Tuesday 25 June 2024

Super Kev

 Kevin Campbell’s left foot volley, lodged into the top left hand corner of the goal at the Clock End past a full-stretch Nigel Martyn, seemed, from my line of sight from the opposite North Bank end, like the show-stopping conclusion to a then 13 game unbeaten run where each spectacular Arsenal goal had been even better than the next. 

This was spring 1992, and Arsenal were about to beat Crystal Palace 4-1, just as they had the previous September at Selhurst Park (which would form the middle part of a trio of 4-goal showings for the Gunners against their South London rivals, beginning with a 4-0 win at Highbury in February 1991, on their way to the First Division title.) Yet, the picture of the double extravagances over Steve Coppell’s side that finished 3rd in 90-91 doesn’t tell the story of the Gunners’ season as champions.

A month before Selhurst Park, Arsenal had laboured to a final-minute salvage of a 1-1 draw at home to Queens Park Rangers on the opening day, and then the team that had lost only one game in the whole of the previous season lost two in succession, both by 3-1, at Everton and Aston Villa. Manager George Graham had been praised by Jimmy Greaves for not joining in the ‘summer of madness’ that had seen £72 million in transfer fees change hands in the First Division, but the resistance was now questioned (certainly by my friend Llyr.) There had been speculation about Paul Parker, but he went to Manchester United. 

Arsenal stopped the rot with a midweek win at home to a Luton Town that would be relegated that season and not seen again in the top flight for 33 years, but idiosyncrasies in individual performance, such as Lee Dixon’s barmy own goal in a 2-1 home defeat to Coventry City and David Seaman’s strange recklessness in a wild 5-2 win at home to Sheffield United, played to the adage that it was much harder to defend a title than win one, as had been the case in 89-90.

Flashes of that title-winning aura came in away draws at Leeds United (who’d go on to become champions) and Manchester United (who’d come second), as well as at Selhurst Park, where Campbell was, as the saying would become, ‘unplayable’. Playing up front in his first full season as strike partner to Alan Smith, having started for the first time against Palace in the 90-91 February 4-0 and scoring eight times in ten games between then and May, Campbell looked like a player who would terrorise defenders for years. In the yellow chevron shirt, he opened the scoring at Palace, who seemed winded by comments in the week made by chairman Ron Noades about black players not showing up in the winter. In the second half, Campbell produced a perfect cross for Smith’s header for 2-0, scored a third and played in Michael Thomas for the fourth. It was an individual performance of talent, confidence, strength, drag-backs and complete goal-involvement. And one that was perfectly timed as the side approached their first European Cup match for 20 years. 

Against Austria Vienna, Campbell didn’t score but, even with some scruffy shooting and less finesse than at Palace, he harmed the defence all the same and helped Smith score four in a 6-1 home rout. Afterwards, Smith told the press he would  “get thirty goals a season” playing alongside Campbell. Both forward players scored in the 5-2 against Sheffield United on the Saturday, commentator Martin Tyler (as would be heard on the end of season video, 92 for 92 - the title signifying the goals scored that season) responding to Campbell’s strike with “that’s a very popular goal, here [Highbury}”.

The signing that Arsenal made in late September brought a player to the club for whom “popular” would become an understatement, Ian Wright regarded just as affectionately today as when he was tearing up grounds all over the country for what would be six years at the club (the affection is mutual, Wright in his role of television pundit unabashedly referring to Arsenal as “we”. ) Yet, amidst the excitement of the £2,500,000 purchase, there was intrigue over George Graham adding an obviously first-choice striker to a team that had just scored 15 goals in the last 3 games. 

