For most teams, the moment of relegation is marked with something between regret and rage. Players sink to their knees, supporters hurl insults, stewards twitch nervously in their tabards. But not for Burnley. For the last ten minutes of their 1-0 victory over Hull City, their fans sang defiantly and when the end finally came the players stood straight-backed and applauded them for their backing. Burnley are down, but not in disgrace. They exit the Premier League with pride.
The contrast between them and their partners in demotion, Queens Park Rangers, could not be more stark. Burnley always looked united and determined, the R’s were forever divided and disappointing. It’s hard to see how any manager could have brought more out of his players than Sean Dyche, while it’s difficult to recall any club that has had less value for money than QPR.
In the summer of 2014, Burnley brought in Lukas Jutkiewicz and George Boyd for £5.5m, along with a host of relatively low salaried free transfers and loanees. QPR blew nearly £40m on Sandro, Alex McCarthy, Jordon Mutch, Leroy Fer and Steven Caulker, not to mention some expensive loanees and free transfers. This new tranche joined an already well remunerated squad, so well remunerated that it has attracted the attention of the Football League’s FFP inspectors. There is no danger of that happening at Burnley.
Burnley did not come to close to survival where it counts. With just six wins and only 27 goals, they were well short in the league. But on the pitch, there were few occasions on which they were outclassed. Only the defeat to West Bromwich Albion really stands out and that came on a day when Burnley were reduced by injury. It’s not hard to see why they worked so hard. Dyche is an imposing character, the sort of man you desperately want to impress because the alternative does not bear thinking about.
But all of this has been said before and it doesn’t completely explain why Burnley’s story is so positive. Behind the sweat and support is a disconcertingly sensible football club. The TV revenue for even a single season in the Premier League is considerable, but most newly promoted teams blow it on agents, wages and transfer fees in a desperate bid to stay up. When they fall short, they find themselves back in the second flight, loaded with players who don’t want to be there. Burnley don’t have this problem.
The club already has plans in place for an expansion of their compact training centre with money earmarked for new facilities, including analysis rooms for the backroom staff. The spoils of their first promotion to the Premier League, back in 2009, went largely on debt repayments and critical improvements to the pitch. Now they have a chance to fund an infrastructure that will serve them well in the future.
There is little that Burnley and QPR share in common in terms of finance, but they’re not too dissimilar in size. Both clubs are dangerously close to glamorous neighbours, their natural support reduced by the lure of stardust. Burnley have the larger stadium, but the ever increasing gravitation of wealth to the capital means that QPR can charge far more money for tickets. Neither club is likely to be in the Champions League any time soon, not even with rich benefactors as QPR have so painfully proved.
But while the London club hurled money around in a vain attempt to elevate themselves, the unfashionable Lancastrians played the long game. They gave their best on the pitch, they carefully drew their plans off it and they will return to the second flight in far better shape than they left it. You don’t have to travel too far to the west to find another unfashionable northern club beginning with B that would have done well to follow that policy.
The Premier League offers great rewards, but they don’t have to be short term. From top to bottom, Burnley can be very proud of what they’ve done in the last year. They may have been relegated, but they’ve secured a healthier future.
Is this all senseless wibble? Did Burnley bottle their chance in the big time by not spending hard and fast? Let us know by emailing: [email protected]