Grit and organisation have taken Burnley back into European football after 51 years and it was certainly those qualities that earned a 1-1 draw at Aberdeen in their Europa League second qualifying round, first-leg match on Thursday. The scoreline, with the potentially crucial away goal, gives Sean Dyche’s Premier League side the upper hand for next Thursday’s return leg at Turf Moor, but for the travelling supporters the game was about much more than the result.
Over 2,000 Burnley fans made the 330-mile trip from Lancashire to the East Coast of Scotland, packing the away section in the stadium, with a large number of supporters left without tickets in the bars in the centre of the city. Games between Scottish and English teams are often billed as ‘Battle of Britain’ clashes with the Scots looking for an upset.
However, given Burnley’s history in the decades since their last European game — in the Fairs Cup in 1967 – it was the Scottish club who could claim the greater pedigree. That rich history was recognised before the game when the crowd paid tribute to Aberdeen’s former midfielder Neale Cooper, who died in May at the age of 54.
Cooper was part of the team that won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1983 under the management of Alex Ferguson. While the port city celebrated the triumph of a formidable team featuring the likes of Gordon Strachan and Alex McLeish, Burnley were dealing with relegation to the third tier which was to be followed by the fourth division two years later.
By 1987, Burnley need to win on the final day of the season to avoid dropping out of the professional ranks altogether and it was a slow and often painful process for the club to get back to the top flight in this decade. The Clarets finished seventh in the Premier League last season earning a return to UEFA competition and the excitement has certainly been more evident among the supporters.
‘European Tour’ T-shirts were on show outside Pittodrie, a reminder of the celebratory chants at the end of last term, but for Dyche the extra competition is a test of his resources. Burnley have yet to sign anyone during this close season and with several players still recovering from last season’s injuries, Dyche’s options were limited. But while Burnley may consider themselves minnows in the Premier League, their current resources are well beyond the reach of Aberdeen.
As the Scottish club’s manager Derek McInnes pointed out – Burnley were lining up with a 15 million pounds ($19.66 million) striker in Chris Wood, while Aberdeen’s front line was led by Sam Cosgrove, signed for 20,000 pounds from Carlisle United. It was Cosgrove who won the penalty that was converted in the 19th minute by Gary Mackay-Steven after Burnley had suffered a dreadful start, losing England goalkeeper Nick Pope to injury.
But it was a Welshman who proved the decisive figure in the Anglo-Scottish clash, substitute Sam Vokes showing skill and composure, as well as his aerial strength, to equalise 10 minutes from the end. Vokes became the first Burnley player to score in Europe since Brian Miller netted against Eintracht Frankfurt in 1967 and his goal makes Dyche’s side favourites to progress into the third qualifying round.
The Burnely manager was not in a mood to reflect on the historic moment but was pleased that the game delivered in terms of competition on the field and atmosphere in the stands. “I won’t take anything away from Aberdeen who made it a proper game, both sets of fans were excellent, the atmosphere was great and it felt like a real match.
“We don’t think it’s a done deal. We are not a team that takes anything for granted. We will have to work for everything,” he said. If the Clarets can get past Aberdeen they will face Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir in the next round before a potential playoff to earn a place in the group stage.