Wright’s goal on his debut at Leicester City in the League Cup and hat-trick at Southampton in a 4-0 win of again champion-like quality pushed the doubts to the side immediately, but there is a strong argument that Wright’s flourishing brilliance had a negative effect on both Smith and Campbell’s careers, while the team’s success became tied up in the new man, going out early in the cups without him, defeat at Coventry City in the League Cup followed by a demoralising exit in the European Cup to  Benfica and, humiliatingly, at Wrexham in the FA Cup (the two clubs having finished at either end of the league table the previous season.) Once the team recovered themselves from a bleak midwinter, the rampant charge to the finish line went to 17 games unbeaten, which would prove a little window of glorious sunshine that George Graham seemed happy to tolerate for the time being. Campbell’s stunning volley against Palace at Highbury wasn’t to be the show-stopping finale to Arsenal’s resurgence; there was a goal from near the halfway line by Anders Limpar in a 4-0 home win against Liverpool, but perhaps more prescient was Wright’s dramatic hat-trick completed against Southampton in the final minute of the final game of not only the season but the North Bank to claim the Golden Boot for the league’s top scorer from Gary Lineker of Spurs. While his second goal was a mesmerising, thrilling charge from the halfway line that evaded two challenges and finished with a rasping drive beyond Tim Flowers, the rather fortunate shinned goal that clinched it came from a bobbled shot by Smith (on as sub, having lost his place in the team during the unbeaten run) while it was Campbell who carried the elated Wright on his back during the immediate celebrations. Although Smith would go to the European Championships in Sweden with Graham Taylor’s England - alongside Paul Merson but not Wright or Campbell - he and Campbell, who scored just nine goals after Wright’s early-season arrival, had become the new star’s servants. And it was Wright, not Smith, who had just scored his 30th goal that season - a tally he would match the following season.

The next two seasons saw a curious mix of ground-breaking trophy success and a dispiriting malaise in the league. Although 4th in 93-94 was a clear uptick on 11th in the inaugural Premier League season of 92-93, the rise and rise of Wright went off in a different track to the growth of the team. The firepower was now consolidated into one player, the production line hampered by the engineered sales of David Rocastle (to Leeds) and the increased marginalisation of Limpar. Campbell did score 19 goals in 93-94, including the decisive header in the Cup Winners Cup semi-final against Paris St.Germain (his big moment typically overshadowed by Wright’s tears that followed a second yellow card of the competition - ruling him out of the Final) and Smith bagged the only goal of the game against Parma to win the trophy, but both players would be out of the club after only one more season. 

Smith’s retirement was enforced due to ankle problems, and had he remained fit would probably have been kept on by new manager Bruce Rioch for the 95-96 season, even with Dennis Bergkamp arriving from Italy to join Wright and John Hartson as the club’s central forwards. Campbell’s move to Nottingham Forest that summer at the age of 25 came five years after he burst onto the scene with a goal on his debut against them in March 89-90. His 59 goals in one season with the youth team had built eager anticipation among the fanbase to see the latest home-grown star come through the production line. Even the most annoying Tottenham fan in my school and football circle (he was quite a specimen) admitted Campbell was “one for the future”.

That future, if regarded in terms of starting in the first team, began in just under a year with the last of the four goals against Palace in February ‘91 and first of the eight in the run-in, as he and another youth product (who would also fall out of favour and be gone by 95-96), midfielder David Hillier, gave the team fresh impetus. 

Next time round against Palace, Campbell was the boss, no longer a prospect but becoming one of the best strikers in the league, an international tournament in the summer to aim for and others in the future, including one on home soil. Who knows if Ron Noades’ comments had any bearing on Wright taking centre stage at Arsenal so soon after. Wright would have left South London for bigger things at some point, and at 28 would have been aware of the urgency around it if he wanted to add some trophies to his career. 

Is it that simple that Campbell’s Arsenal trajectory was punctured by Wright? Or was it that his impact was only ever going to be brief? Did he bulk up and lose mobility, and subsequently confidence? He didn’t seem to hit the ball so cleanly; evidence of that pre-dated Wright, such as in the Austria Vienna game that still benefitted Smith, but the drilled winner past Chelsea’s Kevin Hitchcock to complete a 3-2 comeback a couple of weeks after Wright’s arrival would become rarer. 

