Burnley’s Wembley goal hero Wade Elliott looks back on one of the best days of his career
They weren’t quite ‘wrong ‘uns’, but Burnley’s class of 2009 certainly got it right.
A decade ago today, Wade Elliott scored the first half goal which proved the winner in the Championship play-off final against Sheffield United.
It sealed a return to the top flight after a 33-year absence, and meant the Clarets - Fourth Division champions 17 years previous - would play in the Premier League for the first time.
Elliott, now Under 23s coach at Stoke City, feels the character and personality of the squad proved vital.
Burnley had finished fifth in the Championship, but had already done the double over Sheffield United, who were third.
And Elliott looked back on a glorious day and time for the club: “Time goes by too quickly, but when you’re busy, you don’t get time to reflect.
“Now it’s the 10th anniversary, it’s a good time to look back and think about it.
“It’s been nice to relive some fantastic memories.
“We met up recently, and you hear stories you’d forgotten about.
“It gives it a bit of perspective now, being 10 years, and you realise how special it was.
“I don’t want to say we were wrong ‘uns, but we were a lively bunch.
“Stevie Caldwell was saying to me, how everyone had a bit about them, they could handle themselves - the squad oozed personality.
“Everyone was a bit of a character.
“It was a really interesting group to be around.
“Steve (Cotterill) probably gets missed out a little bit, his part in it all, he brought a lot of the squad in, and Owen (Coyle) added one or two, and we took off from there.
“Promotion isn’t just one season’s work, there was a lot that had gone into the foundations, the building blocks.
“But that character dug us out a lot that season, Christian Kalvenes always tells me he scored the most important goal that season, at Blackpool, and you look at the results at Blackpool, at Plymouth when Blakey scored late on, Crystal Palace when we came back to win 4-2 after being 2-0 down.
“When you look at any season, normally the difference between success and failure isn’t big - it’s points, you can see that in the Premier League this season.
“We had to fight and scrap for every single point, but we had a lot of character and personality - and some very good footballers.
“You can forget just how good a team we were.
“Good players, playing good, attacking football, and a group that really got on - it was the perfect recipe.
“It was a magical time.”
The players were all big characters, and you could sense around the camp that they knew they had the beating of Sheffield United.
Elliott points to the influence of Coyle in that respect: “A bit of that came from the manager, he was a fantastic man manager, he really did get the best out of us.
“We were good players, and Owen tapped into that, got us playing at our full potential.
“That made us believe. Then we had so many games that season, the cup games, beating Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal - we were confident we could go anywhere and give anyone a game.
“And we knew we’d beaten Sheffield United twice - we beat them at home in April, when it was only 1-0 but we’d murdered them.
“And at Bramall Lane earlier in the season, we’d gone there with a lot of injuries, I played right back, I think Grezza (Graham Alexander) was at left back, but we beat them 3-2 and played really well.
“We knew if we played to our potential, we would win the game.
“That’s an amazing feeling going into a game.
“We just concentrated on getting ourselves right, and we were relaxed and confident.
“I spoke to Grezza, who hated the play-offs, I think he’d lost seven with Scunthorpe and Preston, he dreaded them, but he fed off the lads and went into it so full of belief.
“And look at his record in the play-offs as a manager now...
“I remember the bus to the game, we were stuck in traffic, and a few of us egged the driver on to go on the outside, but he had to pull back in because something was coming the other way.
“But the bus was bouncing, you wouldn’t have known we were in our way to a massive game, it was full of life.
“But it was a special group!”
And it was a special goal to win the final, Elliott driving forward in typical fashion from his own half from central midfield, before laying the ball off to Chris McCann.
The ball broke back to Elliott, who swept it first time into the top corner: “I only watched the goal back on video recently, I didn’t remember my run.
“I remember forcing it to Chris McCann for him to have a shot, and Matthew Kilgallon made a block.
“I remember the ball spinning to me, I knew I couldn’t strike it with the laces, I had to feel it, and use the spin, and it was an incredible feeling to see it go in.”
Elliott ran back towards the other end of Wembley, waving to his family, and he vividly remembers a conversation with his father the night before: “My mum and dad were at the other end of the stadium, and the first thing I wanted to do was run towards them, but by halfway I’d calmed down a bit!
“My dad had had an operation, he had throat cancer, and wasn’t going to come.
“It was three years to the day since the operation, and even up until 11 p.m. the night before he wasn’t sure if he would be able to come.
“The last thing I did that night was call him, and he told me - I didn’t know it was three years to the day, but he told me he’d won that one, and I was going to win tomorrow.
“I went to bed with that in my mind, so the first thing that came into my mind when I scored was to run to my mum and dad and celebrate.”
The after-match celebrations live long in the memory as well, although Elliott’s teammates started without him as he fulfilled his extensive media duties.
Elliott missed the team bus, nipping up to the press box to see if anyone could lend him a tenner to get the Tube!: “That group likes to party, they weren’t going to wait for me!
“I had to speak to everyone afterwards, and I hadn’t seen my family either, so I missed the bus and the lads kicked on without me!
“And you know the story of coming up to the press box!
“I didn’t drink that night, I was just so happy, it sounds cheesy, but it was brilliant.
“The lads organised something ourselves, I don’t know if the club hadn’t wanted to jinx anything, so we all chipped in for a room at a hotel, some food, and the club ended up hijacking it!
“All my family and friends from back home were there, and it was brilliant to have everyone all together - it was one of those nights you wish wouldn’t end.
“Everyone was there, so happy for us, it ended up a free bar.
“A lot of the Celtic lads were there with Stevie Caldwell, and my uncle is a big Celtic fan, I remember him saying ‘you’ve scored the winner, all the Celtic lads are here, and it’s a free bar!’
“I think it was the best night of his life!
“But we enjoyed it for a good couple of weeks...”
Enjoyment turned to frustration as Burnley saw a bright start to life in the Premier League fade away, not helped by Coyle’s decision to leave for fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers in January.
Elliott feels but for the upheaval that caused, and key injuries to players through the spine of the side, Burnley probably would have survived: “I was gutted about what happened the season after, I think with a little bit of luck or help...I think we showed in the first half of the season we could compete at that level.
“But we lost the captain before the season (Caldwell), Chris McCann missed virtually all the season, Pato (Martin Paterson)...then the manager...
“We were tipped to go down in the Championship the year before, so to get promoted and lose three key players, and the manager, to fight as long as we did was a miracle.
“With a fair wind, we might have stayed up. The margins were ridiculous, we were trying to scale Everest in the end.
“But it put the club in a position where they were able to go again.
“What they have done since is not our achievement, but the club is thriving and it’s nice to think we maybe contributed or helped lay the foundations.”
For Elliott, a relative late-starter in the professional game, the day stands out as the most special, in a career that brought no end of high points: “I was so lucky, I only turned pro when I was 21, I thought my chance had passed, but I made my debut and I was elated just to do that.
“To then go on and win promotion with Bournemouth, and Burnley, score for Burnley in the play-off final to get to the Premier League, play in Europe with Birmingham, then lift a cup and win promotion as captain with Bristol City, I was blessed to have the career I had.
“That goal at Wembley probably tops everything though, that couple of years at Burnley, especially with that group, I was really lucky to have been a part of that.”