Former Burnley and Blackpool winger David Eyres: "I was considering telling them to rip my contract up!"

"There was a stage where I was going to knock on his door and tell him that I'd made a mistake signing professional terms!"

Saturday, 30th May 2020, 7:30 am
David Eyres and Gary Parkinson celebrate the Wembley winner in the play-off final against Stockport County in 1994.

David Eyres recalls the sliding doors moment that could quite easily have brought his career to an end before it had even begun.

It came just weeks after Blackpool had paid £10,000 to take the former Ford employee from Belle Vue-based North Wales outfit Rhyl ahead of the 1989/90 campaign.

Eyres, then 25, was a late starter in the professional game, but the Liverpool-born winger was very nearly a non-starter.

Former Burnley boss Jimmy Mullen

"I was prepared to walk away", he continued. The production line worker, who was still a semi-pro in all but name, had struggled to acclimatise to the step up in class.

Tempers were starting to fray during a pre-season training session in preparation for the Manx Cup, an exchange of words with then Seasiders boss Jimmy Mullen exacerbated the situation and at that point his appreciation of the move had wilted.

"I got on with Jimmy really well, but I remember an incident when I first joined Blackpool," reflected Eyres.

"Pre-season was tough, it was something I'd never done before in my life and, after a couple of weeks, I thought to myself 'what have I done?' I didn't realise how tough it would be.

"I remember being in a circle with all the lads and the banter was flying around and I was quite quiet back then. I was getting wound up and I ended up booting the ball away.

"It was like the film 'Kes' when he gets sent in and he sticks the fingers up. Jimmy Mullen had seen what I'd done, he sent me in and all the lads were trying to wind me up.

"Jimmy said something at that point and I turned around and told him where to go. Straight away I thought 'why did you do that?'

"I went back to the dressing room, I was waiting there, all the lads came back and then the manager shouted 'Eyresy, get in here!' I walked in like Eeyore, with my head down."

At that moment things would only go one of two ways and Eyres' next move would have a significant say in the outcome.

Fortunately the split-second decision he made, in holding out an olive branch, brought him back from the brink of early retirement.

"I remember it well because there was a stage where I was going to knock on his door and tell him that I'd made a mistake signing professional terms," he said.

"I didn't think I had the mental toughness to do it. I just snapped in that circle when we were playing 'keep ball'.

"That was the point where I was considering telling them to rip my contract up. I was prepared to walk away and go back to working at Ford's and play part-time football again.

"But I walked in and said 'Gaffer, before you say anything, I just want to apologise'. I told him that I was out of order and that it wouldn't happen again."

Eyres continued: "He just replied with 'we've actually got someone who's got a bit of character'. He shook my hand, said it was forgotten and told me to come in the next day with a smile on my face and start enjoying my football.

"From that moment it just changed for me and I never forgot that. We had such a good relationship from that point.

"After what happened I knuckled down, I grew up and got on with it. I needed to get it off my chest because I just blew up, but I knew that I'd done wrong.

"If I hadn't apologised he would have hammered me and then that would have finished me. I knew what I needed to do, though, and Jimmy realised I was being genuine and it just got better and better. My relationship with Jimmy was brilliant."

They were together for a season at Bloomfield Road, as Billy Ayre was sworn in to oversee promotion in 1991/92, but it wouldn't be long before the pair were reunited.

Mullen had been appointed as Frank Casper's successor at Burnley having served as his assistant for a period at Turf Moor.

And after finishing higher up the pecking order than the Tangerines in Division Two during 1992/93 the former Cardiff City boss sensed an opportunity to swoop.

"We just managed to stay up the season after and I ended up finishing as the leading goalscorer," said Eyres. "That season was when I learned of Burnley's interest and in those days when your contract expired it went to a tribunal.

"Jimmy Mullen, who was the manager at Burnley, brought me to Blackpool, so that was a pull. He was the man that brought me into the professional game and the chance to work with him again was too good to turn down.

"Billy Ayre knew of Burnley's interest and we had a chat. He told me that he didn't want me to go, but he understood why I would want to. He said he would back me 100% with whatever decision I made, which was brilliant. It went to a tribunal, a fee was eventually set and I ended up signing for Burnley."

He added: "I think I was quoted as saying it had gone 'stale' at Blackpool, but I hadn't meant it to come across like that. I'd had four years at Blackpool and this was a new challenge.

"It was just a chance to join a big club with a big fanbase with Jimmy Mullen as manager. It didn't feel like I was really wanted at Blackpool. It felt like the only person really pulling for me to stay was the manager.

"It was a big opportunity to join a club like Burnley, when I had gone there with Blackpool away from home, and I'd seen the fans, I thought I wouldn't mind them being behind me.

"Every time I see him [Jimmy Mullen] now I just want to give him a hug. I think he's a top bloke and he did brilliant with Burnley."