FLASHBACK: The day a whole town held its breath

CRUNCH: Burnley take to the field for the 'Orient game'
CRUNCH: Burnley take to the field for the 'Orient game'
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AS part of the Burnley Express’s 125-year anniversary I’ve been delving in to the borough’s sporting past, trawling through dusty archives, in search of discernable figures and events that provide the make-up of our illustrious history.

And it’s been an incredibly eye-opening experience, and one that has led me to take even more pride in this town, its people, their sporting excellence, and their achievements at various levels.

There’s been success locally, nationally and even internationally but today I’ll be looking at a group of sportsmen and a significant event that undoubtedly shaped Burnley’s future.

Where would we be now if Ian Britton had failed to head home Neil Grewcock’s perfectly delivered free-kick in that defining game on the final day of the 1986/87 campaign against Leyton Orient.

Would we still be celebrating the Clarets if Brian Miller’s side hadn’t have clung on to that 2-1 lead and would the town’s Mecca, Turf Moor, still be a prominent feature in our landscape?

Granville Shackleton reported events on the day on behalf of the Burnley Express and encapsulated the cocktail of emotions that swept through the stadium on May 9th. The apprehension and fear prior to kick-off, the jubilation after taking a 2-0 lead, the despair as Allan Comfort halved the deficit, the unbearable tension as the clock ticked down, and the ecstasy and relief at the sound of the full-time whistle as the Clarets retained their Football League status.

The culmination of the current season will mark the 25th anniversary of that fateful afternoon in East Lancashire where survival had seemed ambitious. The Clarets were rooted to the bottom of the old Fourth Division following a 1-0 loss at the hands of Crewe Alexandra, though four teams, namely Tranmere Rovers, Rochdale, Torquay United and Lincoln City were still in reach.

Congestion outside the ground - the attendance eventually confirmed as 17,600 - forced referee George Courtney to delay the fixture for 15 minutes. Both teams were battling for different reasons - Burnley for survival and Orient for a play-off spot - which provided the ingredients for an up-tempo encounter.

Orient’s Terry Howard beat Clarets goalkeeper Joe Neenan in the early stages only to be denied by Peter Leebrook on the line while at the other end Kevin Hales denied Joe Gallacher from a similar opening. Both teams pressed but it took until stoppage time in the first half for the deadlock to be broken as Grewcock beat David Cass with a stinging 20-yard drive.

Britton doubled the advantage three minutes in to the second half. Comfort made it 2-1 has he lashed the ball in to the roof of the net in the 56th minute, meaning Burnley had to defend heroically for more than half-an-hour. And heroes they became.

Shackleton wrote: “Within seconds of Mr Courtney signalling it was all over, Burnley players disappeared under a sea of fans who invaded the pitch.

They danced a conga, the respective fans finally applauded each other, and the Clarets reached the dressing room with only two shirts intact – those of Ray Deakin and Peter Leebrook. Skipper Deakin won the man-of-the-match award from sponsors Gilbraith Commercials, and it was presented to him by former Burnley star Alex Elder who said, “He led by example and experience’.”

The Clarets avoided being swallowed in to the lower echelons of football after climbing to 22nd; Torquay dropped below with a 2-2 draw at home to Crewe though it was Lincoln City who dropped out of the league on goal difference courtesy of a 2-0 loss to Swansea at the Vetchfield.