A chance meeting on a train with a Clarets legend was a wasted opportunity because I didn't realise who he was/ Dave Thomas
It posed the question IF there was one Burnley result you could change what would it be?
One result? There’s probably a dozen, but one stands out even though it was in 1962 and I was still at school. It was the FA Cup Final and Burnley lost 3-1. There were some moments in it that today would be analysed ‘til the cows come home, and one of them was a disallowed Jimmy Robson goal when he was deemed offside.
To this day he says he wasn’t.
As well as that: one of the Spurs goals was preceded by a foul on Tommy Cummings. In those days players tended not to scream in the referee’s face in anger, but just got on with things, and Burnley, a team of gentlemen, did just that.
And so, we lost and me and my pal Ed Cockroft, we had gone down together, were miserable and dejected for the rest of the weekend. IF the Jimmy Robson goal had not been ruled offside. IF the foul on Tommy Cummings had been spotted. IF.
But it was the journey down to the game that provided the biggest IF. We had gone by train, from Todmorden to Manchester and then change for London and we found an empty compartment without difficulty. These were the days of steam trains, of course, and carriages with corridors and compartments that seated eight people.
Before long we were joined by a small, frail man, smartly dressed in a suit and waistcoat. We didn’t take much notice and he said nothing as Ed and I chatted away about the game, the team and our hero Jimmy McIlroy.
After a while he spoke: “I’m going to the Cup Final too,” he said. “And let me show you this.”
He fished out what looked like a medal from the pocket of his waistcoat and he held it up. “It’s my
Cup Final medal,” he explained. “I’m going to the Cup Final too.”
We showed interest but in truth didn’t really pursue it with any questions such as who he was, or how he had got the medal. He put it away and then dozed off as Ed and I, just two schoolboys on a great adventure, talked about this and that and who would win.
Of course, it is now, years later, that I realise how I missed the chance to really talk with such a legendary figure. I figured out that this must have been little Billy Nesbitt, Burnley’s wizard of the wing in their Cup Final team of 1914 and championship team of 1921. He hailed from Todmorden, my own home town and what made him quite extraordinary is that he was deaf.
Can you imagine playing football at such a high level being deaf? His team-mates communicated with signs, gestures and even shirt pulling.
IF I made a list today of people I’d like to talk to, he would be on that list. I wrote books about Bob Lord, Harry Potts and Jimmy Adamson but was never able to talk to them.
But, little Billy Nesbitt. IF I’d only talked to him properly.