Burnley have returned to the top flight of English football for the first time in 33 years after beating Sheffield United 1-0 at Wembley in the Championship Play-Offs Final.
Spring Bank Holiday Monday 25th May 2009 will now be engraved forever on all Clarets fans hearts and I would also think that the 36,000 fans that made the journey to Wembley will also remember forever their Block, Row and Seat Number in this magnificent stadium (I know I will, Block 123, Row 24, Seat 25). Your Editor is an emotional wreck and is still buzzing after going through one of the most traumatic and emotional days of his life! Thankfully the result also ensures it is the best day of my life since supporting the Clarets from about 1964 at the age of 10!
In the end a goal, and what a stunner it was, from Wade Elliott after 13 minutes was enough to see the Clarets in the Premier League for the first time in their history. It was also their first attempt at going up via the play-offs since being promoted to the Championship in 2000.
The best they could muster in those nine long years previously was two agonising 7th place finishes in the pre-Digital age under former manager, Stan Ternent.
We last played in the top flight in 1976. Back then the leagues had logical titles with no sponsorship in sight and we were in the top one called Division One or at least we were until the end of the 1975/76 season. We were relegated at the end of that season and little did we know then that it would take another 33 years before we returned to where we belonged and that the top flight would then be called the Premier League! A different world now indeed and one that is going to take some time to getting used to for all Clarets fans.
Yes next season we will be visiting the likes of Old Trafford, Anfield, Stamford Bridge, The Emirates and (Oh My God!), Ewood Park. The best part of winning promotion for the Club though is of course the financial package, estimated to be worth £60 million in this ‘winner takes all` of a competition.
After years of being the poor man of the Championship and tightening our belts, how cool is that amount of money especially in these dire economic times? This could have guaranteed the long-term future of our club. We all know what happened to Southampton and another six clubs in the Championship are understood to have been in dire financial straits this season. It is believed Burnley FC could well have been another but for their successful cup runs. This promotion is simply the icing on the cake and has just come at totally the right time.
It is even more remarkable to think we have done this on a shoestring budget and used just 23 players to reach nirvana. Contrast that with the moneybags promotions of teams like Wigan and Blackburn Rovers in the Premiership age, and you begin to realise how even sweeter this achievement has been.
There is also an additional benefit for 7000 Season Ticket Holders. Thanks to the generosity of the Club and their promotion pledge, we will now all get a free season ticket to watch the Clarets in their first season in the Premier League. We truly have to thank Barry Kilby, Brendan Flood and all the other Board members who have put millions of pounds of their own money into this football club to keep it afloat over the years and if they call in some of that loan from the £60 million who could begrudge them that? We also have to thank Owen Coyle who now truly is God. Somehow against all the odds he has converted a small squad struggling with midtable mediocrity season after season into a powerful motivated focussed footballing unit and one that has now in its 61st game of the season reached nirvana using just 23 players. In a remarkable season they have also been practising for life in the Premier League by beating five of the current teams in the top flight in the Carling and FA Cup competitions. Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Fulham and West Brom have all tasted defeat at the hands of the Clarets this season.
No other club in the UK has played more games this season than the Clarets except for Manchester United and they have used far more players than we have. Our opponents in the play-offs final, Sheffield United have used 39 players in their campaign and we have now beaten them three times this season despite them finishing third, four points ahead of the Clarets in 5th.
In 1976 two other clubs were relegated from the top flight along with Burnley and in a remarkable co-incidence all three clubs experienced a drop down to the lowest tier of the Football League only to claw their way back in recent times. The other two clubs though have tasted top flight football since 1976 and of course only Burnley had to endure the ‘Orient Game` to ensure their Football League survival! Have you worked out the other clubs yet? In another remarkable co-incidence one was Wolverhampton Wanderers, this year`s Championship Champions and the other was Sheffield United! (Enough said!)
Most Clarets I spoke to on our big day before the kick-off seemed to be confident we would win but wanted the reassurance of the final whistle before they dared to dream! It was certainly the most nervous game I have ever had to watch with so much at stake. In truth though we outplayed Sheffield United and put in a classy performance playing attractive passing attacking football and in the end we thoroughly deserved our victory. I don`t think Brian Jensen had to make any significant saves all match and apart from the opening spell of 10 minutes, the Blades never really looked like scoring.