Campbell scored on the opening day of the Premier League season at home to Norwich City with a half-fit Wright on the bench, but a two-goal lead was lost in a sensational turnaround for the Canaries, winning 4-2, and the title hopes that followed the 17-game unbeaten run faded in the gloom of other unexpected and dispiriting results. Campbell was shunted wide, sometimes in a three-up-front formation, and as an unprecedented double-domestic cup triumph became the priority, Campbell’s muscularity seemed to be used as a wrecking ball. The double-cup triumph was gloriously secured, channelled through Wright, scorer of nearly half the team’s goals. Campbell managed just four in the league and five in the cups, his season undermined by a series of missed chances. For the supporter, the hope remained that this was just a blip, that the Campbell who first emerged on to the Highbury pitch to such acclaim against Forest, and whose presence ensured that Andrew Cole’s £500,000 transfer to Bristol City barely registered, would return in time.

The 19 goals in 93-94 including two hat-tricks suggest there was something of a return to his former self, but still the explosion and the aura were not quite there, while the misses continued. In the early big game of the season at Manchester United, he failed to put away a good chance to open the scoring and the home team won 1-0 thanks to a stunning Eric Cantona free kick. The nadir, though, came at home to Bolton Wanderers in the defence of the FA Cup, Campbell fluffing chance after chance, one notably gilt-edged, in the 4th round replay defeat (3-1) to the Division One side managed by Rioch. In the North Bank stand, my booing was joined by many others. Graham defended his man, making the point that he didn’t miss on purpose and then, more insightfully, that he didn’t hide either. Graham’s friend and 1970-71 Double-winning captain, Frank Mclintock, stuck up for him too, though he did happen to list several faults in his game before saying “but apart from that…”. But when physio Gary Lewis explained Campbell’s spell out of the team as a back injury, adding “with backs, you can’t take chances”, there was an accidental punchline, 

One display at Torino, in Wright’s absence as the team navigated a goalless first-leg draw in the Cup Winners Cup quarter final, was perhaps Campbell’s most abject display, and yet there he was in the next round to score the goal that put Arsenal in the Final, and with it a place up front with Smith again, his old strike partner the goal hero this time.

For a brief while, 94-95 seemed as if Campbell and the team might rekindle the title credentials of old; with a European trophy in the cabinet, and new signing Stefan Schwartz patrolling the midfield in front of the famous back five, even a match atmosphere of near terrace-quality surrounded an opening day 3-0 beating of Manchester City, Campbell opening the scoring after two minutes. At Leeds in midweek, Howard Wilkinson described Arsenal’s performance as the best by an away side in his time there…scant consolation, though, when the game was decided by a David Seaman mistake in the final minute, giving the home side the points. They started well at Anfield the following Sunday too, only for Robbie Fowler to score a four-minute hat-trick to settle the game. A 0-0 draw at home to eventual champions, Blackburn Rovers - reduced to ten men after Jason Wilcox’s sending off - was followed by another stalemate at Norwich, and that was how brief that while was. 

The wheels truly came off that season amidst two ‘scandals’ involving Merson and Graham, with only the player surviving at the club and, in between, Arsenal signed two forwards in January, 19 year old John Hartson, a raw prospect from Luton Town bought for £2,500,000, and Chris Kiwomya, who’d fallen out of favour at struggling Ipswich Town, coming in for £500,000 as set at a tribunal (he was replaced at Portman Road by Lee Chapman, who’d gone to Arsenal for the same fee, also set by a tribunal, from Stoke City in 1982.)

Hartson, like Campbell, was a tall, physical striker who formed an instant partnership with Wright, while the nimble Kiwomya scored against Forest the night Graham was sacked, ending a run of four months without a home win, and added two in a 3-0 win at Palace, where just four years before Campbell had shone so brightly. Campbell did actually score at Selhurst Park that season, albeit with the aid of a hand, presumably unseen by the ref unlike most of us in the ground, in a 3-1 win against Wimbledon, but his goal at home to Chelsea the following week, on 15th October 1994, would be his last for the team. Arsenal reached the Cup Winners Cup Final again, despite the season of turmoil, but Campbell played no part in the heartbreak defeat to Real Zaragoza.

