It’s December 12, 2017 and Ashley Barnes has just scored an 89th-minute winner against Stoke City. For 24 hours, Burnley are fourth in the Premier League, their highest league placing since 1975.
Sean Dyche walks into his press conference and sums up the mood of the dressing room, the club and the town: “I’m very proud. I’m super proud. I’m the proudest man in Proudsville.”
On December 13, 2017, in a slightly less glamorous press conference (e-mail thread titled ‘Its Burnley innit…’) it was confirmed…on the crest of that wave, this series was finally going home.
Thing is guys and gals, though my work in football has taken me far and wide, I’m a claret. A Longsider. Proudsville born and bred.
This month I’m part football journo, part civic ambassador.
Welcome to Proudsville. Sean Dyche is the mayor.
Home. Burnley, Lancashire. Population 73,021. We all fit inside Old Trafford and we can even bring a few mates. The smallest town populace to ever become Football League champions.
Beautiful countryside surrounds us. The terrace houses stretch across the valley floor. At our heart, a football club. Metaphorically and physically. Turf Moor dominates our landscape and our thinking. We aren’t a town with a football club, we are a football club with a town.
So what does it mean to be a Burnley fan in 2018? What’s it all about?
It’s about bringing Premier League football to this corner of East Lancashire because that’s where our history says we belong.
It’s about having the best in the world turn out at the ground just behind the terraced houses off Brunshaw Road.
It’s about a football club that still looks and feels like a football club should.
It’s about a ground (not a stadium) that sits at the heart of its community, at peace with the terrace rows around it.
It’s about celebrating the beauty of our industrial heritage. The football club may be our world ambassadors today, but it was once cotton and canals that made us a global force.
It’s about shouting from the rooftops about our industrial future. Voted the Most Enterprising Town in the UK in 2013, pioneers in manufacturing and the aeronautics industry. An award winning sculpture on the edge of town.
Oh, did I also mention we have a Premier League football club?
It’s about a matchday full of good old fashioned northern values.
It’s about a smile, a cracking pint and proper football talk. Does tha’ want pie and peas, cock?
It’s about that Lancastrian sense of humour (and humility) that money can’t buy. I mean, where else can you call people ‘cock’ as a term of endearment?
It’s about the Ginger Mourinho. The finest manager this club has had for many a year. Football man, town man. An ambassador for us in every sense. A man who will forever be held in our highest esteem. He will never have to buy a pint again.
Talented artists like Graffia Studio are capturing the mood and taking us a long way from jokes about flat caps and whippets.
It’s about supporting our football club being a way of life. Those lucky few who get to wear the claret and blue shirt represent all of us. The club are the town team. Their success is our success. Come and see it, believe me, we are together.
It’s about encouraging our youngsters to support our local team too. Even if, sometimes, hope is all we’ve got to offer them.
It’s about being hooked, and then that hope never leaving you.
It’s about looking after your own. It’s about seeing a claret and blue shirt and knowing they’re ‘alreyt’. Whether it’s Bertie Bee, Phil Bird, Sean Dyche or the Claret in the seat next to you.
It’s about us all being in this one together.
It’s about the best view in football.
It’s about being able to see your nan’s house from the back of a Premier League football ground (street furthest right, just above the tree).
It’s about this being so much more than a concrete bank with an asbestos roof.
It’s about Bertie Mee saying to Bill Shankly: “Have you heard of the North Bank Highbury?”. Shanks said: “No, I don’t think so, but I’ve heard of the Longside, Burnley….”
It’s about your lads walking out when the Turf is full. Claret shirt with Blue Sleeves.
It’s about the Cricket Field end bringing the spirit of the Longside back to life.
It’s about the PA announcer saying: “Burnley fans, THIS IS YOUR TEAM,” and you feeling every bloody word.
It’s about the cheers given to every member of the starting XI, personally.
It’s about applauding Sean Dyche all the way from the tunnel to the dug out and then applauding him some more.
It’s about the moment at 2:59pm when every single one of us feels a part of something special. Something that defines us. Something that’s ours.
It’s about spending a lifetime being ‘little old Burnley’ and listening to experts who sit on sofas tell us we are nothing more than effective/well-drilled/disciplined/route one/high press/cloggers* then… seeing Robbie Brady literally dance down the wing, or Steven Defour score the sort of free kick that David Beckham could only dream about, or Jeff Hendrick bring the ball down and lobbing the keeper or you bloody name it, and knowing that all the stereotypes are just plain wrong.
We can play. Believe me, we can play.
It’s about giving the Bradys the space to play.
It’s about knowing that Barnsey will march right into Vincent Kompany’s six-yard box and tell him to move his feet. Barnsey will score at Old Trafford or Anfield or the Etihad if you need him to.
We do pretty triangles these days, but as Dyche would say, we’ve still got a “strong jaw”.
It’s about beating Blackburn Rovers. Always will be. Local rivalries around here are fierce and run deep.
It’s about knowing that when the rain comes down and floodlights go up, that our little ground is one of the toughest places to come and play in all of football.
Many a scalp has been taken on a cold winter’s afternoon at Turf Moor; and we bloody love it.
It’s about keeping the bright lights of the Premier League in our town.
It’s about doing everything we can to keep Proudsville on the map. This article included.
Most of all, though, MOST OF ALL, it’s about this. It’s about passing the baton on to the next generation of Clarets.
It’s about being becoming the dad waxing lyrical about Glen Little, David Eyres and Robbie Blake, just like your dad used to go on at you about Martin Dobson and Tony Morley.
And finally, ladies and gents, it’s about this guy growing up a Claret. He makes sure that Sean Dyche is the second proudest man in Proudsville. The first is stood behind the camera.