rupert Murdoch came along and ruined it, apparently. But I’d argue that’s there still at least one club in the Premier League, which still has that traditional feel about it.
It was rather a surprise last season that despite losing star striker Charlie Austin for £4m to QPR, that it was Burnley who won automatic promotion to the Premier League; after all, they were relegation contenders according to the bookies. Led by the impressive Sean Dyche and spearheaded by Danny Ings and Sam Vokes, the Clarets made a somewhat unexpected return to the Premier League, having been relegated after their sole season in the big time in 2010.
To say Burnley were comfortable in their own stadium would be an understatement; the Clarets won 15 out of their 23 games at Turf Moor, losing just twice on their own patch. The 22,500-seater stadium is your typical tough place to go, but for it to be sat in the town centre full of noise, certainly brings a sense of nostalgia lost among the era of soulless bowls.
But when they got promoted, they were faced with the media telling them that was it; Burnley had no chance. They had no money, they were just here for the ride, and back down they would go. The catcalls got worse, when the highly-rated Dyche explained, in his tough gravelly voice of course, that they would look to sign just British players for fear of losing the fighting spirit in the squad. Ings would be gone too, after numerous rumours to Southampton and Liverpool, and that would be that..
But what Dyche has done is nothing short of impressive. They may not be out of danger, in fact they’re right in the middle of the scrap, but to say with eight games to go they’re not cut adrift a la QPR and Leicester is a real achievement. With Ings still there, they’re capable of sitting tight and nicking a goal, but to say it’s a one man show would be underestimating it.
Many in Burnley wouldn’t class Ings as the sole talisman; in fact, ex-Manchester City youngster Kieran Trippier has been stirling since promotion himself. But in a squad that on the outside lacks real star quality, it is made up with a tight structure and an organisation that deserves plaudits; all built with British players.
George Boyd was mocked upon his arrival in Lancashire, but his tireless running has augmented a side full of work-rate, and has popped up with goals too, including the only goal of the game in the shock 1-0 win over Manchester City. The depth is small, so it should be to Dyche’s credit that he has managed to keep the squad free from any real injury problems.
They may struggle to fight their way out; with the 2-0 defeat to Southampton demonstrating they struggle to take chances, but they’ve given it a huge go. Turf Moor has been packed to the rafters with their proud fans, and the team hasn’t been thoroughly whitewashed like many had predicted. How fans of the likes of QPR, Leicester and Sunderland would like to say that.
So it is my personal hope that Burnley stay up this year, purely because it would be another huge achievement by the club to fight on as huge underdogs in a league awash with cash and stupid wasting of it. They’re a really likable club, Dyche a big part of that again, and they serve as an antidote of sorts to football clubs at present, who seem more and more distant to the fans who support them; Burnley FC is at the very heart of the town, by contrast.
Yes, even if they stay up they look likely to lose the crown jewels of Ings and Trippier, but they have punched well above what anyone expected them to. British Sport loves an underdog, but not many underdogs could be as British-cored as Burnley are. Good luck to them.