692: Book review: It's Burnley Not
by : Ashley Michael
As a rule of thumb season reviews have a pretty limited target audience. Nobody really wants to read reports of somebody else's team drawing one apiece with their local rivals, the goals coming from two players you've never heard of. Where's the fun in that? So why exactly would anyone want to read 'It's Burnley Not Barcelona', a diary of Burnley's 2002/03 season?
The short answer is this: it's quite good. I get paid by the word, however, so here's the long answer.
Writer Dave Thomas is helped by the fact that Burnley's season is far from normal. They make a disastrous start before somehow improving beyond all recognition and setting off in pursuit of the playoffs. They then lose to Man Utd in the Worthington Cup and Watford in the FA Cup quarter finals before tailing off horribly in the league. Every so often, just as things are threatening to settle into a pattern, a complete freak of a result (such as Grimsby 6 Burnley 5 or Burnley 4 Watford 7) pops up to leave the reader wondering how exactly a team can be so consistently inconsistent.
Thomas clearly models his writing style on Bill Bryson (which is no bad thing) and makes little or no effort to dispute this. The book is full of the small details that make a supporter's life what it is - discussing the game with random strangers while out walking the dog, trying to stop the wife going on about the team pin-up and scaring young Greek striker Papadopolous by completely massacring his native tongue.
Thomas is a long-time supporter and gets to the occasional away game but often finds himself listening to the website commentary or relying on Jeff Stelling to mention the score on Gillette Soccer Saturday. It certainly adds a different dimension to the match reports. Thomas often takes quotes from opposing websites, reminding the reader of how biased eyes see the same thing so differently. It makes a nice change from just listing the teams and the timing of the goals.
The most commonly recurring theme throughout the book is one that affected every single Nationwide League club - the fallout from the collapse of ITV Digital. Burnley repeatedly teeter on the brink of administration (according to the press at least) but nobody seems to know quite what is happening.
There are constant rumours of player sales and even the prospect of selling Turf Moor. There are regular references to other clubs' problems and the ever-present fear that Burnley will be next.
Indeed, the fact that the Nationwide League has yet to lose a team to the crisis is even more remarkable given the stories flying around at the time of the book being written. Just how much money does Huddersfield owe? And York? And Leicester?
This is a genuinely interesting book for anyone with an interest in football, regardless of their views on Burnley Football Club. Its laid-back approach means that reports of dull games are swiftly passed over in favour of something more interesting, be it a dog-walking anecdote, an unusual fact about Brentford or whatever. It certainly helps that few of the games are dull (Burnley concede two goals in second half injury time at least four times) but Thomas has a style that could make a postponement sound interesting.
In case you're wondering there is one, but not until page 112.
To conclude: if you like Bill Bryson you'll enjoy this book. Not because of any encyclopedic depth - it doesn't even start until a month into the season - but because as a record of a season that doesn't really go anywhere it manages to be both interesting and informative without ever being anything less than enjoyable.