Campbell returned to Highbury in the yellow and black away colours of Nottingham Forest four games into 95-96, although for the player who’d won a league title, both domestic trophies, a European trophy and had always given his best for the club he’d cone through the ranks of, it wasn’t a warm homecoming. His every touch was booed by a significant section of the crowd while the transfer fee paid by Forest was mocked to the tune of the Roses advert: ‘Thank you very much for two and a half million, thank you very much, thank you very, very, very much!’ The last few years of missed chances seemed to be the driver, although possibly some fear, too, realised when he scored past Seaman in the second half, equalising David Platt’s acrobatic first half strike. This, his last goal at Highbury, had come in the same fixture as his first. I found the Roses song amusing, but the booing said more about some Arsenal fans than their former player; after all, he wasn’t the only player wearing 10 that they turned on that night. 

Campbell later became a popular player at Everton, scoring a run of goals to save them from relegation, just as he’d helped Arsenal win the title; he would also become the only player in 20 years to score the winning goal for them at Anfield in the Merseyside derby. Happily, once his career was over, the mutual affection between himself and Arsenal shone through in his media work and social media presence. Since his sad death at 54 last week, his warmth and kindness has featured in the tributes just as much as his career exploits, Arsenal bloggers and podcasters and ex team mates and media colleagues all saying the same thing in slightly different words. During 90-91, when Campbell was the face featured on that month’s club calendar, my Dad, close to the club staff, made an inquisitive remark about his close-shaved hairstyle, before adding “very nice young chap” and walked off.

I wasn’t lucky enough to know Campbell, settling for a liked Twitter post when footage of his Selhurst Park 91-92 performance against Palace was uploaded, Smith getting in on the conversation too. I remember him also, as part of those halcyon North Bank days between January 1991 and May 1992 when from about 2:20 in the afternoon, he and Lee Dixon would be first out of the tunnel for the warm up, their emergence and the reception from behind the goal becoming excitingly anticipated, then the chanting - “Super, Super Kev, Super Kevin Campbell!” - the mutual applause and maybe a request for a silly dance or ‘twist’. Perhaps most of all, it’s how he made me feel with that breathtaking volley at Highbury against Palace (from, for balance, Wright’s pass!) when he set me off with my friends in a frenzy of face-contorting, body-launching excess of absolute joy and happiness. 



Monday 10 June 2024

End of season Premier League review club by club Part 2: 11-20

11th: Brighton & Hove Albion (48 points)

Finishing one point behind your made up rivals must sting. A bit. It’s Millwall who hate Crystal Palace, really. Brighton must await the Premier League introduction of Eastbourne Borough before living a derby that doesn’t necessitate the naming of a motorway. 

Once again, the manager is front and centre, Roberto De Zerbi waving goodbye to the fans on the final day, ending his season and a half tenure due to differences with the board. 11th in a season of Europa League football is no mean feat, especially without Encisco and March for the bulk of the season and Mitoma for the second half of it, not to mention the summer sales of Mac Allister to Liverpool and Caciedo to Clearasmudlake Chelsea for £100,000,000 (Caceido becoming the latest player to score from the halfway line at Stamford Bridge and not win MOTD’s Goal of the Season.)

Evan Ferguson scored a hat trick early on but that proved a false indicator for this season at least, Welbeck still popping up as the biggest goal threat. Anyone who’d’ criticiser Brighton for not “kicking on” from their top six placing and FA Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out appearance last season needs to wise up. Like their made up rivals, they have established themselves as part of the Prem furniture while progressing. Of course, it can all change quickly. Who will come in to steer the ship? The full-time Chelsea manager before Poch is still available…

12th: Bournemouth (48 points)

Just a few weeks into the season under new manager Andoni Iraola, when The Cherries looked as flaky as they’d ever been during their stays in the Prem over the last calendar decade, the ever in-the-moment Alan Shearer compared their struggle to the resurgence at Wolves under Gary O’Neill, who’d been replaced by Iraola in the summer: “It’s looking like a pretty embarrassing decision”, big Al grimly observed.

Well, I appear to have reached Bournemouth before Wolves in this club-by-club rundown of positional standings. Well done again, Al! 

