By Dave Thomas
March 14 2017
LIVERPOOL 2 BURNLEY 1 It was D-day for Joey, up before the FA to respond to the betting charges.
We feared the worst, at best a 10-game ban maybe, at worst a ban long enough to end his career. To appreciate just how good a footballer he has been you have to see through the noise. Apparently, in the scientific sense, you can actually see through noise, but in Joey’s case it is simply the baggage that surrounds and accompanies him, the incidents, confrontations, controversies and complications. Strip that away and there is the damned fine footballer that we at Burnley saw the best of in the Champions season when he was truly exemplary. And since getting back in the team in January what an impact he had, once again. We won’t forget that free-kick goal he scored in his first game back.
Come Wednesday and the day of the hearing, the news was brief. Joey’s case was adjourned, thus leaving him free to play for Burnley until further notice. It is pure speculation but did his legal team already have the FA in knots; was the ‘crime’ so huge they were scratching their heads as to exactly what to do with him? There was no precedent so that they were in uncharted waters. Or was it just something routine, or members of the panel down with bad colds? Whatever the reason, one report said the chief investigator was ill, it was good news for Burnley leaving him free to play, assuming his hamstring tweak had mended.
I’d been plodding through old pieces I’d written looking for something and came across one about the Scottie dog we had – the Terrier. And I thought, yeh, that’s what Joey is, a Terrier, like Brian O’ Neil all those years ago, especially a Scottie, although in Brian’s case it was a Bedlington. They have minds of their own, not quite untrainable but almost; wilful, little buggars in fact. They are not dogs that sit on laps, fetch sticks, chase tennis balls and in the house they pretty much do as they please. The approach of any other dog set ours off into paroxysms of snarling fury, and show it a squirrel and that was the only time it shot off like lightning, always halfway up the tree before gravity brought it back with a thud. Mud it loved and was never happier than when rolling in goose droppings by the canal or fox poo in the garden. Fearless too, never afraid of anything twice the size: ‘Big dogs in a little body,’ one dog book described them. He was alpha-male and then some. Much the same could be said of our Joey.
The incredible Barcelona fightback in the Champions League when they came back to overturn a 4-0 defeat against PSG and won 6-1 in Barcelona, had us all thinking about great Burnley comebacks. Not too many people mentioned one that went back to Steve Cotterill’s time and involved Noel Gifton Williams. It was Burnley versus Barnsley, September 12, 2006, a game back home on a late summer Burnley evening; but we were in Greece, eating, or about to eat, in the Lighthouse Taverna down a humid, stuffy little alleyway in the heart of Lefkas Town. We never did find out why it was called The Lighthouse. There wasn’t a lighthouse anywhere near.
Steve, at least that’s what we called him, a burly, thick set man with a huge moustache and a booming voice, was owner, maître d’, sommelier (which simply meant he brewed his own stuff), manic waiter and money collector, in the sheltered and pretty courtyard with its three surrounding walls and flagstone floor, a space no bigger than an average living room. His wife did all the cooking, slaving over the stove in the adjoining room and in a heat that would have had an Arab passing out. The cosy, homely enclosed space beneath the vine leaves where we ate was always at oven temperature; Lighthouse Steve was also always at oven temperature, quick to shout from the doorway, ‘has anyone ordered chicken souvlaki,’ or, ‘who ordered pork steak,’ whilst he would stand non-plussed, a result of him getting orders mixed up and having no idea which table he was now serving.
We loved to go there; he provided better entertainment than Tommy Cooper and was about the same size but minus the Fez. His antics and gruffness drove some customers mad and they vowed never to return but those who liked him simply saw him as being eccentric, quirky, or even ‘delightful.’ We, meanwhile never tired of eating there, always recommended it and appreciated his Basil Fawlty approach to good customer service. But he didn’t care what people thought. He knew his food was good and so did we. He knew his restaurant would be full the next night.
Without knowing he was Greek you might have thought he was the quintessential grumpy Yorkshireman. But if he took to you, you had a friend for life. In fact we knew people that took a small tray of his moussaka and would smuggle it back to the UK in their suitcases. That’s how good it was. The fried zucchini was to die for.
It was just one of those nights and service was even worse than usual with a yacht flotilla in as well to further fill the place. Plates of food were going all over the place to the wrong people. Sometimes you just accepted what he brought regardless of what you ordered. Our meals showed no sign of arriving but the wine was good and anyway, what was the hurry. Nobody hurries in Greece. Steve was at the next table about to explode, hovering over someone menacingly, that had dared to ask what time his food would arrive and should he come back the next day. It was then that the first text arrived from Turf Moor and our chum John who was there. Burnley were hardly riveting back in the Cotterill days but we still wanted to know the scores.
The news was bad. Burnley were losing, first 1-0 and then 2-0 said the second text. At least by now we’d had the starters. Bloody Barnsley winning 2-0 but then we pulled one back and Gifton then took over. Gifton Noel Williams was a 6’3” man mountain who along with the equally muscular Ade Akinbiyi had once been to Turf Moor and terrorised Burnley with Stoke City, who if memory serves, won that day. When Steve Cotterill bought them and paired them at Turf Moor we thought (or at least I did) wow this pair will take us to the top. Alas, they didn’t.
