Burnley FC midfielder Josh Brownhill on what inspired him to start social media campaign supporting local businesses

Premier League footballers should "take a pay cut and play their part".

The words of then Health Secretary Matt Hancock only a few weeks into a pandemic many are still feeling the full effects of.

A subtle smile crosses the face of Burnley FC midfielder Josh Brownhill when asked whether he thinks footballers have often been unfairly targeted by some during the past 18 months.

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"There is a pressure on footballers. Footballers are always going to do their part, and they do, without pressure from politicians. There's a lot of people behind closed doors who will do their own thing, for their own charities and their own communities.

Burnley FC midfielder Josh Brownhill. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

"They outed us quite strongly and I don't think it was fair. We know we have to do our bit, and we know we have the platform to do so – but we were always going to do that anyway."

Josh has certainly been doing his bit.

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The Warrington-born Premier League star isn't just a familiar face to those who walk through the Turf Moor turnstiles on a Saturday; he's also regularly seen visiting shops in and around the town.

And as businesses began to re-open following lockdown he decided he wanted to use his social media presence to help promote a few of his favourites.

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Natalie George, who runs The Gallery at Creative Arts Burnley. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

A video campaign soon followed offering his Twitter and Instagram followers a glimpse inside the likes of Cosy Coffee, St James' Street; the Riverside Deli, Barrowford; Park Hill Valeting Hand Wash, Padiham Road; and The Gallery at Creative Arts Burnley.

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"You can just see how much the people in Burnley care about the town," said Josh. "It's not a massive town, but everybody cares, and the football club, as you can see, that's massive for everybody.

"I mean Burnley, what they do as a football club in the community is really good. This for me was always about how, [the fans] support me on the weekend, what can I do to support them?

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And this was the whole thought behind this campaign series.

"For them it's helping get their business out there and promoting it. If it gets one person to come in, or a few people, or a lot of people to come in and help, and show their face, then it's going to benefit them in the long run.

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"When I was driving through places, and a lot of shops were closed up, and a lot of things were different...with regards to staff and opening up again...it was always going to be very difficult. So for me it was to show my face and show that I'm supporting the local businesses.

"I've had a lot of positive messages saying, 'I didn't realise this was here, I'm going to pop in' - there have been a lot of good responses."

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This hasn't been some cleverly orchestrated, superficial PR campaign launched around building up his or the club's brand. In fact, Burnley Football Club wasn't even involved.

This has been about a 25-year-old lad going out of his way to help local businesses get back on their feet after a torrid 18 months.

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Natalie George, who runs the Gallery at Creative Arts in lower St James' Street, could not be more grateful.

"Josh contacted us on social media originally, asking to come down and look at some artwork. He was after buying some artwork for his partner I believe, which he has done; some lovely local artwork. He was also wanting to chat with Cain [Natalie's partner] about some tattooing.

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“And it was like 'Who's this guy?' So, we Googled him and found out he was a Premier League Burnley football player and we were like 'wow'.

"For a little venue like us in Burnley to have such a high profile sports person wanting to come and buy artwork and support us was just mind-blowing. It was very nice, and very rewarding to see that acknowledgement, that somebody wants to see us, and wants to support what we're doing.

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“He said he'd been following us a little bit on Facebook, he'd been looking at our stuff, and wanted to know a little bit more really, and how he could support us. It’s so lovely.”

That support goes beyond buying a piece of art, or a coffee, for Josh.

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It's also about showing a human side to footballers. Engaging in conversations with customers. Showing fans that they care, too.

"It's nice to show who you are as a person; getting in close contact with people and having conversations. You can tell how passionate these fans are for everything, and for Burnley Football Club itself."

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The interview finishes with Josh telling me about how he has a really good family around him.

"They had a big impact on me through growing up. And supporting me in doing this - they were involved in the idea as well. It's not just me, it's the people around me."

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You don't need to spend long in his company to recognise this. Well-mannered, well-spoken, and well in tune with a role and a responsibility he takes extremely seriously.

Next time you're out shopping in town keep an eye out for Burnley's number 8; he'll be more than happy to say hello.