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Sport at both ends of the financial spectrum

Posted on 23 May 2009 | 9:05am

A few weeks ago I did a blog and a vlog from a Keighley Cougars Rugby League match, where I was doing an article for the Times magazine.

The piece appears this morning, with some terrific photos, and I hope the club think I did justice to the wonderful access I had, and to the passion that keeps institutions like Keighley Cougars going.

They won the game I went to see, against Oldham, so the players’ pay for the week was £200. For a defeat, they get £50. They save a few quid on petrol by sharing cars to training. They don’t have a gym but they do have a deal with Fitness First. And when I was allowed into the dressing room for the pre-match team talk, the place was so crowded the only place I could find to stand was in a puddle in the entrance to the showers.

So that is one end of the sporting financial spectrum. The other comes this weekend with the Football League play-offs and in particular Burnley v Sheffield United to win the final promotion place to the Premiership.

Burnley have known a few hard times down the years. We were reigning League Champions when I first saw them aged four. Fifteen years later, in 1976, we were relegated from the top flight, and we’ve not been back since. Eleven years after that, in the old fourth division, we had to win the last match of the season to stay in the Football League. And now we are on the verge of the big time again.

Monday’s match at Wembley is reckoned to be the event with the single biggest financial prize in world sport, as the TV deal for promotion is worth a guaranteed £60million over the next two years. Sixty million quid. Yes, we can all roll our eyes and say there is too much money in football, but my God what a boost it will give to Burnley, the club and the town, if we land that prize.

Now you have to admit that since we beat Reading to get to Wembley almost two weeks ago, I have been pretty good in keeping this a politics-dominated space, even amid the horrible expenses revelations, when I could have indulged my obsession with football in general and Burnley in particular. Not for nothing are the colours of the site claret and blue.

I said after Reading that there is nothing like football for the passion that can be generated in victories like the one we secured there. And there is nothing like football for the slow, steady build up of nervous energy before the game actually comes.

When I said that to someone in Edinburgh yesterday, he said surely a general election is worse. But the thing with an election, if you’re directly involved in the campaign, is that you are busy, virtually every minute of the day. In sport, you have nothing to do but think about it, talk about it, text about it, fret about it, imagine all the various scenarios of victory and defeat, and have ridiculous ideas about how you might be able to influence it.

It is bad enough being a supporter. It must be worse being a coach or a player in these last couple of days when you just want the game to start.

But we have definitely unearthed a gem in manager Owen Coyle, who must take so much of the credit for getting us this far. I have done the profile/interview piece on him for the matchday programme, and I was impressed just how calm he was about the whole thing, and how clearly certain footballing principles drive him.

Like a lot of good managers, he comes from a very working class West of Scotland background. He is a practising Catholic who never drinks and, where I sit a few rows behind the benches at home games, I have never heard him swear, which must be something of a rarity in a football manager.

It also suggests he might be a little out of place in the Keighley Cougars dressing room, where the F-word seemed to be an important part of the motivation process.

Great clubs though, both of them, and both an important part of my life, Keighley being my birthplace and Burnley the team I have supported for almost half a century. I think there is something very fitting that the Keighley piece appeared on this of all great sporting weekends. And Monday is my 52nd birthday. It’s all coming together. I think we’ll do it. I really do.

You see what I mean about having ridiculous thoughts about how you can influence the outcome.

I must remember to tie my left shoelace first on Monday, and keep one of my sleeve buttons undone. That’s what I did for Reading, and it seemed to do the trick.

  • Jamie

    Would be good to see Burnley back in the premiership but I honestly reckon it will be Sheffield United, who have looked the stronger of the two teams from the games that I have attended this season. The threat of Halford, Henderson and Webber could be clinical but Martin Paterson knows what Wembley is all about having got promotion there with Scunthorpe. It should be an interesting game for certain but just think that the desire from Sheff United to get back in the league after the Carlos Tevez affair will help them cement their place next season. But a trip to Newcastle wouldn’t be too bad in the championship.

    Jamie (Charlton Fan)

  • Jamie

    Good luck to Burnley and hopefully they can cement their place back in the top flight and in the premiership for the first time. I reckon though that Sheff United will nick it, as they have looked the stronger of the two teams from the games I have seen this season. It will be vital to stop the attacking threat of Halford, Webber and Henderson and also try and get the better of the experienced Paddy Kenny. One bonus though is that Martin Paterson knows all about Wembley having been promoted there with Scunthorpe who are back at Wembley again this weekend. It is also great to see how well Graham Alexander is doing fitness wise and how many games he can still play. Burnley would deserve to go up as well having beaten Arsenal and Chelsea in the Carling Cup but think the passion and determination for Sheff United to get back into the premiership following the Carlos Tevez affair will be the key and can see them winning it. Oh well, a trip to St James’s Park and the Riverside won’t be too bad. Better then tasting relegation from the championship.

    Jamie (Charlton Fan)

  • gary Enefer

    Best wishes for the game.

