Burnley vs. Chelsea : 7 October 2023
Oops, I had best call it a proper fun time. It seems to me that everyone in London, and maybe beyond, uses “proper” at every opportunity these days.
Here’s how it happened.
The planning for this game in Lancashire began a long time ago. When it became evident that there would be no European adventures for Chelsea Football Club in 2023/24, we soon realised that we would really miss these excursions to distant locations. We therefore decided to fully make the most of this domestic season and would aim to stay over at a few Northern towns and cities. Once fixture lists were announced, and then the fine tweaks duly followed, I jumped into action. Rather than visiting Turin, Milan, Nuremburg and Salzburg as we did last autumn, this season’s early adventures would feature stays in Burnley, Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool.
With a hospital appointment imminent, Parky was unable to take up his place on this trip and so was replaced by PD’s son Scott. Glenn would join us too. I booked our accommodation; a house that was only a fifteen-minute walk from Turf Moor. There would be a room each for about £40 each. It looked decent. We anxiously waited for the days to drift past. The Monday game at Fulham came and went. Another win, two on the trot, could we make it three in a row?
I picked up the chaps in Frome at 6am and headed north. We stopped off for a quick bite to eat at Strensham Services near Worcester at around 7.30am and then made excellent time. We all recognised the approach into Burnley; I always make a point of acknowledging those terraced houses with the grey slate tiles to the west of the town centre and those brooding Pennine moors to the east. We drove close to the digs on Leyland Street but aimed for the Queen Victoria pub instead. This would be our base camp. We walked in to the pub, which sits adjacent to a quiet curve of the Liverpool and Leeds Canal, at 10.28am. We soon found out that alcohol was to be served from 10.30am.
I may or may not have uttered my line about working in logistics.
Unbelievably the pint of “Madri” – a relatively new addition, Spanish sounding, but English – was my very first alcoholic drink of this football season. For all of the previous twelve Frome Town and nine Chelsea games I had driven, and thus not been tempted by a single bevvy.
And you know what? It didn’t taste particularly nice. Maybe I was a changed man. I followed it up with a “Diet Coke”, but only because I had to drive the car back to the digs for an early check-in at midday, and I just didn’t want to tempt fate. I almost enjoyed the “Coke” more than the “Madri.”
I walked back to the pub in only five minutes.
“Great digs lads. Really nice.”
Deano and Dave from further west and north, Silverdale in Lancashire, had joined us. The pre-match chat was animated and surprisingly varied. I told a story from another time.
“Just after the Second World War, maybe when she was sixteen or so, my mother spent one summer in the Land Army, as a Land Girl, I think in Sussex. She befriended a girl, Muriel, from Burnley, and she once travelled up from Somerset to Burnley by train to spend a few days in Burnley at Muriel’s house. I wonder what my mother would have thought about a son of hers staying in Burnley almost eighty years later.”
I suddenly felt old, the town felt old and the memories of my mother talking about that visit seemed positively ancient. I paused by myself for a moment, thinking about Mum’s journey from a bucolic Somerset village to a grey mill town in post-war Lancashire. That must have been a drastic contrast for my mother. I pondered if there has always been a “north/south divide.”
I had told my good mate Mark, a Blackburn Rovers fan, that I would be staying overnight in Burnley, and I was only surprised that he did not pepper me with abuse. Blackburn and Burnley are two ends of a great divide too. There is no love lost whatsoever.
I also remembered the time, in November 1996, when my mother and I stayed at Mark’s mother’s house in Darwen one memorable weekend. Mark and I had lost our fathers within a year of each other and there was a bond that soon grew. Our mothers had lots to talk about as they wandered around the shops of Bolton while Mark and I went off to Ewood Park to the match. It was Gianfranco Zola’s debut, the 1-1 draw. I am sure that my mother’s stay in Burnley, almost exactly fifty years previous, was mentioned on a few occasions
In 2023, Mark’s text message was simple.
“Just beat them.”
I was warming to the pints of “Madri” and a few other Chelsea faces were flitting around; Spencer from Swindon, Mark and his father Chris – I always call him “Mr. Pink” for the shirt that he always wears at away games, plus a few more.
I didn’t know this, but PD told me that his first-ever football game was a 0-0 draw at Eastville between Bristol Rovers and Oldham Athletic in the mid-‘seventies. He went with his father and he hated it.
I was hoping to tie down the exact date, but there are a few choices; Bristol Rovers drew 0-0 at home to Oldham on 26 August 1976, on 24 September 1977 and on 24 March 1979. I think PD was going to Chelsea by 1979, so that very first game was either in 1976 and 1977.
