Amid the rolling hills and mists of Northern England, Burnley Football Club took its first breath on the vivid 18th of May, 1882. But the tale of this noble club reaches back even further into history, interwoven with the cultural fabric of the area. Picture it: the late 1870s, with the rough and tumble of rugby echoing through the streets of Burnley and its verdant surroundings. Yet, as the end of the decade approached, a tectonic shift was beginning to rumble.
It was 1879 when Padiham, an integral part of Burnley, felt the winds of change and took a leap of faith, switching from rugby to the intricate dance of association football. This movement, akin to a domino effect, spurred on several rugby teams in the region to switch allegiance. Among these brave pioneers was the Burnley Rovers, their cleats marking the hallowed grounds of Calder Vale. Others like Burnley Wanderers, Burnley Trinity, and Burnley Union Star followed suit, along with areas of Burnley's suburbs such as the picturesque Lowerhouse, lively Spring Hill, and vibrant Brierfield.
A fateful day dawned on 18th May 1882, when the rich aroma of polished wood and vintage leather filled the air of the Bull Hotel. Now a bustling department store on St. James St, back then it witnessed local businessmen and fervent members of the Burnley Rovers committee passionately discussing and deciding to transition to Association Football. A pivotal figure in this historic juncture was the ambitious Charles Massey. Massey, a business magnate, was the proud owner of a sprawling brewery, aptly named "Massey’s", a symbol of prosperity in Burnley.
However, every tale has its share of trials. Burnley's inaugural season was a roller-coaster. Their hopes in the Lancashire Trophy were dashed by Astley Bridge in an 8-0 defeat. Yet, like a phoenix, they rose in the Dr. Dean Charity Cup, now heralded as the Hospital Cup, clinching victory from Burnley Ramblers with a thrilling 2-1 finish. This Cup, rich with history, stands as the world's oldest amateur knockout competition, its legacy still alive with the annual finals at the legendary Turf Moor.
January 1883 ushered in a significant chapter for Burnley. The town's esteemed cricket club extended an invitation to share the iconic Turf Moor. The deal, a princely sum of £65, was to facilitate the club's move. Today, Turf Moor stands tall, boasting the title of the second-oldest professional football ground in the English league.
By September 1883, football was not just a game but a phenomenon. The fervour, intensity, and passion for the sport exploded, with competition for audience attention reaching a fever pitch. Burnley, in a strategic move, fielded 10 Scots, overshadowing local talents, thereby heightening the calibre of their team. This influx of players from across the UK brought its challenges, particularly the emerging necessity of player remuneration, nudging the game closer to professionalism. Amidst this, Padiham emerged as Burnley's fierce rival. Their matches? A powder keg of tension, always on the verge of eruption.
The FA Cup, already an esteemed competition, witnessed Burnley's defiance. In the 1883-84 season, Burnley boldly declined to join the Football Association (FA). Why? The London-centric FA's refusal to allow professionals in the Cup. Regardless, Burnley successfully retained the Dr Dean Charity Cup.
1884 was a year of revolution. Burnley spearheaded a meeting of clubs penalized by the FA for their professional players. The result? Thirty-six clubs gathered in unity, deliberating on forming a rival association, the British Football Association, challenging the FA's dominance. This dramatic stand culminated in the FA's reluctant consent in 1885 to allow player payments, albeit with stringent restrictions.
Such tumultuous events intensified the scramble for talent. Burnley, with its passionate fan base and the formidable backing of Charles Massey, began rising as a force to be reckoned with. The grand Turf Moor underwent a majestic transformation, establishing itself as one of Lancashire's crown jewels. Its magnificence caught the FA's attention, leading to a historic match there between a Lancashire XI and a North Wales XI.
1886 etched itself in history when the Prince of Wales graced Turf Moor, marking the first royal visit to a football ground. In honour of this grand occasion, Burnley received white jerseys adorned with a regal blue sash. This historic event also birthed their nickname, the "Royalists."
Jack Keenan, a son of Burnley soil, received the honour of representing England in March 1888. A month later, Burnley found themselves amidst the elite at the Anderson Hotel, London. This meeting, the brainchild of William McGregor of Aston Villa, led to the formation of the iconic Football League.
Turf Moor's pulsating atmosphere, the chants of thousands echoing through its corridors, undoubtedly elevated Burnley's stature in the football realm. Their journey in the league was riveting, starting with a face-off against Preston North End, a team destined to be termed the "Invincibles." Burnley's brave fight ended in a 5-2 defeat.
With the Football League's success, the landscape changed. The League expanded, and Burnley faced both triumphs and trials, from their record-breaking defeat against Darwin to their historic victory in the Lancashire Cup.
As the seasons evolved, Burnley faced numerous challenges, from management changes, and allegations against their goalkeeper, Jack Hillman, of bribery, to relegations and promotions. But with every setback, the club showed resilience, drawing strength from their loyal fans, rich history, and the unwavering spirit of the game.