Notwithstanding heavy defeats at Man City and at home to Arsenal, it would have been tempting of course, to pillory the employment of a Johnny Foreigner over One of Our Own, much like the dismissal of Nigel Adkins for the Argentinian Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino from Southampton in 2012-13 just as Bournemouth’s south coast neighbours were appearing to hold their own back in the Prem. Little did we know that one day Pochettino would rise to the heights of leaving Chelsea by mutual consent.

Yet, the 6-1 defeat at the Etihad in November was followed by a 7 game unbeaten run, the highlight of which (probably) was a 3-0 win at Old Trafford and also included a hat trick at Nottm Forest by Dominic Solanke, emerging as a 20-goal Premier League striker just when it seemed he was destined to always take second Billing. The form table put them behind only City, Arsenal and Liverpool. Iraola was suddenly spoken of as one of the Brat Pack of Basque region managers/coaches now in the Prem, alongside Guardiola, Arteta and Emery. Summing up Bournemouth’s season on the final Match of the Day, Shearer sternly conceded that they’d “had a good season after the controversy of Gary O’ Neill losing his job.” Oh, Alan! 

13th: Fulham (47 points)

Still no Wolves, eh?

A second successive consolidation in the Prem for the West London inoffensives. Does this move them out of the 'yo-yo club' category? How long is a piece of yo-yo string? 

Marco Silva found a way to compensate for losing main man centre forward Aleksandar Mitrovic to the blood money league - Rodrigo Muniz weighing in with 9 goals - while fatefully keeping hold of midfielder Palhinha, who'd seemed destined to go to Bayern Munich before the August window shut. The Portuguese midfielder reportedly had a change of heart when Harry Kane arrived at the Allianz Arena, his about-turn grounded in the sudden belief that Fulham now had a better chance of winning a trophy for the first time in their history than Bayern adding to their 11-years-in-a-row Bundersliga domination or any cup at all they entered.      

Theoretically, Fulham decided the title race, taking four points off Arsenal, fortunately catching the runners up in their two periods of uncertainty. The 2-2 at The Emirates was followed by a 5-1 tonking at The Etihad (international break in between), Silva receiving his latest in a flurry of red cards when protesting about the routine injustice that most teams face against the champions. City then beat Fulham 4-0 in a May stroll. 

Will Silva’s side make it a hat trick of spells in the Prem at the end of next season? Same as all the clubs in this mid-lower section of the table, this may depend on how bad the promoted/returning clubs are. 

14th: Wolves (46 points)

Wolves! Welcome! 

Of course I’m not mocking you, Wolves, I’m mocking Alan Shearer. I have a lot to thank Wolves for: for being there, ravaged by injury, when Arsenal needed a tonic after defeat by Munchen preceded by defeat by Villa: for being a goal down at home to Spurs in the 90th minute and winning 2-1: for forcing through a vote to end VAR. Gary O’Neill was the acceptable face of the moaning manager, and I enjoyed the thrill of him taking on the PGMOL in seemingly every game where the last farcically bad decision by a ref or VAR, or a non-decision was overshadowed by the next. He got a bit addicted to it in the end, seeming to search out the injustice, but really you couldn’t blame him for being on high alert. If Newcastle and Manchester United tried to contest the monopoly of injury misfortune, then Wolves had no company under the lone rain cloud. 

There were, though, bright spells. Mathias Cunha looked a very important asset for any club in this zone just outside the danger zone, one that scores goals regularly and with the promise of doing it for a few seasons yet. Sarabia looked decent up front too, while the ball-carrying exocet missile Pedro Neto engineered goals and wins, including against Man City. The shot hamstrings look to be a problem, which may see him leave for a bigger club where he can be used more sparingly and crafted. Ait Nouri wowed as a defender with silky touches, one of the very best players around that sounds like half of a Jimmy Nail number one hit in 1992. 

O’Neil did at least have a big smile on his face when they won at Bournemouth in October, scoring a late winner through another goal threat, Hwaang Hee-Chan, after Bournemouth’s Lewis Cook had been sent off 9 minutes after half time at 1-1. This may have been a rare case of Wolves being on the right end of a refereeing decision, but they must also be accountable for their improper treatment of Barcelona academy product Nelson Semedo, who after five seasons believes he is still part of a club partnership at Camp MoliNou. If you're reading this, Nelson, you ain't ever going back.     

