EXCLUSIVE: Owen Coyle reflects on play-off success on 10th anniversary of Burnley's win at Wembley

“Time goes so quickly,” proclaimed former Burnley manager Owen Coyle when reflecting on THAT Championship play-off final win at Wembley.

Saturday, 25th May 2019, 7:00 am
Former Burnley boss Owen Coyle holds the Championship play-off trophy aloft at Wembley a decade ago

Today marks the 10th anniversary since the Clarets swept aside Sheffield United at the national stadium to claim the ultimate prize of Premier League football.

Wade Elliott’s sumptuous finish in the 13th minute, which breached Paddy Kenny’s guard with breath-taking ease, was the difference on the day as the club returned to the top flight for the first time in 33 years.

“In terms of the game I can remember everything about it like it was yesterday,” said the 52-year-old. “You can only have happy memories of winning that play-off final.

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“Wade Elliott’s goal in itself was such an outstanding goal but the big thing that stands out for me was Burnley, with a population of around 60,000 at the time, took 38,000 to Wembley.

“It was amazing to see how colourful it was. Despite the magnitude of it, I’ve never been so confident of winning a game in my life. We were in a very good place in respect of the energy and the sharpness.”

He added: “We felt really good about ourselves. It was only 1-0, but we’d had a couple of penalty appeals and we had so many chances in the game.

“We could have easily scored four or five that day. The boys were outstanding and they did everything that was asked of them.

“It wasn’t just the XI out on the field, we always based our philosophy on the guy that played four games being as important as the man who had played 61.

“We had a fantastic team spirit, allied by a wonderful support that got behind the players. Ten years has gone quickly.”

Coyle, who had guided Falkirk to the Scottish Football League First Division title six years prior, was a notably logical and systematic individual.

The ultra-precise nature of his Ribble Valley home, which sits on a stretch of the A59, mirrors the scrupulous detail that went in to his preparations as a coach. Everyone and everything has its place.

Burnley, undoubtedly, benefited from such methodology. The Paisley-born former striker, who scored close to 300 goals in 669 appearances during a prolific playing career, had learned from his own misadventures.

In 1992 Coyle missed out on the opportunity to win his first major trophy when Airdrieonians lost 2-1 to Rangers in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park.

Coyle conceded that Alex MacDonald’s side had succumbed to the magnitude of the occasion, which the favourites took full advantage of.

Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist scored before the break while Andy Smith pulled a goal back with nine minutes of the tie remaining.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail as the old adage goes. That wasn’t going to happen again, certainly not on Coyle’s watch.

Speaking about the build up to the 2009 final against the Blades, he said: “When we arrived the day before I spoke to the Football League and the FA to ask if I could bring the squad over to look at Wembley.

“I wanted them to go and have a look around so when it came to the game they weren’t in awe. I wanted them to see what it was all about and what was involved so, on the day, we were just there for the game and nothing else.

“I remember as a player I played in the Scottish Cup final against Rangers and the occasion got to us.

“We didn’t turn up until 10 minutes left in the tie because we got caught up in it all.

“We were 2-0 down at half-time and pulled one back in the 80th minute and had a real go. We didn’t give ourselves an opportunity.

“On the bus to the stadium on the day there was calm, there wasn’t any panic.

“They went out and you just knew those boys were ready to win.

“They were hungry for success. Most of them hadn’t been Premier League players before so it was a huge incentive for them.”

It was the Clarets’ 30th victory out of the 61 competitive games they had played that season.It was their third triumph over Kevin Blackwell’s finalists.

Again, it was Coyle’s foresight and planning that made it possible.

Concerned by those exertions, particularly given their endeavours in a two-legged semi-final against Reading, the boss had called for action.

“We had nearly two weeks to prepare for the final,” he said. “After the second leg of the semi-final at Reading we had played 60 games so the players were shot, physically and mentally.

“I said to Barry [Kilby] and Brendan [Flood], the players are out on their legs and they need to get some sunshine on their backs.

“We had the time to do that so we went to Vale do Lobo in Portugal, to Barrington’s, where I’d been before as a player. They had a pitch like Wembley.

“We kept things very light when we got there, just to keep them going, and then we stepped it up a bit and all of a sudden they got their sharpness back.

“They built it up day by day and it just got better and better. We got back to the level from some of those games that season - Tottenham, Forest at home.

“We were back to the level of some big performances.

“Going in to that game, we’d already beaten Sheffield United twice that season, we’d had to keep on winning.

“I certainly felt that we were better than Sheffield United and we knew if we were at our best we’d win.”

Coyle was famously superstitious. The casual attire coupled with the Casio watch wasn’t just for show.

The combination was purposeful, meaningful and a recognised element reflective of his success up to that point.

Formality and procedure had attempted to intervene, with pre-match rituals requesting those involved to be suited and booted.

However, the tee-total manager was clear-minded. “I was superstitious,” Coyle said.

“Once I’d done something I wanted to make sure everything stayed the same.

“I always wore my shorts and socks on the sidelines.

“I remember watching the play-off final from the year before and you need to be in your suit to be presented with the players ahead of the game.

“I managed to time it so that I had 90 seconds from the end of the presentation to kick off. Daz (Bielby), my kitman, was ready with my stuff so as soon as the presentation finished I sprinted down the tunnel to get in to the dressing room and get out of my suit.

“I wanted everything to be the same.

“We had to make sure nothing changed, we had to ensure that the players didn’t play the occasion, they just played the game.”

It was a familiar look, one that ensured Coyle didn’t stand out from the crowd. It resonated with the town’s working class values, it made him an equal, everyone was on a level playing field.

Coyle simply wanted to blend in and that attitude was appreciated by his players.

“It was the most special group you could come across,” he said.

“They had everything. They were team players, they didn’t play for themselves.

“Within the mix there were all kinds of different characters but there was a common denominator and that was the fact that we wanted to do well for ourselves, for the club and for the supporters and the town. They were outstanding.

“We were pleasing on the eye and a very exciting team.

“They were a sensational set of lads. We ended up playing 61 games.

“They were such a tight knit group of players, we used the fewest amount of players in the Championship.

“They were prepared to do anything.

“It had been 33 years, the manager is always seen as the man at the forefront of it, but what we did was a collective.

“From Brendan and Barry in the boardroom to the players, staff.

“Everybody played their part. That was the great thing about it.

“We all had jobs to do, we tried to stay humble, nobody was more special than anybody else.

“It was great to be a part of that spirit and camaraderie. Wembley was the pinnacle.”