Back in Europe and Burnley get to be Goliath for a change

first_imgShare on WhatsApp features Twitter “Premier League, you’re having a laugh …” inevitably that one got a run out after Jóhann Berg Gudmundsson, back from his impressive World Cup with Iceland, hit a rare first-half shot over the bar. It prompted our fans to get back to the gulf theme, with a reminder that Aberdeen had just sold a player, for higher wages, to English fifth-tier Salford City. “Adam Rooney … he went to non-league.”But the home chant that really hurt came midway through the second half, when for all our dominant possession we showed little sign of scoring, Joe Lewis had made a stunning save from Jack Cork and the Aberdeen fans were sensing another “great European night” to add to their impressive collection – Bayern Munich (twice), Hamburg and Juventus – bigger names than ours have been here. And on the Battle of Britain front, Spurs, Liverpool and Bobby Robson’s Ipswich against Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen when they weren’t just competing for European trophies but winning them. But that was then and this is now and if you really want to know about the gulf, here’s a stat for you: two Premier League games in England are worth the same as a whole season’s Scottish football TV revenues.And yet, they felt justified in taunting us. “Shite Blackburn Rovers … You’re just a shite Blackburn Rovers …” Normally the mere mention of our local rivals would be enough to provoke a Claret roar of some kind. But we were at that point in the game where I was starting to get the familiar sinking feeling I have known many, many times in over five decades following Burnley, that the pre-match hope and excitement are being dashed. So we stood silent and let them enjoy their moment of pure mockery. A few of us smiled. Perhaps it was the Scot in me that made me one of them. I was hating losing the football but didn’t mind them winning the wit.It wasn’t meant to be like this. From the moment the draw was made and a young Burnley fan went viral with “SCOTLAND! We wait over 50 years to get into Europe … and we’re going to fucking SCOTLAND!”, the script in our minds was all set. A day out. Take over the centre of Aberdeen. Sing, eat, drink and engage in good-natured banter, much of it about the globally recognised superiority of English league football over the Scottish game. Get to the ground. Sing even more. Make sure both sets of players know we are there, and hear how much we’re up for it.So far so good. And then … well, it just all felt a bit pre-season. The weather was far too good. The sun was taking too long to set – they were even singing “the northern lights of old Aberdeen” at one point and, given BT Sport had decided not to bother broadcasting the match live, despite seemingly being offered it for zilch, my climate change anxiety had me wondering why they bothered wasting electricity by putting on the floodlights.On the field, Chris Wood’s first touch was not quite there. Gudmundsson and Jeff Hendrick were not quite reading each other’s passes. Matt Lowton’s crosses were not quite hitting the spot. Our normally brilliant centre-backs were not quite being as perfect as we know them to be and one of them, James Tarkowski, gave away the penalty.Then, with World Cup goalkeeper Nick Pope off holding his arm in the way Tom Heaton had early last season with an injury that kept him out for months and let Pope seize his chance and become player of the season and a World Cup player, the script was well and truly going off message. We were not playing as well as we can. Aberdeen were playing better than they normally do.What a difference to our first competitive game last season, one of the best in the 57 years since, aged four, I first saw the then reigning league champions in one of our two previous European adventures. (I have no memory of it but my dad, sadly no longer here to see history repeating itself, assured me he took me to the game against Reims.) First game 2017 and we are 3-0 up away at Chelsea. And here we were, first game 2018, 1-0 down to bloody Aberdeen.But this is the thing about Burnley under Sean Dyche. When we click we are brilliant. When we don’t, we grind things out. So many times in the past, I know where that clock-watching second-half sinking feeling is heading … we might as well go home. But a bit like Fergie’s teams, Dyche’s teams never give up. Into this Scotland-England duel came Welshman Sam Vokes and the Aberdeen defence – I thought Scott McKenna was superb until the equaliser by the way – started