x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Clarets are back on the right road

Back on a spring Saturday lunchtime in 1987 I was at the crossroads with Burnley.

Back on a spring Saturday lunchtime in 1987 I was at the crossroads with Burnley. It was the last day of the English season and provided me with my only venture into what was then called the Fourth Division. As the car pulled off the motorway there was a sign showing Accrington in one direction and Burnley going the other way. Was that an omen, I wondered? Accrington Stanley had become the first founder members of the Football League to surrender their place in that 92-club establishment when they collapsed under financial pressure 21 years earlier.

Surely their North West neighbours were not going to become the second casualties from that original privileged group of 12 clubs who had embarked on an eventful journey together in 1888. It was a great thrill to report at the time that Burnley somehow avoided the ignominy of falling through the trapdoor into non-league. A tense 2-1 victory over Leyton Orient, coupled with a defeat by their relegation rivals Lincoln City brought about a remarkable escape act.

Hordes of grown men cried that day, such was the history of the club. A new generation of grown men were similarly reduced to tears of joy as the revival became complete at Wembley on Monday. The Clarets are back in the big time, thanks to a stunning goal by Wade Elliott which almost matched the one a year earlier by Dean Windass which sent Hull City gloriously into the Premier League. Phil Brown's unfashionable Hull outfit were instantly written off and told to expect a swift return to where they had come from. The Tigers refused to follow that script.

Burnley are already being spoken of as contenders for a rapid relegation. Owen Coyle and his men should take great encouragement from the way Hull have defied the odds over the last 12 months as they prepare for what is bound to be an uphill survival task. There will be a rekindling of one of the bitterest rivalries with Blackburn Rovers. Derbies will be plentiful during Burnley's first season back among the elite since they were relegated in 1976.

Add to that visits from the two Manchester sides, the red and blue halves of Merseyside and neighbouring Wigan and Bolton will guarantee that the ground which celebrated a second league title back in 1960 will be reverberating like it did in the good old days. They should enjoy it while it lasts. Their manager Coyle, whose stunning achievement at Burnley has seen him linked with the job created by Gordon Strachan's resignation at Celtic, has put the final touches to a slow but steady recovery process at Burnley since those dark days in the 1980s.

The season after their great escape they attracted an 80,000 crowd to Wembley for the final the relatively unimportant Sherpa Van Trophy against a Wolverhampton Wanderers team who had also fallen on hard times. That is a record attendance for a match between two teams from the fourth tier of domestic football and even though Burnley were defeated the experience provided them with a springboard towards improving their status.

Two promotions soon followed and, despite the setback of relegation back to third grade football in 1995, the managerial regimes of Stan Ternent the Steve Cotterill re-established the club as a solid Championship outfit. Cotterill, who succeeded Ternent in 2004, ensured that Burnley kept knocking on the door to the world's best league and his 2007 replacement Coyle finally found the key to unlock that door which opens the way to riches.