The match that lasted a lifetime

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Burnley 2, Orient 1 May 1987

NOT even the scenes following Burnley's First Division Championship triumph 25 years ago could match those at Turf Moor on Saturday when, after 90 minutes which seemed more like 900, Clarets finally avoided the threat of losing their Football League status.

An afternoon of unbelievable tension began with the police asking referee George Courtney to bring the players off the pitch from their pre-match warm-up to delay the kick-off 15 minutes to allow thousands still outside the ground to get in.

And when the match finally started at 3-15 p.m. there were 15,781 fans inside, the largest attendance at a Burnley league game for five years since they won the Third Division Championship.

Furious

With Orient also needing to win - but for a far happier reason than Clarets - the match began at a furious tempo with both sides having a goalscoring effort cleared off the respective goal-lines in the opening two minutes.

It was the Burnley fans' turn first to hold their breaths as a header from Orient 's Terry Howard got past goalkeeper Joe Neenan only to be headed off the line by Peter Leebrook.

And as play swept to the other end, Clarets won a corner through Ian Britton. When this was sent over from the right, Joe Gallagher got above the visitors' defence to power in a header which full back Kevin Hales booted off the line with goalkeeper David Cass beaten.

That was the pattern to be followed with Gallagher lunging at a cross from Leighton James and failing to connect by inches as the ball even then almost found the far corner of the net.

Neenan needed his full height and then his finger tips to prevent a cross from Kevin Godfrey finding the lurking Chris Jones while in an immediate counter-attack by Clarets Phil Malley met Billy Rodaway's cross to send a flashing header inches over the bar.

James almost caught Cass napping with a clever over head kick following Gallagher's header from a free-kick by Peter Hampton before Gallagher, back in his own position as central defender, came so very close to giving Orient the vital first goal.

His headed back pass to Neenan went sadly wrong, Godfrey pounced and only a desperate lunge by Ray Deakin averted disaster but not before the ball had screwed off his foot and shaved the angle of post and cross bar.

Malley went desperately close from Neil Grewcock's pass, John Cornwell was just as near to breaking the deadlock following a right-wing raid and then, in injury time in the first half, the ground erupted.

Britton made the break down the right, found GREWCOCK who cut inside and then from 20 yards, sent a left-foot drive just inside the far post past the diving but well-beaten Cass.

With news coming through that Swansea were beating Lincoln, Clarets seemed to have won their own battle three minutes into the second half when Grewcock's perfect free-kick was headed home by BRITTON, the smallest player on the pitch.

But if the delirious Burnley fans thought that was it - and they obviously did - they were in for another half-hour of nerve-jarring tension as Orient became more and more dangerous and Burnley's efforts began to show on some ageing and even younger legs in the side.

We had seen it before this season - Clarets ahead and counting the points but then failing dismally to get any at all.

And when Neenan came out to punch away a right-wing cross and only succeeded in giving it to ALLAN COMFORT, the tricky Orient winger volleyed into the roof of the net after 56 minutes and the fight for survival became even more intense.

Britton could have eased the tension after 65 minutes when he swept a cross from Phil Devaney just wide instead of into the corner of the net but it remained with Clarets having to defend desperately.

Every catch by Neenan was greeted with tumultuous applause, every desperate tackle by a Burnley player produced roars of approval.

Hearts missed a beat or two as Malley hurled himself to block a goalbound effort from Cornwell and Neenan dropped on a shot from the rebound by the dangerous and gifted Orient star Shaun Brooks.

The crowd willed the ball away from Burnley's half and into Orient's and Grewcock hit a post as the minutes ticked away, ever so slowly it appeared to the Burnley fans.

And 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 Clarets reached the dressing room with only two shirts intact - those of Deakin and 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".

But after so many disappointments this season, all 11 Burnley players were acclaimed as heroes with the least experienced, 18-year-old Devaney, having run himself to a standstill.

Hardly known by the Burnley fans six weeks ago, he has been pitched into the deep end, grasped the chance brilliantly and is one Burnley player who will probably look back in years to come and remember the season as a happy one.

Some others won't and neither will the fans, certainly not the 2,000 or so regular loyalists who will now rightfully demand:

THIS MUST NEVER BE ALLOWED TO HAPPEN AGAIN!

Burnley: Neenan, Leebrook, Hampton, Rodaway, Gallagher, Deakin, Grewcock, Malley, James, Devaney, Britton. Sub: Hoskin (not used).

Orient: Cass, Cunningham, Hales, Smalley, Howard, Cornwell, Hughton, Brooks, Jones, Godfrey, Comfort. Sub: Castle (not used).

Referee: George Courtney, of Spennymoor.

Official attendance: 15,781.