Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling has revealed that he was a huge admirer of Burnley Football Club back in the halcyon days.
The 62-year-old was speaking exclusively to the Burnley Express on the 11th day of his March For Men campaign, which took him from Turf Moor to Huddersfield Town’s John Smith’s Stadium.The former Countdown front man, who is raising awareness for Prostate Cancer UK, watched the Clarets as a youngster in the ‘60s and ‘70s when they became champions of England, reached the final of the FA Cup and advanced to the quarter-finals of the European Cup.
“As a kid, in my sort of generation, you used to write to football clubs to ask for autographs, or any sort of memorabilia, and Burnley were one of the clubs that responded with a lot of stuff and that sways a kid,” he said.
“I used to go and watch Burnley whenever they were in the North East so whether it be Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Newcastle, I would always be there.
“It was in the days of some of my favourite players - Frank Casper, Steve Kindon, Dave Thomas, Ralph Coates. I have a lot of good memories of Burnley but, to be honest, I didn’t even know where the town was. I loved the football club.”
Often confined to his studio on matchdays, working alongside the likes of Matt Le Tissier, Paul Merson, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas, as well as Chris Kamara, the Hartlepool United fanatic now keeps tabs on the club from a distance.
“There were some great days back in the ‘60s and ‘70s with harder times to follow,” he said. “It’s great to see where the club is now. Without being condescending, it’s a proper community club.
“I love the fact that almost every stand is named after somebody who has made a significant contribution to the football club as well as the roads around the ground.
“It’s a massive part of society here and that’s what a football club should be. Burnley ticks all the boxes.”
While Stelling is still reeling from his beloved Pools dropping out of the Football League last season he was pleased to see Sean Dyche guide the Clarets to Premier League survival.
“It was a brilliant achievement and a lot of credit goes to those behind the scenes,” said Stelling. “Massive credit, though, to Sean Dyche who is hugely under-rated in some circles.
“People look at the big boys - Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Arsene Wenger, Mauricio Pochettino, but Sean Dyche is every bit of good given the chance.
“He’s done brilliantly, not just to keep the club in the Premier League because there wasn’t a battle for survival, they were comfortable all season long. That is a fantastic achievement.”
Burnley are already second favourites with most bookmakers to slip back in to the Championship next season but Stelling doesn’t agree with the odds that have been posted.
“There’s no reason why they can’t build on that next season,” he said. “Newcastle will be a threat to everybody, Huddersfield as the new boys are an unknown quantity and Brighton are brilliantly organised with Chris Hughton who is another terrific manager. But there’s no reason why they can’t do equally as well as this season.
“It’s massive to get that second season. People talk about that second season syndrome but I’m not so sure that I’m a great believer in that and I’m sure the manager isn’t a great believer in that.
“Get off to a decent start, give yourself a nice foundation, and who knows what the season could hold. There are a couple of cups out there to be won as well.
“They won’t be chasing European football, let’s be realistic, but as long as they can have a comfortable mid-table finish then I think that’s success.
“Just make sure that Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea are coming back for another season. Just consolidate in the Premier League.
“Look at Stoke, you know they’ll be there season in and season out and that should be Burnley’s ambition. They are on their way.”