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Nationwide Division One, 6/5/01
Wings of joy
By Matt Rowson

Camden, 1992. The Underworld. Dark and dingy, hot and exciting. Punters cram noisily around the bar, or jostle for position in front of the stage. Unheralded, the lights go out. It's time. Silence, expectation. From nowhere, a solitary, vicious drumbeat heralds the song and a cold, relentless keyboard hook reels the audience in and twists it effortlessly around its fingers. Finally we hear her voice. As beautiful and innocent as the music is harsh and unforgiving. The effect is utterly hypnotic....

Back in the present day, and Burnley played Sheffield United last weekend. My word, what an atrocious thought. As ugly and joyless as tripping on a flagstone and falling face down onto concrete. Fittingly, a player was sent off, plenty bookings ensued and proceedings drew to a close with neither side able to make the play-offs and Burnley boss Stan Ternent laying into his opposing number, the thoroughly unlikeable Neil Warnock. For positioning an eavesdropper outside the visitors' dressing room, apparently. What, to try to ascertain just how high Burnley were going to kick it?

If we're honest, Graham Taylor's career has featured a fair few grinding encounters like the one above. Many of them have, however, come against Burnley or Sheffield United, and they certainly won't be the things we remember him for. Rather, we'll remember him for a side that played cheerful, breathless, attacking football. A side that won five promotions under his charge, that reached a Cup Final, won a Play-off Final, reached the UEFA Cup Third Round, embarrassed any number of supposedly "bigger" sides. And as a man who was always warm, accommodating, and honest. Who always had our interests at heart.

A starker contrast with the likes of Warnock it's scarcely possible to draw. Which of the two is preferable should be a rhetorical question. And would have been, but for the one astonishing individual who brusquely bypassed us selling the tribute fanzine on Vicarage Road on Saturday observing "What do I want to buy that for? I'm glad to see the back of him...".

Yes, he really said that.

The individual in question really would be better off supporting Sheffield United, or whoever Steve Perryman or Colin Lee are managing now. For the rest of us, Sunday is going to be a very emotional day.

We can see her now. The rest of the band is in black, camouflaged completely on the unlit stage. But Alison Shaw is in a white floral dress, her snow-white skin almost luminous, her long black hair an outline around her shoulders, her dark eyes still and burning.

The song plays on. It is painful...and, at the same time, enchanting. Impossible to listen to, impossible to tear yourself from. The whole thing, the dark, the heat, the melody, the ghostly figure of Alison on the stage combine to flatten the audience with an overwhelming sadness. At the same time the whole thing is utterly exquisite. You dare not breathe for fear of spoiling the occasion, don't know how to do justice to such a beautiful thing. The song wells up to a crescendo, a lump is in my throat....

There's no way we can hope to give him the send off he deserves. Even the combined efforts of so many people that produced the splendid fanzine tribute don't come remotely close to good enough. Far less so the "efforts" of the players last Saturday, so many of whom owe Taylor a debt, all of whom owe him the respect of sending him out on a high.

But if we can't do him justice, then our best will have to suffice, and if just being there counts for anything then let's do that, however difficult 3.20 on Sunday is going to be. On a purely selfish note, it's our last chance to see one of His teams, after all.

Burnley's team has changed very little since they recorded such an obtrusive victory at Vicarage Road in March. Nik Michopoulos is still in goal, having gained an international recall with Greece following a fine season. His cover is former Grimsby and West Brom stopper Paul Crichton.

At the back, Steve Davis and Mitchell Thomas refuse to go away. Ian Cox has recovered from a rib injury to claim a place on the bench, his slot at the back going to another veteran, Gordon Armstrong. The popular former Sunderland man has been linked with a move to Hearts over the summer. Lee Briscoe, a successful summer signing from Sheffield Wednesday, plays on the left, whilst former Bury man Dean West can play on the right.

The Clarets have been badly hit by injury in midfield; Lenny Johnrose and Ronnie Jepson have both been out for a while with achilles injuries, whilst Graham Branch suffered medial ligament damage in the humiliation against rivals Blackburn. Paul Weller, one of the stars of the season, picked up a hamstring strain and missed the Bramall Lane fixture, as did the talented right-sided Glen Little. Brad Maylett, a twenty-year-old pacy winger, came in in their stead. Kevin Ball kicked muck in the middle of the park alongside the more creative John Mullin before being sent off, whilst Paul Cook filled in on the left.

Up front is where the Clarets have fewest options, with record signing Ian Moore shouldering much responsibility. The on-loan Gareth Taylor, out of contract at Maine Road in the summer and looking for a permanent deal, plays alongside him whilst Andy Payton tends to make an entrance from the bench.

Burnley have surprised themselves with their form this season, and the club's partisan official site proclaims their establishment as a Division One club in the first season in which they've maintained status at this level for over twenty years. Much of the squad is, bluntly, old however and some new blood will be needed over the summer if the Clarets are to match or better this year's efforts next time round.

Back to Camden....

Lost in the swirling emotion of the spectacle, I don't notice when the singing stops and the keyboard plays out. I awake from my trance to see Alison on the stage, absorbing the silence around her with an air that borders on triumph. Then the place explodes in admiration. We leave at the end of the set stunned, silent, contemplating.

Sunday is not going to be easy, but that won't stop many of us going to Turf Moor. It's the least we can do. The Cranes song is on their album, "Wings of Joy". Track six. "Sixth of May".