Burnley’s Greatest Year
by Lily Fontaine
Northern Life's Lily Fontaine talks to local historian Geoff Crambie about his love for Burnley Football club as he shares his fond memories
We’re going back 60 years,” Geoff informs me as he pulls Burnley Football Club programmes from 1959 to 1960 out of an old Post Office bag. “This is a little pot of Burnley’s greatest year, without a doubt. Colne had just won the double, which only happened once in 129 years,” grins Geoff “so everybody was buoyed up with that. Then Burnley started to play really well.
“They were due to play Wolverhampton Wanderers on home turf, who were going for a hat-trick at the top of the league. “This was the greatest match I have ever seen down at Burnley, and I have seen hundreds and hundreds.”
Every other Saturday, Geoff who, at the time had the nick name ‘Crumble’ and his pals: Mick ‘Iron Man’ Crabtree and Rodney ‘Kellogs’ Lawcock would set off down Albert Road towards Colne Train Station. Only the wealthy had cars then, so everybody took the train. “The carriages were absolutely packed. There was no trouble, just everybody looking forward to the match,” he explains. “We’d get off and you’d go over a big iron bridge. At the time, a lot had clogs on because they worked in the mill: the noise was horrendous!”
Under 18s would skip The Reindeer and The Adelphi, instead heading down Yorkshire Street to Fitzpatrick’s Herbal Shop for an alcohol free pre-match pick-me-up. “They sold blood drinks. If you’ve had Red Bull, it was like that. Sometimes you’d have two and felt like you could take on the world!” Geoff enthuses, describing it like a strong sarsaparilla laced with rum. At the gate it was one and threepence for under 18s, but football veteran Geoff had season tickets of course. Making their way to the Bee Hole End, now Jimmy McIlroy stand – who was actually playing that day. Geoff describes how, “Nobody sat down then, everybody stood – and the gate was 35,000 that day! You were standing with all the Wolves fans! But there was no animosity.”
And then the match started.
It was assumed that Wolves had it in the bag, given their scoring record and place on the league table, but to the delight of the home fans Burnley beat them four-one. “There were grown men crying,” Geoff remembers, describing how Jimmy McIlroy said, ‘The ball was on our side’ when he met him after the match: “You could go up to the players then. Now, they have bodyguards.
“I took our Nathan to his first match – against Manchester United. He said, ‘Look Grandad, Giggsy!’ You couldn’t approach him. Then, you could go to the players’ entrance and get every autograph and talk to every player. I got about six in my autograph book that day.”
“TREVOR MEREDITH – BROUGHT IN TO REPLACE ENGLAND PLAYER AND BRIERFIELD FISH SHOP NAME-SAKE JOHN CONNELLY – SCORED THREE GOALS”
It was a turning point for Burnley – a town of only 80,000 population – because it took them from seventh up to second in the league. “Afterwards, we went to Fitzpatricks and had four blood drinks! We were buzzing and missed the train back!”
It also meant that in May of the following year, Burnley were to play Manchester City at the old ground: Maine Road.
66,750 fans descended upon the Stadium in anticipation of the game that would decide who won the league. By the time the gates closed there were still 3,500 outside following the match with their ears – including our Geoff, who shows me the autograph he managed to get from Brian Pilkington: “He scored a goal aer four minutes… brilliant! Two minutes later… despair! Joe Hayes, who was a brilliant player, scored for them. It’s one-one,” Geoff tells me with a disheartened groan. However, Trevor Meredith – brought in to replace England player and Brierfield fish shop name-sake John Connelly – scored three goals, despitethe efforts of the great German goalie, Bert Trautmann. “Toooom and it went in. I’ve never heard a cheer like it. I was outside with my pals but you could hear the noise inside the stadium. It was wonderful.” City were wanting to score another but Burnley goalie, Adam Blacklaw, kept everything out. “When the final whistle blew – we’d done it! It was absolutely unbelievable.” Burnley were now champions, which was not only a feat in itself, but gave them access to the European Cup for the first time ever.
It was November 1960, almost exactly a year since they beat the Wolves, when they played Stade De Reims – whose strong team featured Raymond Kopa and Just Fontaine,” laughs Geoff. “We whooped them! It was four-one. Then we played Hamburg – we beat them down in Burnley, but they beat us away – I think it was four-three.” It was close but Burnley were knocked out.
This didn’t knock Geoff’s pride in his team however: “We had such a good European cup, just getting there! It was wonderful. There was no better year and there never will be. I’ve been on 76 years and I’ve never known a year like it. You were buzzing! You wanted some more of those blood drinks!”