Club Spotlight: Burnley

We started our Lancashire club spotlight travels with a step back in time to look at the early days of Preston North End. In the second of the series, another of Lancashire’s great clubs come into focus: it’s the turn of Burnley.

Burnley were founded in 1882, but initially only played a series of friendly matches. That was to change in 1886, when they first entered the FA Cup. Their ever performance in the FA Cup probably wasn’t a match that those involved would have wished to remember: an 11-0 thrashing at the hands of Darwen Old Wanderers saw the team sent back home.

There’s no shame, of course, in losing to a very good side. Darwen Old Wanderers went on to a record a 2-1 win against Accrington, before losing to eventual winners Blackburn Rovers in the Third Round. Blackburn, of course, being another great Lancashire club and one for a future spotlight series article!

Burnley were to become one of the founder members of the Football League, competing in season 1888-89. The eagle eyed among you will recall that Preston were to take the title that year, but what of Burnley?

Burnley were to find life much more difficult: it didn’t help that they found them up against Preston in the very first game. A 5-2 loss at Deepdale was to set the pattern for the remainder of the season, although they were to beat Bolton Wanderers home and away early in the season. For trivia enthusiasts this means that:

  • Burnley’s first ever league win was achieved against Bolton Wanderers
  • Burnley’s first ever away league win was achieved against Bolton Wanderers
  • Burnley’s first ever home league win was also achieved against Bolton Wanderers

They did achieve a spirited 2-2 draw against Preston in December, but ultimately finished 9th in the 12-team division. As a result of that finish, Burnley were forced to apply for re-election to the league. They were successful in doing so (as were the 3 teams to finish below them).

The FA Cup campaign of 1889 saw them start with a 4-3 home win against Old Westminsters in February. The second round brought a trip to West Bromwich Albion: a tricky and yet not impossible tie, it might have seemed. West Bromwich won by a convincing 5-1 margin. Earlier in the season, Burnley had defeated West Bromwich in a league game.

Back in the league for a second season, Burnley were to struggle once more. Indeed, only the dire form of Stoke saved Burnley from bottom spot and relegation to the Football Alliance. A First Round FA Cup exit meant that the cup brought little solace. This was a tough start to life with the big boys for Burnley.

Over the course of the next few years, the struggles were to continue. The team could finish no higher than 5th in the Football League, while also failing to get past the Second Round of the FA Cup.

In 1897, Burnley finished bottom of the First Division, with just 19 points (leaving them 4 points adrift of Sunderland). With only 6 wins having been achieved during the season, relegation was inevitable.

The stay in the Second Division was, however, to prove brief. Beaten just twice in the league all season, Burnley were able to lead a procession to the title, with only Newcastle United coming close.

In the FA Cup, a First Round victory over Woolwich Arsenal was followed by a 3-0 victory over Burslem Port Vale. Burnley were eventually defeated by Everton of the First Division, with a 3-1 scoreline in the Third Round seeing the team exit the cup.

Overall, however, this had been the best season that Burnley had experienced in some time. How would they deal with a return to the First Division?

What followed was to prove impressive. In a tight league campaign, Burnley were extremely competitive, eventually finishing 3rd. With only Aston Villa and Liverpool above them in the table, this was even better than the most ardent followers of the team might realistically have hoped for. Despite another First Round exit in the cup, Burnley were resurgent. Surely glory was just around the corner?

Season 1899-1900 was to prove disastrous. The Burnley side that had performed so well the previous season appeared to fall apart, suffering 18 defeats during the season. While Aston Villa retained the title, Burnley were relegated alongside Glossop. A return to the Second Division had been unexpected and this time it would prove more difficult to bounce back.

Burnley spent the next 13 consecutive seasons in the Second Division, only returning to the First Division in 1913-14. Bert Freeman’s goals secured promotion and helped to steady the ship once they were back in the top flight: Freeman scored 32 goals in 1912, followed by 36 goals in the promotion-winning campaign of 1913.

In 1913, as the team sought promotion, they also embarked upon a cup run.

By this time, the FA Cup had expanded in nature. In the First Round, Burnley travelled to Yorkshire and defeated Leeds City 3-2 in a close-fought tie.

The Second Round saw a regulation win over Gainsborough Trinity, before the Third Round draw saw Burnley paired with Middlesbrough. Middlesbrough, then of the First Division, represented a considerable challenge. Burnley recorded a 3-1 win, bringing them into contact with high flying Blackburn Rovers.

Blackburn had been losing cup semi finalists the previous season and went on to finish 5th in the First Division. In March 1913, a single goal condemned them to a home defeat and Burnley had reached a semi final of their own.

The two semi finals both took place on 29 March 1913. Aston Villa defeated Oldham Athletic 1-0 at Ewood Park, the home of Blackburn Rovers. In the final, Aston Villa would face the winners of the clash between Burnley and Sunderland. Sunderland started at the match as favourites, as they were on their way to winning the First Division title that year.

The favourites tag may have weighed more heavily on their shoulders than expected: at Bramall Lane, the two closely matched teams played out a 0-0 draw. A replay would be required and took place at St Andrew’s a few days later. Once again, Burnley played well. Ultimately, they were narrowly beaten 3-2. Later that month, more than 120,000 spectators were at Crystal Palace to see Aston Villa lift the cup for the 5th time.

1913 had produced an extraordinary season and one that would be hard to beat. During 1914, with much attention understandably elsewhere, Burnley secured a robust 12th spot in the league. But they had enjoyed their previous year’s adventure in the FA Cup and were determined to perform well again.

Victories against South Shields and Derby County were enough to take Burnley through to the Third Round. Once there, Burnley found themselves against favoured Bolton Wanderers. Bolton would go on to finish above Burnley in the league, but it was Burnley who emerged triumphant from their cup clash.

The Fourth Round brought Burnley into contact with a familiar foe: Sunderland. The seem Sunderland who had defeated Burnley the previous year and who were the defending champions of England. Playing away from home, Burnley once more matched their illustrious opponents. As in the semi final a year earlier, the game finished goalless.

A replay would again be required, but this time the Lancastrians would have home advantage. That proved crucial, with Burnley recording a narrow 2-1 win. Once again, Burnley had arrived at the semi final stage.

The semi final was played at Old Trafford, where Burnley took on Sheffield United. The two teams were evenly matched, with a 0-0 draw meaning that a replay would be required. A few days later, a single goal in the replay at Goodison Park was enough to secure Burnley’s passage to the final.

On 25 April 1914, Burnley and Liverpool kicked off in the FA Cup Final at Crystal Palace. The 3 o’clock kick off was watched by some 72,778 spectators, with the match being refereed by Herbert Bamlett. Liverpool had caused a shock in the previous round by defeating the holders, Aston Villa.

Liverpool’s league form had been patchy though and they were to finish the season a point behind Burnley. The final league table was tight, with that single point allowing Burnley to finish 4 places higher.

These were two evenly matched teams. Neither side had ever won the FA Cup and there was much to play for.

In the circumstances, a tight match was to be expected. The match was of poor quality, but a fine strike by Burnley’s Bert Freeman was enough to secure victory. Watched by the onlooking king, Burnley had secured their first FA Cup win. In order to do so, they had also become the first team to beat 5 First Division opponents during their cup run. Victory was sweet.