The good news for Burnley was that we had no injury worries or suspensions ahead of the final so as expected Owen Coyle decided to select the same sixteen he used for the play-offs semi-final second leg against Reading at the Madejski Stadium. This meant that Chris Eagles was once more on the bench and Thompson and Paterson both played up front. Our line up was therefore:
Jensen, Duff, Carlisle, Caldwell, Kalvenes, Alexander, Elliott, McCann, Blake, Thompson, Paterson
Subs: Penny, Gudjonsson, McDonald, Eagles, Rodriguez
Sheffield United had three injury concerns. Darius Henderson (Achilles), Jamie Ward (hamstring) and John-Joe O’Toole (ankle) were all given late fitness tests on Monday morning. Only Jamie Ward made the sixteen and he had to be content with a place on the bench suggesting he wasn`t totally fit. Striker Craig Beattie, on loan from West Brom was the target man as the Blades lined up 4-5-1.
Kenny, Walker, Morgan, Kilgallon, Naughton, Montgomery, Howard, Cotterill, Stephen Quinn, Halford, Beattie.
Subs: Bennett, Bromby, Hendrie, Lupoli, Ward
Cheshire referee, Mike Dean was the referee. The Blades gaffer, Kevin Blackwell had been deeply annoyed with Dean previously after he dismissed Matthew Kilgallon at Hillsborough last October and he had made a fuss earlier in the week whinging about the appointment in the media. In hindsight, this could have come back to bite him in the bum with the Blades in the end having two players red-carded and quite a few penalty appeals turned down.
So the Wars of the Roses clash finally got underway on a bright, sunny afternoon at Wembley on a superb pitch that was now holding up well after plenty of criticism in the past. The new pitch had been laid four weeks ago and already had been played on seven times before the Championship final.
In the early stages it was Sheffield United who did most of the pressing with the Clarets struggling to get their passing game together. In truth though during the first ten minutes all the Blades efforts on goal were from distance and none of the long range shots troubled Jensen who simply mopped them up with the Clarets fans being given ample opportunity to shout ‘Beeeeeeeast`
The first real chance of the game fell to the Clarets and boy did we take it thanks to a superb individual effort from Wade Elliott in the 13th minute. He left two Blades players for dead in midfield and decided to go it alone with a trademark mazy run. Charging through the defence, he laid off the ball to Chris McCann but Matthew Kilgallon sliding in could only give the ball back to Elliott. Perfectly placed, Elliott let rip with a stunning shot that gave Kenny no chance with the ball flying into the top right hand corner of the net. 1-0 Clarets with Wembley West going bananas!
Chris McCann was unfortunate after 27 minutes picking up a knee injury after an innocuous challenge. He was replaced by Joey Gudjonsson which must have delighted his father in the crowd, Crewe manager, Gudjon Thordarson who was also celebrating his son`s 29th birthday.
The rest of the first half seemed to show the Clarets in control overall with the Blades running round in circles and getting nowhere.
On the half-hour mark, Paterson nearly added to that stunner of a goal in the second leg semi at the Madejski. He let rip with a curling shot from the right but the ball was just a few inches wide of the post.
Sheffield United appealed for a penalty towards the end of the first half although most of the shouting seemed to come from the Blades fans after Alexander appeared to have fouled Howard. Dean waved the appeal away and one wonders if at this point, Blackwell might have been ruing the comments he made about Mike Dean! Looking back at the replay on Sky Sports though, it didn`t look like a penalty and Alexander admitted afterwards that he hadn`t seen Howard behind him after he made contact with him trying to clear the ball.
As the half-time whistle went, the Clarets would be by far the happier of the two teams considering we had the lead and the Blades for all their huffing and puffing had only managed tame long range shots.
The Clarets started the second half the brighter of the two teams and began to take control. 54 minutes on the clock and we came close to doubling our lead. A superb cross by Paterson out wide on the right wing was met by Thompson who headed the ball back across the goal to find Gudjonsson charging in. His shot from three yards out luckily for the Blades hit Montgomery`s foot and the ball bounced painstakingly wide.
Blackwell was by now looking a worried man and decided to bring on Ward for Cotterill to see if the Blades could muster any effective attacks. The Clarets back four though looked in complete charge, especially Clarke Carlisle who was in awesome form and the Blades had no answer to it. Burnley once more looked the most likely side to score next despite the Blades having most of the possession at this stage.
