Watching Burnley play Watford the other week, the latest installment of Sky’s Boring Monday Night Football that reached its apogee with the recent 0-0 between Liverpool and Manchester United, the members of a Fantasy Football Whatsapp group distracted themselves by telling tales of adventures in Burnley, realizing that they had all spent time in the town, curious given its total lack of attraction or significance.
One friend told of how he did some temporary work on a building site there and soon became aware that the place doubled up as a drug dealing centre for local youths. Kind of like a flea market but with heroin and cocaine replacing knitted jumpers and vinyl.
Another talked about a night out he had there after watching a friend box in the town; the feeling that the taxi had been a DeLorean as they stepped out into sad bars with an eighties feel, customers staggering round giving the idea further authenticity by looking like they’d been on the drink for 30 years, characters capable of making Frank Gallagher look like Jimmy Stewart.
A third, who was placed in the town as an NQT shared more serious experiences: The racial tensions, the primary students trying to stab each other with scissors, the absolute destitution of seven year olds living well below the poverty line. All in all, a couple of conclusions were drawn: a) Fuck Margaret Thatcher b) Burnley is an absolute shithole. As John Cooper Clarke said:
“I’ll tell you now and I’ll tell you firmly,
I don’t ever wanna go to Burnley,
What they do there don’t concern me,
Why would anybody make there journey?”
The problem for the likes of Odion Ighalo and Etienne Capoue was that they had a real, unavoidable reason for going to Burnley that night. Instead of a night in one of London’s exclusive restaurants or a night out in the West End if by any chance either of the two were feeling theatrical, they had to go to Turf Moor and face the grim reality of Up North.
The geographical factor isn’t the only reason for imagining players reluctant to make the journey, of course…
…Burnley have shown resilience at home on their return to the Premier League, yet to be beaten by more than a goal and claiming a big scalp by sending Liverpool back to Merseyside confused as to how they had been stifled despite dominating possession.
In that game, as against Watford, Burnley’s play was reminiscent of Stoke before the Mark Hughes revolution. They almost flaunted their technical inferiority in the faces of their opponents, displaying an aggressiveness and resilience that one imagines former Potters boss Tony Pulis salivating over.
Can't decide whether Man Utd are trying to be the new Burnley or the old Stoke City?
— Son Of A Pitch (@TweetZico) October 17, 2016
As mentioned and much documented, Stoke have gone the other way since they ditched Pulis in favour of Hughes. The Britannia, or as it’s poetically now known ‘The Bet365 Stadium’, is now home to such players as Bojan and Xherdan Shaqiri and, although the football on display is much more attractive, the stadium cannot be considered the fortress it once was. The Potters have picked up four points from an available 12 at home so far this season and conceded nine goals.
It is with these footballing and geographical factors in mind that we are suggesting a monumental change in footballing lexicon. We propose the infamous, overused and nowadays completely invalid ‘Could he do it on a cold, wet night at Stoke?’, with all its supposed connotations of a roughhousing in some dystopian setting, be changed to ‘Could he do it on a cold, wet Tuesday night at Burnley?’
Frankly, it would probably be better if the debate didn’t exist at all; Leo Messi et al could clearly rip either team apart if on form, regardless of the weather and day. If we are going to use it, though, surely it should evolve so that it at least makes vague sense? Playing in the Britannia currently sounds like much more fun than traveling up to Burnley to get bullied at Turf Moor. Alton Towers is less than half an hour from Stoke, surely that would be enough to motivate any Premier League star.