15th: Everton (40 points)

The Toffeemen reached the benchmark 40-points that famously avoids relegation (unless you're West Ham Utd) despite a fluctuating 8 points being shaved off their total thanks to Financial Fair Play breaches. In the same way that news of Manchester City being investigated over 115 charges last season galvanised their title charge, the injustice felt by the legally-savvy Goodson faithful generated an upturn in form. A literal low point was a 6-0 loss at Chelsea, though coming out on top of a Merseyside title decider seemed to be the fans highlight. Manager Sean Dyche was typically sacrosanct throughout the whole affair. "These are the harsh realities of existing in an industry where you don’t have Manchester City’s lawyers”, he allegedly said. “This is a situation I’ve inherited, not one I invented. We’ve all got firefighter suits on. But with many hoses. We have more than one fire extinguisher at this club. I understand it’s not 1985 anymore, or 1987, or even 1995. We’re not naive. Please don’t call us that. There’s room to improve, it’s about progression. We’re doing everything we can with the extinguishers available. If they want to take our life-preserving equipment away, we as coaching staff and players can’t control that. I’m not a miracle worker. I’m Sean Dyche. A worker”, he allegedly added.

16th: Brentford (39 points)

Five months without Ivan Toney, three without Bryan Mbeuno, a whole season without Rico Henry, weeks without Ben Mee and yet Thomas Frank’s team have secured a fourth season in the Prem. They somehow found the goals and kept the discipline to stay competitive. It’s no mean feat, and one that doesn’t get mentioned much. Perhaps they like it that way, staying in the shadows, keeping their head down. They gave Arsenal two tough games and even worked out how to get Neal Maupay to score a couple. Maupay’s clownish beef with Villa goalie Emiliano Martinez at the Community Stadium was a rare moment of hilarity in the Premier League. You’d think Martinez would be more grateful, Maupay having caused Bernd Leno’s long-term injury that brought Martinez into the Arsenal team and an FA Cup winners medal at the end of that 19-20 season, leading to his move to Villa and subsequent Champions League football next season. 

17th: Nottm Forest (32 points)

Mike Baldwin, played by Johnny Briggs, once implored the Rovers Return regulars to “get a lifeboat” for Tommy Harris “before he drowns in self-pity”. Fortunately for Nottingham Forest, the puncture-ridden dinghy’s of Burnley, Luton Town and Sheffield United ensured they kept afloat.

The four points deducted for FFP breaches wasn’t the driver for the babyish displays of paranoia that deflected from some promise during the season. They gave Arsenal a fright at The Emirates on the opening day of the season, would have drawn 0-0 at home to Liverpool had it not been for the visitors reaping ‘good process’ karma in the 99th minute and had the chances to get a result against Manchester City (comments by Guardiola that Forest would have scored had it not been for the dry pitch were sad and petty.)

Not so good was the legal talk following Ivan Toney repositioning the ball at a free kick and the owner taking to Twitter to blame ungiven penalties at Everton on the VAR operator, Stuart Atwell, being a Luton fan. Employing ex ref Mark Clattenburg as Director of Refereeing Against Us wasn’t exactly a gladiatorial move either. Maybe it was all to generate an us against them mentality, maybe they don’t care how they come across? 

Dismissing Steve Ovett for Nuno Espírito Santo was a surprising move a couple of years after Spurs have given up on the ghost after just three months there, his last impression in the Premier League. He did slightly better than Ovett, though seemed quite smug about achieving survival at the end of the season. 

18th: Luton Town (26 points)

If you’d have told me at the beginning of the season that Luton Town would be relegated…well, yeah, most would have believed you. That it seemed at one point in the season that they might have the resolve and the guile to stay up is a big compliment to them. They had both of those things, but sadly, and understandably, not the squad depth. Injuries at the turn of the year piled up, and of course they had all the emotion of dealing with captain Tom Lockyear’s heart-related collapse at Bournemouth.  