By this time arthritis in both of Gifton’s knees was taking its toll. Prior to that at an early age he had been a potentially huge talent, but he became an example of just how cruel football can be following injuries when movement is hindered. But: on this particular night he bestrode the Turf like a colossus whilst we, far away, enjoyed the fun and games in Stevie’s Lighthouse restaurant. A third text arrived. Jon Harley had pulled one back. We accordingly ordered more wine. The house white that always came in a carafe because we suspected it was kept in buckets round the back.
And then at intervals three more arrived, texts not carafes. . One by one Gifton slotted home his three hat-trick goals, the last in the 90th minute, by which time we felt even better as by then we had finally eaten. It was a night to remember for Gifton. And for us it became a taverna night we never forgot.
Other than saying ‘one day we’ll win away,’ only the most optimistic gave more than two seconds to thoughts of a Burnley win in the Liverpool game, the game that was re-arranged from early season when Liverpool’s giant new stand was not ready. It was game three in the on-the-road series that at one stage we thought would have a huge impact on the season. Only 7 points clear at kick-off, Hull had won the day before; but in truth this game was almost a ‘free-hit’. Did anyone really expect to win? Anything from this game would therefore be a bonus. Klopp was still scratching his head as to how Liverpool had lost early in the season but was complimentary saying that of all the other bottom half teams Burnley were the team with the clearest plan.
The clear plan could so easily have worked but alas didn’t. This was another defeat on the road but a defeat that left us all frustrated by how well Burnley had played for large parts of the game, particularly the first half, and how poor Liverpool had been for most of the game. It was hard to accept that Liverpool had actually won and Burnley lost yet another game by the odd goal.
Barnes had given Burnley a stunning lead very early on (sublime said Dyche) and for the rest of the first half Liverpool were lacklustre, impotent and not far short of clueless. Lowton made the goal with what might well be the pass of the season, an inch perfect diagonal through ball on the ground that dissected the defenders that Barnes then rocketed home. The longer the half went on the more you thought that this was a game that Burnley were improbably going to win. And then, yet again, there was another injury time lapse and a goal was conceded in what was Liverpool’s first real opportunity when the ball broke in the box, bounced off Mee, Mee slipped, and Heaton went the wrong way. The whistle went just seconds afterwards.
Those of us at home sat on the edge of the sofa watching the game on the box just looked amazed that Liverpool had actually managed to concoct something, and then open-mouthed and aghast in horror muttering as yet another undeserved goal was given away in injury time. The list of games where this has happened, either in the first or second half, must now be a page long. The whole complexion of the game was changed in that luckless moment when the ball broke so kindly for Liverpool.
A draw then, we’d have settled for that as we’d continued to play so well. But even that was not to be. In yet another lapse, Can found himself in yards of space and unchallenged was able to strike a bobbling pea-roller home from 25 yards and then watch the ball slip inside the post with Heaton unable to reach it. Ironic too that it was Emre Can, so often referred to in Scouseland as Emre Can’t. We knew how it would work from that point. Burnley might huff and puff, they might indeed continue to play well, they might make Liverpool look decidedly average (and even average was a flattering description) but fail to score and lose the game.
The pundits praise was plentiful, Barnes and Gray described as sensational on MOTD in the first half. Burnley did very little wrong, was another summary. But what good is praise when the luck just doesn’t go your way and you just can’t stick a second goal away. Whereas Liverpool had grabbed their fluky extra time chance and scored, Burnley muffed theirs when Lowton was unable to capitalise on the moment the ball came to him in the corner of the 6-yard box and blazing over missed a golden opportunity to make the score 2-2. On such moment s are games decided.
11 shots by Burnley and just one on target told yet another story that at this level if you miss such a percentage you simply will not win no matter how well you play. ‘A bitter pill to swallow,’ said Dyche and when you come away from a place such as Anfield disappointed that you have not won at least one point, then that is a certain measure of how well you played. It was hard to fault one single Burnley player.
‘Burnley are so much better than their away record suggests, it is staggering they are winless,’ headlined the Mirror. ‘Nowhere in football can there be such a misleading record as Sean Dyche’s team and their failure to win on their travels this season; powerful but painfully unfortunate. The last seven defeats away have all been by the odd goal. It was a defeat as cruel as the one at the Emirates in January.’
Liverpool relief was all too clear. Klopp bordered on the ecstatic that they had ground out a result against a side as awkward as Burnley. Liverpool don’t usually win ‘ugly’ he went on and on in an interminable MOTD on-pitch interview with a trio of fawning interviewers.
The Burnley support was yet again fantastic in its noise and constancy, frequently drowning out (at least on TV) the sound of the Kop. But the the modern-day Kop is nothing like as powerful and awesome as it was in previous decades. ‘You’re not Danny Ings,’ the Burnley crowd sang whenever a Liverpool player scuffed a shot or fluffed an opening. The famed Kop might have retaliated at the end with the same chant when Lowton fluffed his chance. But the Kop and scouse wit missed the chance, the modern version nowhere near as sharp as it used to be.
It’s not often you can say that Liverpool were there for the taking. But this game was one of them. Alas by now a few people were commenting that for all their ‘hard luck,’ admirable performances and ‘deserved to get something,’ Burnley hadn’t won a game since the end of January, a statistic that had crept up almost unnoticed.
But: Sunderland next and the run of away days comes to an end; win that and all might be well, we assured ourselves.