  • David Fagan

    Nice blog Alastair. Good luck with the play-off. I will also be supporting Burnley. Hope we can make is a play-off double for Owen, with his old club Airdrie in a play-off match against Ayr United. Perhaps not so much at stake financially, but massively important never the less for Airdrie fans.

    You will not be surprised to hear me take issue with your comment about having “unearthed a gem”. Owen Coyle has been a gem for Airdrie for many many years…he is already a legend at Broomfield.

    All the best.

    David

  • Pat Kennedy

    Here’s one for you. Burnley have a 34 per cent win rate over Sheff U. Yet on the four occasions on which the teams have met on the 25th of the month, Burnley have a 100 per cent record, and a combined score of 12-1. So like you say, it is all adding up

  • Will Martin

    Enjoyed the Times piece. It is a fantastic sport and at the kind of level Keighley are at – I am a Swinton fan – needs all the support and recognition it can get. Good luck at Wembley. I think most neutrals are backing your boys

  • Paul Clarkson

    My dad was born in Burnley and 89 years after that event I too am wondering how I can influence the game on Monday. Part of me just wants to ‘Sky Plus’ the game and go and hide until it’s all over. However my brother and son are travelling to my house so we can ‘watch’ the game together and so that’s not really an option. It feels almost surreal that a game involving BFC will be the centre of the media universe. After the heart-break of the Spurs semi final, I felt the pain of that defeat would spur the players on. Hats off to Owen Coyle and the lads. Hope your birthday is one to remember for the right reasons.

  • Ian Eastwood

    I may be wishing my life away, but I simply can’t wait for monday. It may be a bank holiday weekend and the wife was hoping to get a few DIY jobs done before me and my son Tom dissapear down to london to support the Clarets. I just can’t concentrate. Scowering Newspapers radio and the web for news. never been on facebook as much in the last few days chatting to an old school mate in OZ who’s flighing home for the game, and a Nephew coming back from Canada, it’ just fantastic. listening to R5 fighting Talk at the moment all but one backing the clarets.
    Come on Burnley.

  • Kevin Wallace

    Good Luck for Monday Alastair…Would be great to see Burnley take the step up, especially with Owen as the manager. I’m a St Johnstone supporter so Owen holds a special place with us too, he laid the foundations for our Scottish Challenge Cup win just prior to leaving us to manage Burnley and the nucleus of his team have now gone on to win promotion to the Scottish Premier League this year after 7 long years out of the top division.

    For many Saints fans, Owen has played a huge part in turning the club round and laying the foundations for where we are today, as we celebrate our championship season I hope you and Owen and all the Burnley fans will be just as happy come the final whistle on Monday.

    When Owen was here, we missed out on promotion to Gretna in the dying seconds of the season, There is a picture of Owen taken when the game ended showing the hurt he felt and it inspired us all…Cant wait to see the pictures of him smiling on Monday..

    Good Luck

  • Mark Hanson

    I’ll go and look for that Times piece, I really enjoy articles like that where you get a feel for what makes a club tick from terrace to boardroom via dressing room.

    Totally agree with what you say about what football does to you. Took my 15 year old nephew to Everton v Man Utd FAC semi final. We’re both Blues so was so proud to hear him say BEFORE the game how much more satisfying it is to support a club that has to really earn their place in a fixture like that. It makes the highs so much sweeter.

    Good luck Burnley. Cheshire estate agents and Ferrari dealers need another North West-based Premier league club:)

  • olli issakainen

    Football is about commitment, not about winning. But as I started supporting the Clarets during 1972/73 season, I would not mind an another promotion to the top flight. I read somewhere that the promotion would be worth £200m to the club and town in tv money, investment and visibility. I recently saw a tv documentary in which Prince of Wales paid a visit to Burnley and I must say the town needs the money.

    Happy 52nd birthday to AC on Monday. Hopefully Burnley FC will provide an appropriate present.

  • Elisabetta Cardone

    I am sitting with my English friends Andrea and Mike, who are here near Milan for your holiday weekend. You are obviously very busy, Mister Campbell. Mike (who is trying to find a bar to watch your match on Monday) was reading your sporting blog when they saw your name on the page one of the newspaper which I was reading, La Repubblica. Your article about what makes Sir Ferguson the best is over two big pages alongside an article supporting Barcelona. I enjoy the pieces in your article about his politics and his views of what is important in his job. Mike does not speak Italian so I have done translating for him. He says to say hello and good luck … he is a fanatic of Sheffield Wednesday and says he wants your Burnley to win

  • Jane A

    AC, I hope its a very happy BURNthday for you with the right outcome – everything crossed. Enjoy it.

    Times article was a good read. I know absolutely zip about Rugby League but the idea that people take that sort of physical pounding at weekends *and* go off to a full time job on Monday is impressive.

  • Rickers Twickers

    We’ll all be at Wembley on Monday. 36,000 of us hoping we can make it to the Premier League. Win, lose or draw it should be a great day out…though a lot better if we are ahead after 90 minutes !

  • uberpikey1889

    While I admire Coyle and the marathon season your boys have , I want to add a little balance to the blogs. Hope you have a good day on Monday, up until kick-off C’mon you mighty Red and White Wizards.