A special place in my football heart

Boyhood heroes: The Second Division champions of 1973
Boyhood heroes: The Second Division champions of 1973

A word of warning chaps it is Valentine’s Day on Friday. Not much to do with sport, you may think.

But how many of you have ignored your beloved to watch Burnley lose at Colchester on a Tuesday night that was also Valentine’s Day?

How many of you were more excited about a 4-0 win against Exeter City than you were about the prospect of a mad dash home to take your “significant other” out for a Valentine’s Day treat?

And how many of you were so upset by a 5-2 Valentine’s Day home defeat to Wolves that you simply refused to go home and play your part in the annual ritual?

Guilty as charged on all three counts!

I could go on and I am sure that many of you have similar “war stories” you could share.

But for me, Valentine’s Day has a special place in my love affair with all things Claret and Blue.

Cast your minds back, if you can remember so far, to the 1969-70 season.

As if to prove some things in football never change, 14 of the top flight that season are in the Premier League this time around; Manchester United finished eighth; Sunderland and Crystal Palace fought it out until the final day before the former were relegated; and the rascals down the road finished just outside what would now be a play-off place.

To prove that some things do change, Aston Villa were relegated into what we are now told is called League One, Burnley finished comfortably in mid-table in the top flight and Leeds United were runners-up to champions Everton.

The point of all these recollections? Quite simple really, this was the season that I went to my first ever game at Turf Moor.

And, you’ve guessed it, the game was on Valentine’s Day.

I had fallen in love with football a couple of years earlier.

But I came from a family with no sporting background and no sporting interest other than a bit of John Player League cricket on a Sunday afternoon.

I pestered my parents to let me go to a football match.

And, as birthday surprises go, the arrival of one of my best friends with his father and a motorbike and side-car to transport me Turf Moor ranks among the best a soon-to-be nine-year-old could receive.

I was transfixed first by my first-ever trip in a sidecar and then by the sights, sounds and smells of a football match.

To say I was hooked would be something of an understatement.

The game that day was against Derby Conty, although mercurial manager and football genius Brian Clough was not in attendance!

I learned early on that a sporting love can be full of previously unknown fears and dreads as Alan Hinton had to score, but somehow missed an open goal.

I learned a few minutes later that a footballer can become a personal sporting god.

Frank Casper would still get a game now as far as I am concerned. Why? He scored the first goal I ever saw at Turf Moor!

The Clarets, or My Clarets as they now were, eventually drew 1-1 as John O’Hare levelled for the Rams.

Derby should have won. Kevin Hector had a goal disallowed as someone else was off-side earlier in the move.

But none of it mattered as I had been to the Turf and I knew I was going back.

I knew that I would be haranguing my mum into knitting me a scarf in just two colours; one of my friends would get his dad to make me a bespoke rattle and I would see what Jack Bray’s legendary sports emporium in Nelson could come up with in terms of a football shirt in anything approaching Claret and Blue – yes these were the days before it was possible to buy replica shirts!

More trips in various forms of transport followed.

The Longside was my Saturday afternoon home, first team or reserves.

In those pre-Radio Blackburn days the only way to have anything like up-to-date news from an away game was to watch the reserves and listen out for tannoy updates from Anfield, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge or wherever else the first team were doing battle.

The Claret and Blue love affair led to my first job: a paper round to fund the new addiction.

I learned the art of saving up so I could by my first season ticket.

And my parents learned to let me get away with one swear word every other Saturday as I would arrive home muttering the timeless phrase on the lips of all Clarets’ fan: “Bloody referees!”

Twenty years after my first game, I landed my dream job.

My old friend and mentor Granville Shackleton was too ill to continue working and the reins of sports editor of the Burnley Express were passed my way.

Week one: The Clarets report back for training from their summer break and I pop down to Gawthorpe.

I could barely speak as I introduced myself to the manager – if you know your dates you will have worked it out by now – and as calmly as possible explained to Frank Casper that he was my boyhood hero.

I have watched Burnley play at well over 100 grounds and reported from nearly as many.

The Claret and Blue Love Affair has given me some incredible highs and some desperate lows.

It all started on Valentine’s Day 44 years ago and shows no sign of ending.

So that is my Claret and Blue Journey to date.

But what is yours? If you feel like sharing email me. I really would be happy to see where your journey has taken you!