PROMOTION-WINNING Burnley skipper Steven Caldwell admits it breaks his heart to see the Clarets at the wrong end of the Championship.
But he has no time for nostalgia as the Birmingham City centre back faces his former club for the first time since leaving after relegation from the Premier League.
The Clarets travel to St Andrews tonight, 21st in the table after three successive defeats, with the mood among the supporters further darkened by the announcement of a £3.6m operating loss.
It’s a far cry from the moment Caldwell joyously held aloft the play-off winners’ trophy at Wembley in May 2009, and he subscribes to the theory that the turning point was the departure of Owen Coyle in January 2010.
Caldwell said: “It was a quick progression, from the work Steve Cotterill started, to Owen Coyle getting the job, and it was a snowball effect – the runs in the cups, the play-off final, and successful start to the Premier League season. It was an extreme rise.
“I went into it injured, and looking from the outside it was bitterly disappointing when Owen left – I felt we went a wee bit backwards.
“We started playing with a bit of fear, with a different type of football under the new manager that didn’t suit the personnel we had.
“It was alien to us.”
Brian Laws’ appointment and tenure proved uninspired, and Caldwell hopes Eddie Howe can halt the slide and propel Burnley back up the table: “We had a very positive manager who made us believe we could beat anyone – you can’t underestimate the effect Owen had on us.
“He said when we played to our potential we could mix it with anyone, and we proved that.
“We beat the champions at Turf Moor, and we were a match for anyone there.
“Even at Manchester City, we drew 3-3 – we were great, but they had an amazing side and had an amazing 20 minutes or so, but that was our style, and it suited us.
“When Brian came in, his style didn’t suit the players, and the rest is history.
“We were relegated, and it was hugely disappointing.
“Last season I can’t really comment on because I wasn’t there, but it looked like Burnley were scintillating one minute and ordinary the next, and couldn’t get that consistency.
“But hopefully they can get that stability now under Eddie Howe, and he gets the support and backing of everyone.”
Caldwell can’t afford to be distracted by Burnley’s current woes, however, with Birmingham looking for an instant return to the top flight: “Everyone knows how I feel about Burnley, it’s a great club and it shaped my career.
“But every game is important, and I can only focus on the club I’m at – I’m not the kind of guy who looks for the results of all the clubs I’ve played for – I only left Wigan three months or so ago, and my brother plays there, but I didn’t know anything about their result against Blackburn.
“I’ve still got pals at Burnley, and I love the club, but the three points are more important to me than anything else.
“We’ve gone two or three without a win in the league after being in good form before that, but we know if you’re not at it for any period of any game at this level, you’ll get hurt – you have to be mentally tuned in for the full 90 minutes.”
It’s only 18 months since Caldwell left Turf Moor, and the turnover of players has been staggering – but he himself has been part of a similar scenario at St Andrews, and he accepts that’s par for the course after relegation: “There’s only a few of the lads left – Duffo is a very close friend of mine, Eddie (David Edgar), Pato (Martin Paterson), Beasty (Brian Jensen) and Chrissy McCann, but there’s been a big turnover of players, like there has here – that happens when you come down from the Premier League.
“There’s a different manager as well, but it’s the same football club that had great success, which I was delighted to be a part of.
“Hopefully, for their sake, the club can get back to the Premier League as soon as possible.”