I asked Deano how he first became part of our extended family clan. It officially started when he was watching England play cricket in Barbados. He watched our FA Cup game at Wigan Athletic on a TV in a bar on 26 January 2008 (that date is easier to pin down) alongside mutual friends Pauline and Mick and the rest, as they say, is history.
It was 2pm and time to head to the ground. We strode past our house – a new build – on Leyland Road, but I was lost in thought as I wondered if the older terraced houses opposite might have housed Muriel’s house in 1946. The sun was beating down and everything was perfect in my immediate world. We slid past the cricket club, where hundreds of Chelsea fans were enjoying beers, with many stood outside on the boundary.
The façade to the main stand at Turf Moor has had a lick of paint since our last visit eighteen months ago, so I inevitably took a few “scene setter” photos before joining up with the lads in the large awning outside the away end that housed a busy bar. It was only pint number four. This was quite a gentle start to the day’s drinking from me. The songs boomed around the tent. I chatted to a few friends.
I soon met up with Alan, John and Gary in the seats and Scott joined us too. PD was a few rows behind us, with Glenn and Deano close by also.
I like Turf Moor, a nice mix of old and new, but I am not a fan of how the corners opposite have been infilled with executive boxes, a little like Craven Cottage. I used to like peering into the gaps and spotting smoking chimneys above terraced houses, and a glimpse of the hills behind. Maybe I am just too much of a football romantic. They only hills that can be seen now at Turf Moor are a thin slither away to the right, squeezed between the away end and the slight stand that runs along the touchline.
Thoughts turned to the game, to the team.
During the week, I had re-read my match report from the game at Fulham in January to contrast what I had just written about Monday’s match. To my absolute surprise, I was amazed that only Thiago Silva had played in both games; from January to October, just this one player linked both teams.
This actually saddened me. Some of the players from January had been passengers at times but at least I knew them.
This lost were just new.
I don’t really know them at all yet.
Maybe this would be the day that this would change.
The teams walked diagonally onto the pitch. Both clubs in their traditional colours. No real surprises in our team.
Cucarella – Disasi – Silva – Colwill
Enzo – Caicedo – Gallagher
Palmer – Broja – Sterling
The Chelsea crowd were in fine form but there were a few unsurprising boos as both teams kneeled before the game began. Despite a few beers, I had not yet joined in with any of the pre-game songs. Forty-seconds in, the away choir aired “Amazing Grace” and I was sucked in.
“Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea – Chelsea.”
The sun shone down on Turf Moor and the payers danced in and out of the shadows.
“Come on Chels.”
For the first quarter of an hour, we absolutely dominated the ball. Raheem Sterling was involved but exuded that hard-to-like mix of skill and spill.
On thirteen minutes, he was set free by a fine pass from the educated boot of Cole Palmer. He turned inside and we all shouted “shoot!”
He did, but the ball narrowly evaded the far post.
Then, a real calamity. The home team broke quickly on their right, and Axel Disasi was easily passed. The ball was pushed from Vitinho to Lyle Foster who in turn found Wilson Odobert outside. Marc Cucarella was unable to block the shot and he calmly slotted low past Robert Sanchez.
And just like that, with one attack, we were losing.
It was all too easy.
A quip from Gary.
“There’s more holes in our defence than in Gallagher’s socks.”
Our play deteriorated, with little variation. Not for the first time nor the last time, we were obsessed with hitting the wide men. On a couple of occasions, a huge tract of land leading right through the central area, from Silva to Broja, was clear, yet we chose to go laterally.
We needed to give Broja something to sniff.
I heard voices in my poor head of TV experts talking about “passing lanes” and I wondered if our passing lanes were so poorly marked – maybe like motorway lanes that are festooned with temporary markers – that nothing is clear, nothing is simple, chaos reigns.
Burnley themselves had the occasional sniff.
We created only half-chances; not good enough from Sterling nor Enzo. The songs and chants continued to cascade down from the supporters all around me, but this was becoming difficult to watch.
Then Sterling, our most consistent threat in a poor half, went close at the near post.
Just before the break, with a few Chelsea supporters heading off to get served in the tight concourse below, I was making a few notes on my phone and therefore missed the equaliser. Was it a goal from Sterling or was it a deflected own goal? I did not know.
It was 1-1 and thank heavens it was.
At the start of the second-half, Nicolas Jackson took over from Broja.
As the game re-started, I decided to sit down, such was my lack of enjoyment and involvement with the game. This really is unlike me. I feared for humanity.