Burnley's once lofty position in the football league began a dramatic descent, as they faltered in their quest for promotion on their very first try. The Second Division's financial hardships began to strangle the club, necessitating the sale of many first-team players. The replacements, though acquired at a lower cost, were a testament to the club's urgent need to balance their finances.
As the curtain fell on the 1902-03 season, a sombre mood enveloped Burnley. They found themselves languishing at the very bottom of the Second Division. This marked the first instance where an original founder of the Football League had to plea for re-election since the introduction of the Second Division. In a turn of fate, Burnley narrowly secured their re-election, nudging out Doncaster Rovers, who had actually outperformed them on the field.
In 1903, a glimmer of hope emerged. The board welcomed Harry Windle, a man envisioned to breathe new life into the fading club. His first move was bold - replacing Mangnall with the youthful Spen Whittaker. At a mere 32 years of age, Whittaker became the youngest ever manager in the Football League.
Though Burnley stabilised and achieved a string of mid-table finishes over the subsequent seasons, it was the 1907-08 season that would etch its mark in history. The club made two game-changing decisions. First, they appointed the young and eager Jerry Dawson as their goalkeeper. Dawson, a mere 19-year-old, was raw but showed immense promise. The second pivotal move was acquiring the seasoned ex-England defender, Alex Leake. At 36, he not only bolstered the defense but also instilled a sense of calm and proficiency, traits that rubbed off on the younger players.
Come 1908-09, Burnley began to show signs of resurgence, embarking on a commendable journey in the FA Cup. They reached the quarter-finals, facing off against the reigning champions, Manchester United. Along this journey was an unforgettable 3-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur, played before a roaring crowd of 25,000 at Turf Moor – a record at the time. Sensing the growing enthusiasm, Burnley expanded Turf Moor, adding enough space to accommodate an additional 5,000 fans. However, the weather played spoilsport, leading to a match against Manchester United being abandoned due to a thick blanket of snow. This was particularly heart-wrenching as Burnley had been leading 1-0 merely 20 minutes in.
Whittaker's tenure, though showing promise, was marred by a tragic incident in 1910. Tasked with registering a new player, Henry Swift, with the FA, Whittaker met with a ghastly accident. While aboard a train to London, he tragically fell from the carriage. The injuries he sustained were grave, leading to his untimely demise a day later. The pall of gloom was unmistakable.
However, the club, in its resilience, appointed Accrington Stanley Manager John Haworth as the successor. The club underwent a visual transformation too, adopting the Claret and Blue colors, inspired by the reigning league champions, Aston Villa.
Under the guidance of Haworth, Burnley soldiered on. Yet again, they found themselves in the FA Cup quarter-finals, drawn against Bradford City. But despite the immense support, including over 7,000 travelling fans, they succumbed 0-1.
During the 1910-11 season, Burnley made significant investments both in players and infrastructure. They acquired Bert Freeman from Everton and shelled out over £5,000 for a new Brunshaw Road stand. The club's ambition was clear: they were gearing up for a strong push towards the First Division.
Burnley's performance oscillated, but the acquisition of Boyle and Freeman seemed a masterstroke. Boyle, in particular, had a prolific season, netting 32 goals in just 33 appearances and earning a call-up to the England national team. The subsequent season saw Burnley leading the league table by Christmas. However, a notable incident occurred during an FA Cup match against Gainsborough. Recognizing the defensive flaws of their own team, Burnley made a staggering offer of £2,000 to acquire the entire Gainsborough defence!
Burnley's journey had its highs and lows, but the highlight came when they defeated the reigning league champions, Blackburn Rovers, at Ewood Park with a scoreline of 1-0. This victory was all the sweeter as it was witnessed by a massive crowd of 47,000, of which almost 20,000 were Burnley fans.
Burnley's dream run continued, culminating in their promotion to top-flight football, ending 13 years in the Second Division. But as they say, football is as much about the lows as it is about the highs. While Burnley celebrated their achievements, they couldn't evade the shadows of the looming Great War.
The war's aftermath was cruel, with Burnley losing four players – Jonathan Brown, Billy Pickering, reserve player Lorrimer, and first-team player Teddy Hodgson. The league resumed on 30 August 1919, with Burnley showing promise and ambition. The squad saw an influx of new faces, seven in total, reinforcing their ranks.
Burnley's resilience and ability to adapt were evident as they transitioned through various seasons, marked by stellar victories, bitter losses, and a fair share of drama. The crowning achievement came in the 1920-21 season when they claimed the coveted Championship Trophy.
However, football's unpredictable nature became evident as the golden generation of Burnley began to age, and their performances started dwindling. The 1922-23 season saw them finish in a disappointing 15th position.
The subsequent seasons were a roller coaster for Burnley. While they showed sparks of brilliance and had memorable FA Cup runs, the club also faced challenges. The most heart-wrenching was the loss of their esteemed manager, John Haworth, to pneumonia in 1924. This marked the end of an era for Burnley.
The club continued to face ups and downs. One notable high was the record-breaking attendance of 54,775 at Turf Moor, witnessing a 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town. Through all the tumult, Burnley's spirit remained unbroken, showcasing their resilience