In the 66th minute we thought that moment had arrived when Thompson was put clear after beating the offside trap. He put in a sweet cross to Blake who just had to shoot from 10 yards out and it would be game over. Somehow though from nowhere, Kyle Walker got in a tremendous challenge before Robbie could pull the trigger.
Blake though would now play no further part in the final after struggling with a hamstring strain and unable to take corners. He was replaced by Chris Eagles in the 69th minute. Coyle made his final substitution four minutes later bringing on Rodriguez for Thompson.
Jensen who had virtually nothing to do in the second half was finally tested when Ward managed to beat the offside trap to shoot from a tight angle. The Beast though simply blocked the Blades` striker`s effort. Ward`s frustrations were made worse when he picked up a yellow card for a deliberate handball after trying to get to a long ball from keeper, Kenny. He didn`t learn from his mistake and repeated the action with 10 minutes to play giving Dean no option but to send off the player.
He now picks up the dubious honour of being the first player to ever have been sent off in a Championship Play-Offs Final.
Clarets fans really could sense victory now after Sheffield United were down to ten men but even so just couldn`t relax until the final whistle finally went. It would have helped steady the nerves if Paterson could have converted following a sweet pass by Eagles but again the drive was blocked by some good Blades defending, this time by Kyle Naughton.
The fourth official announced five minutes added time which seemed like purgatory for all Clarets fans but we saw it through and finally the celebrations could start as the final whistle went with 36,000 Clarets fans going wild. Not that it matters, but in the euphoria of all the Clarets fans celebrations and with the Blades fans emptying Wembley as fast as they could, another of the Blades players was shown a red card. Hendrie was sent off after the whistle went presumably for arguing with the referee over the penalty decisions but even Sky Sports didn`t pick that one up!
How fitting this victory was from so many angles. Next season will be the 50th Anniversary of our 1959-60 Division One League Champions title, now we will be celebrating this in style in the top flight of English football.
We have taken so much stick over the years (especially from the local rival fans) and now we have to catch up on 33 years of not being in the top flight. We can now hold our heads up in the local pubs throughout Lancashire. No more the butt of jokes from Rovers and Nobbers fans, we can now titter and smirk. By the way has anybody seen a Preston fan recently? The message board world of the Lilywhites is strangely subdued.
What a season, putting aside the successes what is great too is that we have earned so much respect and best wishes from so many rival fans, including those in the Premier League. I want to thank everybody who has wished us well on Vital Burnley. You are all true fans and this is what football is all about. Even the Blades fans have wished us well and it was so great to see the camaraderie between Clarets and Blades fans after the match. You must be gutted to lose, I know I would have been but you are a credit to football and I wish you all success in the season ahead.
Peter Beagrie on Sky Sports named Owen Coyle as his manager of the season for achieving amazing success with limited resources. Not sure you can give an award to God but by hell he deserves every respect and honour he can get. One player who also has more to celebrate than most is Graham Alexander who has missed just 26 minutes of all the 61 games he has started for the Clarets this season. He has also finally achieved victory in a play-offs final at his fourth attempt!
Most Clarets fans over the age of 33 have always known that the top flight is where we should be and now we have finally made it and can truly sing over and over again-We are Premier League, Burnley are Premier League! It makes me so proud and the tears of joy are still flowing.
Burnley: Jensen, Duff, Carlisle, Caldwell, Kalvenes, Elliott, Alexander, McCann (Gudjonsson 27), Blake (Eagles 69), Thompson (Rodriguez 73), Paterson.
Subs Not Used: Penny, McDonald.
Booked: Carlisle, Kalvenes.
Goals: Elliott 13.
Sheff Utd: Kenny, Walker, Morgan, Kilgallon, Naughton, Montgomery, Howard (Lupoli 82), Cotterill (Ward 58), Stephen Quinn (Hendrie 85), Halford, Beattie.
Subs Not Used: Bennett, Bromby.
Sent Off: Ward (80), Hendrie (after final whistle)
Booked: Ward, Lupoli.
Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral).
All 10-So Here is the Burnley Parade!
Many thanks to BBC Sport for allowing Vital Burnley to embed this video