Great players don’t just win trophies and play great football; great players change the way the game is played. They put supporters on seats before kick-off and force them to their feet frequently throughout the 90 minutes.
Former Clarets fan-favourite Glen Little will never claim to be in the same bracket as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kaka, Fernando Torres or Zinedine Zidane, who make up the top five leading transfers alongside Ronaldo, but the wing wizard’s flair was mesmeric.
In total nine clubs had the privilege and pleasure of Little’s service and astonishingly his accumulated transfer cost only amounted to £100,000. The Clarets certainly got what they paid for in November, 1996, and much more!
Throughout his distinguished career, which spanned just under 500 appearances, Little’s attitude was exemplary. The Wimbledon-born talent had a determined mentality, an unrivalled focus and the drive to succeed. He fought to win a place in the Clarets starting XI in the relegation-threatened season of 1997/98 under Chris Waddle, he strove to help lift Burnley into the Championship and succeeded in his own aspirations to feature in the Premier League.
As a youngster, where he was nurtured in a central role, Little climbed the ranks at Crystal Palace, as schoolboy, apprentice and professional, though he never made a first team appearance. His restricted opportunities at Selhurst Park saw him take flight from the Eagles and migrate to the Irish Football League where he made his debut on loan at Derry City.
But his career picked up momentum when the midfielder culminated his affiliation with Palace before joining ex Claret Tommy Cassidy at Irish Premier League club Glentoran in August, 1995, following in the footsteps of Turf Moor legends such as Jimmy McIlroy and Alex Elder.
“I was just a local boy so I was at Palace from being nine until I was 19,” Little said. “Then I ended up going to Ireland which was a bit of a strange scenario. I went there and played for a year-and-a-half before I got the move to Burnley. I had a great time in Ireland and luckily the manager, Tommy Cassidy, had played for Burnley so he had a bit of a link there. He always told me if I did well for him he’d find me a move back across the water. It was the perfect move for me.”
Little became an instant crowd-pleaser during his stay at Glentoran, acquiring the status of cult hero. “I’ve been fortunate throughout my career really because everywhere I went the crowd liked me which was lucky,” said the 35-year-old. “I was only a youngster and it did good for me going to Glentoran. It was physical so it toughened me up and I was mixing it with the big boys.”
Little teamed up with the Clarets in November, 1996, during Adrian Heath’s tenure as manager and it was the only time he would move to a club for a fee. He arrived months after the spectacular renovation of the Bee Hole End, which was subsequently named the Jimmy McIlroy Stand in honour of the Burnley and Northern Ireland legend. The James Hargreaves Stand had already replaced the historic Longside after opening in April and so Little had been introduced into a new chapter in Harry Potts Way.
“I remember coming across and seeing the ground, which was great, speaking to Adrian Heath and it just seemed a really good move,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to come back and play league football in the old Second Division. Damien Matthews was at Burnley, who I was with at Crystal Palace, so that was nice because I was a long way from home. I spoke to Damien and he told me it was a good club so it was perfect for me. I travelled up with him and it was nice I had someone there to help me settle in.”
Little’s first taste of English football came in a substitute appearance in a 3-2 defeat away at Peterborough in December. But he couldn’t believe his luck as a 4-2 victory on penalties, when the game finished 1-1 after extra-time, in an FA Cup replay against Walsall at Turf Moor paved the way for a clash at Anfield against Liverpool in the next round.
Little said: “As soon as I signed we drew Liverpool in the FA Cup so that was great. I came on for about 20 minutes at Anfield so I went straight from Ireland to Anfield which was an experience.”
At the end of the season Heath became Howard Kendall’s assistant manager at Everton. Former England international Chris Waddle was installed as player-manager for the 1997/98 season and that proved an initial stumbling block for Little’s development.
He said: “Chris Waddle ended up coming in as manager and it didn’t really happen for me for the first half of the season; he didn’t really take to me and I couldn’t even get in the squad. I was totally bombed out but in the end I started playing around Christmas time and from there I never looked back.”
Don’t miss Tuesday’s Express for lots more from Glen Little - plus great pictures from his career!