Thus, to go along with me missing the goal, I also missed the apparently reckless foul on Sterling that lead to a quick penalty decision. But of course, VAR had to poke its nose into everything so there was the usual delay – which surely favours the ‘keeper rather than the penalty-taker – before the decision was upheld. It was so obvious a penalty that the VAR decision was applauded by nobody in our end. Jackson had grabbed the ball, but it soon ended up in the hands of Palmer.
He slotted it home nicely.
I captured it on film, maybe making up for earlier errors.
The Chelsea crowd roared as the scorer raced down to the corner flag to celebrate.
Alan : “THTCAUN.”
Chris : “COMLD” – plus a photo of Alan too.
Smiles all round.
One lad to our left was seen wearing the away shirt from the new “Chelsea Collection” range. This much derided kit, home produced in 1986 for one year only, was hated by virtually everyone at the time; crap design, crap quality, crap Millwall badge. Yet, here we are almost forty years later, and the club has re-issued it.
It’s proof, if any is needed, that people will buy any old shite.
But I spotted some flaws.
“Both the jade and the grey is too dark, Gal.”
We joked about it further.
“If you hold it up to the light, an image of Ken Bates appears.”
“Like a hologram.”
“Like the Turin Shroud.”
On fifty-three minutes, Burnley forced a fine finger-tip save from Sanchez at the other end, Odobert the threat once again.
Scott began to bang the metal panels next to him and the crowd responded with loud shouts in support of the team.
On sixty-five minutes, a really fine counter. Moises Caicedo broke up the play, pushed the ball to Conor Gallagher and found Sterling in the inside-left channel again. The whole away end sensed a goal. How quickly things had changed. He calmly struck low past James Trafford in the Burnley goal and the scorer again drifted down to the corner to celebrate.
It seemed we were on fire in this increasingly impressive second-half. On seventy-five minutes, we attacked with pace and venom again. There was a ball out to Sterling and I honed in on his facial expression. His face was lit, his eyes were popping, he was full of joy. He attacked with the ball at his feet, and it seemed to me that his whole body language was saying “this is my moment, this is what I do well, just watch me.” I looked up to see an unmarked Palmer at the far post. Sterling had seen him too. His long cross was just perfection. But Palmer, rather than smash it at goal, took a touch and moved it inside to Jackson who was positioned centrally. He was marked tightly, but a quick spin and the defender was out of the game. The striker then tapped the ball in.
It was a wonderful goal.
Burnley 1 Chelsea 4.
Down to the far corner again.
Joy. Joy. Joy. Joy.
Mauricio Pochettino made two late subs; Mykhailo Mudryk for Sterling and Ian Maatsen for Palmer.
By then, it was all over bar the shouting, but there was a lot of that in the away end.
There was even a heavily tongue-in-cheek round of “We’re Gonna Win The League” and we all laughed.
I received a text from Mark.
“That will do.”
Indeed, it would.
I backtracked and realised that on my last four visits to Turf Moor, we had scored four each time.
28 October 2018 : Burnley 0 Chelsea 4.
26 October 2019 : Burnley 2 Chelsea 4.
5 March 2022 : Burnley 0 Chelsea 4.
7 October 2023 : Burnley 1 Chelsea 4.
Even Mark’s Rovers won 4-0 at Loftus Road.
Back at “The Queen Victoria” there was the warm glow of a victory mixed in with the warm glow of alcohol. We had bumped into a few more Chelsea supporters at the game and on the way back, and there was a lovely mood in the pub for a while. We were in no rush to move, so pints were ordered again and again. Eventually, Deano and Dave said their goodbyes, then the four of us walked back to the digs.
We then spent a couple of hours in Burnley’s town centre. We wished that it was busier, we wished that there was more of a buzz. There wasn’t. It’s no Newcastle. It’s not even a Middlesbrough. Still, we extended the evening in two adjacent bars; a lively bar with music where we downed an improbable mixture of pints, shorts and shots, while I got talking to some Corinthians fans from Sao Paolo.
Lastly, a solo pint in “The Boot”, but things were dead quiet by then, and the only others in the pub were a gaggle of locals sitting nearby, and three of the five women were wearing those tiger print tops much favoured by women of a certain age. It was time to leave. I had seen enough sterotypes for one day. I think we dropped into the first bar for one last nightcap, then we picked up a kebab at a late night chippy, then caught a cab back to our digs. It was about midnight.
“This isn’t our place.”
“Yes, it is, Chris. There’s your car.”
It was time to call it a night.
It had indeed been a fun time.