to face the kind of attacker they are more used to, hard, bustling, doesn’t get knocked about, makes sure they know he’s there – but with quality too, and one moment of it 10 minutes from the end was enough to turn McKenna and blast the ball home to secure that precious away goal. Check out my Instagram stories if you want to know how much it meant to the Burnley fans. You’d have thought we’d won the final. Is it really in Baku, Azerbaijan? Seemingly so. Do we need a visa? Facebook Burnley in Aberdeen. Next stop Basaksehir? Photograph: Lee Smith/Reuters Pinterest Aberdeen put up a much stronger fight than many – including the supporters I met on the train north – had expected Sportblog Share on Twitter Share via Email It’s still happening, even if Aberdeen didn’t get the memo. They can’t be as good as that for two weeks running … can they? Do I click on that flight, or wait a week … oh go on, the price will only go up if I wait. Climate change? I know, but this is history and it’s not every year Burnley get to go to Turkey. Aren’t they meant to be joining the European Union, Boris? That one won you a few votes for Leave. Sorry not to keep politics out of it but there’s a campaign on for the People’s Vote on the final deal don’t you know? Most of my obsessions begin with B. Burnley. Brexit. Bagpipes. Love Burnley. Hate Brexit. Hate losing. Love Scotland. Thanks for a great game Aberdeen. See you next week. Come prepared for a drubbing. It’s in the script. Burnley Aberdeen Share on Pinterest Europa League Sam Vokes grabs crucial away goal as Burnley salvage draw at Aberdeen Share on Facebook As our fans started to reclaim the noise, I could have done without the “In-ger-land” chant, the “God save the Queen” and the “football’s coming home” that followed – club before country every time for me whatever your nationality – but as the rest of the ground struck up with Flower of Scotland, for those few minutes after the equaliser it did indeed feel like the Battle of Britain cliche had been justified.“We love you Burnley, we do …” Normally that is what we sing in the dying embers of a game we are losing and in which we have given up hope but where we want to recognise the players have put up a proper fight. We were singing it during injury time, content with the draw now, and ready to give our players a big ovation when they came over to us at the end. It was the Aberdeen fans who looked the more disappointed. Our players looked relieved.I bumped into our first-team coach, Tony Loughlan, as he led the players out for a warm down. “We’ll take that,” he said. I also bumped into Craig Brown, the former Scotland manager and now an Aberdeen director, who said it had been one of the best atmospheres at Pittodrie he could recall. Our fans played their part, for sure. But it was the Aberdeen players who really got it going, by putting up a much stronger fight than many – including the Aberdeen supporters I met on the train north – had expected.So now it’s back to Turf Moor for the second leg, and the hope and expectation kick in once more. We take nothing for granted, of course, especially now. But I am sure I am not the only one who got back to the hotel and checked out flights to Istanbul where, if we get through, we’ll be playing a team I had never heard of until the draw was made, Basaksehir. Check them out. They’ve got Gaël Clichy and Emmanuel Adebayor. And at least this time we will get to use our passports. As they have been singing in Brexit-voting Burnley ever since last season ended: “We’re all going on a European tour, a European tour, a European tour …” Topics “One-nil to the Sunday league, one-nil to the Sunday league …” There was a period on Thursday night when Aberdeen were leading us off the pitch as well on it.That particular piece of Aberdonian self-mockery was designed to highlight the “gulf” between the Premier Leagues of Scotland and England. A £3m wage bill was leading £61m thanks to a first-half penalty from Gary Mackay-Steven. Sam Cosgrove, a £20,000 signing from Carlisle, was leading the line for Aberdeen against internationals who earn that in a few days. If the “gulf” cliche had had a fair run-out in the buildup to this Europa League tie, so did that old favourite “Battle of Britain”, though football economics would say this was more David at home to Goliath with Burnley, a relative pauper alongside the six clubs above us in the Premier League, unused to the Goliath role. Share on Messenger Share on LinkedIn Read more Reuse this contentlast_img

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