The Hatters gave the ‘big boys’ something to think about, only losing to the last header of the game, 4-3, at home to Arsenal, drew 1-1 with Liverpool and, also at Kenilworth Road, narrowly lost to Man City. There was also a stirring 4-4 comeback at Newcastle. Ross Barkley, in a deeper lying position, reminded of us his quality, 30 years old and displaying consistency that was always said to be his downfall. The fans’ song for him, Ain’t Nobody Like Ross Barkley, is one of the best we’ve heard for years. 

Adebayo up front was building a reputation as a striker to be feared before becoming one of the injury victims, but without that regular/semi-regular goalscorer on top of the many absences, even a manager as cool as Rob Edwards couldn’t turn the tide. They will be back in the same division as their local rivals (albeit not in the same county) Watford next season, but the regard for those two clubs should be contrasting. Edwards, like most managers, has recently been Head Coach at Vicarage Road, and also like most of them was given only a couple of months to prove himself. Watford will delight in their drop, just as they had dropped from the Prem the season before, but Luton’s spiralling down the league and out of it, and then surge all the way back up it (a bit like Watford in the eighties) should only be applauded. 

19th: Burnley (24 points)

101 points last season in The Champ under Vincent Kompany, just 24 for the non-Dyche-Prem team this, scoring half the number of goals. Perhaps the best thing you can say about this Burnley side is that it is not a Sean Dyche Burnley. Not that that's a bad thing of course -  sometimes there's beauty in dealing with harsh realities. But the evolution has begun and they are on the right track, which sounds like a Dychian thing to say, but we can assume that the adjustment will continue under whoever replaces Kompany, who has gone to Bayern Munchen, which may suggest that the curse of Kane will not be lifted any time soon, but that's not Burnley's problem, and in any case it's actually nice to see a huge club taking a bit of a risk on potential (it worked for Chelsea with Villas-Boas due to sacking him and giving the job to Roberto Di Matteo, who won the Champions League and was then himself sacked the following season, a situation that was replicated with Thomas Tuchel, who then went to Bayern Munchen and has now been replaced by Kompany...what a fun merry-go-round we live in.) 

If I'm honest, I'm struggling to think of any Burnley players other than James Trafford (the goalie who ended the season in reserve), Jay Rodriguez and Aaron Ramsey (and I only know of him because I thought it was the Arsenal one for a while.)

Good luck The Clarets next season!   

20th Sheffield United (16 points)

What’s the record for lowest ever points total; Derby with 8? Watford 15? Sunderland 15? Either way, it’s a good job Sheff are prudent with their FFP business. They conceded 104 goals, 4 more than the famous Swindon achievement of 100 goals in 93-94. Or maybe that was more than a century, ‘over a hundred goals’? Does it even matter? Man City have won 7 out of 8 Premier Leagues and that doesn’t mean anything. 

Sheff were one of only three Prem teams to sack their manager this season, when normally it’s into double-figures, although Watford being in the division below could explain that, as well as the cost of compensating managers as FFP began to show some balls. Chris Heckingbottom was replaced by the man he replaced, Chris Wilder, who doesn’t seem likely to hit anywhere the heights of 19-20. Accusing a fourth official of eating a sandwich reminded me of the time Phil Brown of Hull City whinged to journalists about the suspended or injured Cesc Fabregas wearing a leather jacket and jeans. 

Coming up from the Champ for next season are Leicester City, Ipswich Town and Southampton, two of whom were in the Prem last season, so perhaps Sheff could be back the season after next, along with at least one other of the two in front of them. Or maybe the series of Right Hammerings - 8-0 at home to Newcastle, 6-1 at home to Arsenal, a 2-1 embarrassment at Spurs - will encourage a season or two of transition before they are ready, in common parlance, to ‘go again’.






‘One more’ lonely night: Spain 2 England 1. Euro ‘24 Final

 I've already back-tracked on unflattering comments I made towards Alvaro Morata in these pages, so let me now add Marc Cucurella to tha...