Clarets legend Steve Davis looks back at his first two promotions with Burnley

Many people say winning a play-off final at Wembley is the best way to earn promotion.

Monday, 27th April 2020, 4:00 pm
Jimmy Mullen, Wayne Dowell and Steve Davis in the dressing room at York in 1992

The best man to ask has to be Clarets legend Steve Davis, who went up a level four times with Burnley, three times as a player and once as a coach.

And while he admits you can’t beat the drama of victory under the Twin Towers, as was, or the Arch at the national stadium, his personal favourite was helping win the Fourth Division title in 1992 with two games to spare in his first full season with the club.

Two years later, he starred as Burnley beat Stockport County 2-1 at Wembley in the Second Division play-off final.

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After three and a half years with Luton Town, Davis returned in December 1998, and in May 2000 led the side to promotion as Second Division runners-up - overhauling Gillingham on the last day.

And as first team coach in 2009, Davis celebrated a fourth promotion with the club, as Burnley reached the Premier League for the first time with a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at the new Wembley.

Asked which promotion was the best, Davis smiled: "The best way is at Wembley, if you can guarantee the win, that is the best way, in the play-offs.

"To play at Wembley is any schoolkid's dream. The cup finals back in the day were the only games that were live, when I was growing up.

"The Sunderland final in 1973 was one of the first I can remember, Ian Porterfield, Jim Montgomery - when I was a schoolboy at Southampton Jim used to train us, so that was a buzz, meeting him.

"But probably the best one for me personally was winning the Fourth Division and getting the medal.

"I was obviously mad about football when I was younger, and I used to always see the players carrying this box when they'd won the league, or the FA Cup.

"I always wondered what the medal was like, and when they came through for us, I was like a kid in a sweet shop.

"It was a great feeling, nice to get one of those in your hand.

"They're in a box in the loft now, there's nothing on display, it's all tidied away, but you never forget those memories."

That Fourth Division triumph saw Davis make his mark in the professional game, scoring eight goals in 57 appearances in all competitions as the Clarets ended a seven-year stay in the basement division.

Davis started his career at Southampton, and spent three months on loan at Turf Moor in 1989, before making the move permanent in the summer of 1991.

Despite making his debut with the Saints in the old First Division in February 1990 in a 4-1 win over Norwich City, in which Matt Le Tissier scored a hat-trick, Davis knew his time was up at The Dell when Ian Branfoot left him at home in the summer of 1991, the only professional not taken on the first team pre-season tour.

And he had no qualms about dropping to the Fourth Division: "I think the fact Burnley were in the Fourth Division didn't come into it, it was the fact it was Burnley, the size of the club, and the experience I had on loan - I knew about the supporters and the expectations and potential really.

"Things were made pretty clear when Ian Branfoot came in as the new manager and I was the only pro who didn't go on the pre-season trip.

"I was told Burnley had come in, so I thought it was time to move on and go and have a go.

"I was delighted to move, and that first season was incredible.

"It made it even more special we won the title in the first year, it was a good start."

The season didn't start well, however with four defeats in the first seven games, including three on the spin, culminating in Frank Casper being relieved of his duties.

Assistant Jimmy Mullen took over as Burnley won nine-successive league games, and Davis reflected: "It was tough, Frank lost his job after we got beat at Scarborough - we'd had a bad start, not won many games and if you're not winning games, the manager comes under pressure.

"Jimmy took over and we just went on a run where we kept winning.

"There was no real magic formula, I don't think, it was just the fact we had good lads and a good team spirit.

"There was me and Pends (John Pender) at the back, two good full backs (Ian Measham and Joe Jakub), Loafy (John Deary) and Andy Farrell in the middle of the park, Roger Eli and Mick (Conroy) up front and two wingers, John (Francis) and Steve Harper, who would chip in with goals as well.

"It was a pretty constant team, a lot of players played a fair number of games, which helps."

Former Wolves and Charlton man Pender was a big influence on Davis, who feels he was one of his best central defensive partners: "He was brilliant, I was still a young lad and learned a lot from him.

"He'd played in the old First Division with Wolves and we complimented each other and got on well off the pitch as well.

"He was different class, an unsung hero really, bearing in mind he captained two promotion-winning sides and he was a real leader.

"He set the tone on the pitch, knew his limits, knew what he was good at, and he was well-respected by everyone."

After winning the title, Burnley had a mid-table finish in what was now the Second Division after the arrival of the Premier League, before the Clarets went on to reach the second tier after 11 years away, via a play-off final win over Stockport.

The side would win only four away games, but 17 home wins took them into the play-offs.

After a goal-less draw in the semi-final first leg at Turf Moor against Plymouth Argyle, many felt Burnley's chance had gone.

But a John Francis double saw the Clarets come from behind to win 3-1 at Home Park, before the side again recovered from a goal down to beat nine-man Stockport at Wembley.

Davis still can't work out what happened away from home that season: "The second season was one of consolidation, and the promotion season, I think we had an absolute stinker away from home, we just couldn't get any results away from Turf Moor.

"At home we were formidable and won enough to get into the play-offs, then it's a lottery - I think we might have been 12 points behind Plymouth and Stockport.

"Plymouth were complaining when we won, they were that far in front, we shouldn't be going to Wembley and all that, but they are the rules!

"Especially with how the away record was, to draw the first leg at home, we were thinking 'oh no, this is going to be tough', but super Johnny popped up with two great goals and Joycey (Warren Joyce) scored the third - it was a good trip back!

"The away record was all about the green and black strip I think! We just couldn't put our fingers on it, throughout the season. It almost came to the point where we sort of felt, well if we don't win away, we know we'll win at home.

"That was why it was a bit of shock after we'd drawn the first leg against Plymouth.

"It was strange that season away from home, I'm not sure why it happened.

"I think Ted McMinn had a big say (in Stockport losing their heads) at Wembley, but it all worked out well for us.

"It was a strange one, we were 1-0 down after two minutes and I hadn't touched the ball at that point!

"I was thinking 'oh right, here we go', but we managed to get back in and should have won more comfortably.

"Eyresey (David Eyres) scored a fantastic goal and Parky (Gary Parkinson) managed to get the winner and we managed to hang on. It was a great day."

Davis almost capped the win with one of the all-time greatest Wembley goals, but just ran out of steam after a run the length of the pitch: "It was nice to have the run, the finish didn't match it - i was playing for time, that's why it ended up near the corner flag, that's my excuse anyway!"