Happy April Fool’s Day
Posted on 1 April 2009 | 1:04am
Paul Fletcher scored the greatest goal I ever saw, several decades ago, for Burnley
against Don Revie’s ‘dirty Leeds.’ A picture of the moment hangs in our
Now Burnley’s chief executive, Fletcher has shown in the last few weeks he
still has flair and creativity – with that rare thing, an April Fool that made
me laugh. It has also caused mayhem.
Fletcher was the brains behind a scheme – sorry scam – to honour the club’s
greatest ever players. Those duly honoured – or at least those he wanted to
annoy – received a latter in February, with a proper masthead, and an impressive
array of sponsors like Nike, Dulux, McDonalds and the Football League. None but
the wisest codebreakers would have noticed that the main sponsor was the little
known Daehbonk International (read Daehbonk backwards and you get the picture).
The letter explained that the list of 100 greatest Clarets was compiled by
the club, the FA Heritage Committee, and 5000 randomly selected season ticket
The next, but equally missable clue, came in the invitation to a black tie 135
pounds a head dinner to honour the hundred – at the Grosvenor House Hotel in
Park Lane on 01-04-09 (i.e. today). I was brought in on the joke because I was
named as the after dinner speaker and entertainment was to be provided by The
Bachelors and comedian Mike King. The letter also boasted that preferential
rates for an overnight stay for all honoured Clarets had been secured.
It further announced that at the dinner, the top ten would be presented with a
gold Omega watch. 11-20 with a personally initialled leather briefcase. 21-35
with a port decanter. 36-50 with two Burnley season tickets. 51-100 with a
limited edition Burnley scarf.
So far so good. But then came the list. Number one – no surprise, Jimmy
McIlroy, by common consent our greatest ever player. Number 2, also from way back,
Jimmy Adamson. Number 3 – Leighton James – my hero. But who is that at number
6? Gazza? He only played a handful of games for us. And who is that at number
10? Paul Fletcher. Oh dear, his team-mates from the 70s were not going to like
It was when you got to the 51-100 bracket that you realised his
game. Martin Dobson, one of our best ever players, at 64, behind players in the
20s, 30s, 40s and 50s not fit to lace his boots.
Indeed look closely and you could see almost all of Fletcher’s team-mates
in the ‘limited edition scarf’ section. As letters arrived, anger rose. Dobson,
who is part of the club’s youth development team, was considering his position,
thinking if this was what the club thought of him, why should he continue to
serve them? When I bumped into Steve Kindon at a match, I feared for Fletcher’s
safety for daring to come ahead of him.
But by now the thing was getting wonderfully out of control. Fletcher ‘leaked’
the list to Clarets Mad website, who were also brought in on the joke, but
presented it straight. Cue a massive uproar, an avalanche of messages of
protest. Club historians were upset. Names missed out entirely were contacted
for their furious reactions. Names relegated to scarves were asked to condemn
the whole exercise.
By now the world’s biggest club was in on the act.
Because there at Number 95 was Alex Ferguson’s deputy at Manchester United,
Ferguson was made part of the wind-up, telling Phelan he had to go to the
dinner or risk being accused of his less glamorous former club of ‘having gone
big-time Charlie.’ It was only, several weeks later, when Phelan wrote to
Fletcher claiming prior engagements that we put him out of his misery.
As to whether anyone turns up at the Grosvenor House tonight, I wouldn’t
care to be Paul Fletcher if they do.